Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 11, 2009

Afghan Governance

My former Council colleague Elizabeth Rubin had a fascinating profile of Hamid Karzai in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. As usual, Elizabeth’s reporting was fair and exhaustive, allowing her to present a complex picture of a leader who appears to be well intentioned but who has been overly tolerant of warlords and drug lords—and of his own relatives who are mired in seedy dealings.

Karzai’s administration has proved so troubled that it now appears likely he will not collect more than 50 percent of the vote and thus will be pushed into a second round of voting against the runner-up. A new poll shows Karzai with 36 percent support, compared with 25 percent for his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Having a competitive election will be good for Afghanistan, but the odds are that Karzai will still emerge on top. Whether he does or not, the chief priority going forward must be to strengthen Afghan governance, which cannot be reduced to a one-man operation. That means improving administration in the provinces, specifically. It would help greatly if governors were elected rather than appointed by the president; that would make them more accountable to the people.

I am mildly cheered by news that Ashraf Ghani, a respected technocrat who is also running against Karzai, may be offered a prime-minister-style position to run things on behalf of the aloof and somewhat disengaged president. A similar trial balloon had been floated a while ago about giving that position to Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad, and the United Nations, but Ghani would be a more obvious choice since he is not as closely linked to a foreign power.

There is much more to be done on the governance front, whoever occupies the presidential palace. We must not expect Afghanistan to achieve a First World standard of governance. Even parts of the First World—I’m thinking of Illinois and New Jersey, in particular—sometimes fall short. But we can expect Afghanistan to do better than it currently is. The country made progress in the past under Karzai—especially when Khalilzad was U.S. ambassador—and it is by no means impossible to imagine that it could make progress in the future, even with Karzai as president, as long as the overall structure of the administration is beefed up.

My former Council colleague Elizabeth Rubin had a fascinating profile of Hamid Karzai in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. As usual, Elizabeth’s reporting was fair and exhaustive, allowing her to present a complex picture of a leader who appears to be well intentioned but who has been overly tolerant of warlords and drug lords—and of his own relatives who are mired in seedy dealings.

Karzai’s administration has proved so troubled that it now appears likely he will not collect more than 50 percent of the vote and thus will be pushed into a second round of voting against the runner-up. A new poll shows Karzai with 36 percent support, compared with 25 percent for his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah. Having a competitive election will be good for Afghanistan, but the odds are that Karzai will still emerge on top. Whether he does or not, the chief priority going forward must be to strengthen Afghan governance, which cannot be reduced to a one-man operation. That means improving administration in the provinces, specifically. It would help greatly if governors were elected rather than appointed by the president; that would make them more accountable to the people.

I am mildly cheered by news that Ashraf Ghani, a respected technocrat who is also running against Karzai, may be offered a prime-minister-style position to run things on behalf of the aloof and somewhat disengaged president. A similar trial balloon had been floated a while ago about giving that position to Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Baghdad, and the United Nations, but Ghani would be a more obvious choice since he is not as closely linked to a foreign power.

There is much more to be done on the governance front, whoever occupies the presidential palace. We must not expect Afghanistan to achieve a First World standard of governance. Even parts of the First World—I’m thinking of Illinois and New Jersey, in particular—sometimes fall short. But we can expect Afghanistan to do better than it currently is. The country made progress in the past under Karzai—especially when Khalilzad was U.S. ambassador—and it is by no means impossible to imagine that it could make progress in the future, even with Karzai as president, as long as the overall structure of the administration is beefed up.

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Could It Be Obama’s Fault?

Eugene Robinson almost acknowledges that the president might have some responsibility for the voters’ irate reaction to the government’s takeover of their health care. No critic of the president, Robinson nevertheless concedes there are plenty of “confused and concerned” Americans at these events. Why so upset? Why, they fear “they’re not being told the whole truth.” Well, yes, that might be it.

He even concedes that voters’ suspicions about cost-cutting and end-of-life counseling aren’t entirely misplaced:

That’s the reason people are so frightened and enraged about the proposed measure that would allow Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling. If the government says it has to control health-care costs and then offers to pay doctors to give advice about hospice care, citizens are not delusional to conclude that the goal is to reduce end-of-life spending.

Now Robinson doesn’t quite connect the dots. Who is it that’s been peddling blue-pill/red-pill nonsense? Who was telling us that we’d bend the cost curve and not feel it? Why yes, that was the president.

Obama tried for months to conduct a health-care-reform campaign with no specifics, replete with feel-good bromides. In the end, he lost the opportunity to have a reasoned conversation with voters, to treat them and his critics with respect. In short, it was old-style politics at its worst. Well, not as bad as attacking citizens for complaining, but not the “New Politics” on which he based his presidential campaign. After frittering away his credibility and overexposing himself, Obama is now adrift, and his team is desperate. How to get the public’s attention back and restore their trust? Well, less berating the public and more honesty might help. Perhaps we need a new New Politics.

Eugene Robinson almost acknowledges that the president might have some responsibility for the voters’ irate reaction to the government’s takeover of their health care. No critic of the president, Robinson nevertheless concedes there are plenty of “confused and concerned” Americans at these events. Why so upset? Why, they fear “they’re not being told the whole truth.” Well, yes, that might be it.

He even concedes that voters’ suspicions about cost-cutting and end-of-life counseling aren’t entirely misplaced:

That’s the reason people are so frightened and enraged about the proposed measure that would allow Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling. If the government says it has to control health-care costs and then offers to pay doctors to give advice about hospice care, citizens are not delusional to conclude that the goal is to reduce end-of-life spending.

Now Robinson doesn’t quite connect the dots. Who is it that’s been peddling blue-pill/red-pill nonsense? Who was telling us that we’d bend the cost curve and not feel it? Why yes, that was the president.

Obama tried for months to conduct a health-care-reform campaign with no specifics, replete with feel-good bromides. In the end, he lost the opportunity to have a reasoned conversation with voters, to treat them and his critics with respect. In short, it was old-style politics at its worst. Well, not as bad as attacking citizens for complaining, but not the “New Politics” on which he based his presidential campaign. After frittering away his credibility and overexposing himself, Obama is now adrift, and his team is desperate. How to get the public’s attention back and restore their trust? Well, less berating the public and more honesty might help. Perhaps we need a new New Politics.

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Echoes of Mary Robinson

One of the most controversial parts of Barack Obama’s Cairo speech was the portion in which he appeared to draw a moral equivalence between the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and the Palestinian “dislocation” and “occupation” arising from the wars against the Jewish state in 1948 and 1967.

It is worth revisiting that portion of the Cairo address in connection with the continuing Mary Robinson controversy. Here is what Obama said in Cairo:

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. . . .

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people—Muslims and Christians— have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. . . . They endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation.

The “on the one hand/on the other hand” character of Obama’s discussion of the Holocaust caused an adverse reaction among the Israeli public as well as among a significant portion of American Jews and helped create the widespread lack of trust in Obama that now exists in Israel. In a Tel Aviv University poll released this week, Israelis by a margin of 60-38 percent expressed a lack of trust in Obama, and the poll found no differences among the Israeli political parties, “even among the left-wing parties, the rate of those who do not trust him is higher.”

