Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 21, 2009

The “A” Word

There is little question any longer that we are trying the appeasement approach with Russia. Reassuring another nation that we have absolutely no intention of doing something that might conceivably be in our interest? That’s what appeasement is. When the assurances relate to rumors that have no apparent basis in reality — when we are earnestly promising not to do things we have merely been accused of, as opposed to renouncing those we actually planned — there is an additional aspect of manipulated abjectness that can be considered, shall we say, troubling.

Russian media outlets, citing a Georgian news item, have been advancing the theory that the U.S. plans to establish military bases in Georgia. This theory does not appear to have any basis in fact. Yet a seemingly stray comment from a retired Russian general, cited in an AP report today, picks up the Georgia theme:

Russian retired Gen. Viktor Yesin, the former chief of staff of the Russian military’s Strategic Missile Forces, said Russia’s reaction to [Obama’s] new missile-defense plan will likely be calm unless the U.S. takes what he called provocative moves.

He said Moscow would certainly be angered if the U.S. were to send navy ships with interceptor missiles to the Black Sea or put a missile-defense radar in Georgia.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow, visiting Georgia yesterday, was at pains to put these fears to rest. The U.S., he says, is not looking at any non-NATO nations for missile-defense installations — is in fact in consultations with Russia on missile defense — and has no plans for military bases in Georgia.

Diplomacy 101 would tell us not to let the media themes of others maneuver us into giving categorical assurances. Handing such assurances out for free is reactionary and hazardous under almost any circumstances. Beyond what the map informs us about Georgia’s interesting location, which we now cannot leverage without exhibiting bad faith, Vershbow’s uncareful formulation sends random and prejudicial signals about our broader missile-defense policy, our concept of NATO defense, and our posture on the Caucasus and Georgia’s NATO aspirations.

However the Obama administration sees this, what the Russians see is that we would rather reassure them, on their terms, than retain the latitude to affirm U.S. and NATO interests on our terms. Regardless of motive, that posture is one of appeasement. It is past time for the Obama administration to figure that out.

There is little question any longer that we are trying the appeasement approach with Russia. Reassuring another nation that we have absolutely no intention of doing something that might conceivably be in our interest? That’s what appeasement is. When the assurances relate to rumors that have no apparent basis in reality — when we are earnestly promising not to do things we have merely been accused of, as opposed to renouncing those we actually planned — there is an additional aspect of manipulated abjectness that can be considered, shall we say, troubling.

Russian media outlets, citing a Georgian news item, have been advancing the theory that the U.S. plans to establish military bases in Georgia. This theory does not appear to have any basis in fact. Yet a seemingly stray comment from a retired Russian general, cited in an AP report today, picks up the Georgia theme:

Russian retired Gen. Viktor Yesin, the former chief of staff of the Russian military’s Strategic Missile Forces, said Russia’s reaction to [Obama’s] new missile-defense plan will likely be calm unless the U.S. takes what he called provocative moves.

He said Moscow would certainly be angered if the U.S. were to send navy ships with interceptor missiles to the Black Sea or put a missile-defense radar in Georgia.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow, visiting Georgia yesterday, was at pains to put these fears to rest. The U.S., he says, is not looking at any non-NATO nations for missile-defense installations — is in fact in consultations with Russia on missile defense — and has no plans for military bases in Georgia.

Diplomacy 101 would tell us not to let the media themes of others maneuver us into giving categorical assurances. Handing such assurances out for free is reactionary and hazardous under almost any circumstances. Beyond what the map informs us about Georgia’s interesting location, which we now cannot leverage without exhibiting bad faith, Vershbow’s uncareful formulation sends random and prejudicial signals about our broader missile-defense policy, our concept of NATO defense, and our posture on the Caucasus and Georgia’s NATO aspirations.

However the Obama administration sees this, what the Russians see is that we would rather reassure them, on their terms, than retain the latitude to affirm U.S. and NATO interests on our terms. Regardless of motive, that posture is one of appeasement. It is past time for the Obama administration to figure that out.

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Obama’s Appeasement of Sudan’s Genocidal Leader OK with Human-Rights Crowd

For most of the past few years, liberals who claim to care about human rights have pointed to the disaster in the Darfur region of Sudan as the prime example of the failure of the international system to act against genocide. The Bush administration’s halting efforts to isolate Sudan were consistently branded as insufficiently militant despite the rhetorical lip service that Washington paid to the need to do something about stopping the killing there during this period. Sanctions were enacted, but making it difficult for Sudan’s threadbare economy to interact with the West did not constitute much leverage. Sudan retained the support and the patronage of the Muslim world. In the absence of a real threat to the regime from either the West or concerned African nations, Sudan had no reason to worry.

But now the chief liberal icon of the moment has taken his philosophy of “engagement” with dictators to the next level by a policy of outreach to the government that the United States has accused of genocide in Darfur. On Monday, after months of internal arguments about the best way to deal with Sudan, the administration announced it would reward the country’s murderous dictator, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir — a man currently under indictment by the International Criminal Court for his role in directing the murder of hundreds of thousands of people — with economic incentives to try and bribe him to stop behaving in such a beastly fashion.

The idea of appeasing al-Bashir was enough to give even the Obama cheerleading squad at the New York Times editorial page pause; it demurred from its usual unflinching support to express a degree of skepticism about the idea that lifting sanctions will change the behavior of this rogue regime or cause it to no longer grant safe haven for terrorists. While this switch from sanctions to engagement fits in with the Obama foreign-policy template, can the same people who were appalled by Bush’s failure to act be persuaded that al-Bashir can be charmed into abandoning genocide?

Apparently the American Jewish World Service, an advocacy group that has ridden the Darfur issue for all it’s worth and that has, to its credit, done a lot to raise awareness about the issue, thinks so. Ruth Messinger, the former New York mayoral candidate who has pursued a successful second career running the AJWS, had nothing but praise for Obama, stating, “With an administration that is unified in its commitment to these priorities and to leading the international community in active engagement on all of these fronts, we believe that lasting peace in Sudan is well within reach.”

Unlike Messinger, the Times’s editorial board is not so besotted with Obama that it isn’t worried about a secret plan to pay off a killer to stop murdering people, and rightly concludes by warning that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “must be held to account if it fails.” But don’t expect the same liberal groups that railed against Bush to take to the streets to do that. When it comes to Obama, even a human-rights group that has dedicated itself to the Darfur issue is prepared to swallow a policy of appeasement.

For most of the past few years, liberals who claim to care about human rights have pointed to the disaster in the Darfur region of Sudan as the prime example of the failure of the international system to act against genocide. The Bush administration’s halting efforts to isolate Sudan were consistently branded as insufficiently militant despite the rhetorical lip service that Washington paid to the need to do something about stopping the killing there during this period. Sanctions were enacted, but making it difficult for Sudan’s threadbare economy to interact with the West did not constitute much leverage. Sudan retained the support and the patronage of the Muslim world. In the absence of a real threat to the regime from either the West or concerned African nations, Sudan had no reason to worry.

But now the chief liberal icon of the moment has taken his philosophy of “engagement” with dictators to the next level by a policy of outreach to the government that the United States has accused of genocide in Darfur. On Monday, after months of internal arguments about the best way to deal with Sudan, the administration announced it would reward the country’s murderous dictator, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir — a man currently under indictment by the International Criminal Court for his role in directing the murder of hundreds of thousands of people — with economic incentives to try and bribe him to stop behaving in such a beastly fashion.

The idea of appeasing al-Bashir was enough to give even the Obama cheerleading squad at the New York Times editorial page pause; it demurred from its usual unflinching support to express a degree of skepticism about the idea that lifting sanctions will change the behavior of this rogue regime or cause it to no longer grant safe haven for terrorists. While this switch from sanctions to engagement fits in with the Obama foreign-policy template, can the same people who were appalled by Bush’s failure to act be persuaded that al-Bashir can be charmed into abandoning genocide?

Apparently the American Jewish World Service, an advocacy group that has ridden the Darfur issue for all it’s worth and that has, to its credit, done a lot to raise awareness about the issue, thinks so. Ruth Messinger, the former New York mayoral candidate who has pursued a successful second career running the AJWS, had nothing but praise for Obama, stating, “With an administration that is unified in its commitment to these priorities and to leading the international community in active engagement on all of these fronts, we believe that lasting peace in Sudan is well within reach.”

Unlike Messinger, the Times’s editorial board is not so besotted with Obama that it isn’t worried about a secret plan to pay off a killer to stop murdering people, and rightly concludes by warning that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “must be held to account if it fails.” But don’t expect the same liberal groups that railed against Bush to take to the streets to do that. When it comes to Obama, even a human-rights group that has dedicated itself to the Darfur issue is prepared to swallow a policy of appeasement.

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Decision Avoidance

Commenting on the angst-ridden decision-making process with regard to a war strategy for Afghanistan, Charles Krauthammer observes:

Well, it’s not just the process of the White House appearing to preempt or overrule the military, and the White House not exactly having the background and expertise that the military does. It’s also the substance and the logic of it. What [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates was saying is this is preposterous that you have to wait until after the election to decide on the troop level.

The unmistakable picture is that of a political operation that is tossing out excuses and seeing which one might stick. Delay for the sake of delay seems to be the goal. But to what end? The president is simply prolonging the process and, as we noted, at the same time allowing opposition to harden. Meanwhile, troops are in the field, and a revised strategy can’t be implemented until the president ends the war-by-seminar process.

There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost by dragging out this decision. Health care isn’t taking up all that much time and won’t be completed, if at all, until the end of the year. So Obama isn’t deferring a decision in order to keep his liberal base in line.

