Here’s a riddle: what exactly is Israel afraid of when it backs down from its own defensive interests under pressure from UN and EU displeasure? What does Israel have to lose, given that these same bodies are already hostile to Israel and have proved themselves again and again to be wimps? Where real atrocities are happening, they wring their hands and do nothing, or they dream up incentives to make malevolent groups behave better. Heck, there’s every reason to think Israel could win carrots from the international community by behaving really badly. It worked for Iran and N. Korea, not to mention the “suffering Palestinians.” The worse nations behave, the more money the civilized world sends.
Do those grass-roots boycott Israel movements with their anti-Zionist street demonstrations really have any power to harm Israel? The only thinking I can think of is in their ability to harass diaspora Jews — something that happens in any case.
Seriously, aside from the old saw about “virtue being its own reward,” is there any reason why a Machiavellian Israel wouldn’t be in a better position than today’s perpetually apologetic, uber-ethical one?
Posts For: January 28, 2009
Why does it seem like the CIA may have a little bit of a quality control problem? This just in from ABC News:
The CIA’s station chief at its sensitive post in Algeria is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly raping at least two Muslim women who claim he laced their drinks with a knock-out drug, U.S. law enforcement sources tell ABC News.
Officials say the 41-year old CIA officer, a convert to Islam, was ordered home by the U.S. Ambassador, David Pearce, in October after the women came forward with their rape allegations in September.
The discovery of more than a dozen videotapes showing the CIA officer engaged in sex acts with other women has led the Justice Department to broaden its investigation to include at least one other Arab country, Egypt, where the CIA officer had been posted earlier in his career, according to law enforcement officials.
From Fouad Ajami’s absolute must-read in today’s Wall Street Journal:
“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” President Barack Obama said in his inaugural. But in truth, the new way forward is a return to realpolitik and business as usual in America’s encounter with that Greater Middle East.
The irony now is obvious: George W. Bush as a force for emancipation in Muslim lands, and Barack Hussein Obama as a messenger of the old, settled ways. Thus the “parochial” man takes abroad a message that Muslims and Arabs did not have tyranny in their DNA, and the man with Muslim and Kenyan and Indonesian fragments in his very life and identity is signaling an acceptance of the established order. Mr. Obama could still acknowledge the revolutionary impact of his predecessor’s diplomacy, but so far he has chosen not to do so.
Yet, hopefully that revolutionary impact will not be lost on those who felt it most. If security and political progress advances or merely holds in Iraq, and if President Obama allows David Petraeus to institute an innovative counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, the work of the Bush administrations will bear fruit for a long time to come. What exists as troubling blurs in the memories of Americans eager for “change,” live on as the formative nuclei for Muslim democrats who were willing do die for change.
And here’s the difference made by the quotation marks: Within the confines of one spoken paragraph of his Al-Arabiya interview, Barack Obama asserted that “All too often the United States starts by dictating,” and then immediately praised the dictatorial King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for his “great courage.” If future American presidents find themselves short of apology material in addressing Muslims, they should look no further than President Obama’s cynical wordplay-as-policy.
And to round out the obvious irony noted by Ajami, it was supposed to be the oil-slathered Bush family who cleaved shamelessly to the House of Saud.
Eric Holder, who came under fire for his role in controversial Clinton era pardons, waltzed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 17-2 vote. That’s a bit mystifying until you read this report:
President Obama’s choice to run the Justice Department has assured senior Republican senators that he won’t prosecute intelligence officers or political appointees who were involved in the Bush administration’s policy of “enhanced interrogations.”
Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, a Republican from Missouri and the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an interview with The Washington Times that he will support Eric H. Holder Jr.’s nomination for Attorney General because Mr. Holder assured him privately that Mr. Obama’s Justice Department will not prosecute former Bush officials involved in the interrogations program.
Mr. Holder’s promise apparently was key to moving his nomination forward. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17-2 to favorably recommend Holder for the post. He is likely to be confirmed by the Senate soon.
The ACLU and others on the Left will be apoplectic. They will be denied their witch hunt. But in one sense you can’t blame them for their ire. This is how the Obama team announces a controversial and major policy decision — in a hush-hush conversation with Senate Republicans?
As for the Republicans, they are, quite frankly, foolish if they voted for Holder on this basis. Did they really imagine that President Obama would take a different course with another nominee? If the President decided to forgo the political firestorm, and the ugly precedent entailed in criminally investigating the previous administration, you can bet he would reach the same conclusion regardless of who was heading the Justice Department.