In “The Durban Debacle: An Insider’s View of the UN World Conference Against Racism,” Tom Lantos (then the ranking member of the House International Relations Committee and founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus) recorded his experience as a U.S. delegate at Durban. The critical moment at Durban came after the Organization of the Islamic Conference presented a “compromise” document that included slurs and distortions against Israel that would require the U.S. to leave the conference:

After this document appeared, I met twice with Mrs. Robinson over the next 12 hours-the second time at her request-and urged her publicly to denounce it in order to salvage the conference. . . .

Mrs. Robinson’s intervention with the assembled delegates later in the same day left our delegation deeply shocked and saddened. In her remarks, she advocated precisely the opposite course to the one Secretary Powell and I had urged her to take. Namely, she refused to reject the twisted notion that the wrong done to the Jews in the Holocaust was equivalent to the pain suffered by the Palestinians in the Middle East. Instead, she discussed “the historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust on the one hand, and … the accumulated wounds of displacement and military occupation on the other.” [Emphasis added]

Thus, instead of condemning the attempt to usurp the conference, she legitimized it. . . . Robinson was prepared to delve into the arcana of a single territorial conflict at the exclusion of all others and at the expense of the conference’s greater goals. . . .

It was clear to me that Mrs. Robinson’s intervention during the Geneva talks represented the coup d’ grace on efforts to save the conference from disaster.

Robinson’s endorsement of the equivalence of Palestinian “displacement and military occupation” to the Holocaust was echoed eight years later—in almost precisely the same terms—by Obama’s “on the other hand” description of Palestinian “dislocation” and “occupation” after his own reference to the Holocaust.

Robinson’s remarks (and other actions) led to the disaster at Durban. Obama’s speech, employing the same trope, contributed to the dramatic drop in Israeli confidence in his ability to serve as a fair broker in the dispute with the Palestinians. And tomorrow he will officially present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson.

One of the most controversial parts of Barack Obama’s Cairo speech was the portion in which he appeared to draw a moral equivalence between the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust and the Palestinian “dislocation” and “occupation” arising from the wars against the Jewish state in 1948 and 1967.

It is worth revisiting that portion of the Cairo address in connection with the continuing Mary Robinson controversy. Here is what Obama said in Cairo:

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. . . .

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people—Muslims and Christians— have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they’ve endured the pain of dislocation. . . . They endure the daily humiliations—large and small—that come with occupation.

The “on the one hand/on the other hand” character of Obama’s discussion of the Holocaust caused an adverse reaction among the Israeli public as well as among a significant portion of American Jews and helped create the widespread lack of trust in Obama that now exists in Israel. In a Tel Aviv University poll released this week, Israelis by a margin of 60-38 percent expressed a lack of trust in Obama, and the poll found no differences among the Israeli political parties, “even among the left-wing parties, the rate of those who do not trust him is higher.”

In “The Durban Debacle: An Insider’s View of the UN World Conference Against Racism,” Tom Lantos (then the ranking member of the House International Relations Committee and founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus) recorded his experience as a U.S. delegate at Durban. The critical moment at Durban came after the Organization of the Islamic Conference presented a “compromise” document that included slurs and distortions against Israel that would require the U.S. to leave the conference:

After this document appeared, I met twice with Mrs. Robinson over the next 12 hours-the second time at her request-and urged her publicly to denounce it in order to salvage the conference. . . .

Mrs. Robinson’s intervention with the assembled delegates later in the same day left our delegation deeply shocked and saddened. In her remarks, she advocated precisely the opposite course to the one Secretary Powell and I had urged her to take. Namely, she refused to reject the twisted notion that the wrong done to the Jews in the Holocaust was equivalent to the pain suffered by the Palestinians in the Middle East. Instead, she discussed “the historical wounds of anti-Semitism and of the Holocaust on the one hand, and … the accumulated wounds of displacement and military occupation on the other.” [Emphasis added]

Thus, instead of condemning the attempt to usurp the conference, she legitimized it. . . . Robinson was prepared to delve into the arcana of a single territorial conflict at the exclusion of all others and at the expense of the conference’s greater goals. . . .

It was clear to me that Mrs. Robinson’s intervention during the Geneva talks represented the coup d’ grace on efforts to save the conference from disaster.

Robinson’s endorsement of the equivalence of Palestinian “displacement and military occupation” to the Holocaust was echoed eight years later—in almost precisely the same terms—by Obama’s “on the other hand” description of Palestinian “dislocation” and “occupation” after his own reference to the Holocaust.

Robinson’s remarks (and other actions) led to the disaster at Durban. Obama’s speech, employing the same trope, contributed to the dramatic drop in Israeli confidence in his ability to serve as a fair broker in the dispute with the Palestinians. And tomorrow he will officially present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson.

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Health-Care Rebellion

Rasmussen reports today:

Public support for the health care reform plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats has fallen to a new low as just 42% of U.S. voters now favor the plan. That’s down five points from two weeks ago and down eight points from six weeks ago. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that opposition to the plan has increased to 53%, up nine points since late June.

It appears that all that hollering at voters, all the accusations about un-American protests, and even the claim that everyone who opposes ObamaCare is a pawn or a Grinch have not swayed voters. Indeed, they might just be contributing to the sense that the government is at odds with the concerns of the voters.

August was supposed to be the time when the president and Democratic congressional leaders rallied the country on health care. They have—in opposition.

The issue now becomes what can take the place of ObamaCare. The Democrats will push for a severe regime of insurance regulation, while their opponents will argue for market-oriented reforms such as tax credits, interstate insurance sales, and tort reform. But first, the White House and Congress will, if not in words then in actions, need to admit defeat and move on to more attainable legislation. We are still a long way from that stage.

Rasmussen reports today:

Public support for the health care reform plan proposed by President Obama and congressional Democrats has fallen to a new low as just 42% of U.S. voters now favor the plan. That’s down five points from two weeks ago and down eight points from six weeks ago. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that opposition to the plan has increased to 53%, up nine points since late June.

It appears that all that hollering at voters, all the accusations about un-American protests, and even the claim that everyone who opposes ObamaCare is a pawn or a Grinch have not swayed voters. Indeed, they might just be contributing to the sense that the government is at odds with the concerns of the voters.

August was supposed to be the time when the president and Democratic congressional leaders rallied the country on health care. They have—in opposition.

The issue now becomes what can take the place of ObamaCare. The Democrats will push for a severe regime of insurance regulation, while their opponents will argue for market-oriented reforms such as tax credits, interstate insurance sales, and tort reform. But first, the White House and Congress will, if not in words then in actions, need to admit defeat and move on to more attainable legislation. We are still a long way from that stage.

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Re: Desperation from Deeds

Virginia’s gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deed’s decision to focus on social issues, specifically abortion, is not going over well in the local press. The Richmond Times–Dispatch editorial board writes:

McDonnell makes no secret of his opposition to abortion; he also knows that the status quo is not going to change.

Our editorial on the debate predicted that activist groups on the left and the right would strive to inject social issues into the race and are unlikely to remain as restrained as Deeds and McDonnell indicated they preferred to be. Deeds is less restrained now than he was before.

