Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 14, 2010

Realpolitik in Our Time

Jennifer’s dissection of the New York Times piece on the emerging Obama Doctrine is masterful. One thing I would observe about “realpolitik,” however, is that its self-conscious practitioners tend to leave big piles of unintended consequences in their wake. In that sense, Obama is indeed in the realpolitik mold. Invoking realpolitik has, moreover, become a form of shorthand for commentators who want to express approval of an essentially weak foreign policy without going to the trouble of explaining why weak is the new strong.

On the unintended-consequences front, Syria has now requited the Obama realpolitik approach with a transfer of Scud missiles to Hezbollah. Syria’s Scuds are old but retain the effectiveness to pose a serious threat to Israel’s population. They are, in fact, a population threat and not a military one: they aren’t accurate enough for precision targeting. They were originally designed to create havoc behind an enemy’s front lines in a theater-scale war. In the hands of a terrorist organization, they will be used to amplify the anti-population threat posed by shorter-range rockets. Scuds carry a significantly bigger payload than the Katyusha rockets frequently used by Hezbollah and can deliver chemical as well as conventional warheads. Syria is known to have a chemical weapons program, but I consider it unlikely that its leadership will supply chemical warheads to Hezbollah – at least for now.

News outlets are not overstating the matter in assessing that this move changes the military balance in the Middle East. It puts state-level military might in the hands of an unaccountable sub-national terrorist group. Israel is now faced with the dilemma of what and how much to do about it. The worst option is to do too little.

A quiescent geopolitical environment – one in which he doesn’t expect to face consequences – is what enables Bashar al-Assad to do this. The Scud transfer is the first of the threatening moves augured by the Arab League summit in March, where indignation over Israeli policy in Jerusalem was the unifying theme. And among Syria’s objectives with this weapons transfer is probing the U.S. reaction. American policy has set boundaries since 1945 on what other nations consider possible in the Middle East. Assad is calculating that the implications inherent in this weapons deployment do not exceed the tolerance limits of Obama’s America.

He seems to have good reason to do so. Whether this move is the harbinger of a missile attack or a means of positioning Hezbollah to negotiate concessions from Israel, it exploits a growing sense in the Middle East that the U.S. won’t intervene to avert latent threats before they become deadly peril for our allies. Too often that is the signal realpolitik sends. Obama has only amplified it with his disdain for our allies, his urgency about withdrawing our forces from the Middle East, his ineffective attempts to get around the Russian veto on our missile defenses, and his determined pursuit of a disadvantageous and unenforceable START treaty.

Jennifer’s dissection of the New York Times piece on the emerging Obama Doctrine is masterful. One thing I would observe about “realpolitik,” however, is that its self-conscious practitioners tend to leave big piles of unintended consequences in their wake. In that sense, Obama is indeed in the realpolitik mold. Invoking realpolitik has, moreover, become a form of shorthand for commentators who want to express approval of an essentially weak foreign policy without going to the trouble of explaining why weak is the new strong.

On the unintended-consequences front, Syria has now requited the Obama realpolitik approach with a transfer of Scud missiles to Hezbollah. Syria’s Scuds are old but retain the effectiveness to pose a serious threat to Israel’s population. They are, in fact, a population threat and not a military one: they aren’t accurate enough for precision targeting. They were originally designed to create havoc behind an enemy’s front lines in a theater-scale war. In the hands of a terrorist organization, they will be used to amplify the anti-population threat posed by shorter-range rockets. Scuds carry a significantly bigger payload than the Katyusha rockets frequently used by Hezbollah and can deliver chemical as well as conventional warheads. Syria is known to have a chemical weapons program, but I consider it unlikely that its leadership will supply chemical warheads to Hezbollah – at least for now.

News outlets are not overstating the matter in assessing that this move changes the military balance in the Middle East. It puts state-level military might in the hands of an unaccountable sub-national terrorist group. Israel is now faced with the dilemma of what and how much to do about it. The worst option is to do too little.

A quiescent geopolitical environment – one in which he doesn’t expect to face consequences – is what enables Bashar al-Assad to do this. The Scud transfer is the first of the threatening moves augured by the Arab League summit in March, where indignation over Israeli policy in Jerusalem was the unifying theme. And among Syria’s objectives with this weapons transfer is probing the U.S. reaction. American policy has set boundaries since 1945 on what other nations consider possible in the Middle East. Assad is calculating that the implications inherent in this weapons deployment do not exceed the tolerance limits of Obama’s America.

He seems to have good reason to do so. Whether this move is the harbinger of a missile attack or a means of positioning Hezbollah to negotiate concessions from Israel, it exploits a growing sense in the Middle East that the U.S. won’t intervene to avert latent threats before they become deadly peril for our allies. Too often that is the signal realpolitik sends. Obama has only amplified it with his disdain for our allies, his urgency about withdrawing our forces from the Middle East, his ineffective attempts to get around the Russian veto on our missile defenses, and his determined pursuit of a disadvantageous and unenforceable START treaty.

