Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 30, 2009

Honduran Democracy Takes The Fall

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes:

This administration needs a win. Or more accurately, it can’t bear another loss right now. Most especially it can’t afford to be defeated by the government of a puny Central American country that doesn’t seem to know its place in the world and dares to defy the imperial orders of Uncle Sam.

I’m referring, of course, to Honduras, which despite two months of intense pressure from Washington is still refusing to reinstate Manuel Zelaya, its deposed president. Last week the administration took off the gloves and sent a message that it would use everything it has to break the neck of the Honduran democracy. Its bullying might work. But it will never be able to brag about what it has done.

The Obama administration, of course, blew this one, backing the wrong horse and leaping to the conclusion that there had been a “coup” without regard to the Honduran constitution, the wishes of the Honduran people (to prevent a Chavez-like power grab by Zelaya), and the views of church officials and business leaders, who all back the actions of the Honduran supreme court and legislature in upholding the constitutional term-limit provisions.

But instead the Obama administration is doubling down, seeking to pressure the Honduran government to accept Zelaya by rallying regional support against the interim government and cutting off critical U.S. aid.

It is the antithesis of a respectful foreign policy — the listening and humble approach that Obama promised. The desire to “restore America’s image” did not, it seems, extend to Honduras. Apparently, respect for leaders is reserved for the likes of North Korea and Iran, while democracies get bullied. But to what end is all this aggression directed? Hugo Chavez must be delighted that we are destabilizing constitutional restrictions on his followers. And a faithful ally is thrown under the Obama bus, the victim of an ignorant and misguided policy.

It is hard to fathom what Obama hopes to achieve, but perhaps (as O’Grady suggests) he simply wants to show he can “win” at something. And thus the full force of American foreign policy is reduced to sparing Obama from yet another humiliation. We are, as O’Grady says, now reduced to the role of the “neighborhood thug” — which was precisely the image which so spooked the White House into opposing the interim government. There have been more dangerous and serious missteps by the Obama administration, but few are as shameful as this one.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes:

This administration needs a win. Or more accurately, it can’t bear another loss right now. Most especially it can’t afford to be defeated by the government of a puny Central American country that doesn’t seem to know its place in the world and dares to defy the imperial orders of Uncle Sam.

I’m referring, of course, to Honduras, which despite two months of intense pressure from Washington is still refusing to reinstate Manuel Zelaya, its deposed president. Last week the administration took off the gloves and sent a message that it would use everything it has to break the neck of the Honduran democracy. Its bullying might work. But it will never be able to brag about what it has done.

The Obama administration, of course, blew this one, backing the wrong horse and leaping to the conclusion that there had been a “coup” without regard to the Honduran constitution, the wishes of the Honduran people (to prevent a Chavez-like power grab by Zelaya), and the views of church officials and business leaders, who all back the actions of the Honduran supreme court and legislature in upholding the constitutional term-limit provisions.

But instead the Obama administration is doubling down, seeking to pressure the Honduran government to accept Zelaya by rallying regional support against the interim government and cutting off critical U.S. aid.

It is the antithesis of a respectful foreign policy — the listening and humble approach that Obama promised. The desire to “restore America’s image” did not, it seems, extend to Honduras. Apparently, respect for leaders is reserved for the likes of North Korea and Iran, while democracies get bullied. But to what end is all this aggression directed? Hugo Chavez must be delighted that we are destabilizing constitutional restrictions on his followers. And a faithful ally is thrown under the Obama bus, the victim of an ignorant and misguided policy.

It is hard to fathom what Obama hopes to achieve, but perhaps (as O’Grady suggests) he simply wants to show he can “win” at something. And thus the full force of American foreign policy is reduced to sparing Obama from yet another humiliation. We are, as O’Grady says, now reduced to the role of the “neighborhood thug” — which was precisely the image which so spooked the White House into opposing the interim government. There have been more dangerous and serious missteps by the Obama administration, but few are as shameful as this one.

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As Our Enemies Rejoice . . .

Let’s pretend we are a foreign intelligence service trying to assess the state of American counterterrorism efforts. Piece together several recent bits of open-source information:

Source A: This Washington Post article, which notes that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was transformed from an uncooperative detainee, who provided only bits of information that were “outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” into the CIA’s “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda after he “was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.” Following this ordeal, he even lectured agency officers for hours in 2005 and 2006 on the inner workings of al-Qaeda.