The whole process suggests that the president has difficulty making tough calls; or that he can’t, despite his best efforts, come up with a rationale for rejecting McChrystal’s advice. Whether you buy the Hamlet explanation or the excuse-searching rationale, Obama fails to inspire confidence as commander in chief. And one suspects that the White House doesn’t fully appreciate who else — the Russians, the Iranians, the Chinese — is watching and what conclusions they are drawing from this embarrassing display of fecklessness.

Commenting on the angst-ridden decision-making process with regard to a war strategy for Afghanistan, Charles Krauthammer observes:

Well, it’s not just the process of the White House appearing to preempt or overrule the military, and the White House not exactly having the background and expertise that the military does. It’s also the substance and the logic of it. What [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates was saying is this is preposterous that you have to wait until after the election to decide on the troop level.

The unmistakable picture is that of a political operation that is tossing out excuses and seeing which one might stick. Delay for the sake of delay seems to be the goal. But to what end? The president is simply prolonging the process and, as we noted, at the same time allowing opposition to harden. Meanwhile, troops are in the field, and a revised strategy can’t be implemented until the president ends the war-by-seminar process.

There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost by dragging out this decision. Health care isn’t taking up all that much time and won’t be completed, if at all, until the end of the year. So Obama isn’t deferring a decision in order to keep his liberal base in line.

The whole process suggests that the president has difficulty making tough calls; or that he can’t, despite his best efforts, come up with a rationale for rejecting McChrystal’s advice. Whether you buy the Hamlet explanation or the excuse-searching rationale, Obama fails to inspire confidence as commander in chief. And one suspects that the White House doesn’t fully appreciate who else — the Russians, the Iranians, the Chinese — is watching and what conclusions they are drawing from this embarrassing display of fecklessness.

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Re: It’s the Media Intimidation, Stupid

Pete, Politico has an eye-opening report that puts the White House’s Fox vendetta in a larger context. It is not simply Fox but any critic (e.g., business groups, citizen protesters, talk-show hosts) who must be treated as illegitimate, if not evil, and not on the merits of their arguments or on the subjects they address:

Obama aides are using their powerful White House platform, combined with techniques honed in the 2008 campaign, to cast some of the most powerful adversaries as out of the mainstream and their criticism as unworthy of serious discussion.

We were promised an end to business as usual, but instead we have a more vicious and personalized version of attack-dog politics:

All of the techniques are harnessed to a larger purpose: to marginalize not only the individual person or organization but also some of the most important policy and publicity allies of the national Republican Party. … The campaign underscores how deeply political the Obama White House is in its daily operations — with a strong focus on redrawing the electoral map and discrediting the personalities and ideas that have powered the conservative movement over the past 20 years.

This is straight out of the Rahm Emanuel playbook. Opponents are not defeated; they are destroyed. Forget about engaging on the issues; opponents must be vilified and disqualified from being taken seriously.

Aside from the Nixonian quality and unseemliness of the entire approach, this is a trap for those practicing politics in this manner. The White House, whether on Van Jones or health-care opposition or Guantanamo, has failed to appreciate serious policy and personnel errors and correct them. Too busy discrediting opponents, the White House staff missed the soft underbelly of their own decisions and in each of the aforementioned cases found themselves eventually scrambling to catch up and deflect widespread public anger or criticism.

And as a style of politics, over the long haul, this sort of hyper-partisan nastiness takes its toll. Independent voters, already disenchanted with the president’s Left-leaning agenda, tend not to approve of such tactics. Indeed, it was the promise that Obama would rise above Clintonian tit-for-tat politics and leave behind past baggage that made candidate Barack Obama so attractive. The American people are quickly learning that candidate Obama — the model of dignified calm, moderation, and bipartisanship — bears little resemblance to the Obama in office.

Pete, Politico has an eye-opening report that puts the White House’s Fox vendetta in a larger context. It is not simply Fox but any critic (e.g., business groups, citizen protesters, talk-show hosts) who must be treated as illegitimate, if not evil, and not on the merits of their arguments or on the subjects they address:

Obama aides are using their powerful White House platform, combined with techniques honed in the 2008 campaign, to cast some of the most powerful adversaries as out of the mainstream and their criticism as unworthy of serious discussion.

We were promised an end to business as usual, but instead we have a more vicious and personalized version of attack-dog politics:

All of the techniques are harnessed to a larger purpose: to marginalize not only the individual person or organization but also some of the most important policy and publicity allies of the national Republican Party. … The campaign underscores how deeply political the Obama White House is in its daily operations — with a strong focus on redrawing the electoral map and discrediting the personalities and ideas that have powered the conservative movement over the past 20 years.

This is straight out of the Rahm Emanuel playbook. Opponents are not defeated; they are destroyed. Forget about engaging on the issues; opponents must be vilified and disqualified from being taken seriously.

Aside from the Nixonian quality and unseemliness of the entire approach, this is a trap for those practicing politics in this manner. The White House, whether on Van Jones or health-care opposition or Guantanamo, has failed to appreciate serious policy and personnel errors and correct them. Too busy discrediting opponents, the White House staff missed the soft underbelly of their own decisions and in each of the aforementioned cases found themselves eventually scrambling to catch up and deflect widespread public anger or criticism.

And as a style of politics, over the long haul, this sort of hyper-partisan nastiness takes its toll. Independent voters, already disenchanted with the president’s Left-leaning agenda, tend not to approve of such tactics. Indeed, it was the promise that Obama would rise above Clintonian tit-for-tat politics and leave behind past baggage that made candidate Barack Obama so attractive. The American people are quickly learning that candidate Obama — the model of dignified calm, moderation, and bipartisanship — bears little resemblance to the Obama in office.

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It’s the Media Intimidation, Stupid

The exchange that Jake Tapper of ABC News had with Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, was significant because of the locution used by Tapper. Several commentators have criticized the White House for going to war with Fox News — but essentially on utilitarian grounds (it won’t works, it looks petty, it will backfire, et cetera). What Tapper said was this:

It hasn’t escaped our notice that in the last few weeks the White House has decided to declare war on one of our sister organizations saying it’s not a news organization and tell the rest of the news media to not treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to say one of them is not a news organization and the rest of the media should not treat them like one?

The term “sister organizations” is important because it shows solidarity with a news organization under fierce attack by the White House. This is the kind of question one would hope to see when a president and his top aides target a news organization and then, for good measure, try to dictate to other news organizations what they should do, how they should act, and which stories they should follow. But so far, stunningly, the media — including the White House press corps — have mostly been quiescent. One might have expected more in the face of these extraordinary efforts at media intimidation and media control. If the situation were reversed, and a Republican White House were targeting an entire network in a similar fashion, criticisms, condemnations, and thundering editorials would be pouring forth; terms like “abuse of power” and “chilling effect” would be on the lips of virtually every reporter in America. Instead, the reaction has been, for the most part, uncomfortable silence (with a few, like Jacob Weisberg, siding with the White House).

What happened yesterday was an impressive display by Mr. Tapper, though not a particularly surprising one, given that he is one of the most impressive and independent journalists covering the Obama White House. But the fact that prior to Tapper’s comments the brazen attacks on Fox by Anita Dunn, Rahm Emanuel, and David Axelrod generated “only a single, tangential question at the White House’s daily briefing for reporters,” in the words of the Politico’s Mike Allen, is an embarrassment and something of an indictment of contemporary journalism. As Allen points out, “The direct attacks, if leveled at another news outlet or by another White House might have aroused a torrent of criticism, but the flow of outrage from the Washington journalistic set has been more like a trickle.”

We know all about the political orientation of most reporters — but surely this is a case when political preferences should give way to professional responsibilities and priorities. Fox News may be the immediate target under attack, but so is journalism itself. Jake Tapper seems to understand that. The question is: Does anyone else in the press corps?

The exchange that Jake Tapper of ABC News had with Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, was significant because of the locution used by Tapper. Several commentators have criticized the White House for going to war with Fox News — but essentially on utilitarian grounds (it won’t works, it looks petty, it will backfire, et cetera). What Tapper said was this:

It hasn’t escaped our notice that in the last few weeks the White House has decided to declare war on one of our sister organizations saying it’s not a news organization and tell the rest of the news media to not treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to say one of them is not a news organization and the rest of the media should not treat them like one?

The term “sister organizations” is important because it shows solidarity with a news organization under fierce attack by the White House. This is the kind of question one would hope to see when a president and his top aides target a news organization and then, for good measure, try to dictate to other news organizations what they should do, how they should act, and which stories they should follow. But so far, stunningly, the media — including the White House press corps — have mostly been quiescent. One might have expected more in the face of these extraordinary efforts at media intimidation and media control. If the situation were reversed, and a Republican White House were targeting an entire network in a similar fashion, criticisms, condemnations, and thundering editorials would be pouring forth; terms like “abuse of power” and “chilling effect” would be on the lips of virtually every reporter in America. Instead, the reaction has been, for the most part, uncomfortable silence (with a few, like Jacob Weisberg, siding with the White House).

What happened yesterday was an impressive display by Mr. Tapper, though not a particularly surprising one, given that he is one of the most impressive and independent journalists covering the Obama White House. But the fact that prior to Tapper’s comments the brazen attacks on Fox by Anita Dunn, Rahm Emanuel, and David Axelrod generated “only a single, tangential question at the White House’s daily briefing for reporters,” in the words of the Politico’s Mike Allen, is an embarrassment and something of an indictment of contemporary journalism. As Allen points out, “The direct attacks, if leveled at another news outlet or by another White House might have aroused a torrent of criticism, but the flow of outrage from the Washington journalistic set has been more like a trickle.”