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Pushing Back

If the nuclear summit was meant to distract us from the failure of the Obami to devise a serious policy reasonably designed to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, it isn’t working. As this report explains:

As Iran gets closer to fulfilling its nuclear ambitions, Republican lawmakers are pushing the Obama administration to stop whistling past the graveyard and get tough with the Islamic Republic.

Sen. John McCain said Wednesday the United States has been backing away from a brewing fight with Iran, while U.S. officials admitted that that country’s accelerated nuclear program is roughly a year away from producing a weapon.

McCain opened a Senate hearing Wednesday by saying that Iran will get the bomb unless the U.S. acts more boldly. The Arizona Republican said the U.S. keeps pointing a loaded gun at Iran, but it is failing to “pull the trigger.”

So what is the Obama administration doing? “Bill Burns, the No. 3 person at the State Department, said the United States is working as fast as it can to win new international sanctions on Iran. Burns predicted that a resolution will emerge from the United Nations Security Council this spring, and he called the case for new penalties urgent, saying he expects China will agree to some form of sanctions.” (Perhaps if it had started last Labor Day, when the first “final” deadline passed for the Iranians to cooperate, we’d already have sanctions in place and could be evaluating their effectiveness.) One sees that the supposed agreement with China is no agreement at all, and we are essentially starting at the beginning to discuss what sanctions they might agree to.

I suspect the voices inside and outside of Congress will have to turn up the volume quite a bit to get the attention of the president. He’s got his plan — nibbly sanctions we might put in place this spring (if the Chinese agree) and that won’t be confused with a “magic wand” (i.e., anything remotely crippling that might impact the mullahs’ decision-making). There is only one president, and in this regard, his outlook is what matters. It will take a huge effort to get Obama to regard the Iranian threat as the single most critical issue we face. For a president who regards collection in four years of nuclear materials from NPT signatories a great achievement and who thinks global warming is a dire emergency, it’s going to be an uphill climb.

If the nuclear summit was meant to distract us from the failure of the Obami to devise a serious policy reasonably designed to thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, it isn’t working. As this report explains:

As Iran gets closer to fulfilling its nuclear ambitions, Republican lawmakers are pushing the Obama administration to stop whistling past the graveyard and get tough with the Islamic Republic.

Sen. John McCain said Wednesday the United States has been backing away from a brewing fight with Iran, while U.S. officials admitted that that country’s accelerated nuclear program is roughly a year away from producing a weapon.

McCain opened a Senate hearing Wednesday by saying that Iran will get the bomb unless the U.S. acts more boldly. The Arizona Republican said the U.S. keeps pointing a loaded gun at Iran, but it is failing to “pull the trigger.”

So what is the Obama administration doing? “Bill Burns, the No. 3 person at the State Department, said the United States is working as fast as it can to win new international sanctions on Iran. Burns predicted that a resolution will emerge from the United Nations Security Council this spring, and he called the case for new penalties urgent, saying he expects China will agree to some form of sanctions.” (Perhaps if it had started last Labor Day, when the first “final” deadline passed for the Iranians to cooperate, we’d already have sanctions in place and could be evaluating their effectiveness.) One sees that the supposed agreement with China is no agreement at all, and we are essentially starting at the beginning to discuss what sanctions they might agree to.

I suspect the voices inside and outside of Congress will have to turn up the volume quite a bit to get the attention of the president. He’s got his plan — nibbly sanctions we might put in place this spring (if the Chinese agree) and that won’t be confused with a “magic wand” (i.e., anything remotely crippling that might impact the mullahs’ decision-making). There is only one president, and in this regard, his outlook is what matters. It will take a huge effort to get Obama to regard the Iranian threat as the single most critical issue we face. For a president who regards collection in four years of nuclear materials from NPT signatories a great achievement and who thinks global warming is a dire emergency, it’s going to be an uphill climb.

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American Equality

Arthur Brooks, the outstanding president of the American Enterprise Institute (and co-author, with me, of a forthcoming monograph on capitalism and morality), published a Wall Street Journal op-ed on fairness that ends this way:

There is nothing inherently fair about equalizing incomes. If the government penalizes you for working harder than somebody else, that is unfair. If you save your money but retire with the same pension as a free-spending neighbor, that is also unfair.

Real fairness, as most of us see it, does not mean bringing the top down. Yes, free markets tend to produce unequal incomes. We should not be ashamed of that. On the contrary, our system is the envy of the world and should be a source of pride. Generation after generation, it has rewarded hard work and good values, education and street smarts. It has offered the world’s most disadvantaged not government redistribution but a chance to earn their success.

That is true fairness, American-style.

One of the reasons Brooks’ piece is important is because he places economic issues in a moral frame and, rather than running away from the charge of “fairness” – which has been used as a battering ram against conservatives for decades – Brooks takes it head on and turns it to the advantage of conservatives. Brooks’ article helps explain why, in the words of Tocqueville, “equality in liberty” is vastly preferable, both economically and morally, to “equality in restraint and servitude.”