Although the campaign has not taken a decisive turn, McDonnell appears to have an edge in setting the agenda. Polls give him a double-digit lead. Deeds’ move smacks of desperation. Four years ago, a struggling Jerry Kilgore—the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee—tried to use Kaine’s opposition to the death penalty against the Democrat. The tactic failed. Although many Virginians support capital punishment, the mainstream wants to keep social issues off the table. The voters who decide elections expect candidates to propose reasonable answers to questions regarding the economy, transportation, education, and other day-to-day concerns.

It’s the economy, smart guys.

Well, only one of the “guys” is being smart, given McDonnell’s determination to focus on everything from community colleges to jobs to a transportation plan for traffic-clogged northern Virginia.

Moreover, as Jim Geraghty has pointed out, Deeds himself used to be pro-life until he wasn’t. Nothing wrong with changing your mind, but his current disdain for pro-life “extremism” rings a bit hollow.

In the end, the voters (in a state still quite conservative on social issues) will decide whether the “fear” of a pro-life governor is too much to bear, or whether they’ve had quite enough of “wedge” politics—regardless of the practitioner.

Virginia’s gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deed’s decision to focus on social issues, specifically abortion, is not going over well in the local press. The Richmond Times–Dispatch editorial board writes:

McDonnell makes no secret of his opposition to abortion; he also knows that the status quo is not going to change.

Our editorial on the debate predicted that activist groups on the left and the right would strive to inject social issues into the race and are unlikely to remain as restrained as Deeds and McDonnell indicated they preferred to be. Deeds is less restrained now than he was before.

Although the campaign has not taken a decisive turn, McDonnell appears to have an edge in setting the agenda. Polls give him a double-digit lead. Deeds’ move smacks of desperation. Four years ago, a struggling Jerry Kilgore—the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee—tried to use Kaine’s opposition to the death penalty against the Democrat. The tactic failed. Although many Virginians support capital punishment, the mainstream wants to keep social issues off the table. The voters who decide elections expect candidates to propose reasonable answers to questions regarding the economy, transportation, education, and other day-to-day concerns.

It’s the economy, smart guys.

Well, only one of the “guys” is being smart, given McDonnell’s determination to focus on everything from community colleges to jobs to a transportation plan for traffic-clogged northern Virginia.

Moreover, as Jim Geraghty has pointed out, Deeds himself used to be pro-life until he wasn’t. Nothing wrong with changing your mind, but his current disdain for pro-life “extremism” rings a bit hollow.

In the end, the voters (in a state still quite conservative on social issues) will decide whether the “fear” of a pro-life governor is too much to bear, or whether they’ve had quite enough of “wedge” politics—regardless of the practitioner.

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Progress Against Terrorism in Pakistan

There’s good news and bad news in reports of the death of Pakistani Taliban majordomo Baitullah Mehsud. And not all of it is obvious at first blush.

The most obvious good news is that a major terrorist leader has gone to claim his 72 virgins. It is also good news that his lieutenants appear to be fighting over who will succeed him. Another bit of good news, which is less obvious, is that the government of Pakistan allowed the strike by what appears to be a CIA-operated Predator unmanned aerial vehicle. This is something hard to imagine Pervez Musharraf, the previous president of Pakistan, doing. He, too, allowed American drones to operate over Pakistan but severely limited the number of targets they could hit. They were pretty much only allowed to go after al-Qaeda—not after the Taliban and other groups that are destabilizing both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Musharraf’s successor, Asif Ali Zardari, has taken off the limitations, allowing a ramped-up campaign of drone strikes, including the one that appears to have finished off Baitullah Mehsud. Along with the ongoing offensive against militants in Swat and nearby areas, this is a sign that Zardari is more serious than Musharraf ever was about combating fundamentalist zealots like Mehsud. That should be no surprise, given that Mehsud was suspected of murdering Zardari’s wife, Benazir Bhutto.

So what’s the bad news? That the only way the government of Pakistan can eliminate dangerous enemies like Baitullah Mehsud is by calling for American help. Pakistan has a huge army, but whether owing to a lack of capability or will—more likely the latter—it has not been able to root out militant leaders who operate in plain sight on its soil. Even with Mehsud gone, numerous other extremists are running around Pakistan. The city of Quetta, for instance, is host to a shura (“council”) headed by Mullah Omar, which is running a good part of the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan. If the Pakistani army wanted to eliminate the shura, it could. But it doesn’t want to.

I am prepared to believe that Zardari is sincere in his desire to root out the terrorists, but can he mobilize the sluggish and apathetic Pakistani army bureaucracy? The offensive in Swat is a good sign but only the first step of many that will be required to walk Pakistan—and Afghanistan—back from the brink.

There’s good news and bad news in reports of the death of Pakistani Taliban majordomo Baitullah Mehsud. And not all of it is obvious at first blush.

The most obvious good news is that a major terrorist leader has gone to claim his 72 virgins. It is also good news that his lieutenants appear to be fighting over who will succeed him. Another bit of good news, which is less obvious, is that the government of Pakistan allowed the strike by what appears to be a CIA-operated Predator unmanned aerial vehicle. This is something hard to imagine Pervez Musharraf, the previous president of Pakistan, doing. He, too, allowed American drones to operate over Pakistan but severely limited the number of targets they could hit. They were pretty much only allowed to go after al-Qaeda—not after the Taliban and other groups that are destabilizing both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Musharraf’s successor, Asif Ali Zardari, has taken off the limitations, allowing a ramped-up campaign of drone strikes, including the one that appears to have finished off Baitullah Mehsud. Along with the ongoing offensive against militants in Swat and nearby areas, this is a sign that Zardari is more serious than Musharraf ever was about combating fundamentalist zealots like Mehsud. That should be no surprise, given that Mehsud was suspected of murdering Zardari’s wife, Benazir Bhutto.

So what’s the bad news? That the only way the government of Pakistan can eliminate dangerous enemies like Baitullah Mehsud is by calling for American help. Pakistan has a huge army, but whether owing to a lack of capability or will—more likely the latter—it has not been able to root out militant leaders who operate in plain sight on its soil. Even with Mehsud gone, numerous other extremists are running around Pakistan. The city of Quetta, for instance, is host to a shura (“council”) headed by Mullah Omar, which is running a good part of the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan. If the Pakistani army wanted to eliminate the shura, it could. But it doesn’t want to.

I am prepared to believe that Zardari is sincere in his desire to root out the terrorists, but can he mobilize the sluggish and apathetic Pakistani army bureaucracy? The offensive in Swat is a good sign but only the first step of many that will be required to walk Pakistan—and Afghanistan—back from the brink.

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Malley Stumbles Upon the Truth: Peace Isn’t Possible

Former Clinton administration staffer Robert Malley’s chief claim to fame is being the sole non-Palestinian observer of the fateful July 2000 Camp David Summit who did not put the blame for that conclave’s disastrous failure squarely on the shoulders of Yasser Arafat. At Camp David, Arafat turned down an astounding offer for a Palestinian state in nearly all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem that was put forward by then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak with the encouragement of President Clinton. Malley pioneered the practice of dismissing this offer as insignificant and rationalizing Arafat’s refusal to take yes for an answer, as well as his decision to answer that peace deal with a terrorist war of attrition, known as the second intifada.