We know all about the political orientation of most reporters — but surely this is a case when political preferences should give way to professional responsibilities and priorities. Fox News may be the immediate target under attack, but so is journalism itself. Jake Tapper seems to understand that. The question is: Does anyone else in the press corps?

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Deeds Loses His Base

Another poll confirms that Creigh Deeds’s campaign is in a downward spiral. Public Policy Polling shows Bob McDonnell up by 12 points, 7 points higher than he polled just three weeks ago. The pollsters explain:

McDonnell’s standing is largely the result of two things: considerable support from independents and a disengaged Democratic electorate. With independents, who tend to split pretty evenly, the Republican leads 60-31. And while Barack Obama won Virginia by six points last year, the voters planning to turn out this fall supported John McCain by six points, a clear indication that many Democratic voters are just planning to stay at home.

And one further bit of data: 56 percent of McDonnell’s supporters are excited, while only 34 percent of Deeds’s voters say they are.

The lack of enthusiasm for the top of the ticket may affect the rest of the ballot. Republicans lead in the other two statewide-office races, and by 5 percent in the generic poll for the House of Delegates.

Here’s an example of the problems Deeds faces. In another hapless debate last night, Deeds seemed to say that he didn’t support the public option in health-care reform. In a press cluster afterward, he did his usual hem-and-haw routine. Not Larry Sabato, the top state Democratic political blog, shoots back with a headline: “Is Creigh Deeds a Suicide Bomber?” (Note: Bad language alert.) Yikes! And the comments below the post are even more biting: “He’s the worst Democratic candidate for governor … since before the Civil War,” remarks one. Another: “Seriously — why do his press people let him get anywhere near a gaggle of reporters with mikes? Every single time he’s done one of these he’s lodged his foot completely in his mouth.”

One can see why Deeds is falling further and further behind.

Another poll confirms that Creigh Deeds’s campaign is in a downward spiral. Public Policy Polling shows Bob McDonnell up by 12 points, 7 points higher than he polled just three weeks ago. The pollsters explain:

McDonnell’s standing is largely the result of two things: considerable support from independents and a disengaged Democratic electorate. With independents, who tend to split pretty evenly, the Republican leads 60-31. And while Barack Obama won Virginia by six points last year, the voters planning to turn out this fall supported John McCain by six points, a clear indication that many Democratic voters are just planning to stay at home.

And one further bit of data: 56 percent of McDonnell’s supporters are excited, while only 34 percent of Deeds’s voters say they are.

The lack of enthusiasm for the top of the ticket may affect the rest of the ballot. Republicans lead in the other two statewide-office races, and by 5 percent in the generic poll for the House of Delegates.

Here’s an example of the problems Deeds faces. In another hapless debate last night, Deeds seemed to say that he didn’t support the public option in health-care reform. In a press cluster afterward, he did his usual hem-and-haw routine. Not Larry Sabato, the top state Democratic political blog, shoots back with a headline: “Is Creigh Deeds a Suicide Bomber?” (Note: Bad language alert.) Yikes! And the comments below the post are even more biting: “He’s the worst Democratic candidate for governor … since before the Civil War,” remarks one. Another: “Seriously — why do his press people let him get anywhere near a gaggle of reporters with mikes? Every single time he’s done one of these he’s lodged his foot completely in his mouth.”

One can see why Deeds is falling further and further behind.

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On Their Own

While Iran-U.S. negotiations take on the aura of “Deal or No Deal” regarding the potential shipment of Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country, Iran has found what it craves: cover for its atrocious human-rights behavior. This report explains that while the haggling goes on in Geneva:

Iran’s judiciary sentenced Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh on Tuesday to 12 years of prison on a charge he acted against the country’s national security. Mr. Tajbakhsh, a 47-year-old urban planner, was taken into custody shortly after the election amid a wave of arrests. He is the only American citizen detained in relation to the election, and the U.S. has pressured Iran for his release.

This mealymouthed response was released by the White House:

We express our deepest regret and strong objection that the Islamic Republic of Iran has sentenced Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh to 15 years in prison. Mr. Tajbakhsh poses no threat to Iran or its national security. As an independent and internationally-respected scholar, Mr. Tajbakhsh has dedicated his life to fostering greater understanding between Iran and the international community. He embodies what is possible between our two countries. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kian’s family and loved ones on this difficult day.

Further, we are deeply concerned that Mr. Tajbakhsh may have been forced to stand trial in the revolutionary court without the benefit of his own legal counsel. The right to due process is universal and must be respected. The right to a fair and public hearing is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the right to legal representation is also guaranteed in Iran’s own constitution, as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. We urge Iran to release Mr. Tajbakhsh as soon as possible.

Can you imagine anything more cowering, more timid? (Yes, it starts out like a condolence card, which is appropriate given the demise of a serious human-rights policy.) We “regret” and we “urge Iran to release as soon as possible.” (Not even immediately.) It reeks of unseriousness.

But this is what comes from engagement. Don’t-rock-the-boat-ism is the order of the day. Don’t get them too mad! We’re trying to make a deal! Dissidents and those imprisoned in despotic regimes expecting support, moral or otherwise, from the U.S. are doubtless at this point disabused of the notion that the Obami will exert any pressure or effort on their behalf. They’re on their own. Obama has bigger fish to fry.

While Iran-U.S. negotiations take on the aura of “Deal or No Deal” regarding the potential shipment of Iran’s enriched uranium outside the country, Iran has found what it craves: cover for its atrocious human-rights behavior. This report explains that while the haggling goes on in Geneva:

Iran’s judiciary sentenced Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh on Tuesday to 12 years of prison on a charge he acted against the country’s national security. Mr. Tajbakhsh, a 47-year-old urban planner, was taken into custody shortly after the election amid a wave of arrests. He is the only American citizen detained in relation to the election, and the U.S. has pressured Iran for his release.

This mealymouthed response was released by the White House:

We express our deepest regret and strong objection that the Islamic Republic of Iran has sentenced Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh to 15 years in prison. Mr. Tajbakhsh poses no threat to Iran or its national security. As an independent and internationally-respected scholar, Mr. Tajbakhsh has dedicated his life to fostering greater understanding between Iran and the international community. He embodies what is possible between our two countries. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kian’s family and loved ones on this difficult day.

Further, we are deeply concerned that Mr. Tajbakhsh may have been forced to stand trial in the revolutionary court without the benefit of his own legal counsel. The right to due process is universal and must be respected. The right to a fair and public hearing is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the right to legal representation is also guaranteed in Iran’s own constitution, as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. We urge Iran to release Mr. Tajbakhsh as soon as possible.

Can you imagine anything more cowering, more timid? (Yes, it starts out like a condolence card, which is appropriate given the demise of a serious human-rights policy.) We “regret” and we “urge Iran to release as soon as possible.” (Not even immediately.) It reeks of unseriousness.

But this is what comes from engagement. Don’t-rock-the-boat-ism is the order of the day. Don’t get them too mad! We’re trying to make a deal! Dissidents and those imprisoned in despotic regimes expecting support, moral or otherwise, from the U.S. are doubtless at this point disabused of the notion that the Obami will exert any pressure or effort on their behalf. They’re on their own. Obama has bigger fish to fry.

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Flunking Warmaking 101

By dragging out the decision-making process on our Afghanistan war strategy, the president has not only irritated the military and our allies and given our foes reason for optimism. He has increased domestic pressure on himself — directly contrary to his desires and political self-interest. The Left is swirling and agitating, bestowing newfound respect on Joe Biden. The longer it goes on, the more hopeful the Left becomes that it can successfully deter Obama from a full-on counterinsurgency plan.

And now the Right is agitating as well, as the Hill reports:

Republicans are warning President Barack Obama that he will risk losing GOP votes for any troop surge in Afghanistan if he requests fewer than the 40,000 additional troops sought by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The GOP threat is significant, because with many Democrats opposed to an infusion of troops, Obama may need Republican votes to pass a war supplemental bill.

Some might see this as a threat akin to liberals swearing they will vote against health care without the public option. But it actually isn’t. In health care, liberals don’t want to settle for half a loaf. In Afghanistan, Republicans justifiably consider a middle-ground approach as not half a loaf but a slow bleed, the worst of all worlds in which we continue to dispatch brave young men and women to fight and die without a formula for success:

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the third-ranking GOP member on the panel, said he has read the leaked report by McChrystal and believes the general makes a clear case for no fewer than 40,000 troops. “It was so thorough and so thoughtful … I feel like they’ve given immense thought to it,” Sessions said. “The president is the commander in chief, but he needs to listen very carefully to what his commanders are telling him.”

The Right and Left are united, however, in their disgust over the delay and public agonizing:

“To wait until after the runoff harms our overall effort of getting our troops over there,” said [Sen. John] McCain, “there’s no rationale for letting that happen.” “The possibility of a new government does complicate things,” said [Sen. Carl] Levin. “But is it a showstopper if the president is otherwise ready to make a decision? It is not, necessarily.”

So how is war by seminar going so far? Not well, even if the sole consideration is domestic politics. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a procedure better designed to diminish the president’s standing as commander in chief and incur the enmity of both sides of the aisle.

By dragging out the decision-making process on our Afghanistan war strategy, the president has not only irritated the military and our allies and given our foes reason for optimism. He has increased domestic pressure on himself — directly contrary to his desires and political self-interest. The Left is swirling and agitating, bestowing newfound respect on Joe Biden. The longer it goes on, the more hopeful the Left becomes that it can successfully deter Obama from a full-on counterinsurgency plan.