Call it true equality, American-style.

Arthur Brooks, the outstanding president of the American Enterprise Institute (and co-author, with me, of a forthcoming monograph on capitalism and morality), published a Wall Street Journal op-ed on fairness that ends this way:

There is nothing inherently fair about equalizing incomes. If the government penalizes you for working harder than somebody else, that is unfair. If you save your money but retire with the same pension as a free-spending neighbor, that is also unfair.

Real fairness, as most of us see it, does not mean bringing the top down. Yes, free markets tend to produce unequal incomes. We should not be ashamed of that. On the contrary, our system is the envy of the world and should be a source of pride. Generation after generation, it has rewarded hard work and good values, education and street smarts. It has offered the world’s most disadvantaged not government redistribution but a chance to earn their success.

That is true fairness, American-style.

One of the reasons Brooks’ piece is important is because he places economic issues in a moral frame and, rather than running away from the charge of “fairness” – which has been used as a battering ram against conservatives for decades – Brooks takes it head on and turns it to the advantage of conservatives. Brooks’ article helps explain why, in the words of Tocqueville, “equality in liberty” is vastly preferable, both economically and morally, to “equality in restraint and servitude.”

Call it true equality, American-style.

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RE: Reality Intrudes

What are we to make of the latest comments about the peace process from President Obama? In recent weeks, the White House has run the gamut of approaches: blistering public criticism and harsh personal treatment of Netanyahu; leaks that the administration might impose a “solution” on the parties; leaks that Dennis Ross is a dual-loyalist; leaks that administration advisers are “all over the map” about how to approach the issue; and now, defeatism from an obviously chastened president.

Right now, we are in a phase of trying to understand what might be called the Arabesque of Obama. Sometimes it looks as though he has a coherent — however mistaken — grand vision of how to navigate the region: we’ll knock the Israelis into line, and then the Palestinians and Arabs will come around, and then we’ll ride the success of the peace process over to Tehran, where we’ll deal with the nuclear problem through diplomacy, and so on. None of this had any chance of working, but at least it had the appearance of being a strategy.

And then sometimes it looks like there’s no grand vision at all — he’s just winging it, he has impulses but no strategy, he doesn’t think very far down the line about the consequences of his actions, he dismisses the caution of his predecessors on the grounds that they didn’t have the Obama magic, his advisers disagree on basic questions, etc — and this is why he keeps smacking his head into the same problems.

One week the president is issuing ultimatums from on high, and the next he’s resigned to the limitations of his own influence. What is Obama up to, exactly?

At this point, I’m inclined toward believing that he’s winging it, or more precisely, that he’s been indulging his instincts on the Middle East, which are ideological and incoherent instincts. As someone with ample diplomatic experience emailed to me:

[Obama] has laid out a perfectly incoherent, self-contradictory policy. 1.) The solution to the Iran nuclear threat and all the other problems of the region depends on the outcome of the Israel-Palestinian problem; 2.) The US is at odds with Israel regarding this outcome; 3.) The US is considering presenting its own plan for a solution; 4.) Either party to the conflict can block a solution and the US can do nothing about it because the US cannot impose solutions; 5.) The Iran nuclear threat cannot be stopped unless the Israel-Palestinian problem is solved.

How is Obama going to extricate himself from the trap he has set for himself? He’s already done serious damage to his relations with the Israelis and gotten nothing in return for it from the Arabs. At this point, nobody knows which Obama — and which Obama ambition — they’re going to have to deal with next week, next month, or next year, so the best they can do is dig in and protect themselves the best they can. And in this fog of confusion, and amid the administration’s obsession with Israeli zoning decisions, countries like Syria seize the opportunity to do things like ship Scud missiles to Hezbollah. If Obama is learning anything, hopefully it is that his nuance and experimentation are making the Middle East a more dangerous place.

What are we to make of the latest comments about the peace process from President Obama? In recent weeks, the White House has run the gamut of approaches: blistering public criticism and harsh personal treatment of Netanyahu; leaks that the administration might impose a “solution” on the parties; leaks that Dennis Ross is a dual-loyalist; leaks that administration advisers are “all over the map” about how to approach the issue; and now, defeatism from an obviously chastened president.

Right now, we are in a phase of trying to understand what might be called the Arabesque of Obama. Sometimes it looks as though he has a coherent — however mistaken — grand vision of how to navigate the region: we’ll knock the Israelis into line, and then the Palestinians and Arabs will come around, and then we’ll ride the success of the peace process over to Tehran, where we’ll deal with the nuclear problem through diplomacy, and so on. None of this had any chance of working, but at least it had the appearance of being a strategy.