Malley’s version of the Camp David debacle ran contrary to the facts, but it has gradually gained ground, especially on the Left. By discrediting the Israeli proposal and thereby absolving the Palestinians of blame for Arafat’s unwillingness to make peace, Malley helped set the stage for a decade of anti-Israel vituperation.

Malley, who was listed for a time as an unofficial adviser to the Obama presidential campaign, is at it again today in an op-ed in the New York Times, co-authored with Hussein Agha.

Malley and Agha dispute the idea that a two-state solution to the conflict will solve anything. They start out by drawing a false analogy between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech accepting the concept of a Palestinian state and comments by Hamas terrorist head Khaled Meshal that he might accept a truce that would push the Israelis back to the 1967 borders. Though the Hamas statement was clearly a snare intended only for Western ears (a practice introduced by Arafat), Malley and Agha give President Obama credit for a partial opening to Hamas in his Cairo speech. The two authors also mock Netanyahu’s demands that the peace with a Palestinian state be genuine and include recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, a firm commitment to nonviolence, and no “right of return” for the descendants of 1948 refugees.

But they do stumble upon a key truth about the entire peace process—they understand that what the Palestinians want isn’t merely sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Jews want a Jewish state and are willing to let the Palestinians have their own state too in order to live in peace. The problem is that the core of Palestinian national identity is a desire not for a Palestinian state but for eradicating the Jewish one, which they view as illegitimate no matter where the borders are drawn. Agha and Malley write:

Even fewer Palestinians take issue with the categorical rebuff of [a Jewish state], as the recent Fatah congress in Bethlehem confirmed. In their eyes, to accept Israel as a Jewish state would legitimize the Zionist enterprise that brought about their tragedy. It would render the Palestinian national struggle at best meaningless, at worst criminal.

Yet instead of urging Palestinians to give up goals incompatible with peace, the authors merely say that the next step for peace processors is to go back to 1948 and revisit the issues of that era—i.e., whether there should be a Jewish state at all. While still viewing an Israeli pullback to the 1967 lines as the inescapable starting point of a peace process, their conclusion is that once that milestone is accomplished, the goal of peace would be “how to define the state of Israel.” Thus, in their view, what Israel will be negotiating in the future is not the borders of its state or whether a Palestinian state will have the capability to attack it, but whether or not it will exist at all.

Though many will dismiss this piece as extremist fare, Malley has a history of being the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to anti-Israel polemics. Though the authors couch their article in terms that allow them to pose as peace advocates, what Agha and Malley are attempting to do is legitimize the theme that peace depends on the end of the Jewish state even within the 1949 armistice lines.

While rejecting the authors’ anti-Zionist goal, the so-called peace camp ought to think seriously about what drives the Palestinians’ sense of their own identity. What Malley and Agha have done is illustrate the utter implausibility of any attempt to make peace under the current circumstances. If giving up the destruction of the Jewish state as a goal is not a realistic concession to hope for from the Palestinians, what point is there in pushing Israel to make concessions to them? That is a question that Mr. Malley’s former client, who now sits in the White House, ought to be asking himself.

Former Clinton administration staffer Robert Malley’s chief claim to fame is being the sole non-Palestinian observer of the fateful July 2000 Camp David Summit who did not put the blame for that conclave’s disastrous failure squarely on the shoulders of Yasser Arafat. At Camp David, Arafat turned down an astounding offer for a Palestinian state in nearly all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem that was put forward by then Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak with the encouragement of President Clinton. Malley pioneered the practice of dismissing this offer as insignificant and rationalizing Arafat’s refusal to take yes for an answer, as well as his decision to answer that peace deal with a terrorist war of attrition, known as the second intifada.

Malley’s version of the Camp David debacle ran contrary to the facts, but it has gradually gained ground, especially on the Left. By discrediting the Israeli proposal and thereby absolving the Palestinians of blame for Arafat’s unwillingness to make peace, Malley helped set the stage for a decade of anti-Israel vituperation.

Malley, who was listed for a time as an unofficial adviser to the Obama presidential campaign, is at it again today in an op-ed in the New York Times, co-authored with Hussein Agha.

Malley and Agha dispute the idea that a two-state solution to the conflict will solve anything. They start out by drawing a false analogy between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech accepting the concept of a Palestinian state and comments by Hamas terrorist head Khaled Meshal that he might accept a truce that would push the Israelis back to the 1967 borders. Though the Hamas statement was clearly a snare intended only for Western ears (a practice introduced by Arafat), Malley and Agha give President Obama credit for a partial opening to Hamas in his Cairo speech. The two authors also mock Netanyahu’s demands that the peace with a Palestinian state be genuine and include recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, a firm commitment to nonviolence, and no “right of return” for the descendants of 1948 refugees.

But they do stumble upon a key truth about the entire peace process—they understand that what the Palestinians want isn’t merely sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Jews want a Jewish state and are willing to let the Palestinians have their own state too in order to live in peace. The problem is that the core of Palestinian national identity is a desire not for a Palestinian state but for eradicating the Jewish one, which they view as illegitimate no matter where the borders are drawn. Agha and Malley write:

Even fewer Palestinians take issue with the categorical rebuff of [a Jewish state], as the recent Fatah congress in Bethlehem confirmed. In their eyes, to accept Israel as a Jewish state would legitimize the Zionist enterprise that brought about their tragedy. It would render the Palestinian national struggle at best meaningless, at worst criminal.

Yet instead of urging Palestinians to give up goals incompatible with peace, the authors merely say that the next step for peace processors is to go back to 1948 and revisit the issues of that era—i.e., whether there should be a Jewish state at all. While still viewing an Israeli pullback to the 1967 lines as the inescapable starting point of a peace process, their conclusion is that once that milestone is accomplished, the goal of peace would be “how to define the state of Israel.” Thus, in their view, what Israel will be negotiating in the future is not the borders of its state or whether a Palestinian state will have the capability to attack it, but whether or not it will exist at all.

Though many will dismiss this piece as extremist fare, Malley has a history of being the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to anti-Israel polemics. Though the authors couch their article in terms that allow them to pose as peace advocates, what Agha and Malley are attempting to do is legitimize the theme that peace depends on the end of the Jewish state even within the 1949 armistice lines.

While rejecting the authors’ anti-Zionist goal, the so-called peace camp ought to think seriously about what drives the Palestinians’ sense of their own identity. What Malley and Agha have done is illustrate the utter implausibility of any attempt to make peace under the current circumstances. If giving up the destruction of the Jewish state as a goal is not a realistic concession to hope for from the Palestinians, what point is there in pushing Israel to make concessions to them? That is a question that Mr. Malley’s former client, who now sits in the White House, ought to be asking himself.

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Re: Premature Panic in Afghanistan?