Source B: Another Washington Post article, which notes that:

Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program. . . .

A retired former senior CIA official said that since the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate the agency’s interrogation tactics, he has received many calls from serving intelligence officers, some in high management positions, seeking advice about new jobs or lawyers. “This is a bad one,” he said.

Source C: A Wall Street Journal article by former spook Reuel Gerecht:

Langley, once again, probably cannot field a competent group of counterterrorist interrogators. It’s a very good guess that the organization right now has no volunteers coming forward for this work, and those who are currently indentured will free themselves from this profession as soon as possible. . . .

A good case officer with Middle Eastern languages and a penchant for understanding Islamic radicalism would now have to be insane to accept an assignment that detailed him to interrogate Islamic terrorist suspects. No self-respecting case officer wants to be constantly surveilled by his boss. That’s not the way the intelligence business works, which is, when it works, an idiosyncratic, intimate affair. We should be horrified by the idea that holy warriors will now be questioned by operatives who tolerate all the cover-your-tush paperwork, who don’t mind being videoed when they go to work, who want to be second-guessed by their CIA bosses, let alone by FBI agents, and intelligence-committee Congressional staffers, and now White House officials.

If you were forced to reach a conclusion –or an “estimate,” in intelligence parlance — what would it be? It would be easy to conclude with a “high degree of confidence” that one of the most effective intelligence-gathering tactics in the war on terrorism — the aggressive interrogation of captured terrorists — has been eliminated and, along the way, the agency charged with being on the front lines of the war has been severely degraded in operational effectiveness. In other words, the Obama administration has taken some of the most effective changes implemented by the Bush administration and reversed them in what could be a Carter-style emasculation of American intelligence capabilities.

If you are a foreign intelligence service hostile to the United States, you cannot but rejoice. And if you are friendly, you cannot but weep.

Let’s pretend we are a foreign intelligence service trying to assess the state of American counterterrorism efforts. Piece together several recent bits of open-source information:

Source A: This Washington Post article, which notes that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was transformed from an uncooperative detainee, who provided only bits of information that were “outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” into the CIA’s “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda after he “was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.” Following this ordeal, he even lectured agency officers for hours in 2005 and 2006 on the inner workings of al-Qaeda.

Source B: Another Washington Post article, which notes that:

Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program. . . .

A retired former senior CIA official said that since the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate the agency’s interrogation tactics, he has received many calls from serving intelligence officers, some in high management positions, seeking advice about new jobs or lawyers. “This is a bad one,” he said.

Source C: A Wall Street Journal article by former spook Reuel Gerecht:

Langley, once again, probably cannot field a competent group of counterterrorist interrogators. It’s a very good guess that the organization right now has no volunteers coming forward for this work, and those who are currently indentured will free themselves from this profession as soon as possible. . . .

A good case officer with Middle Eastern languages and a penchant for understanding Islamic radicalism would now have to be insane to accept an assignment that detailed him to interrogate Islamic terrorist suspects. No self-respecting case officer wants to be constantly surveilled by his boss. That’s not the way the intelligence business works, which is, when it works, an idiosyncratic, intimate affair. We should be horrified by the idea that holy warriors will now be questioned by operatives who tolerate all the cover-your-tush paperwork, who don’t mind being videoed when they go to work, who want to be second-guessed by their CIA bosses, let alone by FBI agents, and intelligence-committee Congressional staffers, and now White House officials.

If you were forced to reach a conclusion –or an “estimate,” in intelligence parlance — what would it be? It would be easy to conclude with a “high degree of confidence” that one of the most effective intelligence-gathering tactics in the war on terrorism — the aggressive interrogation of captured terrorists — has been eliminated and, along the way, the agency charged with being on the front lines of the war has been severely degraded in operational effectiveness. In other words, the Obama administration has taken some of the most effective changes implemented by the Bush administration and reversed them in what could be a Carter-style emasculation of American intelligence capabilities.

If you are a foreign intelligence service hostile to the United States, you cannot but rejoice. And if you are friendly, you cannot but weep.

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Deeds Runs into the Obama Backlash

In the Washington Post, a panel of state political watchers and politicians mull over whether Virginia’s gubernatorial race will turn on state or national issues. A year ago Democrats would have been happy to make it a national referendum; now they are hoping to separate Creigh Deeds from the Obama slide and growing antipathy among independents and conservative Democrats about his big-government agenda. Former congressman Tom Davis highlights the Republicans’ desire to make this about Obama’s overreach. He writes:

The race will be largely determined by national atmospherics. The last eight gubernatorial elections have been won by the opposite party of the sitting president. Virginia voters have used the election to send a message to Washington.