And then sometimes it looks like there’s no grand vision at all — he’s just winging it, he has impulses but no strategy, he doesn’t think very far down the line about the consequences of his actions, he dismisses the caution of his predecessors on the grounds that they didn’t have the Obama magic, his advisers disagree on basic questions, etc — and this is why he keeps smacking his head into the same problems.

One week the president is issuing ultimatums from on high, and the next he’s resigned to the limitations of his own influence. What is Obama up to, exactly?

At this point, I’m inclined toward believing that he’s winging it, or more precisely, that he’s been indulging his instincts on the Middle East, which are ideological and incoherent instincts. As someone with ample diplomatic experience emailed to me:

[Obama] has laid out a perfectly incoherent, self-contradictory policy. 1.) The solution to the Iran nuclear threat and all the other problems of the region depends on the outcome of the Israel-Palestinian problem; 2.) The US is at odds with Israel regarding this outcome; 3.) The US is considering presenting its own plan for a solution; 4.) Either party to the conflict can block a solution and the US can do nothing about it because the US cannot impose solutions; 5.) The Iran nuclear threat cannot be stopped unless the Israel-Palestinian problem is solved.

How is Obama going to extricate himself from the trap he has set for himself? He’s already done serious damage to his relations with the Israelis and gotten nothing in return for it from the Arabs. At this point, nobody knows which Obama — and which Obama ambition — they’re going to have to deal with next week, next month, or next year, so the best they can do is dig in and protect themselves the best they can. And in this fog of confusion, and amid the administration’s obsession with Israeli zoning decisions, countries like Syria seize the opportunity to do things like ship Scud missiles to Hezbollah. If Obama is learning anything, hopefully it is that his nuance and experimentation are making the Middle East a more dangerous place.

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The Women of Morocco

We have had a series of horror stories reminding us of atrocious treatment of girls and women in a great number of Muslim countries. Whether it is Yemen or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, the picture of brutality is grim, indeed. But there is an exception in the region, one that gets little attention.

I had the opportunity to meet today with two Moroccan female legislators (yes, that’s noteworthy enough). Morocco suffers what might be considered the fate of pro-Western, modernizing countries of the Middle East — it is ignored rather than held up as an example and an alternative to the oppression and repression of Muslim fundamentalism and to the institutionalization of misogyny one finds in so much of what Obama lumps into the “Muslim World.”  Zahra Chagaf is the elected representative from Tarfaya in southern Morocco, which is the focus of the dispute over the fate of the Western Sahara (and the dangerous exploitation by the Polisario Front and Algeria. More about all that in a later post.) She is fluent in  multiple languages, and on the topic of women, she speaks in French. (My rusty high school French is assisted by an able translator.) She explains that twelve years ago, a huge legal and political change occurred in Morocco. ” There were only two female legislators in parliament in 2000,” she explains. “Now there are 40 of us. On the municipal level [the equivalent of our state level], 0.5 percent were women in 2000. Now there are 12 percent, about 4,000 people.” She emphasizes that this was accompanied by a new family code that afforded women new rights, and by the outlawing of sexual harassment and discrimination. Five government ministers are women, and there are 15 female ambassadors.

How did this come about, I ask — why is Morocco so different?  She explains that it came from “civil society.” The groundswell came both from “women in the country and men with an open outlook.” She emphasizes that in the south, her own region, women have always been involved in the “social, political, cultural” life of the country, and unlike in other Muslim countries, within the home, Moroccan women also exercise power and influence. She stresses: “It is the women who raise the children… Education is more important than any legal change.”

Mbarka Bouaida is another member of parliament, elected to represent TanTan, also in southern Morocco. She could be any New York investment banker or associate in a large law firm, smartly dressed in a gray pantsuit, sporting shoulder length hair. She also speaks multiple language and converses with me in fluent English. What’s different about Morocco? She smiles. “It is a matriarchal society,” she begins. She also emphasizes the role of women in southern Moroccan society but adds that Morocco is also a Mediterranean country, culturally distinct from much of the rest of the Middle East. In southern Morocco, she notes: “Women were much more active in society before the legal environment changed. Women have been active in business. Most of the business people in the south are women. Women have always acted very freely in deciding matrimonial aspects  and who they marry.” (The contrast to other Muslim countries is plain.) Even in the naiton’s resistance to French and Spanish rule, women were active, she continues, and also recalls that in the 1950s, the princess was among the first Muslim women to give a speech in public without the veil.

The challenge to Morocco, the women explain, is to expand the role of women and hold back the threat of Muslim fundamentalism that would reverse the nation’s progress. Mbaraka explains: “We need to have more [freedom for women] and protect against extremism. We see extremists interpreting the Koran… We need to continue to communicate and provide education.” And what of the women in the rest of the Middle East? Well, Zahra explains that they do meet with women from Yemen, Syria, and Saudi Arabia — where she emphasizes, “The  women have no rights!” The effort of other Muslim countries to repress and brutalize their own women is made more difficult in the modern era. As she explains, “You can see what is going on [in other countries], and you don’t have to put up with it.”