I wanted to add to Max’s post regarding what General McChrystal said. I, too, noticed yesterday’s Wall Street Journal headline—and, like Max, I thought it was misleading. As it happens, USA Today had a story yesterday titled, “McChrystal: Jobs could curb Taliban fighting, U.S. commander in Afghanistan to tweak strategy.” In the story, we read this quote:

“I wouldn’t say we are winning or losing or stalemated,” McChrystal said about the current fighting. “What I would say at this particular point is that the insurgency has a certain amount of initiative and momentum that we are working to stop and, in fact, reverse.”

That strikes me as a reasonable assessment of the situation on the ground. And having been in the White House during both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars, I strongly second Max’s caution that “there’s no need to push the panic button.” The situation in Afghanistan, while certainly challenging, is not as precarious as Iraq’s state in 2006, when it was in something close to a death spiral.

In addition, we have the advantage of having gone through and learned from Iraq; and some of those lessons are being applied to Afghanistan (again, with the caveat that the two nations are different in important ways). Nor are Americans nearly as focused on, or impatient to leave, Afghanistan as they were with Iraq. The political debate is not nearly as heated as in Iraq’s case. Finally, President Obama does not face what President Bush did: an opposition party in Congress that was recklessly demanding that the United States give up on the war, even after the surge was showing success and regardless of the awful consequences accompanying an American defeat.

Kimberly Kagan has an insightful piece at Foreign Policy on Afghanistan, which she concludes this way:

The fact that we have not been doing the right things for the past few years in Afghanistan is actually good news at this moment. A sound, properly resourced counterinsurgency has not failed in Afghanistan; it has never even been tried. So there is good reason to think that such a new strategy can succeed now. But we have to hurry, for as is often the case in these kinds of war, if you aren’t winning, you’re losing.

In sum: It is not time to panic. But it is time to act with a sense of urgency. Like in Iraq, the stakes in this war are extremely high.

I wanted to add to Max’s post regarding what General McChrystal said. I, too, noticed yesterday’s Wall Street Journal headline—and, like Max, I thought it was misleading. As it happens, USA Today had a story yesterday titled, “McChrystal: Jobs could curb Taliban fighting, U.S. commander in Afghanistan to tweak strategy.” In the story, we read this quote:

“I wouldn’t say we are winning or losing or stalemated,” McChrystal said about the current fighting. “What I would say at this particular point is that the insurgency has a certain amount of initiative and momentum that we are working to stop and, in fact, reverse.”

That strikes me as a reasonable assessment of the situation on the ground. And having been in the White House during both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars, I strongly second Max’s caution that “there’s no need to push the panic button.” The situation in Afghanistan, while certainly challenging, is not as precarious as Iraq’s state in 2006, when it was in something close to a death spiral.

In addition, we have the advantage of having gone through and learned from Iraq; and some of those lessons are being applied to Afghanistan (again, with the caveat that the two nations are different in important ways). Nor are Americans nearly as focused on, or impatient to leave, Afghanistan as they were with Iraq. The political debate is not nearly as heated as in Iraq’s case. Finally, President Obama does not face what President Bush did: an opposition party in Congress that was recklessly demanding that the United States give up on the war, even after the surge was showing success and regardless of the awful consequences accompanying an American defeat.

Kimberly Kagan has an insightful piece at Foreign Policy on Afghanistan, which she concludes this way:

The fact that we have not been doing the right things for the past few years in Afghanistan is actually good news at this moment. A sound, properly resourced counterinsurgency has not failed in Afghanistan; it has never even been tried. So there is good reason to think that such a new strategy can succeed now. But we have to hurry, for as is often the case in these kinds of war, if you aren’t winning, you’re losing.

In sum: It is not time to panic. But it is time to act with a sense of urgency. Like in Iraq, the stakes in this war are extremely high.

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Congressmen Object to Honoring Durban Ringmaster

The following letter, I am informed, is now circulating for signatures among members of the House:

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to respectfully request that you reconsider your decision to award a Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Irish President Mary Robinson. While we are aware of her achievements, they are outweighed by her failed, biased record as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.

As High Commissioner, Robinson personified the anti-Israel bias that pervades the United Nations system. She repeatedly singled out the Jewish state for condemnation, while often mitigating or excusing violent Palestinian extremism. In 1998, Robinson called a riotous grouping of Palestinians throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, among other things, as a “peaceful assembly.” She led a one-sided, anti-Israel “fact-finding” mission to the Middle East in 2000 and repeatedly denounced Israel’s efforts to defend its citizens from attack by violent extremists. She even hired as a senior adviser someone who once compared Israel9s self-defense measures to Nazi regulations.

Robinson also bears significant blame for the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa (Durban I). Under her leadership, radical regimes hijacked Durban I and turned it into an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, anti-American hatefest.

Our late colleague Representative Tom Lantos, who attended the conference, correctly noted that for “many of us present at the events at Durban, it is clear that much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of [High Commissioner] Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track. Indeed, she obstructed efforts to prevent the conference from devolving into an Israel-bashing event.” Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel also noted Robinson’s failure to address the problems with Durban I.

Her conduct as High Commissioner politicized both the office and the human rights issue itself, undermining both. However, instead of demonstrating regret for her conduct, Robinson has reaffirmed it. She denied the conference’s failure, claiming that “Durban achieved its objective. It yielded an extraordinarily important document for those who suffer discrimination and marginalization and racism.” She also derided her critics in terms bordering on bigotry, claiming “bullying by certain elements of the Jewish community.”

Mr. President, you did the right thing by staying away from a biased Durban Review Conference (Durban II) that reaffirmed Durban I’s declaration, noting that “if you adopted all the language from 2001, that’s just not something we could sign up for… our participation would have involved putting our imprimatur on something that we just don’t believe.” Likewise, awarding this nation’s highest civilian honor to Mary Robinson risks putting our imprimatur on a biased record that contravenes our nation’s deepest values. Therefore, in keeping with your decision on Durban II, we respectfully request that you not grant Ms. Robinson this distinction.

Sincerely,

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Ranking Member House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Thaddeus McCotter
Chairman Republican House Policy Committee

It seems that, at least in the House, some want no part of honoring Robinson or her anti-Israel record.

UPDATE: As the time of this writing, there are 45 signatories:

Ros-Lehtinen, McCotter, Cantor, Pence, Carter, Smith (TX), Price (GA), Hensarling, Smith (NJ), Burton, Manzullo, Royce, Bartlett, Stearns, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Goodlatte, Frelinghuysen, LaTourette, Tiahrt, LoBiondo, Bono Mack, Culberson, Kirk, Tiberi, Rogers (MI), Wilson (SC), Bishop, Blackburn, Burgess, Mario Diaz-Balart, Franks, Garrett, King (IA), Poe, Lungren, Conaway, McHenry, Bachmann, Bilirakis, Buchanan, Jordan, Lamborn, Thompson (PA), Lance, Luetkemeyer.

The following letter, I am informed, is now circulating for signatures among members of the House:

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to respectfully request that you reconsider your decision to award a Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Irish President Mary Robinson. While we are aware of her achievements, they are outweighed by her failed, biased record as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.