And now the Right is agitating as well, as the Hill reports:

Republicans are warning President Barack Obama that he will risk losing GOP votes for any troop surge in Afghanistan if he requests fewer than the 40,000 additional troops sought by Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The GOP threat is significant, because with many Democrats opposed to an infusion of troops, Obama may need Republican votes to pass a war supplemental bill.

Some might see this as a threat akin to liberals swearing they will vote against health care without the public option. But it actually isn’t. In health care, liberals don’t want to settle for half a loaf. In Afghanistan, Republicans justifiably consider a middle-ground approach as not half a loaf but a slow bleed, the worst of all worlds in which we continue to dispatch brave young men and women to fight and die without a formula for success:

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the third-ranking GOP member on the panel, said he has read the leaked report by McChrystal and believes the general makes a clear case for no fewer than 40,000 troops. “It was so thorough and so thoughtful … I feel like they’ve given immense thought to it,” Sessions said. “The president is the commander in chief, but he needs to listen very carefully to what his commanders are telling him.”

The Right and Left are united, however, in their disgust over the delay and public agonizing:

“To wait until after the runoff harms our overall effort of getting our troops over there,” said [Sen. John] McCain, “there’s no rationale for letting that happen.” “The possibility of a new government does complicate things,” said [Sen. Carl] Levin. “But is it a showstopper if the president is otherwise ready to make a decision? It is not, necessarily.”

So how is war by seminar going so far? Not well, even if the sole consideration is domestic politics. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with a procedure better designed to diminish the president’s standing as commander in chief and incur the enmity of both sides of the aisle.

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Why Don’t They Clarify?

Jeffrey Goldberg, not a neocon conspirator last time I checked, is asking some good questions about J Street. For example, why hasn’t the “pro-Israel” group denounced Stephen Walt, who endorsed the group’s bona fides? Goldberg thinks it’s important “to send a clear signal that it disapproves of the work of one of America’s leading Jew-baiters.” Well, that is if they do disapprove of his work. (Seems like Walt’s crusade against the “Israel lobby” pretty much matches up with J Street’s agenda. That might explain it.)

Goldberg also, via a reader, asks why J Street thinks it knows more about what is good for Israel than the Israeli government and electorate. (“It seems ridiculous to me that a group with positions farther to the left than Meretz could position itself as lobbying on behalf of us. From an Israeli perspective, this whole J-Street episode has been insulting, upsetting, and very confusing.”)

Goldberg is hinting at the core issue regarding J Street: Is it really pro-Israel? Well, it doesn’t act like it. Its mission was to provide an alternative to and oppose AIPAC at every turn. The latter’s goal is to promote a robust relationship between the U.S. and Israel and to foster American support for the defense of Israel. To declare yourself against that mission pretty much gives up the game.

Moreover, by declaring that it knows better than Israel, J Street seeks to infantilize the state, to assert that Israel is unable to discern its own interests. Unlike any other state, Israel is declared incompetent to control its own destiny. That’s an odd definition of “pro-Israel.”

And it’s even odder, of course, to invite radical Israel haters and a 9-11 truther to a confab and remain mute while an Israel basher like Mary Robinson get the nation’s top civilian prize or the Goldstone Report embroils the UN in another effort to undermine Israel’s right of self-defense.

The most logical conclusion is that J Street wants to change the definition of what it is to be “pro-Israel,” to make the goal a hamstrung and tamed Israel, to distance the U.S. from Israel, and to exert such pressure on Israel that it has no choice but to retreat to borders and rules of engagement that threaten its very existence. In other words, “pro-Israel” becomes indistinguishable from “pro-Palestinian.” But it sounds so much better — and you snooker a lot more congressmen into “hosting” your event — if you say you’re “pro-Israel,” right?

Jeffrey Goldberg, not a neocon conspirator last time I checked, is asking some good questions about J Street. For example, why hasn’t the “pro-Israel” group denounced Stephen Walt, who endorsed the group’s bona fides? Goldberg thinks it’s important “to send a clear signal that it disapproves of the work of one of America’s leading Jew-baiters.” Well, that is if they do disapprove of his work. (Seems like Walt’s crusade against the “Israel lobby” pretty much matches up with J Street’s agenda. That might explain it.)

Goldberg also, via a reader, asks why J Street thinks it knows more about what is good for Israel than the Israeli government and electorate. (“It seems ridiculous to me that a group with positions farther to the left than Meretz could position itself as lobbying on behalf of us. From an Israeli perspective, this whole J-Street episode has been insulting, upsetting, and very confusing.”)

Goldberg is hinting at the core issue regarding J Street: Is it really pro-Israel? Well, it doesn’t act like it. Its mission was to provide an alternative to and oppose AIPAC at every turn. The latter’s goal is to promote a robust relationship between the U.S. and Israel and to foster American support for the defense of Israel. To declare yourself against that mission pretty much gives up the game.

Moreover, by declaring that it knows better than Israel, J Street seeks to infantilize the state, to assert that Israel is unable to discern its own interests. Unlike any other state, Israel is declared incompetent to control its own destiny. That’s an odd definition of “pro-Israel.”

And it’s even odder, of course, to invite radical Israel haters and a 9-11 truther to a confab and remain mute while an Israel basher like Mary Robinson get the nation’s top civilian prize or the Goldstone Report embroils the UN in another effort to undermine Israel’s right of self-defense.

The most logical conclusion is that J Street wants to change the definition of what it is to be “pro-Israel,” to make the goal a hamstrung and tamed Israel, to distance the U.S. from Israel, and to exert such pressure on Israel that it has no choice but to retreat to borders and rules of engagement that threaten its very existence. In other words, “pro-Israel” becomes indistinguishable from “pro-Palestinian.” But it sounds so much better — and you snooker a lot more congressmen into “hosting” your event — if you say you’re “pro-Israel,” right?

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Do Not Adjust Your Set

Jack Shafer has just published a fascinating behind-the-scenes article, “Barack and Anita Diss Roger Ailes.” Shafer, in writing about press coverage Obama deemed insufficiently favorable, writes this:

Obama’s hatred of the conservative press fully manifested itself when he became president and immediately assigned his communications director Anita Dunn to hammer the media in a series of remarks. But there is no denying his special animus for Fox, which he regards as overtly conservative in its news coverage.

“He was convinced that Fox had it in for him,” Rahm Emanuel told Howard Kurtz for his new book, The War on Fox: The Obama White House v. a News Network. Emanuel professed not to know where Obama’s hatred came from but said whenever Fox broadcast an unfavorable story on him, he’d send e-mails prohibiting his people from talking to the network.

Obama and his people loved to make the political as personal as possible. A week after the Emanuel-Kurtz conversation, senior adviser David Axelrod warned Fox White House correspondent Major Garrett over the phone that Ailes would find his “ass in a sling” if Fox continued its negative coverage of Obama.

The account I just cited is mostly accurate, except that the original version — written by Jack Shafer for Slate in 2007 — was about Richard Nixon and his administration’s hatred for the Washington Post rather than about Barack Obama and his administration’s hatred for Fox News. The names of the key actors (and key parts of the human anatomy) have been changed — but the burning anger for and the bullying tactics aimed at a particular news organization have not.

The Obama administration has set out on an ugly and dangerous path, one we have been down before. It’s time for the Obama White House to take these words to heart:

I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. … As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends … though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

So said Barack Obama on the night he was elected. They were wise words then; they are wise words now.

Jack Shafer has just published a fascinating behind-the-scenes article, “Barack and Anita Diss Roger Ailes.” Shafer, in writing about press coverage Obama deemed insufficiently favorable, writes this:

Obama’s hatred of the conservative press fully manifested itself when he became president and immediately assigned his communications director Anita Dunn to hammer the media in a series of remarks. But there is no denying his special animus for Fox, which he regards as overtly conservative in its news coverage.

“He was convinced that Fox had it in for him,” Rahm Emanuel told Howard Kurtz for his new book, The War on Fox: The Obama White House v. a News Network. Emanuel professed not to know where Obama’s hatred came from but said whenever Fox broadcast an unfavorable story on him, he’d send e-mails prohibiting his people from talking to the network.

Obama and his people loved to make the political as personal as possible. A week after the Emanuel-Kurtz conversation, senior adviser David Axelrod warned Fox White House correspondent Major Garrett over the phone that Ailes would find his “ass in a sling” if Fox continued its negative coverage of Obama.

The account I just cited is mostly accurate, except that the original version — written by Jack Shafer for Slate in 2007 — was about Richard Nixon and his administration’s hatred for the Washington Post rather than about Barack Obama and his administration’s hatred for Fox News. The names of the key actors (and key parts of the human anatomy) have been changed — but the burning anger for and the bullying tactics aimed at a particular news organization have not.

The Obama administration has set out on an ugly and dangerous path, one we have been down before. It’s time for the Obama White House to take these words to heart:

I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. … As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends … though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

So said Barack Obama on the night he was elected. They were wise words then; they are wise words now.

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No Avalanche of GOP Support

Michael Gerson doesn’t think that Olympia Snowe’s vote for the Baucus bill means much. He writes:

Snowe’s vote applies a thin veneer of bipartisanship on health reform, but it does not indicate broader Republican momentum. She did not bring any Republican colleagues with her, and her main argument — that the bill is flawed but better than nothing — is not likely to begin a rush.