As for Holder, the Republicans never pressed him on his misleading and arguably false testimony regarding his familiarity with Marc Rich. He never recognized the horrendous judgment in the decision to pardon 16 FALN terrorists. If that isn’t lowering the bar for future attorneys general, I don’t know what is. And Alberto Gonzales deserves one heck of an apology if the “real” standard for truth telling and politicization of the Justice Department is quite a bit more lenient than the one to which he was subjected.
Megan McArdle goes after the stimulus package, which even its defenders contend won’t spend the bulk of the money for eighteen months:
But in the context of stimulus, eighteen months is a long damn time. Eighteen months is, in fact, about how long it takes a stimulus to work through the system. If for no other reason, that ought to be a little worrisome for progressives because that means the stimulus won’t have even 2/3 of its full effect until after midterms. It is simply not “even truer” that conservative intransigence is causing worse delays than the focus on spending the money on massive new projects. It’s not even as true. It’s not true at all. No matter how you assess the relative benefits of spending to tax cuts, tax cuts could be 95% out the door in April. So could many other kinds of rapid government spending–preventing fare cuts on transit systems, sure, but also repainting all the faded yellow lines on highways, or repairing park benches, redecorating government offices, etc.
Why does speed matter so much? Because the primary argument for fiscal stimulus right now is not that we need to alleviate the pain of a temporary economic contraction–that’s what things like beefier unemployment insurance, food stamps, and housing assistance are for (the first and the last are very good ideas, by the way.) The argument is that we’re in danger of a liquidity trap–that we could end up at a permanently lower level of output, as described by Keynes and popularized by Paul Krugman in the story of the Capitol Hill Baby Sitting Collective. (Though it’s worth noting that the ultimate solution was to double the money supply . . . )
. . .
Though you wouldn’t think it from the really quite shocking incivility emanating from the pro-stimulus side, the empirical evidence that this works in a large industrial economy like ours is basically nonexistent. The problem is, we have very, very few examples to test on: America during the Great Depression, and Japan in the 1990s. And neither America nor Japan managed to stimulate their way out of their troubles. You can argue–and many do–that this is because we, and they, didn’t stimulate enough. That may be true. But unless you can forward test your theory, it’s a just so story . . . as we just painfully found out about the “It was all the Fed’s fault” narrative of the 1930s banking collapse. There is no excuse for calling people who question your highly theoretical model fools and charlatans.
Because President Obama appealed to the brainier pundits, stocked his cabinet with “smart guys,” and talked a good game about directed spending and bipartisan legislation, many expected something better than the House Democrats’ embarrassingly un-stimulative bill. The tactic of the Obama administration, like all administrations that don’t much want to debate the merits of their proposals, is to attack its opponents as being uninterested in the well-being of the public or recalcitrant for partisan reasons.
You hear the echo of so many other White House spinmeisters when White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declares:
I think the spending in this bill will create jobs. It will put people back to work. It will get this economy moving again. Some people might not want to do that. The president believes we face an economic crisis that doesn’t allow us the option to turn our back on that happening.
Yes, those mean Republicans simply want people to remain unemployed.
There are three risks here for the Obama team: First, some Democrats may start getting nervous and won’t walk the plank unless Republicans do. We saw that Tuesday when Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) said in a C-SPAN appearance that Democrats have “lost our way” and “shouldn’t be pressed by silly deadlines” to rush a bad bill to the President’s desk. Much like his Republican colleagues he argues:
“In order to get it right, we have to spend time and analyze how much is going to hit the street as fast as it can hit the street and I don’t think we’ve done that. I think, to a large extent, many of the parts of the stimulus are programs that are going to take years and years and years to accomplish …”
Second, the bill might not “work” — or even provide the appearance of doing much of anything. The recession drags on, unemployment spikes, and all we have to show for it is a huge deficit. The responsibility will rest with the President and the Congressional Democrats. The voters will not be pleased.
And finally, the patina of bipartisanship is fading fast. President Obama is cordial and polite to his opponents, but he doesn’t do what bipartisanship demands — cross his own party to draw the other side into a deal. There is nothing unusual in governing almost exclusively from the President’s own side of the aisle. That’s what Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton did, until they lost their Congressional majorities. But it ends when your governing majority thins. Moreover, it is not the stuff of historic, transformational politics. It is really nothing new.
We will see whether the Senate works its will on the bill and fashions a more effective and bipartisan approach. Those rooting for an effective President and a new governing majority better hope the Senate does just that.