As High Commissioner, Robinson personified the anti-Israel bias that pervades the United Nations system. She repeatedly singled out the Jewish state for condemnation, while often mitigating or excusing violent Palestinian extremism. In 1998, Robinson called a riotous grouping of Palestinians throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, among other things, as a “peaceful assembly.” She led a one-sided, anti-Israel “fact-finding” mission to the Middle East in 2000 and repeatedly denounced Israel’s efforts to defend its citizens from attack by violent extremists. She even hired as a senior adviser someone who once compared Israel9s self-defense measures to Nazi regulations.

Robinson also bears significant blame for the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa (Durban I). Under her leadership, radical regimes hijacked Durban I and turned it into an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, anti-American hatefest.

Our late colleague Representative Tom Lantos, who attended the conference, correctly noted that for “many of us present at the events at Durban, it is clear that much of the responsibility for the debacle rests on the shoulders of [High Commissioner] Mary Robinson, who, in her role as secretary-general of the conference, failed to provide the leadership needed to keep the conference on track. Indeed, she obstructed efforts to prevent the conference from devolving into an Israel-bashing event.” Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel also noted Robinson’s failure to address the problems with Durban I.

Her conduct as High Commissioner politicized both the office and the human rights issue itself, undermining both. However, instead of demonstrating regret for her conduct, Robinson has reaffirmed it. She denied the conference’s failure, claiming that “Durban achieved its objective. It yielded an extraordinarily important document for those who suffer discrimination and marginalization and racism.” She also derided her critics in terms bordering on bigotry, claiming “bullying by certain elements of the Jewish community.”

Mr. President, you did the right thing by staying away from a biased Durban Review Conference (Durban II) that reaffirmed Durban I’s declaration, noting that “if you adopted all the language from 2001, that’s just not something we could sign up for… our participation would have involved putting our imprimatur on something that we just don’t believe.” Likewise, awarding this nation’s highest civilian honor to Mary Robinson risks putting our imprimatur on a biased record that contravenes our nation’s deepest values. Therefore, in keeping with your decision on Durban II, we respectfully request that you not grant Ms. Robinson this distinction.

Sincerely,

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Ranking Member House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Thaddeus McCotter
Chairman Republican House Policy Committee

It seems that, at least in the House, some want no part of honoring Robinson or her anti-Israel record.

UPDATE: As the time of this writing, there are 45 signatories:

Ros-Lehtinen, McCotter, Cantor, Pence, Carter, Smith (TX), Price (GA), Hensarling, Smith (NJ), Burton, Manzullo, Royce, Bartlett, Stearns, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Goodlatte, Frelinghuysen, LaTourette, Tiahrt, LoBiondo, Bono Mack, Culberson, Kirk, Tiberi, Rogers (MI), Wilson (SC), Bishop, Blackburn, Burgess, Mario Diaz-Balart, Franks, Garrett, King (IA), Poe, Lungren, Conaway, McHenry, Bachmann, Bilirakis, Buchanan, Jordan, Lamborn, Thompson (PA), Lance, Luetkemeyer.

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Who Is the Bully?

The UN Watch has drafted a letter to Mary Robinson taking issue with her claim of bullying. Executive director Hillel Neuer writes:

In your own words, “certain elements” of the Jewish community—those opposed to your selection—are subjecting you to “bullying.”

Mrs. Robinson, let’s be honest: no one has bullied you, and you are not being vilified by false accusations. Instead, facts were presented and issues raised concerning your 1997-2002 tenure as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights—by mainstream Jewish organizations as well as by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle—which question the integrity of your actions on the Middle East, most famously during the lead-up to that dark moment in history known as the Durban conference.

Hurling ad hominem epithets won’t make these facts go away. Nor will misrepresenting your critics’ arguments and then purporting to refute them, which is what both you and your defenders have been doing.

The letter then goes through chapter and verse of her record at the meeting leading up to Durban and the conference itself, quoting liberally from the account of the late Tom Lantos. The conclusion:

Leadership means taking responsibility. During the march to Durban you could have confronted the purveyors of anti-Israel hatred from the start. Instead, you chose to egg them on, only to have it explode in your face—by which time your protestations were simply too little and too late. You may not have been the chief culprit of the Durban debacle, but you will always be its preeminent symbol.

But that is not all. The letter continues with her post-Durban career. Neuer explains:

When the Arab and Islamic blocs, supported by an automatic majority of countries like China, Russia, and Cuba, diverted the world’s highest human rights body from its mission—ignoring millions of human rights victims in 191 countries in order to target Israel—you could have taken them on.

Unlike the U.S. president’s powers vis-à-vis Congress, you had no power to veto the Commission’s enactments. But you held the moral pulpit of the U.N. human rights system and could have set a different tone for Geneva. Unlike the political body, you were required to be impartial, objective, and non-selective.

Regrettably, however, when it came to Israel, you effectively encouraged the Commission’s anti-Israel obsession—an obsession that epitomized the politicization and selectivity that ultimately doomed the now-defunct body.

Once again, he details no fewer than six examples and reveals that whenever these concerns were raised with her she “rejected them out of hand.”

One wonders what response, if any, Robinson will supply. More important, what does the White House have to say about all this? Ah—they are honoring her for something else altogether, we are supposed to believe. Well, whatever that is, it pales by comparison to her disgraceful record at the UN.

The UN Watch has drafted a letter to Mary Robinson taking issue with her claim of bullying. Executive director Hillel Neuer writes:

In your own words, “certain elements” of the Jewish community—those opposed to your selection—are subjecting you to “bullying.”

Mrs. Robinson, let’s be honest: no one has bullied you, and you are not being vilified by false accusations. Instead, facts were presented and issues raised concerning your 1997-2002 tenure as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights—by mainstream Jewish organizations as well as by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle—which question the integrity of your actions on the Middle East, most famously during the lead-up to that dark moment in history known as the Durban conference.

Hurling ad hominem epithets won’t make these facts go away. Nor will misrepresenting your critics’ arguments and then purporting to refute them, which is what both you and your defenders have been doing.

The letter then goes through chapter and verse of her record at the meeting leading up to Durban and the conference itself, quoting liberally from the account of the late Tom Lantos. The conclusion:

Leadership means taking responsibility. During the march to Durban you could have confronted the purveyors of anti-Israel hatred from the start. Instead, you chose to egg them on, only to have it explode in your face—by which time your protestations were simply too little and too late. You may not have been the chief culprit of the Durban debacle, but you will always be its preeminent symbol.

But that is not all. The letter continues with her post-Durban career. Neuer explains:

When the Arab and Islamic blocs, supported by an automatic majority of countries like China, Russia, and Cuba, diverted the world’s highest human rights body from its mission—ignoring millions of human rights victims in 191 countries in order to target Israel—you could have taken them on.

Unlike the U.S. president’s powers vis-à-vis Congress, you had no power to veto the Commission’s enactments. But you held the moral pulpit of the U.N. human rights system and could have set a different tone for Geneva. Unlike the political body, you were required to be impartial, objective, and non-selective.

Regrettably, however, when it came to Israel, you effectively encouraged the Commission’s anti-Israel obsession—an obsession that epitomized the politicization and selectivity that ultimately doomed the now-defunct body.

Once again, he details no fewer than six examples and reveals that whenever these concerns were raised with her she “rejected them out of hand.”