The Morocco example leaves one with mixed  emotions. On one hand, it is a shining example of reform and modernization, one we hope is emulated by its neighbors. But as  the women made so very clear, Morocco is different than many of his Muslim neighbors. And in emphasizing the differences, one comes back to the bleak condition of women in those other Muslim countries in which the cultural and social predicate for the advancement of women is sorely lacking. As another commentator observed with regard to Afghan women, the challenge for America (and one could say for enlightened nations like Morocco as well) is great, namely to help women:

“…unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

We and our Moroccan allies have our work cut out for us.

UPDATE: An informed reader emails to add that the King of Morocco deserves a share of the credit for this societal transformation — “for siding with these women against the more reactionary forces in society. In a poll last year that found him very popular, the one area where there was a lot of criticism was… women’s rights! Lots of men thought he was going too fast.” (More on the poll and on the family code can be found here.) If only other Muslim nations were fortunate enough to have such leadership.

We have had a series of horror stories reminding us of atrocious treatment of girls and women in a great number of Muslim countries. Whether it is Yemen or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, the picture of brutality is grim, indeed. But there is an exception in the region, one that gets little attention.

I had the opportunity to meet today with two Moroccan female legislators (yes, that’s noteworthy enough). Morocco suffers what might be considered the fate of pro-Western, modernizing countries of the Middle East — it is ignored rather than held up as an example and an alternative to the oppression and repression of Muslim fundamentalism and to the institutionalization of misogyny one finds in so much of what Obama lumps into the “Muslim World.”  Zahra Chagaf is the elected representative from Tarfaya in southern Morocco, which is the focus of the dispute over the fate of the Western Sahara (and the dangerous exploitation by the Polisario Front and Algeria. More about all that in a later post.) She is fluent in  multiple languages, and on the topic of women, she speaks in French. (My rusty high school French is assisted by an able translator.) She explains that twelve years ago, a huge legal and political change occurred in Morocco. ” There were only two female legislators in parliament in 2000,” she explains. “Now there are 40 of us. On the municipal level [the equivalent of our state level], 0.5 percent were women in 2000. Now there are 12 percent, about 4,000 people.” She emphasizes that this was accompanied by a new family code that afforded women new rights, and by the outlawing of sexual harassment and discrimination. Five government ministers are women, and there are 15 female ambassadors.

How did this come about, I ask — why is Morocco so different?  She explains that it came from “civil society.” The groundswell came both from “women in the country and men with an open outlook.” She emphasizes that in the south, her own region, women have always been involved in the “social, political, cultural” life of the country, and unlike in other Muslim countries, within the home, Moroccan women also exercise power and influence. She stresses: “It is the women who raise the children… Education is more important than any legal change.”

Mbarka Bouaida is another member of parliament, elected to represent TanTan, also in southern Morocco. She could be any New York investment banker or associate in a large law firm, smartly dressed in a gray pantsuit, sporting shoulder length hair. She also speaks multiple language and converses with me in fluent English. What’s different about Morocco? She smiles. “It is a matriarchal society,” she begins. She also emphasizes the role of women in southern Moroccan society but adds that Morocco is also a Mediterranean country, culturally distinct from much of the rest of the Middle East. In southern Morocco, she notes: “Women were much more active in society before the legal environment changed. Women have been active in business. Most of the business people in the south are women. Women have always acted very freely in deciding matrimonial aspects  and who they marry.” (The contrast to other Muslim countries is plain.) Even in the naiton’s resistance to French and Spanish rule, women were active, she continues, and also recalls that in the 1950s, the princess was among the first Muslim women to give a speech in public without the veil.

The challenge to Morocco, the women explain, is to expand the role of women and hold back the threat of Muslim fundamentalism that would reverse the nation’s progress. Mbaraka explains: “We need to have more [freedom for women] and protect against extremism. We see extremists interpreting the Koran… We need to continue to communicate and provide education.” And what of the women in the rest of the Middle East? Well, Zahra explains that they do meet with women from Yemen, Syria, and Saudi Arabia — where she emphasizes, “The  women have no rights!” The effort of other Muslim countries to repress and brutalize their own women is made more difficult in the modern era. As she explains, “You can see what is going on [in other countries], and you don’t have to put up with it.”

The Morocco example leaves one with mixed  emotions. On one hand, it is a shining example of reform and modernization, one we hope is emulated by its neighbors. But as  the women made so very clear, Morocco is different than many of his Muslim neighbors. And in emphasizing the differences, one comes back to the bleak condition of women in those other Muslim countries in which the cultural and social predicate for the advancement of women is sorely lacking. As another commentator observed with regard to Afghan women, the challenge for America (and one could say for enlightened nations like Morocco as well) is great, namely to help women:

“…unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

We and our Moroccan allies have our work cut out for us.