On Fox’s “Special Report w/Bret Baier,” Charles Krauthammer said this about President Obama’s interview with Al-Arabiya television:
Conciliatory, but also apologetic and defensive, I thought needlessly. We heard him say that he we shouldn’t paint Islam with a broad-brush. Who does? That’s a straw man. Did the Bush administration do so? Obama said “My job is to communicate from the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives.” Well, where is the American heartland which is arguing otherwise?
Look, if he wants – dare say, “I have Muslim relatives,” as he did in the interview, “and I lived in a Muslim land,” as he did in the interview, “and thus I have a special appreciation of Islam,” that’s OK. But somehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.
One week after 9/11, the president of the United States, George Bush, showed up in the Islamic center in Washington and declared Islam is peace and extended a hand of tolerance and generosity. There were no anti-Muslim riots in America. There was a spirit of generosity and tolerance. And, in fact, over the last 20 years, the United States has been engaged in exactly five military engagements in the world, two in the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, all of them liberating Islamic peoples. We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.
Krauthammer is quite right. I would only add to what he said by pointing out that President Bush went on Al-Arabiya television several times, stressing many of the same points as President Obama. But for some reason or another, the Bush appearances garnered both less attention and less praise from the press.
In addition, in his September 20, 2001 speech to a joint session of Congress, with smoke still rising from the rubble from the Twin Towers, Bush said this:
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends. It is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.
President Bush repeated his praise for the Muslim faith, and extended his hand to Muslims around the world, on countless occasions.
Krauthammer’s final point is a crucial and often overlooked one: over the last two decades – in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Kuwait – we have expended blood and treasure in wars of liberation. Some of those wars were justified primarily on humanitarian grounds; others were based on national security interests but advanced humanitarian aims. And when the rest of the world, and most of those in America, were pressing for George W. Bush to retreat from Iraq and consign it to mass death and genocide, he would not abide.
Bush has since been vindicated.
Charles Krauthammer is right; the effort to imply that there was disrespect of Islam in the last administration is unfair and fictional.
Welcome to the Era of New Politics.
(h/t: NRO’s The Corner)
In my new Weekly Standard article, “The Gaza Aftermath,” I wrote: “The Americans and Europeans simply do not have any way of stopping an elaborate smuggling network that runs via the sea from Iran to Sudan and from there overland to Egypt and finally under the ground into the Gaza Strip.” In this case it is depressing to be proven right. From this morning‘s Wall Street Journal:
In early January, U.S. military and intelligence officials began tracking the Monchegorsk, a Cypriot-flagged vessel chartered by Iran. The U.S. suspected the boat was ferrying weapons bound for Palestinian militants in Gaza, according to a defense official.
The vessel further aroused American suspicion by taking “deceptive maneuvers” after leaving Iran, the official said.
On Jan. 19, the U.S.S. San Antonio approached the Monchegorsk in the Red Sea and asked its captain for permission to search the ship, which was granted. The following day, an armed group of Navy personnel boarded the vessel and found artillery shells, according to two defense officials.
The Navy personnel searched the vessel again Jan. 21 and found machine-gun rounds, fuses and other armaments, the officials said. The ship’s paperwork showed the weapons were bound for Syria.
The defense officials said the shipments appeared to violate a United Nations resolution barring Iran from exporting many kinds of weaponry. The resolution doesn’t allow for the seizure of banned Iranian armaments, however, so the U.S. allowed the ship to continue its voyage, the officials said.
Three headlines, which may or may not be connected, caught my eye today:
1. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has cut its ties with the Vatican, in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to reinstate a holocaust-denying bishop;
2. The Israeli government has cut ties with Venezuela and expelled its diplomats, in the wake of Venezuela’s similar act against Israel;
3. The UN General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto did not show up to his organization’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, after U.S. Jewish leaders threatened to publicly walk out if he used the opportunity to attack Israel.
Question for Commenters: Is there a pattern here?
Let’s call it the Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse – this time, we backed down:
Russia has dropped plans to install missiles near Poland after the Obama administration signalled a change in US attitude to the region, a Moscow military official has reportedly said.
The official suggested that Mr Obama’s White House had made clear it would not prioritise executing the Bush administration’s plan to install a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
There is supposed to be some power in soft power, is there not? As McKittrick, at Closing Velocity, points out: “Obama failed his first test.”
Despite the popular narrative, a good chunk of the world did not despise George W. Bush or the America he governed. That chunk included a collection of nations in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus that relied on the U.S. to keep Vladimir Putin in check. For them – if no one else – the “change” thing is very real.