One wonders what response, if any, Robinson will supply. More important, what does the White House have to say about all this? Ah—they are honoring her for something else altogether, we are supposed to believe. Well, whatever that is, it pales by comparison to her disgraceful record at the UN.

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Premature Panic in Afghanistan?

That was a startling headline in the Wall Street Journal yesterday:

Taliban Now Winning: U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Warns of Rising Casualties

But I was suspicious the minute I read the first paragraph:

The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency’s spiritual home.

Note the lack of quote marks around any statement in the lead or in the headline. If General Stan McChrystal had actually said “the Taliban are winning,” why did the Journal rely on a paraphrase? Turns out because he didn’t actually say it.

According to various military spokesmen, the Journal version of McChyrstal’s remarks was “inaccurate”:

To clarify, the commander did not say the Taliban was winning, in his interview with the Wall Street Journal as suggested by the headline. He explained that International Security Assistance Forces are facing an aggressive enemy, employing complex tactics that is gaining momentum in some parts of Afghanistan. During the course of the interview he also observed that insurgents in Afghanistan face their own problems in terms of popularity, cohesiveness and ability to sustain morale and fighting capacity.

That seems a more likely description of what McChrystal actually said—and a better description of what is actually happening on the ground. It would be fair to say that the Taliban have been winning in southern Afghanistan, while eastern Afghanistan has been stalemated, and the Taliban have been starting to carry out attacks in the north and west. But that’s not to say the Taliban are winning in the whole country, as suggested by the headline. The overall level of violence is still far below what it was in Iraq at the height of its insurgency, and Kabul remains more secure than Baghdad ever was—or is today. Moreover, Taliban gains in the south and east are likely to be rolled back, at least to some extent, with the arrival of new U.S. troops, which will bring our troop total to 68,000. So, yes, we should be deeply concerned about Afghanistan—the situation certainly warrants greater American resources, including more troops. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

That was a startling headline in the Wall Street Journal yesterday:

Taliban Now Winning: U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Warns of Rising Casualties

But I was suspicious the minute I read the first paragraph:

The Taliban have gained the upper hand in Afghanistan, the top American commander there said, forcing the U.S. to change its strategy in the eight-year-old conflict by increasing the number of troops in heavily populated areas like the volatile southern city of Kandahar, the insurgency’s spiritual home.

Note the lack of quote marks around any statement in the lead or in the headline. If General Stan McChrystal had actually said “the Taliban are winning,” why did the Journal rely on a paraphrase? Turns out because he didn’t actually say it.

According to various military spokesmen, the Journal version of McChyrstal’s remarks was “inaccurate”:

To clarify, the commander did not say the Taliban was winning, in his interview with the Wall Street Journal as suggested by the headline. He explained that International Security Assistance Forces are facing an aggressive enemy, employing complex tactics that is gaining momentum in some parts of Afghanistan. During the course of the interview he also observed that insurgents in Afghanistan face their own problems in terms of popularity, cohesiveness and ability to sustain morale and fighting capacity.

That seems a more likely description of what McChrystal actually said—and a better description of what is actually happening on the ground. It would be fair to say that the Taliban have been winning in southern Afghanistan, while eastern Afghanistan has been stalemated, and the Taliban have been starting to carry out attacks in the north and west. But that’s not to say the Taliban are winning in the whole country, as suggested by the headline. The overall level of violence is still far below what it was in Iraq at the height of its insurgency, and Kabul remains more secure than Baghdad ever was—or is today. Moreover, Taliban gains in the south and east are likely to be rolled back, at least to some extent, with the arrival of new U.S. troops, which will bring our troop total to 68,000. So, yes, we should be deeply concerned about Afghanistan—the situation certainly warrants greater American resources, including more troops. But there’s no need to push the panic button.

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Congress Reining in Obama on Israel?

Two headlines today give us a sense that the Democratic-led Congress is looking to play a more significant role in countering the Obama administration’s heavy-handed approach to Israel. First, House majority leader Steny Hoyer gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post in which he praised Prime Minister Netanyahu, sharply criticized the Fatah conference, and declared that Congress had differentiated between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank—nothing less than a slap in the face to the administration’s explicit refusal to make such distinctions.

Second, 71 U.S. senators sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to press Arab states to take major steps toward normalizing ties with Israel:

Such steps could include ending the Arab League boycott of Israel, meeting openly with Israeli officials, establishing open trade relations with Israel, issuing visas to Israeli citizens, and inviting Israelis to participate in academic and professional conferences and sporting events. We also believe that Arab states must immediately and permanently end official propaganda campaigns which demonize Israel and Jews.

These seem like pretty obvious requirements for any possible reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world. Yet it is the Senate, not the Obama administration, that has undertaken to enumerate them publicly. Combining this letter with the Hoyer interview, we get the sense that congressional leaders have decided that the change in U.S. policy on Israel has gone far enough.

Two headlines today give us a sense that the Democratic-led Congress is looking to play a more significant role in countering the Obama administration’s heavy-handed approach to Israel. First, House majority leader Steny Hoyer gave an interview to the Jerusalem Post in which he praised Prime Minister Netanyahu, sharply criticized the Fatah conference, and declared that Congress had differentiated between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank—nothing less than a slap in the face to the administration’s explicit refusal to make such distinctions.

Second, 71 U.S. senators sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to press Arab states to take major steps toward normalizing ties with Israel:

Such steps could include ending the Arab League boycott of Israel, meeting openly with Israeli officials, establishing open trade relations with Israel, issuing visas to Israeli citizens, and inviting Israelis to participate in academic and professional conferences and sporting events. We also believe that Arab states must immediately and permanently end official propaganda campaigns which demonize Israel and Jews.

These seem like pretty obvious requirements for any possible reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world. Yet it is the Senate, not the Obama administration, that has undertaken to enumerate them publicly. Combining this letter with the Hoyer interview, we get the sense that congressional leaders have decided that the change in U.S. policy on Israel has gone far enough.

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Bolton: It Is the Presenter, Not the Honoree That Matters

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton, writing in the Wall Street Journal, weighs in on Mary Robinson. He reviews the outrage at Durban. But this is the heart of his criticism of the decision to award her the Medal of Freedom:

Durban is not the only reason Ms. Robinson should not receive the Medal of Freedom. Over the years she has actively opposed “the security or national interests of the United States,” one of the categories of eligibility for the Medal. Those in the administration who recommended her either ignored her anti-Israel history, or missed it entirely, as they either ignored or overlooked her hostility toward America’s role in promoting international peace and security. Or perhaps they share Ms. Robinson’s views.

One example, particularly significant today given the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, is Ms. Robinson’s strong opinions about the use of force. During the Clinton administration’s (and NATO’s) air campaign against Serbia because of its assault on Kosovo, for instance, she opined that “civilian casualties are human rights victims.” But her real objection was not to civilian casualties but to the bombing itself, saying “NATO remains the sole judge of what is or is not acceptable to bomb,” which she did not mean as a compliment.