For eight years, George W. Bush was Democrats’ energy source. From Bush v. Gore through Iraq to Hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown, loathing of Bush drove Democratic turnout. Republicans were on the defensive, and Democrats made gains at the state and national levels.

Deeds tying himself to Obama, polarizing the abortion issue and attempting to run against Bush is a strategic misread and a formula for defeat. His troubles are multiplied by the state’s economic downturn and Gov. Tim Kaine’s disappointing part-time tenure, leaving few state accomplishments to run on.

As Larry Sabato reminds us, “It is no accident that the results of every gubernatorial election in Virginia since 1977 (and since 1989 in New Jersey, the other state with this election schedule) have been predicted by one simple variable — the party label of the president. The opposite party has won the statehouse every time.” We’ll see if this year breaks the string, but Deeds may turn out to have had the misfortune of running at precisely the time that moderate and conservative voters want nothing more than to send a message to Obama and the national Democrats. Timing, in politics as in life, is everything.

In the Washington Post, a panel of state political watchers and politicians mull over whether Virginia’s gubernatorial race will turn on state or national issues. A year ago Democrats would have been happy to make it a national referendum; now they are hoping to separate Creigh Deeds from the Obama slide and growing antipathy among independents and conservative Democrats about his big-government agenda. Former congressman Tom Davis highlights the Republicans’ desire to make this about Obama’s overreach. He writes:

The race will be largely determined by national atmospherics. The last eight gubernatorial elections have been won by the opposite party of the sitting president. Virginia voters have used the election to send a message to Washington.

For eight years, George W. Bush was Democrats’ energy source. From Bush v. Gore through Iraq to Hurricane Katrina and the economic meltdown, loathing of Bush drove Democratic turnout. Republicans were on the defensive, and Democrats made gains at the state and national levels.

Deeds tying himself to Obama, polarizing the abortion issue and attempting to run against Bush is a strategic misread and a formula for defeat. His troubles are multiplied by the state’s economic downturn and Gov. Tim Kaine’s disappointing part-time tenure, leaving few state accomplishments to run on.

As Larry Sabato reminds us, “It is no accident that the results of every gubernatorial election in Virginia since 1977 (and since 1989 in New Jersey, the other state with this election schedule) have been predicted by one simple variable — the party label of the president. The opposite party has won the statehouse every time.” We’ll see if this year breaks the string, but Deeds may turn out to have had the misfortune of running at precisely the time that moderate and conservative voters want nothing more than to send a message to Obama and the national Democrats. Timing, in politics as in life, is everything.

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Ted Kennedy and the Logan Act

Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson reminds us of an “arresting” document that London Times reporter Tim Sebastian dug up in the Soviet archives in 1991. It was a memorandum from the head of the KGB to the then leader of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, detailing a message that had been sent from Ted Kennedy via a friend and former senator who was visiting Moscow in 1983. The content of that message was, as Robinson aptly characterizes it, a “quid pro quo.” Kennedy offered, in the KGB man’s description, “to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the U.S.A.” In return, Kennedy would broker a series of television interviews with Andropov on the major American networks.

Even if the motive for Kennedy’s freelance diplomacy had been solely his sincere displeasure with the policies of the Reagan administration, his action would have been ethically improper. But the memo indicates that what primarily drove Kennedy was not disagreement with the administration — which, according to the Constitution, is charged with directing foreign policy — but political ambition:

“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”

I’ve written previously in this space about the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens “directly or indirectly commenc[ing] or carr[ying] on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.” The cause of my earlier invocation of the law — which has never been enforced — was Jimmy Carter’s meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus last year (though Carter could have been brought up on charges of violating the act for any of the freelance diplomatic trips he has performed in the nearly three decades since he left the White House).

The episode of which Robinson reminds us had been revealed many years earlier and was largely ignored by the media at the time, perhaps because the fall of the Soviet Union obviated the salience of a senator’s by then eight-year-old attempt to undercut the foreign policy of a democratically elected president. But the brazenness of this act galls nonetheless, not least because it is so discordant with the behavior of Ted’s brothers, staunch anti-Communists both. As we contemplate the legacy of Ted Kennedy this week, this event should certainly rank highly in our collective assessment.

Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson reminds us of an “arresting” document that London Times reporter Tim Sebastian dug up in the Soviet archives in 1991. It was a memorandum from the head of the KGB to the then leader of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov, detailing a message that had been sent from Ted Kennedy via a friend and former senator who was visiting Moscow in 1983. The content of that message was, as Robinson aptly characterizes it, a “quid pro quo.” Kennedy offered, in the KGB man’s description, “to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the U.S.A.” In return, Kennedy would broker a series of television interviews with Andropov on the major American networks.

Even if the motive for Kennedy’s freelance diplomacy had been solely his sincere displeasure with the policies of the Reagan administration, his action would have been ethically improper. But the memo indicates that what primarily drove Kennedy was not disagreement with the administration — which, according to the Constitution, is charged with directing foreign policy — but political ambition:

“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”

I’ve written previously in this space about the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens “directly or indirectly commenc[ing] or carr[ying] on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.” The cause of my earlier invocation of the law — which has never been enforced — was Jimmy Carter’s meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus last year (though Carter could have been brought up on charges of violating the act for any of the freelance diplomatic trips he has performed in the nearly three decades since he left the White House).

The episode of which Robinson reminds us had been revealed many years earlier and was largely ignored by the media at the time, perhaps because the fall of the Soviet Union obviated the salience of a senator’s by then eight-year-old attempt to undercut the foreign policy of a democratically elected president. But the brazenness of this act galls nonetheless, not least because it is so discordant with the behavior of Ted’s brothers, staunch anti-Communists both. As we contemplate the legacy of Ted Kennedy this week, this event should certainly rank highly in our collective assessment.

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The Stalling Game

The Israeli government is calling foul, claiming the International Atomic Energy Agency is hiding the ball on the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program:

The statement alleges that an IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear energy program released on Friday “does not reflect the entirety of the information the IAEA holds on Iran’s efforts to advance their military program, nor their continued efforts to conceal and deceive and their refusal to cooperate with the IAEA and the international community.”

[. . .]

The statement also accuses Iran of “foot-dragging” and continuing to ignore IAEA questions about its nuclear program and “continues to avoid adhering to Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium.”

In the IAEA report released Friday, the UN nuclear watchdog says Iran’s nuclear energy program may contain “military dimensions.”

In other words, the IAEA report states that Iran may be working towards acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The report was issued just prior to the annual meeting of IAEA member states which is scheduled to convene next month in Vienna.

According to this news account, the IAEA report is worded “ambiguously” with regard to Iran’s military ambitions and potential uses. The IAEA pleads that Iran is stonewalling; the Israelis say the IAEA isn’t doing its job.

The Jerusalem Post also reports:

IAEA officials said Iran was stonewalling the agency about “possible military dimensions” to its program. In the report, the IAEA said it has pressed Iran to clarify its uranium enrichment activities and reassure the world that it’s not trying to build an atomic weapon.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a prepared statement that the latest IAEA report, released Friday, “accuses Iran of defying [UN] Security Council decisions, but at the same time hides actual Iranian violations on its path toward military nuclear capability,” “This is a harsh report, but it does not reflect all the information possessed by the IAEA on Iranian efforts to advance its military program, on its continuing efforts to hide and deceive, and on [Iran’s] noncooperation with the IAEA and the demands of the international community,” the statement read.

Well, you can see where this is heading — endless rounds of protestations by the Iranians, meek objections by the IAEA, and Israeli demands for clarity from the IAEA and action by the U.S. and the West. The ball will be in the Obama administration’s court. Will they get sucked into an endless round of arguments about what should be in the IAEA report and whether Iran has defied its obligations — or will the Obama team finally draw a line in the sand?

And then what? We’ve been waiting to see that “smart diplomacy” in action and find out how Obama can translate his dreamy persona into diplomatic progress. So let’s see if he has both the nerve and the skill to put an end to Iran’s jockeying and line up the international community behind some meaningful action to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, provided, of course, there is any action at this stage that might be meaningful.

The Israeli government is calling foul, claiming the International Atomic Energy Agency is hiding the ball on the full extent of Iran’s nuclear program:

The statement alleges that an IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear energy program released on Friday “does not reflect the entirety of the information the IAEA holds on Iran’s efforts to advance their military program, nor their continued efforts to conceal and deceive and their refusal to cooperate with the IAEA and the international community.”

[. . .]