Just how bad is the stimulus plan? Pretty bad, as the Wall Street Journal documents:
There’s $1 billion for Amtrak, the federal railroad that hasn’t turned a profit in 40 years; $2 billion for child-care subsidies; $50 million for that great engine of job creation, the National Endowment for the Arts; $400 million for global-warming research and another $2.4 billion for carbon-capture demonstration projects. There’s even $650 million on top of the billions already doled out to pay for digital TV conversion coupons.
In selling the plan, President Obama has said this bill will make “dramatic investments to revive our flagging economy.” Well, you be the judge. Some $30 billion, or less than 5% of the spending in the bill, is for fixing bridges or other highway projects. There’s another $40 billion for broadband and electric grid development, airports and clean water projects that are arguably worthwhile priorities.
Add the roughly $20 billion for business tax cuts, and by our estimate only $90 billion out of $825 billion, or about 12 cents of every $1, is for something that can plausibly be considered a growth stimulus. And even many of these projects aren’t likely to help the economy immediately. As Peter Orszag, the President’s new budget director, told Congress a year ago, “even those [public works] that are ‘on the shelf’ generally cannot be undertaken quickly enough to provide timely stimulus to the economy.”
And on and on it goes:
Another “stimulus” secret is that some $252 billion is for income-transfer payments — that is, not investments that arguably help everyone, but cash or benefits to individuals for doing nothing at all. . . .As for the promise of accountability, some $54 billion will go to federal programs that the Office of Management and Budget or the Government Accountability Office have already criticized as “ineffective” or unable to pass basic financial audits. These include the Economic Development Administration, the Small Business Administration, the 10 federal job training programs, and many more. Oh, and don’t forget education, which would get $66 billion more. That’s more than the entire Education Department spent a mere 10 years ago and is on top of the doubling under President Bush.
It is hard to conclude that the Democrats were actually trying to meet the President’s stated goals. There is little wonder that the President and Democrats want this voted on fast. If lawmakers, not to mention the public, figure out what’s in this they might have second thoughts. If they slow down and actually read what is in the bill, they could get the idea this is essentially one big political payoff, not a serious economic plan – and certainly not one that is targeted or temporary, as Democrats promised. (This might account for the administration’s failure to make the bill accessible despite promises of “transparency.”)
Despite the feel-good meeting with the President, the House Democrats’ bill is barreling ahead and is expected to come up for a vote on Wednesday. What will Republicans do? Based on conversations with those on the Hill close to the leadership, I would be surprised if the bill attracted more than a dozen votes. There may only be a handful of “yes” votes. The reaction to both the process and the content of the bill has been uniformly harsh on the GOP side. The President and Nancy Pelosi have, frankly, given the Republicans no reason to vote for the bill. So most will oppose.
What about those Democrat Blue Dogs who are supposed to be concerned about fiscal discipline? One Republican adviser was blunt, “They are all bark and no bite, and they always cave to Pelosi in the end even though the media always gives them credit for talking a good game.” We’ll see if some of the Democrats in competitive seats have the nerve to go up against the new President. I’m betting only a handful do.
So in the end it will certainly not be a bipartisan effort. If “bipartisan” has any meaning, it must entail a measure that attracts a substantial portion, if not a majority, of the other party. This clearly will not.
So after all the happy talk we likely will have a very bad bill passed on a near strict party-line vote. Not exactly the dawning of a new age in responsible, bipartisan government.
“Change means that they should apologize to the Iranian nation and try to make up for their dark background and the crimes they have committed against the Iranian nation,” he said in the speech broadcast live on Iranian television.
The catalog of crimes, Mr. Ahmadinejad said, stretched back decades, beginning with American support for the 1953 coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh and installed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who ruled until he was ousted in the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The list included the downing of an Iran Air Airbus A300, which was shot down by the U.S. Navy‘s missile cruiser Vincennes over the Persian Gulf in 1988, killing 290. American military commanders said at the time that the passenger plane had been mistaken for an F-14 fighter jet, and defended the warship’s actions. America’s efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions were also listed.
Mr. Ahmadinejad also questioned the United States deployment of forces in many places around the world, apparently demanding that the forces be withdrawn. “Who has asked them to come and interfere in the affairs of nations?” he asked, according to Reuters.
From outstretched hands to dirty hands.
Tehran is not interested in anything resembling the West’s idea of diplomacy. Nor are Iranian leaders (despite Ahmadinejad’s litany) terribly concerned with this or that American transgression – it’s the very idea of America that makes the U.S. “the Great Satan” in Khomeinist terms. However, Tehran is adept at using the twin Western fetishes of “engagement” and self-flagellation as a means of both reframing the diplomatic dynamic and buying time for weapons production.