This is true for two reasons — political and substantive. The politics are straightforward: there is no upside to any Republican with the remotest chance of a primary challenge helping Obama achieve his goal of government-run health care. Obama, even if he finally embraced the “targeted reform” approach of limited, widely popular reforms, would still make many Republicans squirm. But now it’s a no-brainer to vote against a massive tax bill. And if the liberals are successful in sticking the public option back in, they may even lose Snowe’s vote.

On the substance, Gerson points out that the Baucus plan will raise the cost of insurance, won’t “bend the cost curve,” and unrealistically slashes Medicare (unrealistically because the resulting hue and cry will require that the funds be restored, thereby adding to the deficit, which Obama promised he wouldn’t do).

The adage that good policy makes good politics isn’t always true. But here it applies. And aside from the attention-grabbing Snowe (who occupies a seat that would almost certainly go Democratic if she weren’t mimicking Democrats on the stimulus and health-care reform), Republicans will, I suspect, remain virtually unanimous in their opposition to ObamaCare. And that puts the onus squarely back on moderate and conservative Democrats, who may well put their own political careers at risk when they’re asked to walk the plank for the sake of a health-care plan that the public doesn’t like — and that seniors hate.

Michael Gerson doesn’t think that Olympia Snowe’s vote for the Baucus bill means much. He writes:

Snowe’s vote applies a thin veneer of bipartisanship on health reform, but it does not indicate broader Republican momentum. She did not bring any Republican colleagues with her, and her main argument — that the bill is flawed but better than nothing — is not likely to begin a rush.

This is true for two reasons — political and substantive. The politics are straightforward: there is no upside to any Republican with the remotest chance of a primary challenge helping Obama achieve his goal of government-run health care. Obama, even if he finally embraced the “targeted reform” approach of limited, widely popular reforms, would still make many Republicans squirm. But now it’s a no-brainer to vote against a massive tax bill. And if the liberals are successful in sticking the public option back in, they may even lose Snowe’s vote.

On the substance, Gerson points out that the Baucus plan will raise the cost of insurance, won’t “bend the cost curve,” and unrealistically slashes Medicare (unrealistically because the resulting hue and cry will require that the funds be restored, thereby adding to the deficit, which Obama promised he wouldn’t do).

The adage that good policy makes good politics isn’t always true. But here it applies. And aside from the attention-grabbing Snowe (who occupies a seat that would almost certainly go Democratic if she weren’t mimicking Democrats on the stimulus and health-care reform), Republicans will, I suspect, remain virtually unanimous in their opposition to ObamaCare. And that puts the onus squarely back on moderate and conservative Democrats, who may well put their own political careers at risk when they’re asked to walk the plank for the sake of a health-care plan that the public doesn’t like — and that seniors hate.

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HRW Tries to Make Things Better…

Human Rights Watch really ought to lay low for a while. Over the past few months, the once-admired watchdog admitted to fundraising in Saudi Arabia as an anti-Israel organization and discovered that one of the writers of its anti-Israel reports is a big fan of Nazi memorabilia. Yesterday, the organization’s founder, Robert Bernstein, published a blistering op-ed in the New York Times accusing the organization of abandoning its mission and becoming obsessed with attacking Israel. (See Noah Pollak’s analysis of HRW’s rebuttal here.)

So what does HRW do? It tries to prove its even-handedness. It has announced that, in its opinion, Hamas — the universally reviled terror organization that has never found an anti-civilian tactic too crude to embrace, the jihadist group that made suicide bombing a form of martyrdom, that lobbed thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian centers and brought on the entire 2009 military operation in Gaza — that this Hamas ought to conduct a “credible investigation” into accusations that it, too, committed war crimes. In a letter penned by the organization’s Middle East and North Africa division head, Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW applauds Hamas’s recent acceptance of the Goldstone Report. “In the past, Hamas tried to justify the unjustifiable by defending unlawful rocket attacks,” Whitson said. “Having now promised to follow the Goldstone Report’s recommendations, Hamas has no excuse for not carrying out serious war crimes investigations.”

Like it did before? Hamas has, of course, promised it will do so right away, and we’re all very glad to hear it. But of greater interest is what such a letter says about HRW. I remember that great scene in The Treasure of Sierra Madre when Walter Huston, the older prospector, yells at his younger and less stalwart fellows, “You’re so dumb, there’s nothing to compare you with!” It’s one of my favorite movie lines because it captures the fact that sometimes something is so outrageous that the mind gropes in vain for an effective metaphor. Asking Hamas, a recognized terrorist group, to conduct an investigation into its war crimes is like, like … what? Is it like asking a Mob family to investigate charges of racketeering in its ranks? Or like asking a congenital liar to go to confession? How about asking a convicted mass murderer to investigate reports about his violent tendencies? Around the free world, people are imprisoned just for membership in Hamas. What could such a letter mean?

Maybe we should let Human Rights Watch just keep opening its mouth.

Human Rights Watch really ought to lay low for a while. Over the past few months, the once-admired watchdog admitted to fundraising in Saudi Arabia as an anti-Israel organization and discovered that one of the writers of its anti-Israel reports is a big fan of Nazi memorabilia. Yesterday, the organization’s founder, Robert Bernstein, published a blistering op-ed in the New York Times accusing the organization of abandoning its mission and becoming obsessed with attacking Israel. (See Noah Pollak’s analysis of HRW’s rebuttal here.)

So what does HRW do? It tries to prove its even-handedness. It has announced that, in its opinion, Hamas — the universally reviled terror organization that has never found an anti-civilian tactic too crude to embrace, the jihadist group that made suicide bombing a form of martyrdom, that lobbed thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian centers and brought on the entire 2009 military operation in Gaza — that this Hamas ought to conduct a “credible investigation” into accusations that it, too, committed war crimes. In a letter penned by the organization’s Middle East and North Africa division head, Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW applauds Hamas’s recent acceptance of the Goldstone Report. “In the past, Hamas tried to justify the unjustifiable by defending unlawful rocket attacks,” Whitson said. “Having now promised to follow the Goldstone Report’s recommendations, Hamas has no excuse for not carrying out serious war crimes investigations.”

Like it did before? Hamas has, of course, promised it will do so right away, and we’re all very glad to hear it. But of greater interest is what such a letter says about HRW. I remember that great scene in The Treasure of Sierra Madre when Walter Huston, the older prospector, yells at his younger and less stalwart fellows, “You’re so dumb, there’s nothing to compare you with!” It’s one of my favorite movie lines because it captures the fact that sometimes something is so outrageous that the mind gropes in vain for an effective metaphor. Asking Hamas, a recognized terrorist group, to conduct an investigation into its war crimes is like, like … what? Is it like asking a Mob family to investigate charges of racketeering in its ranks? Or like asking a congenital liar to go to confession? How about asking a convicted mass murderer to investigate reports about his violent tendencies? Around the free world, people are imprisoned just for membership in Hamas. What could such a letter mean?

Maybe we should let Human Rights Watch just keep opening its mouth.

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The Sweet, Sweet Mirage of Consensus

Late last week, the Obama administration did what I feared it would do: It endorsed the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty negotiations. The goal is to craft a treaty negotiated and ready for signature by 2012 that would impose standards on the entire conventional arms trade. The projected treaty’s scope is vast. Here, by way of example, is what the United Kingdom believes it should cover:

. . . all conventional arms, ranging from handguns and other small arms and light weapons (SALW), to main battle tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, combat aircraft (including helicopters), warships and conventionally armed missiles. To ensure that such arms are not used in breach of international commitments, an instrument should also cover munitions for the equipment listed above, including ammunition for SALW and larger weapons, the technology to produce and maintain such equipment, and their parts and components.

One obvious problem with this laundry list is that such a broad a treaty will likely – indeed, inevitably– cover nothing in practice by virtue of trying to cover everything in theory. And that would only subvert the U.S.’s export controls, which are widely acknowledged, not least by the administration, to be the best in the world.

So what did the administration do?  It agreed to join the negotiations, but only if they proceeded on the basis of consensus.

And why?  In order, the Washington Post reports, “to forestall criticism from U.S. conservatives that an arms trade treaty would be a first step toward regulating the [domestic] U.S. arms trade.”

Evidently, the Second Amendment is one area – our export controls are another – where even this administration willingly concedes that the U.S. is, in fact, exceptional. Read More

Late last week, the Obama administration did what I feared it would do: It endorsed the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty negotiations. The goal is to craft a treaty negotiated and ready for signature by 2012 that would impose standards on the entire conventional arms trade. The projected treaty’s scope is vast. Here, by way of example, is what the United Kingdom believes it should cover:

. . . all conventional arms, ranging from handguns and other small arms and light weapons (SALW), to main battle tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, combat aircraft (including helicopters), warships and conventionally armed missiles. To ensure that such arms are not used in breach of international commitments, an instrument should also cover munitions for the equipment listed above, including ammunition for SALW and larger weapons, the technology to produce and maintain such equipment, and their parts and components.

One obvious problem with this laundry list is that such a broad a treaty will likely – indeed, inevitably– cover nothing in practice by virtue of trying to cover everything in theory. And that would only subvert the U.S.’s export controls, which are widely acknowledged, not least by the administration, to be the best in the world.

So what did the administration do?  It agreed to join the negotiations, but only if they proceeded on the basis of consensus.

And why?  In order, the Washington Post reports, “to forestall criticism from U.S. conservatives that an arms trade treaty would be a first step toward regulating the [domestic] U.S. arms trade.”

Evidently, the Second Amendment is one area – our export controls are another – where even this administration willingly concedes that the U.S. is, in fact, exceptional.