The statement also accuses Iran of “foot-dragging” and continuing to ignore IAEA questions about its nuclear program and “continues to avoid adhering to Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium.”

In the IAEA report released Friday, the UN nuclear watchdog says Iran’s nuclear energy program may contain “military dimensions.”

In other words, the IAEA report states that Iran may be working towards acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. The report was issued just prior to the annual meeting of IAEA member states which is scheduled to convene next month in Vienna.

According to this news account, the IAEA report is worded “ambiguously” with regard to Iran’s military ambitions and potential uses. The IAEA pleads that Iran is stonewalling; the Israelis say the IAEA isn’t doing its job.

The Jerusalem Post also reports:

IAEA officials said Iran was stonewalling the agency about “possible military dimensions” to its program. In the report, the IAEA said it has pressed Iran to clarify its uranium enrichment activities and reassure the world that it’s not trying to build an atomic weapon.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a prepared statement that the latest IAEA report, released Friday, “accuses Iran of defying [UN] Security Council decisions, but at the same time hides actual Iranian violations on its path toward military nuclear capability,” “This is a harsh report, but it does not reflect all the information possessed by the IAEA on Iranian efforts to advance its military program, on its continuing efforts to hide and deceive, and on [Iran’s] noncooperation with the IAEA and the demands of the international community,” the statement read.

Well, you can see where this is heading — endless rounds of protestations by the Iranians, meek objections by the IAEA, and Israeli demands for clarity from the IAEA and action by the U.S. and the West. The ball will be in the Obama administration’s court. Will they get sucked into an endless round of arguments about what should be in the IAEA report and whether Iran has defied its obligations — or will the Obama team finally draw a line in the sand?

And then what? We’ve been waiting to see that “smart diplomacy” in action and find out how Obama can translate his dreamy persona into diplomatic progress. So let’s see if he has both the nerve and the skill to put an end to Iran’s jockeying and line up the international community behind some meaningful action to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, provided, of course, there is any action at this stage that might be meaningful.

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ElBaradei’s Swan Song

Over the years, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has not been especially effective in stifling would-be nuclear proliferators. First, there was his adamant opposition to the war in Iraq — although Iraq’s history of concealment of WMD programs in the 1980s, its cat-and-mouse games with IAEA inspectors in the 90s, and its foreclosing of inspections between 1998 and 2002 might have counseled more circumspection. Then there was the embarrassing discovery of Libya’s nuclear program, which was surrendered to the U.S. by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, not on account of the IAEA’s work, but out of Qaddafi’s fear that he could end up like his chum Saddam and out of his desire to see economic sanctions lifted. ElBaradei’s successor, the current Japanese rep to the IAEA Ambassador Yukiya Amano, is due to take office officially in December, and he will inherit three tricky files, Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

This past Friday, ElBaradei delivered what could be his last IAEA report on Iran before leaving the agency. It notes that Iran is stalling on critical and sensitive aspects of its military nuclear program, but at the same time much of the emphasis is on Iran’s recent (and belated and limited) compliance on a number of issues. The report hints at some important and potentially damning things about the military dimensions of Iran’s program, but then it goes on to shift focus and put the burden of proof on countries that have supplied critical intelligence to the agency. This last touch is somewhat ironic, given that Western governments have been pressing the agency to make its information public. As the New York Times put it last week,

To help win over Russia and China, Western powers want the IAEA to release with the report a classified summary of its inquiry into Western intelligence reports alleging Iran illicitly studied how to design a nuclear bomb, diplomats said.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said this was being considered, after a year of Iranian stonewalling that has stalled the inquiry, with Tehran dismissing the intelligence material as forgeries. But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, he said, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was loath to publish the summary for fear it could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran.

ElBaradei’s swan song is thus typical — diffuse, noncommittal, and befogging to the end. It praises Iran for token gestures and delicately refuses to compromise its evenhandedness by taking on the mullahs’ more serious stonewalling or countering their claims that evidence about their nuclear program is fabricated. Nevertheless, four important points emerge:

1. Iran is still not answering questions about the military dimensions of its program, which evidence in the hands of the IAEA shows cannot be denied.

2. Iran is accumulating low-enriched uranium (LEU) at a rate of approximately 2.77 kgs a day, which means it will have enough LEU for a second weapon by February 2010. At the current pace, it is producing enough LEU to yield enough weapons-grade material, once the LEU is reprocessed, to build one weapon a year.