In addressing the mullahs as traditional state actors (who can occasionally be “unhelpful”), Barack Obama’s concessionary speech helped shift the benchmark for “reasonable” toward Iran in the public’s mindset. Ahmadinejad, now elevated to the level of respectable statesman, is toying with the American president in public – while centrifuges spin.
How can we bailout the “American car industry” if we can’t decide what an American car is? “Once you put down the flags and shut off all the television ads with their Heartland, apple-pie America imagery, the truth of the car business is that it transcends national boundaries. A car or truck sold by a ‘Detroit’ auto maker such as GM, Ford or Chrysler could be less American — as defined by the government’s standards for ‘domestic content’ — than a car sold by Toyota, Honda or Nissan — all of which have substantial assembly and components operations in the U.S.”
Sen. Arlen Specter raised hard questions about Eric Holder, got no answers, got stiffed by Sen. Pat Leahy in his quest for more information and then supported Holder anyway. It’s hard to fathom why he went through all this and why he threw away whatever goodwill he earned from his own party. Perhaps Pat Toomey will reconsider that primary race.
Will Terry McAuliffe’s carpetbagger image and the sense he is trying to buy the Virginia Governorship with national money do him in? Well, it does sort of reinforce those concerns when he runs ads in January — which no Virginia gubernatorial candidate has ever done.
An embarrassing portrayal of George Stephanopoulos (chatting every day with his Democratic pals) who has tried hard to shed his image of a Democratic pol.
Fred Dicker calls Governor Paterson “a liar.” From the Republicans perspective, what is not to like about this? The Democrats are threatening a senate primary challenge, Paterson is in hot water, the Kennedy’s will like help fund whoever opposes Paterson and Sen. Gillibrand, and, in the meantime, Hillary Clinton’s seat is filled by perhaps the least doctrinaire Democrat who could possibly have gotten the nod. Sometimes you just get lucky.
Larry Kudlow pans the opening moves of Tim Geithner and Larry Summer. Kudlow argues for a strong dollar and incentives for investors (e.g. don’t scare them with the prospect of a tax hike), the Obama duo seem intent on pursuing the opposite.
Mickey Kaus continues his crusade to strip the coverage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) — i.e. ”card check” legislation – of its spin. Somehow, two salient facts seem to escape most of the MSM coverage: the employees don’t get the choice for a secret ballot and current labor law already bans employer intimidation and interference with union organizing elections.
A clever ad by the anti-card check forces. Don’t run against the popular President, urge him to make the right “choice” and not cave into Big Labor. It isn’t bad advice, actually.
The hypocrisy factor is getting pretty high: “Newly installed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner issued new rules Tuesday restricting contacts with lobbyists – and then hired one to be his top aide. Mark Patterson, a former advocate for Goldman Sachs, will serve as chief of staff to Geithner as the Treasury Department revamps the Wall Street bailout program that sent an infusion of cash to his former employer.” So glad we’ve dispensed with business as usual in Washington.
The stimulus bill’s real cost is over a trillion – because you have to pay interest on the additional debt. Oh that.
The only question about Joe Biden’s apology to Chief Justice Roberts is whether the President made him do it or he figured out on his own that he was being disrespectful and unkind.
A smart take from S.E. Cupp: “While sending envoys to the Middle East is a fine step (and who better than George J Mitchell, steroid-czar extraordinaire?), it’s deeply troubling that our new president is seemingly apologizing to the Muslim community for the United States. In his own words, he said he told Mitchell to “start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating.” That’s strong language, and frankly, it’s completely inappropriate. The implication that the US behaves has been dictating to the Arab world or has been unwilling to try diplomacy in Muslim states like Iran, Iraq and others is preposterous and historically inaccurate. While I certainly hope that former Senator Mitchell and President Obama’s soft touch — which seems to come in the form of political self-deprecation — will solve the problems in the Middle East, I’ll reserve any optimism for a later time.”
Dan Mitchell of CATO explains what’s wrong with the stimulus plan. It’s not stimulative, for starters.
Another reason to oppose the stimulus plan: it contains a “buy American” protectionist provision for the domestic steel industry. The provision violates our international obligations. Wasn’t the Obama administration supposed to be respectful of our multilateral commitments?