UPDATE: An informed reader emails to add that the King of Morocco deserves a share of the credit for this societal transformation — “for siding with these women against the more reactionary forces in society. In a poll last year that found him very popular, the one area where there was a lot of criticism was… women’s rights! Lots of men thought he was going too fast.” (More on the poll and on the family code can be found here.) If only other Muslim nations were fortunate enough to have such leadership.

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RE: Nukes Don’t Kill People

As J.E. Dyer pointed out, the Obama nuclear policy seems caught in a 1970s time warp — a faint echo of the nuclear-freeze gang, which shied away from looking at the nature of the regimes that possessed nuclear weapons. After all, it is not Israel’s widely believed possession of nuclear weapons that has panicked the region; it is the mullahs’ potential nuclear capability that has Israel and Iran’s neighbors in a quandary.

It is this absorption with physical weapons and nuclear materials, rather than the geopolitical threats that confront us, that has led to the spectacle of the nuclear summit this week. Michael Anton, the policy director for Keep America Safe and who served in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, released a statement concerned the wildly irrelevant nuclear summit:

Attempts to secure nuclear materials and prevent their sale or transfer to, or theft by, terrorist groups are worthy efforts. Unfortunately, the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit’s non-binding communiqué and work plan is silent on the most pressing nuclear threat facing the world today—Iran.

Iran was barely addressed at the summit and once again dodged by President Obama at his concluding press conference. Yet another “serious discussion” of a sanctions regime with Russia and China—two countries with deep commercial, political and military ties with Iran—will go nowhere. The past several years have conclusively shown that Russia and China will agree to any sanctions guaranteed not to work and will water down or veto any sanctions that have real teeth.

We know what failure looks like. The prior two administrations tried a similar approach with North Korea. That country has since tested two nuclear weapons, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, and remains one of the world’s leading arms merchants to rogue states—including Iran.

As Anton points out, Obama has several times suggested that he knows his sanctions may well come up short. It’s high time someone started asking him: and then what? It’s not fair to duck it as a hypothetical question, for it is an answer we should be giving to the mullahs and to the rest of the world. We should also, of course, be laying out the consequences of the mullahs’ failure to come around. That we have not suggests there are no consequences.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is publicly speculating that perhaps in a year, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. When are we going to get around to a summit on that?

As J.E. Dyer pointed out, the Obama nuclear policy seems caught in a 1970s time warp — a faint echo of the nuclear-freeze gang, which shied away from looking at the nature of the regimes that possessed nuclear weapons. After all, it is not Israel’s widely believed possession of nuclear weapons that has panicked the region; it is the mullahs’ potential nuclear capability that has Israel and Iran’s neighbors in a quandary.

It is this absorption with physical weapons and nuclear materials, rather than the geopolitical threats that confront us, that has led to the spectacle of the nuclear summit this week. Michael Anton, the policy director for Keep America Safe and who served in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, released a statement concerned the wildly irrelevant nuclear summit:

Attempts to secure nuclear materials and prevent their sale or transfer to, or theft by, terrorist groups are worthy efforts. Unfortunately, the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit’s non-binding communiqué and work plan is silent on the most pressing nuclear threat facing the world today—Iran.

Iran was barely addressed at the summit and once again dodged by President Obama at his concluding press conference. Yet another “serious discussion” of a sanctions regime with Russia and China—two countries with deep commercial, political and military ties with Iran—will go nowhere. The past several years have conclusively shown that Russia and China will agree to any sanctions guaranteed not to work and will water down or veto any sanctions that have real teeth.

We know what failure looks like. The prior two administrations tried a similar approach with North Korea. That country has since tested two nuclear weapons, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, and remains one of the world’s leading arms merchants to rogue states—including Iran.

As Anton points out, Obama has several times suggested that he knows his sanctions may well come up short. It’s high time someone started asking him: and then what? It’s not fair to duck it as a hypothetical question, for it is an answer we should be giving to the mullahs and to the rest of the world. We should also, of course, be laying out the consequences of the mullahs’ failure to come around. That we have not suggests there are no consequences.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is publicly speculating that perhaps in a year, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. When are we going to get around to a summit on that?

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Taiwan’s Diplomacy

The Chinese philosopher Mencius once said that “small states have to be smart, not impulsive, in dealing with big states, and that big states should be tolerant, not overbearing, in dealing with small states.” So quoth leading Taiwanese politician Lien Chan, speaking yesterday at NYU in the context of President Obama’s nuclear summit.

Mr. Chan knows whereof he speaks: he not only has been at the forefront of talks between Beijing and Taipei; he is also the honorary chairman of the KMT party and was the vice president of Taiwan from 1996 to 2000.

The timing of his NYU speech was especially interesting. As the general mood, at least as expressed in the official rhetoric of international leaders, favors disarmament as the path to stability and peace, Taiwan provides a contrarian example. And Obama’s stance on disarmament will be of utmost significance to Taiwan. Obama seems to have handled his Taiwan policy with uncharacteristic boldness so far, following through on an arms sale despite China’s fit of pique. That has empowered Taiwan to approach China in a way that is “smart, not impulsive.”