3. Iran’s installed centrifuges currently number 8,308 — a steady increase in machinery (though not in active machines) over the past few months.

4. Iran refuses to apply the revised code of its safeguards agreement with regard to designs of new facilities and modifications of existing ones. (Iran is required to provide speedy communication of such plans to the agency.) This is especially worrisome when it comes to the power plant scheduled to be built in Darkhovin, the designs of which IAEA inspectors have not seen.

The good news is that ElBaradei is about to be replaced. The bad news is that the foot draggers in the international community will seize upon his last report to delay further any concerted strategy to deal with Iran. And the appetite for joint U.S.-European action or the like is even lower here in Western Europe than it is in Washington.

Over the years, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has not been especially effective in stifling would-be nuclear proliferators. First, there was his adamant opposition to the war in Iraq — although Iraq’s history of concealment of WMD programs in the 1980s, its cat-and-mouse games with IAEA inspectors in the 90s, and its foreclosing of inspections between 1998 and 2002 might have counseled more circumspection. Then there was the embarrassing discovery of Libya’s nuclear program, which was surrendered to the U.S. by Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, not on account of the IAEA’s work, but out of Qaddafi’s fear that he could end up like his chum Saddam and out of his desire to see economic sanctions lifted. ElBaradei’s successor, the current Japanese rep to the IAEA Ambassador Yukiya Amano, is due to take office officially in December, and he will inherit three tricky files, Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

This past Friday, ElBaradei delivered what could be his last IAEA report on Iran before leaving the agency. It notes that Iran is stalling on critical and sensitive aspects of its military nuclear program, but at the same time much of the emphasis is on Iran’s recent (and belated and limited) compliance on a number of issues. The report hints at some important and potentially damning things about the military dimensions of Iran’s program, but then it goes on to shift focus and put the burden of proof on countries that have supplied critical intelligence to the agency. This last touch is somewhat ironic, given that Western governments have been pressing the agency to make its information public. As the New York Times put it last week,

To help win over Russia and China, Western powers want the IAEA to release with the report a classified summary of its inquiry into Western intelligence reports alleging Iran illicitly studied how to design a nuclear bomb, diplomats said.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said this was being considered, after a year of Iranian stonewalling that has stalled the inquiry, with Tehran dismissing the intelligence material as forgeries. But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, he said, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was loath to publish the summary for fear it could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran.

ElBaradei’s swan song is thus typical — diffuse, noncommittal, and befogging to the end. It praises Iran for token gestures and delicately refuses to compromise its evenhandedness by taking on the mullahs’ more serious stonewalling or countering their claims that evidence about their nuclear program is fabricated. Nevertheless, four important points emerge:

1. Iran is still not answering questions about the military dimensions of its program, which evidence in the hands of the IAEA shows cannot be denied.

2. Iran is accumulating low-enriched uranium (LEU) at a rate of approximately 2.77 kgs a day, which means it will have enough LEU for a second weapon by February 2010. At the current pace, it is producing enough LEU to yield enough weapons-grade material, once the LEU is reprocessed, to build one weapon a year.

3. Iran’s installed centrifuges currently number 8,308 — a steady increase in machinery (though not in active machines) over the past few months.

4. Iran refuses to apply the revised code of its safeguards agreement with regard to designs of new facilities and modifications of existing ones. (Iran is required to provide speedy communication of such plans to the agency.) This is especially worrisome when it comes to the power plant scheduled to be built in Darkhovin, the designs of which IAEA inspectors have not seen.

The good news is that ElBaradei is about to be replaced. The bad news is that the foot draggers in the international community will seize upon his last report to delay further any concerted strategy to deal with Iran. And the appetite for joint U.S.-European action or the like is even lower here in Western Europe than it is in Washington.

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Advice for the Forlorn

The Washington Post is running an advice column for the floundering president: what is to be done? Well, it’s never a good sign when mainstream papers are running symposiums to examine what, if anything, can be done to save the remainder of the president’s term.

If the problem is that the president is doing too much and stressing everyone out, then he should follow Donna Brazile’s advice and tell Americans not to worry about deficits, focus on health care (which is going to reduce the deficit or make it worse?), and get back to the bipartisan appeal that worked during the campaign. Harold Ford suggests that Obama downscale health-care reform and work on insurance regulation. But Newt Gingrich gets to the core issue and the real choice for the president:

Obama faces a choice: He can attempt to run a left-wing government against the American people. Or he can govern from the center with a large majority of Americans supporting him. He can have either his left angry or the American people angry. We will know in September which choice he has made.