So in the negotiations, it will be the U.S.’s high standards and Second Amendment rights versus the lower standards and limited rights of everyone else. Who will be the one breaking the consensus?  Yes, it will be us. And who will be portrayed as a devious unilateralist, holding up the world’s progress towards a treaty?  Yes, it will be us. And what has the administration done by agreeing to participate on the basis of consensus?  Yes, it has guaranteed that all the pressure to achieve consensus will be exerted on us.

In fact, the NGOs that are the driving force behind the treaty are already making this argument. The administration has not defended our position, either on export controls or the Bill of Rights. Instead, it has handed everyone else in the world an argument they will use to make sure we spend the entire negotiating process apologizing for our exceptionalism and grudgingly giving way on point after point.

This treaty is a deeply unserious endeavor, more about facilitating the arms trade than about controlling it. I’ve grown weary with itemizing European hypocrisy on this score, but one more example never hurt. In its submission on the projected Treaty, France states:

France is one of the main protagonists in the arms trade and ranks among the leading world exporters. It applies a responsible and binding arms trade control policy in strict compliance with its commitments at the regional and international level.

Three weeks ago, France suspended its arms exports to Guinea after the Guinean army broke up a civilian demonstration with exceptional force, including rape. The officers were photographed using French-made crowd-control weapons. Guinea is, quite simply, one of the most oppressive places in the world. It scores a bottom of the rung ranking from Freedom House, which reports on its innumerable violations of basic rights and its complete lack of electoral democracy. And yet France, with its “responsible and binding arms trade control policy,” and its enthusiastic support of the arms trade treaty, had no qualms about supplying arms to a country with an already well-known record of human-rights abuses.”

What is the point of trying to achieve consensus in arms trade negotiations when states like France — never mind China and Russia — are so obviously uninterested in actually behaving responsibly?

Indeed, what is the point of the negotiations at all?  For this administration, the point appears to be proving our good intentions, as though we are responsible for the world’s ills. Obama has already done a lot of apologizing. The way his administration is approaching the arms trade treaty negotiations sets us up to do even more.

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Last Night in L.A.

We held the first COMMENTARY Forum in Los Angeles last night, and it couldn’t have gone better. The enthusiasm and passion of the crowd — more than 200 strong — were exciting and revivifying. Thanks to everyone who came. We’ll be staging more of these in cities around the country over the next two years, so watch this space.

We held the first COMMENTARY Forum in Los Angeles last night, and it couldn’t have gone better. The enthusiasm and passion of the crowd — more than 200 strong — were exciting and revivifying. Thanks to everyone who came. We’ll be staging more of these in cities around the country over the next two years, so watch this space.

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Lessons from NY-23

The race for the NY-23 House seat vacated by Republican John McHugh has revealed once again the tension between Republican party insiders and a growing populist base, increasingly energized and unwilling to take direction from Beltway insiders. It has also shown the dangers of going to war with the media rather than your opponents. (Robert Gibbs, pay attention.)

The GOP establishment anointed Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava as the favorite. As the Wall Street Journal explained, her record was not one to endear her to the Republican base, so she faces a challenge from conservative businessman Doug Hoffman:

She has voted for so many tax increases that the Democrat is attacking her as a tax raiser. She supported the Obama stimulus, and she favors “card check” to make union organizing easier, or at least she did until a recent flip-flop. She has run more than once on the line of the Working Families Party, which is aligned with Acorn. Her voting record in Albany puts her to the left of nearly half of the Democrats in the assembly. She also favors gay marriage, which is to the left of Mr. Obama.

It isn’t surprising then that Hoffman has been climbing in the polls and that the favorite candidate of the Beltway crowd now finds herself in a battle, trying to evade her liberal record and assure the base that her candidacy won’t be a reprise of that of James Tedisco — another GOP insider who lost a special election in NY-20. Hoffman has now picked up some key conservative endorsements and trails by only 6 points in a recent poll. These days, it’s good for a Republican candidate to be an outsider and a vocal opponent of Obama. (Charlie Crist is also learning that the hard way, in Florida’s Senate primary race.)

But that’s all been overshadowed by a bizarre incident in which Weekly Standard reporter John McCormack had the temerity to ask Scozzafava some questions at a recent appearance. Well, get this — her labor-boss husband called the cops on McCormack (a slender, mild-mannered fellow), claiming McCormack had screamed at his wife and scared her. McCormack reported on the incident, and the campaign claimed he was lying. Woops — turns out there’s a recording:

In the audio recording of the reporter’s questioning played for The Associated Press by McCormack, the reporter didn’t raise his voice, but repeated his unanswered questions several times, including one about abortion. “I never screamed, I never yelled, I never shouted,” he said. “My voice was only loud enough so she could hear my questions.”

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Scozzafava’s campaign started leaking e-mails from McCormack — leaking them to far-Left bloggers. And they’ve expressed bewilderment and disgust with Scozzafava’s conduct as well.

So what do we learn from all this? Well, Washington party insiders are often a poor judge of talent and what will constitute an “easy” campaign. The Beltway establishment hasn’t learned much from the past nine months or fully processed the rising populist tide of anger with Obama and those who are making his job easier. As for candidates, the takeaway is simple: if you think you’re going to win by picking on the media, you’re probably mistaken, especially if you don’t have the facts on your side. Candidates and party officials should take note.

The race for the NY-23 House seat vacated by Republican John McHugh has revealed once again the tension between Republican party insiders and a growing populist base, increasingly energized and unwilling to take direction from Beltway insiders. It has also shown the dangers of going to war with the media rather than your opponents. (Robert Gibbs, pay attention.)

The GOP establishment anointed Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava as the favorite. As the Wall Street Journal explained, her record was not one to endear her to the Republican base, so she faces a challenge from conservative businessman Doug Hoffman:

She has voted for so many tax increases that the Democrat is attacking her as a tax raiser. She supported the Obama stimulus, and she favors “card check” to make union organizing easier, or at least she did until a recent flip-flop. She has run more than once on the line of the Working Families Party, which is aligned with Acorn. Her voting record in Albany puts her to the left of nearly half of the Democrats in the assembly. She also favors gay marriage, which is to the left of Mr. Obama.

It isn’t surprising then that Hoffman has been climbing in the polls and that the favorite candidate of the Beltway crowd now finds herself in a battle, trying to evade her liberal record and assure the base that her candidacy won’t be a reprise of that of James Tedisco — another GOP insider who lost a special election in NY-20. Hoffman has now picked up some key conservative endorsements and trails by only 6 points in a recent poll. These days, it’s good for a Republican candidate to be an outsider and a vocal opponent of Obama. (Charlie Crist is also learning that the hard way, in Florida’s Senate primary race.)

But that’s all been overshadowed by a bizarre incident in which Weekly Standard reporter John McCormack had the temerity to ask Scozzafava some questions at a recent appearance. Well, get this — her labor-boss husband called the cops on McCormack (a slender, mild-mannered fellow), claiming McCormack had screamed at his wife and scared her. McCormack reported on the incident, and the campaign claimed he was lying. Woops — turns out there’s a recording:

In the audio recording of the reporter’s questioning played for The Associated Press by McCormack, the reporter didn’t raise his voice, but repeated his unanswered questions several times, including one about abortion. “I never screamed, I never yelled, I never shouted,” he said. “My voice was only loud enough so she could hear my questions.”

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Scozzafava’s campaign started leaking e-mails from McCormack — leaking them to far-Left bloggers. And they’ve expressed bewilderment and disgust with Scozzafava’s conduct as well.

So what do we learn from all this? Well, Washington party insiders are often a poor judge of talent and what will constitute an “easy” campaign. The Beltway establishment hasn’t learned much from the past nine months or fully processed the rising populist tide of anger with Obama and those who are making his job easier. As for candidates, the takeaway is simple: if you think you’re going to win by picking on the media, you’re probably mistaken, especially if you don’t have the facts on your side. Candidates and party officials should take note.

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The Left Unnerved — Again

Noemie Emery takes note of the feeding frenzy, verging on abject panic, that is occurring on the Left with the emergence of Liz Cheney as a prominent figure in the conservative ranks. She observes:

She’s a Palin who could tie Katie Couric in knots, a mom from McLean who could be [TNR’s Michelle] Cottle’s neighbor. Moms from McLean could be her constituents. Cottle couldn’t easily explain to a non-left-wing neighbor why Cheney is “dangerous.” That’s why Cottle hates her, and wants her destroyed. That’s why Liz, and those like her, bring out the witch-hunting bloodlust in liberals; why “gutsy” and “tough” in a Hillary Clinton become “savage” and “rough” in a female conservative. They ought to get over this fear of strong women. It’s what they told us to do.

Part of what’s going on here is fear of a political dynamo — an articulate and attractive figure who is putting pressure on one of Obama’s weakest points, his lack of resolute leadership on national security. But it’s bigger than simple concern about a new, rising star on the conservative side. What’s also at stake, just as it was with Sarah Palin, is no less than the meaning of “feminism” and liberals’ claim to represent all women.

For decades now, conservative women have been painted as “not real women” — fakes and frauds, betrayers of their gender because they did not check the box on the list of liberal dogmas, most especially on abortion. To be a feminist, and to be an authentic female politician, one had to subscribe to abortion on demand, expansion of government social services, and a view of foreign policy that eschewed hard power. Leave alone for a moment that this represented the worst sort of condescending stereotyping. It was the view propounded by politicians, academics, and media enablers of the Left.