Though the signing of a peace agreement between China and Taiwan still appears a distant dream, Mr. Chan sees reason for cautious optimism. Taiwan has made an effort in the past years to strengthen its economic relationship with the mainland, which has been viewed by some as an unprecedented thaw. Mr. Chan spoke of dramatic increases in cross-strait investment and tourism, and he noted burgeoning public support within Taiwan for progress toward such a peace agreement. A strong dialogue has been established between the two states, and differences have been temporarily shelved. Taiwan has been able to achieve such steps, he suggested, because it has been able to hold its own against the mighty mainland.

As leaders from around the world return home from the nuclear summit, Taiwan provides an important reminder. Sometimes the threat of force — maintained responsibly through a viable deterrent — is the best guarantor of peace and progress. The elimination of nuclear arms is a lofty, worthy dream, but disarmament is in no way a certain path to peace. In fact, arms have given Taiwan the clout to pursue peace through negotiation. That’s a lesson big states and small states might bear in mind.

The Chinese philosopher Mencius once said that “small states have to be smart, not impulsive, in dealing with big states, and that big states should be tolerant, not overbearing, in dealing with small states.” So quoth leading Taiwanese politician Lien Chan, speaking yesterday at NYU in the context of President Obama’s nuclear summit.

Mr. Chan knows whereof he speaks: he not only has been at the forefront of talks between Beijing and Taipei; he is also the honorary chairman of the KMT party and was the vice president of Taiwan from 1996 to 2000.

The timing of his NYU speech was especially interesting. As the general mood, at least as expressed in the official rhetoric of international leaders, favors disarmament as the path to stability and peace, Taiwan provides a contrarian example. And Obama’s stance on disarmament will be of utmost significance to Taiwan. Obama seems to have handled his Taiwan policy with uncharacteristic boldness so far, following through on an arms sale despite China’s fit of pique. That has empowered Taiwan to approach China in a way that is “smart, not impulsive.”

Though the signing of a peace agreement between China and Taiwan still appears a distant dream, Mr. Chan sees reason for cautious optimism. Taiwan has made an effort in the past years to strengthen its economic relationship with the mainland, which has been viewed by some as an unprecedented thaw. Mr. Chan spoke of dramatic increases in cross-strait investment and tourism, and he noted burgeoning public support within Taiwan for progress toward such a peace agreement. A strong dialogue has been established between the two states, and differences have been temporarily shelved. Taiwan has been able to achieve such steps, he suggested, because it has been able to hold its own against the mighty mainland.

As leaders from around the world return home from the nuclear summit, Taiwan provides an important reminder. Sometimes the threat of force — maintained responsibly through a viable deterrent — is the best guarantor of peace and progress. The elimination of nuclear arms is a lofty, worthy dream, but disarmament is in no way a certain path to peace. In fact, arms have given Taiwan the clout to pursue peace through negotiation. That’s a lesson big states and small states might bear in mind.

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Rubio: The Sober Non-Presidential Contender

Marco Rubio is flying high — crushing Charlie Crist in the polls, hauling in huge campaign money, and emerging as a new star in the conservative movement. But he is also keeping his wits about him:

“I have my hands full with this election. I’m not going to be a vice presidential or presidential contender,” he said of the conservative commentators lately touting him as a White House contender. “Just the fact that I’m addressing it embarrasses me.”

Good for him. We’ve had a charismatic, novice figure ascend to the White House with a scant accomplishments and no executive experience; it has proven a jarring experience. For 2012, I suspect the country will be in a more serious vein, looking for a sober grown-up with some track record of having done something. Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, she ran her “experience” campaign at a time the country was looking for “change.” We’ve had change — too much, many conservatives and independents believe — and it may be time for someone who has run a business or a state or shown a proclivity for wrestling with the hard issues of entitlements and budgets.

Rubio has a bright future that will only get brighter if he proves to be a thoughtful and knowledgable force in the Senate. That he sees himself as not remotely ready for the White House is further evidence of his good character and common sense, qualities in short supply among many pols.

Marco Rubio is flying high — crushing Charlie Crist in the polls, hauling in huge campaign money, and emerging as a new star in the conservative movement. But he is also keeping his wits about him:

“I have my hands full with this election. I’m not going to be a vice presidential or presidential contender,” he said of the conservative commentators lately touting him as a White House contender. “Just the fact that I’m addressing it embarrasses me.”

Good for him. We’ve had a charismatic, novice figure ascend to the White House with a scant accomplishments and no executive experience; it has proven a jarring experience. For 2012, I suspect the country will be in a more serious vein, looking for a sober grown-up with some track record of having done something. Unfortunately for Hillary Clinton, she ran her “experience” campaign at a time the country was looking for “change.” We’ve had change — too much, many conservatives and independents believe — and it may be time for someone who has run a business or a state or shown a proclivity for wrestling with the hard issues of entitlements and budgets.