Not even Democrats like it that much: “Republican criticism of the stimulus package that the House will vote on tonight has focused on its soaring price tag, but some Democrats on Capitol Hill and other administration supporters are voicing a separate critique: that the plan may fall short in its broader goal of transforming the American economy over the long term. . . For some House Democrats, the problem is less a matter of balancing the short and long term than a shortage of focus and will on the part of the administration. Their disappointment centers on the relatively small amount devoted to long-lasting infrastructure investments in favor of spending on a long list of government programs. While each serves a purpose, the critics say, they add up to less than the sum of their parts, and fall far short of the transformative New Deal-like vision many of them had entertained.” Well they could vote, “no.”
“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.”
So said our new president in his interview Tuesday with Al Arabiya, the Arabic-language satellite news channel. At first the words washed over me. Then I did some simple math. Let’s see… 20 or 30 years ago… that would be 1989 or 1979.
What was happening in relations between America and the Muslim world back then? Not relying on memory alone, I consulted Bernard Grun’s reference book, The Timetables of History.
It turns out that in 1989 U.S. fighters shot down two Libyan jets over the Gulf of Sidra. The last Soviet troops left Afghanistan, creating a vacuum that would eventually be filled by the Taliban. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie’s death for “blasphemy.” Hundreds died in Lebanon’s long-running civil war while Hezbollah militants were torturing to death U.S. Marine Colonel William “Rich” Higgins, who had been kidnapped the previous year while serving as a UN peacekeeper in Lebanon.
And 1979? That was an even darker year-in many ways a turning point for the worse in the Middle East. That was, after all, the year that the shah of Iran was overthrown. He was replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who launched a war against the West that is still unfolding. One of the first actions of this long struggle was the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran and all of its personnel as hostages. The same year saw the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which led to the growth of the mujahideen, some of whom would later morph into Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This was also the year that Islamic militants temporarily seized control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, an event that drove the Saudi royal family to become ever more fundamentalist.
In other news in 1979, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, was hanged by General Zia al-Hak, inaugurating a long period when Pakistan would be under the effective control of the army in alliance with Islamic militants. That year mobs also attacked U.S. embassies throughout the Muslim world from Kabul and Islamabad to Tripoli. The one bright spot in 1979 was the signing of the Camp David Accord between the US, Egypt, and Israel, which did not, unfortunately, auger a “new” Middle East as many optimists hoped.
So this is the sort of “partnership” between the U.S. and the Middle East that President Obama would like to see? If his predecessor had suggested any such thing he would by now be a subject of ridicule for late-night comedians and daytime talk show hosts, and rightly so.
This is actually a revealing slip. To wit, it reveals two things: First, Obama’s profound ignorance about most aspects of foreign policy, including the recent history of the Middle East. A second, and related point, is his tendency to blame the ills of the region on the previous administration-something that is only possible if you started following the Middle East around 2001 and have little idea of what came before. It is then all too easy to claim, as Obama did on the campaign trail, that it was George W. Bush’s “disengagement” from the peace process and his “disastrous” war with Iraq that messed up the Middle East. Only someone with a longer view would realize how profoundly messed up the region was long before Bush came into office.
Even if we go back before the current era of religious extremism that began in earnest in 1979 we find evidence that from the American perspective the Middle East was hardly a happy place. Think of the OPEC oil embargo that began in 1973, the numerous wars between Israel and the Arabs, Eisenhower’s landing of marines in Lebanon in 1958, the Suez Crisis of 1956, the overthrow of Iran’s prime minister in 1953, and so on.
To the extent that we had any stability in the region it was purchased at the expense of alliances with distasteful regimes like those of the Shah of Iran and the Saudi royal family, once considered the “twin pillars” of American policy in the Middle East. Obama is dreaming if he thinks there was a wonderful “partnership” with Arab or Muslim regimes that he can “restore.”
UPDATE: In the comments section, “Elen” writes: “I wonder if Columbia/Harvard education is overrated or Obama is simply an idiot. I think the answer is both.” I think the answer is neither. From everything I have seen, Obama is a smart man who received a good education at Columbia and Harvard. The problem is that he spent his entire career in domestic policy and politics. He has little knowledge or background in national security affairs—probably about the same amount as anyone who was kind of paying attention in college more than twenty years ago but hasn’t paid much attention since. My guess is that when it comes to foreign policy he knows only marginally more than Sarah Palin—another smart person who simply didn’t have to bone up on this subject before running for national office. You can see the difference when Obama is talking—he is crisp and confident on domestic issues, halting and uncertain on foreign issues. I only hope for all of our sakes that he is a fast learner.