And that is really what it’s all about. Analysts and pollsters will give suggestions on rhetoric or strategy, but Obama’s dilemma is a philosophical one. He’s shown himself to be a far-Left liberal, and the country doesn’t like it. He can keep at it and try to muscle through the top agenda items on the liberal wish list, putting at risk his congressional majority and his own popularity (what remains of it). Or he can swing back to the center, start over on health care, put aside cap-and-trade, come up with a tax-reform and tax-relief plan, and get serious about spending control. That would require a heartfelt realization that his agenda is too radical and will, over time, erode his standing and potentially render him a one-term president.

I suspect that so long as there are allies and advisers whispering in his ear that all he needs is some rhetorical tweaking, we won’t see anything approaching a substantive revision of his agenda. If the president doesn’t correct course, the voters may do it for him in 2010. But for now, don’t get your hopes up for a swing to the center. After all, Obama is being told, and no doubt believes, that the mantle of liberalism has been passed to him from Ted Kennedy. He won’t give it up—unless the voters force him to.

The Washington Post is running an advice column for the floundering president: what is to be done? Well, it’s never a good sign when mainstream papers are running symposiums to examine what, if anything, can be done to save the remainder of the president’s term.

If the problem is that the president is doing too much and stressing everyone out, then he should follow Donna Brazile’s advice and tell Americans not to worry about deficits, focus on health care (which is going to reduce the deficit or make it worse?), and get back to the bipartisan appeal that worked during the campaign. Harold Ford suggests that Obama downscale health-care reform and work on insurance regulation. But Newt Gingrich gets to the core issue and the real choice for the president:

Obama faces a choice: He can attempt to run a left-wing government against the American people. Or he can govern from the center with a large majority of Americans supporting him. He can have either his left angry or the American people angry. We will know in September which choice he has made.

And that is really what it’s all about. Analysts and pollsters will give suggestions on rhetoric or strategy, but Obama’s dilemma is a philosophical one. He’s shown himself to be a far-Left liberal, and the country doesn’t like it. He can keep at it and try to muscle through the top agenda items on the liberal wish list, putting at risk his congressional majority and his own popularity (what remains of it). Or he can swing back to the center, start over on health care, put aside cap-and-trade, come up with a tax-reform and tax-relief plan, and get serious about spending control. That would require a heartfelt realization that his agenda is too radical and will, over time, erode his standing and potentially render him a one-term president.

I suspect that so long as there are allies and advisers whispering in his ear that all he needs is some rhetorical tweaking, we won’t see anything approaching a substantive revision of his agenda. If the president doesn’t correct course, the voters may do it for him in 2010. But for now, don’t get your hopes up for a swing to the center. After all, Obama is being told, and no doubt believes, that the mantle of liberalism has been passed to him from Ted Kennedy. He won’t give it up—unless the voters force him to.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The Washington Post, on page 1, no less, fesses up: “Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding.” It seems there was a “transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its ‘preeminent source’ on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.” It seems the MSM has thrown in the towel: enhanced interrogation techniques worked.

Reuel Marc Gerecht’s must-read piece highlights the implications of the Obama administration’s CIA investigation. For starters, it will fuel European inquests: “If the Justice Department starts prosecuting CIA officers, some hard-left European magistrates, who are still furious that their governments abetted the Bush administration’s counterterrorism in clandestine ways, won’t be far behind in bringing lawsuits against U.S. officials.” And then there is the damage here at home: “It’s a very good guess that the organization right now has no volunteers coming forward for this work, and those who are currently indentured will free themselves from this profession as soon as possible.”

Cliff May on the Bush administration’s enhanced-interrogation memos: “By the way, it is inaccurate to refer to those memos — as they have been in most press reports — as ‘torture memos.’ They are anti-torture memos: They draw a line between torture, which is prohibited, and harsh but legal techniques designed to prod uncooperative terrorists to reveal information about ongoing operations. One can argue over where to draw the line — precisely how many hours of sleep deprivation constitute torture? — but one cannot seriously argue that no attempt was made to draw it. Nor can one argue, based on the evidence, that these methods did not prevent terrorist attacks and save American lives.” Well, not even the Washington Post does anymore.