In fact, Ms. Robinson wanted U.N. control over NATO’s actions: “It surely must be right for the Security Council . . . to have a say in whether a prolonged bombing campaign in which the bombers choose their target at will is consistent with the principle of legality under the Charter of the United Nations.” One wonders if this is also Mr. Obama’s view, given the enormous consequences for U.S. national security.

This February, asked whether former President George W. Bush should be prosecuted for war crimes, Ms. Robinson answered that it was “premature,” until a “process” such as an “independent inquiry” was established: “[T]hen the decision can be taken as to whether anybody will be held accountable.” In particular, she objected to the Bush administration’s “war paradigm” for dealing with terrorism, saying we actually “need to reinforce the criminal justice system.” Asked about Mr. Obama’s statements on “moving forward,” Ms. Robinson responded that “one of the ways of looking forward is to have the courage to say we must inquire.”

Ms. Robinson’s award shows Mr. Obama’s detachment from longstanding, mainstream, American public opinion on foreign policy. The administration’s tin ear to the furor over Ms. Robinson underlines how deep that detachment really is.

And that really is the bottom line. It is not that Obama and his team “missed” her involvement at Durban or overlooked her record more generally at the UN. It is that they did not find it all that troubling, or perhaps they even considered it admirable. They did give her a prize for it after all. It is not that her views are anathema to them—just to mainstream opinion in the U.S. The Robinson award is important because it tells us whom we are dealing with—in the White House. We already know about Robinson and the UN. The lesson to be learned is that Robinson is the role model, the ideal international citizen, whom the Obama team admires. It is chilling. But that is the reality of what the America public, the West, and Israel must confront for the foreseeable future.

Former UN Ambassador John Bolton, writing in the Wall Street Journal, weighs in on Mary Robinson. He reviews the outrage at Durban. But this is the heart of his criticism of the decision to award her the Medal of Freedom:

Durban is not the only reason Ms. Robinson should not receive the Medal of Freedom. Over the years she has actively opposed “the security or national interests of the United States,” one of the categories of eligibility for the Medal. Those in the administration who recommended her either ignored her anti-Israel history, or missed it entirely, as they either ignored or overlooked her hostility toward America’s role in promoting international peace and security. Or perhaps they share Ms. Robinson’s views.

One example, particularly significant today given the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, is Ms. Robinson’s strong opinions about the use of force. During the Clinton administration’s (and NATO’s) air campaign against Serbia because of its assault on Kosovo, for instance, she opined that “civilian casualties are human rights victims.” But her real objection was not to civilian casualties but to the bombing itself, saying “NATO remains the sole judge of what is or is not acceptable to bomb,” which she did not mean as a compliment.

In fact, Ms. Robinson wanted U.N. control over NATO’s actions: “It surely must be right for the Security Council . . . to have a say in whether a prolonged bombing campaign in which the bombers choose their target at will is consistent with the principle of legality under the Charter of the United Nations.” One wonders if this is also Mr. Obama’s view, given the enormous consequences for U.S. national security.

This February, asked whether former President George W. Bush should be prosecuted for war crimes, Ms. Robinson answered that it was “premature,” until a “process” such as an “independent inquiry” was established: “[T]hen the decision can be taken as to whether anybody will be held accountable.” In particular, she objected to the Bush administration’s “war paradigm” for dealing with terrorism, saying we actually “need to reinforce the criminal justice system.” Asked about Mr. Obama’s statements on “moving forward,” Ms. Robinson responded that “one of the ways of looking forward is to have the courage to say we must inquire.”

Ms. Robinson’s award shows Mr. Obama’s detachment from longstanding, mainstream, American public opinion on foreign policy. The administration’s tin ear to the furor over Ms. Robinson underlines how deep that detachment really is.

And that really is the bottom line. It is not that Obama and his team “missed” her involvement at Durban or overlooked her record more generally at the UN. It is that they did not find it all that troubling, or perhaps they even considered it admirable. They did give her a prize for it after all. It is not that her views are anathema to them—just to mainstream opinion in the U.S. The Robinson award is important because it tells us whom we are dealing with—in the White House. We already know about Robinson and the UN. The lesson to be learned is that Robinson is the role model, the ideal international citizen, whom the Obama team admires. It is chilling. But that is the reality of what the America public, the West, and Israel must confront for the foreseeable future.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not even the White House agrees with Nancy Pelosi’s attack on “un-American” town-hall health-care critics.

The Republicans are going to town on it—after all, it isn’t every day that Democrats declare war on the voters.

Jim Geraghty thinks we should get to the bottom of all this un-American activity.

Meanwhile, Obama’s poll numbers go lower. You don’t think voters resent being called un-American, do you?

Mickey Kaus has this wild idea that Obama should respectfully engage and listen to his critics.

The Obama team no doubt would tell Steny Hoyer to engage in some self-reflection: “US House Majority leader Steny Hoyer praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, called for the Palestinian Authority to drop any preconditions to negotiations, and said that Congress differentiated between building in east Jerusalem and in the West Bank, during an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday.”

Dorothy Rabinowitz: “Who would have believed that this politician celebrated, above all, for his eloquence and capacity to connect with voters would end up as president proving so profoundly tone deaf? A great many people is the answer—the same who listened to those speeches of his during the campaign, searching for their meaning.”

It seems the Cairo speech has created a bipartisan consensus—of opposition to the Cairo speech and to Obama’s Middle East approach: “A group of 71 senators that includes senior leaders from both parties sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday to press Arab states to recommit to peace with Israel. The effort, led by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), is being promoted and circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and comes two months after Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo.”

Gov. Jon Corzine is shaking up his campaign staff. “Hard-edged backroom fighters” are what’s needed, Corzine has decided. Well, other than getting a new candidate or a new message, I suppose a staff shake-up is the next best thing.

Not even the White House agrees with Nancy Pelosi’s attack on “un-American” town-hall health-care critics.

The Republicans are going to town on it—after all, it isn’t every day that Democrats declare war on the voters.

Jim Geraghty thinks we should get to the bottom of all this un-American activity.

Meanwhile, Obama’s poll numbers go lower. You don’t think voters resent being called un-American, do you?

Mickey Kaus has this wild idea that Obama should respectfully engage and listen to his critics.

The Obama team no doubt would tell Steny Hoyer to engage in some self-reflection: “US House Majority leader Steny Hoyer praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, called for the Palestinian Authority to drop any preconditions to negotiations, and said that Congress differentiated between building in east Jerusalem and in the West Bank, during an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday.”

Dorothy Rabinowitz: “Who would have believed that this politician celebrated, above all, for his eloquence and capacity to connect with voters would end up as president proving so profoundly tone deaf? A great many people is the answer—the same who listened to those speeches of his during the campaign, searching for their meaning.”

It seems the Cairo speech has created a bipartisan consensus—of opposition to the Cairo speech and to Obama’s Middle East approach: “A group of 71 senators that includes senior leaders from both parties sent a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday to press Arab states to recommit to peace with Israel. The effort, led by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho), is being promoted and circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and comes two months after Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo.”

Gov. Jon Corzine is shaking up his campaign staff. “Hard-edged backroom fighters” are what’s needed, Corzine has decided. Well, other than getting a new candidate or a new message, I suppose a staff shake-up is the next best thing.

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