The Saudi peace plan rears its head again, bolstered by events in Gaza and the political shifts in America and Israel. Last week, it was the outrageous article by Saudi Price Turki al-Faisal, but today there’s a more serious attempt by the Saudi King – helped by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman – to update his plan and adapt it to the changing realities.
As is custmary for Friedman, this complicated issues is communicated in marketing-era pamphleteer fashion. It has a catchy name, “The 5-State Solution,” and a four-point, ready-for-consumption plan:
1. Israel agrees to total withdrawal from occupied territories.
2. The establishment of a Palestinian unity government (Fatah and Hamas), with “security assistance” by Jordan and Egypt in Palestinian territories.
3. An Israeli phased withdrawal to the 67′ borders.
4. Saudi funding of the cost related to Egyptian and Jordanian trustees.
In many ways, this renewed plan meets the need to change the original so that it’s more suited to the current situation “on the ground.” Rob Satloff of the Washington Institute calls it, in an article posted two days ago, “adapt, not merely adopt, the Arab Peace Initiative”:
If nothing else, the Gaza conflict exposed the fundamental flaw in the Saudi-inspired Arab Peace Initiative, which is that Arab states cannot simply offer peace with Israel as the pot at the end of the diplomatic rainbow after Israel reaches final peace settlements with the Palestinians and the Syrians; rather, a truly constructive role would have Arab states contributing to a peacemaking environment at every stage of this process. Senator Mitchell has wide latitude in working with Arab leaders to add both substantive elements and a timetable for incremental action to the Arab Peace Initiative. This could include what Arab states do with Palestinians (for example, specific disbursements of aid and changes of national policies on the status of Palestinian refugees) as well as what Arab states do with Israel (for example, trade relations, escalating diplomatic ties, interfaith and cultural exchanges).
This new plan answers some of Satloff’s concerns, but some remain unresolved. Saudi Arabia clearly shows some willingness to actively participate in peacemaking, and is also volunteering other Arab countries (Egypt, Jordan) to do likewise. But assuming that the other contours of the Saudi plan remain the same, there’s still no change in Saudi willingness for “incremental action” related to the improvements needed in Arab-Israeli relations (namely, the process of un-freezing Arab-Israel ties even before the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is completed). There’s also no change in the Arab position regarding Palestinian refugees.
But most of all, two of the actions suggested in this piece need to be much more specific on what the King wants. The first one is on Palestinian unity. Here’s what Friedman writes:
The Palestinians – Hamas and Fatah – agree to form a national unity government. This government then agrees to accept a limited number of Egyptian troops and police to help Palestinians secure Gaza and monitor its borders, as well as Jordanian troops and police to do the same in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority would agree to five-year “security assistance programs” with Egypt in Gaza and with Jordan in the West Bank.
The Saudis have already involved themselves in Palestinian national unity negotiations that didn’t turn out so well. The so-called “Doha agreement” brokered by the Saudis was essentially an agreement making Hamas stronger and Fatah weaker. It also didn’t hold for very long. So the question should be raised again: what kind of Palestinian unity are the Saudis now talking about?
The other unresolved question has to do with the “security and governance metrics” that Palestinians will have to meet before the transition is complete. This is not a matter of intention – the King is ready to have metrics “agreed to in advance by all parties” – and to have the U.S. as “the sole arbiter of whether the metrics have been met.” The question, though, is of a more practical nature: can a metrics agreement be reached by “all parties”? And what happens in case metrics aren’t met?
One of the most daunting problems of past peace-processes was the tendency of both sides to never quite accomplish their commitments. The Saudi plan is somewhat encouraging when it offers to involve other parties in helping the Palestinians build their institutions, but this can complicate matters even further in case these attempts fails. This doesn’t mean the plan isn’t a good start – it only means that more details are needed before we can even call it a “plan.” Right now, it’s no more than an “idea.”
The Obama administration is making a great show of ending a series of Bush administration policies on the war on terror. Guantanamo is to be closed. Well, not right away, of course. (It seems those detainees are dangerous and there is no good place to put them right now.) And enhanced interrogation techniques will be banned. Well, unless the President’s advisors report back that we really need them. (It seems that every once in awhile a very bad guy with a lot of very important information might come along and we might need to get that information in order to save American lives.) Now comes word that yet another executive order isn’t exactly as advertised.
Eli Lake reports:
President Obama’s executive order closing CIA “black sites” contains a little-noticed exception that allows the spy agency to continue to operate temporary detention facilities abroad.