And we are going to “engage” these people: “Tehran continues to defy an international community deeply skeptical about the ultimate intent of its controversial nuclear program, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog said Friday. The latest quarterly report of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency sets the table for a month of intense diplomacy during which the U.S. will seek to rally international support for new economic sanctions on Tehran. . . . It also came as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad escalated his rhetoric about domestic opponents, calling for the prosecution of the leaders of protests against his recent re-election.”

Fred Barnes explains that the missing cost cutter in health-care reform is tort reform: “Tort reform works. Texas is a good example. In 2003, the state enacted caps on noneconomic damages (so-called pain and suffering) and added a requirement that lawsuits be approved by a panel of medical experts. Over the next four years, premiums fell 21 percent, the drift of doctors out of the state was halted, and 7,000 new doctors set up practices.” Almost like bending the cost curve while improving access to health care.

Perhaps Holder should have gotten some advice on how hard it is to convict under the torture statute before ginning up a special prosecutor: “Legal experts say special prosecutor John Durham, named by Attorney General Eric Holder to lead the investigation, will face high hurdles to sending anyone to jail. ‘I think it’s going to be pretty challenging because if you look at the torture statute it is very narrowly drafted,’ said Thomas McDonnell, a law professor at Pace University in New York. ‘Even using the drill as a threat, according to the torture statute, there was no physical harm so there has to be severe mental harm. But the statute then defines as it having to be prolonged mental harm,’ he said. ‘So unless you can show that it produced severe and long mental harm, it may not even fit.’ ” Maybe that was why career prosecutors previously decided not to press ahead.

The Washington Post, on page 1, no less, fesses up: “Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding.” It seems there was a “transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its ‘preeminent source’ on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.” It seems the MSM has thrown in the towel: enhanced interrogation techniques worked.

Reuel Marc Gerecht’s must-read piece highlights the implications of the Obama administration’s CIA investigation. For starters, it will fuel European inquests: “If the Justice Department starts prosecuting CIA officers, some hard-left European magistrates, who are still furious that their governments abetted the Bush administration’s counterterrorism in clandestine ways, won’t be far behind in bringing lawsuits against U.S. officials.” And then there is the damage here at home: “It’s a very good guess that the organization right now has no volunteers coming forward for this work, and those who are currently indentured will free themselves from this profession as soon as possible.”

Cliff May on the Bush administration’s enhanced-interrogation memos: “By the way, it is inaccurate to refer to those memos — as they have been in most press reports — as ‘torture memos.’ They are anti-torture memos: They draw a line between torture, which is prohibited, and harsh but legal techniques designed to prod uncooperative terrorists to reveal information about ongoing operations. One can argue over where to draw the line — precisely how many hours of sleep deprivation constitute torture? — but one cannot seriously argue that no attempt was made to draw it. Nor can one argue, based on the evidence, that these methods did not prevent terrorist attacks and save American lives.” Well, not even the Washington Post does anymore.

And we are going to “engage” these people: “Tehran continues to defy an international community deeply skeptical about the ultimate intent of its controversial nuclear program, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog said Friday. The latest quarterly report of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency sets the table for a month of intense diplomacy during which the U.S. will seek to rally international support for new economic sanctions on Tehran. . . . It also came as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad escalated his rhetoric about domestic opponents, calling for the prosecution of the leaders of protests against his recent re-election.”

Fred Barnes explains that the missing cost cutter in health-care reform is tort reform: “Tort reform works. Texas is a good example. In 2003, the state enacted caps on noneconomic damages (so-called pain and suffering) and added a requirement that lawsuits be approved by a panel of medical experts. Over the next four years, premiums fell 21 percent, the drift of doctors out of the state was halted, and 7,000 new doctors set up practices.” Almost like bending the cost curve while improving access to health care.

Perhaps Holder should have gotten some advice on how hard it is to convict under the torture statute before ginning up a special prosecutor: “Legal experts say special prosecutor John Durham, named by Attorney General Eric Holder to lead the investigation, will face high hurdles to sending anyone to jail. ‘I think it’s going to be pretty challenging because if you look at the torture statute it is very narrowly drafted,’ said Thomas McDonnell, a law professor at Pace University in New York. ‘Even using the drill as a threat, according to the torture statute, there was no physical harm so there has to be severe mental harm. But the statute then defines as it having to be prolonged mental harm,’ he said. ‘So unless you can show that it produced severe and long mental harm, it may not even fit.’ ” Maybe that was why career prosecutors previously decided not to press ahead.

Read Less




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