So when strong, female, and conservative women — with children no less, and lots of them! — come along, the dogma is unsettled and the stereotype is challenged. Feminism is not the province of the Left, these conservative women assert, if feminism is meant to be the empowerment of women and the opening of opportunities. And it certainly doesn’t require acceptance of a pastel agenda of nanny-state domestic policies and pacifism abroad.

So Liz Cheney, just like Palin, unnerves and upsets the Left, not simply because she might run for something and win, and not only because she is one of the most effective conservative spokeswomen on national security. She threatens their claim to the moral high ground and their assertion that women voters belong to the Left. That’s reason enough to send them into fits of rage. And you can bet they’re only getting warmed up.

Noemie Emery takes note of the feeding frenzy, verging on abject panic, that is occurring on the Left with the emergence of Liz Cheney as a prominent figure in the conservative ranks. She observes:

She’s a Palin who could tie Katie Couric in knots, a mom from McLean who could be [TNR’s Michelle] Cottle’s neighbor. Moms from McLean could be her constituents. Cottle couldn’t easily explain to a non-left-wing neighbor why Cheney is “dangerous.” That’s why Cottle hates her, and wants her destroyed. That’s why Liz, and those like her, bring out the witch-hunting bloodlust in liberals; why “gutsy” and “tough” in a Hillary Clinton become “savage” and “rough” in a female conservative. They ought to get over this fear of strong women. It’s what they told us to do.

Part of what’s going on here is fear of a political dynamo — an articulate and attractive figure who is putting pressure on one of Obama’s weakest points, his lack of resolute leadership on national security. But it’s bigger than simple concern about a new, rising star on the conservative side. What’s also at stake, just as it was with Sarah Palin, is no less than the meaning of “feminism” and liberals’ claim to represent all women.

For decades now, conservative women have been painted as “not real women” — fakes and frauds, betrayers of their gender because they did not check the box on the list of liberal dogmas, most especially on abortion. To be a feminist, and to be an authentic female politician, one had to subscribe to abortion on demand, expansion of government social services, and a view of foreign policy that eschewed hard power. Leave alone for a moment that this represented the worst sort of condescending stereotyping. It was the view propounded by politicians, academics, and media enablers of the Left.

So when strong, female, and conservative women — with children no less, and lots of them! — come along, the dogma is unsettled and the stereotype is challenged. Feminism is not the province of the Left, these conservative women assert, if feminism is meant to be the empowerment of women and the opening of opportunities. And it certainly doesn’t require acceptance of a pastel agenda of nanny-state domestic policies and pacifism abroad.

So Liz Cheney, just like Palin, unnerves and upsets the Left, not simply because she might run for something and win, and not only because she is one of the most effective conservative spokeswomen on national security. She threatens their claim to the moral high ground and their assertion that women voters belong to the Left. That’s reason enough to send them into fits of rage. And you can bet they’re only getting warmed up.

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Admitting You Have a Problem with BDS Is the First Step to Recovery

What a rare occurrence: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is agitated. This time the cause for his upset is that I included him in a group that, during the past eight years, was composed of commentators who suffered from Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS). Let’s see if we can untangle some of Mr. Krugman’s comments.

I don’t believe, and never said, that Bush supporters represent the “real America” (a term I dislike and have stated so here). Nor do I think that Bush supporters today represent, as they did in 2004 — when Bush won re-election — a majority of the country. Nor have I ever said that every critic of Bush suffers from this syndrome. The vast majority of them don’t. But a few, like Krugman and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait (who also took exception to what I wrote), do.

Rather than allow Professor Krugman to define the condition that afflicts him, let’s turn to the man who coined the phrase, Charles Krauthammer. According to Krauthammer, a former practicing psychiatrist, Bush Derangement Syndrome is “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush,” a condition that “addles the brain … and can strike without warning.”

Now, how might BDS manifest itself? One way would be to write something like this (as Chait did in 2003):

I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. … I hate the way he walks–shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks–blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him. … And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.

Another manifestation of BDS would be to describe Bush — in apocalyptic we-are-near-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it rhetoric that could easily come from the pen of the Christian-dispensationalist writer Hal Lindsey — as a “radical — the leader of a coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. … What’s at stake isn’t just the fate of [the Democratic] party, but the fate of America as we know it.” These words were Krugman’s — who has also warned about Bush’s “radical domestic policy agenda” and his “radical agenda” and his “radical policy course.” Bush was a “radical who wants to undo much of the Great Society and the New Deal” and pursue a “radical right-wing agenda.” Bush was also, according to Krugman, deeply dishonest, seized with a blind drive to win, and turning America into a dictatorship. “Sometimes I have the feeling that I no longer live in one of the world’s oldest democracies, but in the Philippines under a new Marcos,” Krugman said during the Bush years.

Mr. Krugman’s columns are so routinely and reflexively splenetic and angry, so intellectually dishonest, so utterly predictable and rigidly ideological, that even as measured a magazine as the Economist wrote in 2003 that a “glance through his past columns reveals a growing tendency to attribute all the world’s ills to George Bush.” According to Krugman’s “thoughtful” critics, his “relentless partisanship is getting in the way of his argument.” That is a gentle way of saying he is a blinkered ideologue, a man whose political passions and hatreds overwhelm his reason.

(Another condition that appears to afflict Professor Krugman is a martyr complex. For example, he described himself to Die Spiegel as a “lonely voice of truth in a sea of corruption.” Krugman added, “Sometimes I think that one of these days I’ll end up in one of those cages on Guantanamo Bay” – which I gather would be worse than living in America under a new Marcos.)

Paul Krugman is, by any reasonable standard, a man who holds radical views and is prone to make radical (and monotonously repetitive) charges. He has become an almost comically unserious figure — which means he is perfectly at home in the academy today, a perfect representative of the Left in America, and a perfect columnist for the New York Times.

What a rare occurrence: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is agitated. This time the cause for his upset is that I included him in a group that, during the past eight years, was composed of commentators who suffered from Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS). Let’s see if we can untangle some of Mr. Krugman’s comments.

I don’t believe, and never said, that Bush supporters represent the “real America” (a term I dislike and have stated so here). Nor do I think that Bush supporters today represent, as they did in 2004 — when Bush won re-election — a majority of the country. Nor have I ever said that every critic of Bush suffers from this syndrome. The vast majority of them don’t. But a few, like Krugman and the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait (who also took exception to what I wrote), do.

Rather than allow Professor Krugman to define the condition that afflicts him, let’s turn to the man who coined the phrase, Charles Krauthammer. According to Krauthammer, a former practicing psychiatrist, Bush Derangement Syndrome is “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush,” a condition that “addles the brain … and can strike without warning.”

Now, how might BDS manifest itself? One way would be to write something like this (as Chait did in 2003):

I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. … I hate the way he walks–shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks–blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him. … And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.

Another manifestation of BDS would be to describe Bush — in apocalyptic we-are-near-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it rhetoric that could easily come from the pen of the Christian-dispensationalist writer Hal Lindsey — as a “radical — the leader of a coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. … What’s at stake isn’t just the fate of [the Democratic] party, but the fate of America as we know it.” These words were Krugman’s — who has also warned about Bush’s “radical domestic policy agenda” and his “radical agenda” and his “radical policy course.” Bush was a “radical who wants to undo much of the Great Society and the New Deal” and pursue a “radical right-wing agenda.” Bush was also, according to Krugman, deeply dishonest, seized with a blind drive to win, and turning America into a dictatorship. “Sometimes I have the feeling that I no longer live in one of the world’s oldest democracies, but in the Philippines under a new Marcos,” Krugman said during the Bush years.

Mr. Krugman’s columns are so routinely and reflexively splenetic and angry, so intellectually dishonest, so utterly predictable and rigidly ideological, that even as measured a magazine as the Economist wrote in 2003 that a “glance through his past columns reveals a growing tendency to attribute all the world’s ills to George Bush.” According to Krugman’s “thoughtful” critics, his “relentless partisanship is getting in the way of his argument.” That is a gentle way of saying he is a blinkered ideologue, a man whose political passions and hatreds overwhelm his reason.

(Another condition that appears to afflict Professor Krugman is a martyr complex. For example, he described himself to Die Spiegel as a “lonely voice of truth in a sea of corruption.” Krugman added, “Sometimes I think that one of these days I’ll end up in one of those cages on Guantanamo Bay” – which I gather would be worse than living in America under a new Marcos.)

Paul Krugman is, by any reasonable standard, a man who holds radical views and is prone to make radical (and monotonously repetitive) charges. He has become an almost comically unserious figure — which means he is perfectly at home in the academy today, a perfect representative of the Left in America, and a perfect columnist for the New York Times.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Talking About Iran’s Stockpile: Progress or Pointless?

Predictably, the Vienna talks on Iran’s Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) stockpile have already stalled. Iran is using all the rules in the book and any trick on the margins to delay and gain more out of the talks. First, they dispatched a low-level delegation to the talks — something guaranteed to delay a decision even if a deal is struck in Vienna. Second, they torpedoed a critical element of the deal. According to what was supposedly agreed on already, the LEU would be enriched in Russia to higher levels (20 percent, well below weapons’ grade) but further processed into fuel rods by France before it could be delivered to Iran for use in its Tehran Research Reactor. Now Iran is saying that France cannot be relied on and cannot be part of this deal. So the Iranians are threatening to go ahead and enrich on their own up to 20 percent if no deal is reached; they are also suggesting that they want a supply of fuel while they keep their stockpile. …

To read the rest of this fascinating analusys, click here.