The provision illustrates that the president’s order to shutter foreign-based prisons, known as black sites, is not airtight and that the Central Intelligence Agency still has options if it wants to hold terrorist suspects for several days at a time.
Current and former U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition that they aren’t identified because of the sensitivity of the subject, said such temporary facilities around the world will remain open, giving the administration the opportunity to seize and hold assumed terrorists.
The detentions would be temporary. Suspects either would be brought later to the United States for trial or sent to other countries where they are wanted and can face trial.
The exception is evidence that the new administration, while announcing an end to many elements of the Bush “war on terror,” is leaving itself wiggle room to continue some of its predecessor’s practices regarding terrorist suspects.
On one hand, the administration can be commended for retaining prudent measures that allow us to continue to prosecute the war on terror (even if they don’t like that phraseology). On the other hand, there is a fundamental lack of forthrightness — yes, transparency — in passing sweeping measures, holding grand press events and then concealing from view the exceptions and equivocations which allow us to pretty much continue business as usual.
Yes, the CIA facilities are only supposed to be “temporary,” but most things are — even presidential terms. As Lake details, some on the Left have convinced themselves this isn’t a bit like the Bush-era CIA black sites while others are nervous that it sure sounds familiar.
Is the Left so easily mollified that a self-congratulatory press avail is all that is required? If the Bush administration had been less candid and tried this tactic it seems doubtful that the media and Democratic base would have been satisfied. As the “real story” was revealed, a hue and cry would have gone up that not only was the administration behaving “illegally,” but that it was being dishonest with the public. Nevertheless, this two track approach — grand pronouncements and concealed detail — seem just fine with most everyone right now.
The President boasted in his Inaugural Address that “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Perhaps if he were more candid with the American people they now would understand better what choices he actually is making. Then they could fairly assess just what has changed and what has remained constant, and just how the new President defines American ideals.
It’s funny how much the new looks like the old.
As a candidate, Barack Obama vigorously campaigned against lobbyists’ influence in his Administration. His Administration, we were told, would be free of their taint. No lobbyists would get a job in an Obama Administration working in areas they had lobbied on. He would bring about a clean break with the past, “turn the page,” and put an end to acts that create cynicism among the public.
Except that he won’t. According to ABC News:
Despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to limit the influence of lobbyists in his administration, a recent lobbyist for investment banking giant Goldman Sachs is in line to serve as chief of staff to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Mark Patterson was a registered lobbyist for Goldman until April 11, 2008, according to public filings. Patterson first began lobbying for Goldman Sachs in 2005, after working as policy director for then-Senate majority leader Tom Daschle. According to publicly filed lobbying disclosure records, he worked on issues related to the banking committee, climate change and carbon trading and immigration reform, among others.
This follows the revelation that William J. Lynn, a government relations executive for defense contracting giant Raytheon, has been asked to be Deputy Secretary of Defense; Michele Flournoy, Obama’s nominee for the Pentagon’s No. 3 job, undersecretary of defense for policy, is partner with her husband in a consulting firm whose clients include major defense contractors Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems North America; and William Corr, nominated for deputy secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, is listed in House and Senate records last year as having lobbied the agency on behalf of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
And what are we to make of this? “Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions,” the so far underwhelming and overmatched White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. “Our waiver provisions are designed to allow uniquely qualified individuals like Bill Corr and Bill Lynn to serve the public interest in these critical times.”
Funny, those “reasonable exceptions” never came up once during the campaign, not in single interview, not in a single speech, and not in a single debate.
And more. We were told (by Obama himself!) that his administration would be oh-so-quick to admit mistakes. They would not engage in “spin.” They would treat the American people as serious-minded adults. It was all part of the new way of doing business, you see.
If this were in fact the case, Gibbs would have come out and said what is true: Senator Obama made a silly promise as a candidate that he decided he shouldn’t fulfill as president. Lobbyists were an easy target during the campaign – but now that he needs to govern, Obama sees that the standard he promised was unwise and couldn’t be upheld. He shouldn’t have made the promise; having done so, Obama has now decided it’s worth violating that commitment in order to get qualified people into important posts.
That would have been the honest, straightforward response. Instead, from Mr. Gibbs we have gotten typical, tiresome doubletalk. What makes all this particularly irksome is that Obama and his team made “changing Washington” and cleaning out the Augean stables a centerpiece of their campaign.
The problems they now find themselves faced with result from a presidential candidate who engaged in moral preening. Fortunate enough to be elected, he now risks the appearance of hypocrisy. Maybe because it’s there. And just think, he’s only been in office a week.