Predictably, the Vienna talks on Iran’s Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) stockpile have already stalled. Iran is using all the rules in the book and any trick on the margins to delay and gain more out of the talks. First, they dispatched a low-level delegation to the talks — something guaranteed to delay a decision even if a deal is struck in Vienna. Second, they torpedoed a critical element of the deal. According to what was supposedly agreed on already, the LEU would be enriched in Russia to higher levels (20 percent, well below weapons’ grade) but further processed into fuel rods by France before it could be delivered to Iran for use in its Tehran Research Reactor. Now Iran is saying that France cannot be relied on and cannot be part of this deal. So the Iranians are threatening to go ahead and enrich on their own up to 20 percent if no deal is reached; they are also suggesting that they want a supply of fuel while they keep their stockpile. …

To read the rest of this fascinating analusys, click here.

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The Yglesias Award for Moral Equivalence

Andrew Sullivan, now a leading spokesman for the UN Human Rights Council approach to Israel, lists as his quote of the day the following inanity from the Bobby Bigwheel of the Juicebox Mafia, Matt Yglesias:

“If people want to say that the whole quest to articulate objective human rights standards and international humanitarian law is inherently futile or misguided, then fine. But an awful lot of people who claim not to believe that seem to want to turn around and reject the underlying premises of the endeavor when it turns out that Israel—like its adversaries—sometimes violates those standards,” – Matt Yglesias.

It turns out that Hamas and Hezbollah sometimes violate human rights standards? The self-declared purpose of these groups is to destroy Israel and murder Jews everywhere through the use of terrorism. They sometimes violate human rights standards? Every moment of their existence is a violation of human rights standards.

This is where the Juiceboxers and their new playground chaperone repudiate one of the most important tenets of international legal and humanitarian traditions: the concept of jus ad bellum, which asks the question of whether instigating hostilities is legitimate. To put it simply, this is the moral distinction between killing an intruder who seeks to murder your family and being the intruder himself. In the former case, you have a right to open fire. In the latter case, you have no right to expect not to be on the receiving end of open fire.

Yet Yglesias and Sullivan do not acknowledge any such distinction. To them, there appears to be little or no moral difference between the al-Qassam Brigades and the Israeli army, because the intentions of these two fighting forces count for nothing. On one side, there is the desire to terrorize, murder, and hopefully commit genocide against the Jews (or, as Yglesias puts it, Hamas and Hezbollah are “mean”); and on the other, there is the desire to prevent the perpetration of those things and defend a liberal, democratic way of life. Sullivan is quite clear about his indifference to all this, writing: “The only salient question is: did Israel commit war crimes in Gaza?”

I think the only salient questions are: Who keeps starting wars with Israel? Why do they start them, and what are they trying to accomplish? And who bears responsibility for the ensuing destruction? And no, for the record, Israel did not commit war crimes in Gaza. Watch Richard Kemp’s remarkable UN testimony if you disagree. You won’t see his presentation debated on Sullivan’s blog because it does not provide an opportunity for obnoxious and empty moral posturing.

Andrew Sullivan, now a leading spokesman for the UN Human Rights Council approach to Israel, lists as his quote of the day the following inanity from the Bobby Bigwheel of the Juicebox Mafia, Matt Yglesias:

“If people want to say that the whole quest to articulate objective human rights standards and international humanitarian law is inherently futile or misguided, then fine. But an awful lot of people who claim not to believe that seem to want to turn around and reject the underlying premises of the endeavor when it turns out that Israel—like its adversaries—sometimes violates those standards,” – Matt Yglesias.

It turns out that Hamas and Hezbollah sometimes violate human rights standards? The self-declared purpose of these groups is to destroy Israel and murder Jews everywhere through the use of terrorism. They sometimes violate human rights standards? Every moment of their existence is a violation of human rights standards.

This is where the Juiceboxers and their new playground chaperone repudiate one of the most important tenets of international legal and humanitarian traditions: the concept of jus ad bellum, which asks the question of whether instigating hostilities is legitimate. To put it simply, this is the moral distinction between killing an intruder who seeks to murder your family and being the intruder himself. In the former case, you have a right to open fire. In the latter case, you have no right to expect not to be on the receiving end of open fire.

Yet Yglesias and Sullivan do not acknowledge any such distinction. To them, there appears to be little or no moral difference between the al-Qassam Brigades and the Israeli army, because the intentions of these two fighting forces count for nothing. On one side, there is the desire to terrorize, murder, and hopefully commit genocide against the Jews (or, as Yglesias puts it, Hamas and Hezbollah are “mean”); and on the other, there is the desire to prevent the perpetration of those things and defend a liberal, democratic way of life. Sullivan is quite clear about his indifference to all this, writing: “The only salient question is: did Israel commit war crimes in Gaza?”

I think the only salient questions are: Who keeps starting wars with Israel? Why do they start them, and what are they trying to accomplish? And who bears responsibility for the ensuing destruction? And no, for the record, Israel did not commit war crimes in Gaza. Watch Richard Kemp’s remarkable UN testimony if you disagree. You won’t see his presentation debated on Sullivan’s blog because it does not provide an opportunity for obnoxious and empty moral posturing.

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Human Rights Watch’s Non-Rebuttal Rebuttal

In case you missed it, yesterday something very important happened: Bob Bernstein, the founder and for 20 years the chair of Human Rights Watch, published an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing the organization for its obsessive attacks on Israel. He wrote that HRW is “helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

HRW was quick to offer a response — and it is a pathetically weak and deceptive one. A quick fisking:

Human Rights Watch does not believe that the human rights records of “closed” societies are the only ones deserving scrutiny.

A classic red-herring argument. Nowhere did Bernstein argue that open societies should not be subject to scrutiny. What he said is that the amount of attention HRW pays to Israel is wildly out of proportion to Israel’s violations, especially when Israel is compared with the Middle East’s dozens of dictatorships. Misrepresenting the plain meaning of Bernstein’s argument allows HRW to rebut an accusation that he never made. The press release continues:

Human Rights Watch does not devote more time and energy to Israel than to other countries in the region, or in the world. We’ve produced more than 1,700 reports, letters, news releases, and other commentaries on the Middle East and North Africa since January 2000, and the vast majority of these were about countries other than Israel.

Another red herring — this one with some clever weasel phrasing. Bernstein never said that HRW “devotes more time and energy to Israel than to other countries in the region.” He wrote that “Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.” The obvious difference is that Bernstein was comparing the number of reports on Israel to the number of reports on any other individual country in the Middle East. HRW presents Bernstein as claiming that HRW writes more reports on Israel than on all the countries in the Middle East combined. Obviously, HRW cannot contest the accuracy of Bernstein’s statement, so it dishonestly responds to a charge he never made.

It is not the case that Human Rights Watch had “no access to the battlefield” after the Israeli operation in Gaza in January 2009. Although the Israeli government denied us access, our researchers entered Gaza via the border with Egypt and conducted extensive interviews.

Human Rights Watch is apparently incapable of dealing with criticism on its own terms. Bernstein did not argue that HRW had no access to the battlefield after the war was over, as HRW claims he said. What Bernstein in fact said was that HRW was not present on the battlefield during the war, therefore limiting its ability to know what happened and to make war-crimes judgments.

The dishonesty and manipulativeness of HRW’s response to Bernstein is but a small manifestation of the organization’s larger problems: its inability to engage honestly with the arguments of its detractors, and the related problem of the unreliability of the group’s reporting on the Middle East.

In case you missed it, yesterday something very important happened: Bob Bernstein, the founder and for 20 years the chair of Human Rights Watch, published an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing the organization for its obsessive attacks on Israel. He wrote that HRW is “helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

HRW was quick to offer a response — and it is a pathetically weak and deceptive one. A quick fisking:

Human Rights Watch does not believe that the human rights records of “closed” societies are the only ones deserving scrutiny.

A classic red-herring argument. Nowhere did Bernstein argue that open societies should not be subject to scrutiny. What he said is that the amount of attention HRW pays to Israel is wildly out of proportion to Israel’s violations, especially when Israel is compared with the Middle East’s dozens of dictatorships. Misrepresenting the plain meaning of Bernstein’s argument allows HRW to rebut an accusation that he never made. The press release continues:

Human Rights Watch does not devote more time and energy to Israel than to other countries in the region, or in the world. We’ve produced more than 1,700 reports, letters, news releases, and other commentaries on the Middle East and North Africa since January 2000, and the vast majority of these were about countries other than Israel.

Another red herring — this one with some clever weasel phrasing. Bernstein never said that HRW “devotes more time and energy to Israel than to other countries in the region.” He wrote that “Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region.” The obvious difference is that Bernstein was comparing the number of reports on Israel to the number of reports on any other individual country in the Middle East. HRW presents Bernstein as claiming that HRW writes more reports on Israel than on all the countries in the Middle East combined. Obviously, HRW cannot contest the accuracy of Bernstein’s statement, so it dishonestly responds to a charge he never made.

It is not the case that Human Rights Watch had “no access to the battlefield” after the Israeli operation in Gaza in January 2009. Although the Israeli government denied us access, our researchers entered Gaza via the border with Egypt and conducted extensive interviews.

Human Rights Watch is apparently incapable of dealing with criticism on its own terms. Bernstein did not argue that HRW had no access to the battlefield after the war was over, as HRW claims he said. What Bernstein in fact said was that HRW was not present on the battlefield during the war, therefore limiting its ability to know what happened and to make war-crimes judgments.

The dishonesty and manipulativeness of HRW’s response to Bernstein is but a small manifestation of the organization’s larger problems: its inability to engage honestly with the arguments of its detractors, and the related problem of the unreliability of the group’s reporting on the Middle East.

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