Rubio has a bright future that will only get brighter if he proves to be a thoughtful and knowledgable force in the Senate. That he sees himself as not remotely ready for the White House is further evidence of his good character and common sense, qualities in short supply among many pols.

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British Tourism Authority: Western Wall Is “Occupied Territory”

Naturally. The UK’s “Advertising Standards Authority” has declared that an Israeli advertisement containing a picture of the Western Wall is misleading because the Wall is not part of Israel — it is occupied territory.

The ASA said that the advert featured various landmarks that were in East Jerusalem which were part of the Occupied Territories.

It ruled that the advert breached truthfulness guidelines and ordered that it not be used again, adding: “We told the Israeli Tourist Office not to imply that places in the Occupied Territories were part of the state of Israel.”

It said: “The ASA noted the itinerary image of Jerusalem used in the ad featured the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which were both in East Jerusalem, a part of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.”

Britain is in bad shape, isn’t it?

Naturally. The UK’s “Advertising Standards Authority” has declared that an Israeli advertisement containing a picture of the Western Wall is misleading because the Wall is not part of Israel — it is occupied territory.

The ASA said that the advert featured various landmarks that were in East Jerusalem which were part of the Occupied Territories.

It ruled that the advert breached truthfulness guidelines and ordered that it not be used again, adding: “We told the Israeli Tourist Office not to imply that places in the Occupied Territories were part of the state of Israel.”

It said: “The ASA noted the itinerary image of Jerusalem used in the ad featured the Western Wall of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which were both in East Jerusalem, a part of the Occupied Territories of the West Bank.”

Britain is in bad shape, isn’t it?

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Gray Lady Foreign Policy PR Effort Falls Short

The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports — with plenty of fawning quotes from foreign policy establishment types — that there is an Obama Doctrine emerging. He explains it this way:

If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baker never describes the purpose of Obama’s ditching of human rights or the values that underlie his focus on the “traditional great powers” (which presumably does not include the Brits, whom we’ve continually insulted). He describes what Obama is doing but is curiously silent about Obama’s vision of the world and America’s role in it. This isn’t Baker’s fault, of course; Obama has yet to articulate a coherent outlook and has alternated between contempt for American “triumphalism” and a more traditional defense of American power and values (at Oslo, for example). Baker does correctly perceive that human rights and democracy have been shoved under the bus (although “second-tier” is overly generous considering the Obami’s track record on these issues).

But is it “realpolitik” to ignore or pick fights with allies? To imagine that paper agreements will induce despots to give up their nukes? To sign a START treaty that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of ratification and to disclaim use of nuclear retaliation in the case of a biological or chemical attack? To pare down our own defense budget and cut spending on missile defense? All this seems to be out of the Left’s 1970’s playbook rather than the stuff of hard-headed realism, given the conduct and nature of the regimes we face. And for realpolitik players, they seem to lack the ability to size up their opponents and discern that unilateral gestures are a hindrance rather than a help (e.g. Syria).

At times the sympathetic foreign policy gurus from whom Baker solicits input have difficulty trying to come up with compliments. Richard Haass (who now favors regime change in Iran, something Obama clearly does not) manages this on Obama’s efforts to date: “These are not transformational developments … but in foreign policy it’s important to keep the ball moving down the field in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening.” On Iran? On the Middle East?

The Obama foreign policy is a hodge-podge of bad ideas (multilateralism, American un-exceptionalism, disdain for human rights) incompetently executed. It is, moreover, one that refuses to confront in a serious way the greatest challenge we face — a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state that is replacing the U.S.-Israel alliance as the dominant player in the Middle East. No matter how hard the Gray Lady tries, one is hard pressed to find a coherent, effective, and principled foreign policy coming out of this administration.

The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports — with plenty of fawning quotes from foreign policy establishment types — that there is an Obama Doctrine emerging. He explains it this way:

If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baker never describes the purpose of Obama’s ditching of human rights or the values that underlie his focus on the “traditional great powers” (which presumably does not include the Brits, whom we’ve continually insulted). He describes what Obama is doing but is curiously silent about Obama’s vision of the world and America’s role in it. This isn’t Baker’s fault, of course; Obama has yet to articulate a coherent outlook and has alternated between contempt for American “triumphalism” and a more traditional defense of American power and values (at Oslo, for example). Baker does correctly perceive that human rights and democracy have been shoved under the bus (although “second-tier” is overly generous considering the Obami’s track record on these issues).

But is it “realpolitik” to ignore or pick fights with allies? To imagine that paper agreements will induce despots to give up their nukes? To sign a START treaty that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of ratification and to disclaim use of nuclear retaliation in the case of a biological or chemical attack? To pare down our own defense budget and cut spending on missile defense? All this seems to be out of the Left’s 1970’s playbook rather than the stuff of hard-headed realism, given the conduct and nature of the regimes we face. And for realpolitik players, they seem to lack the ability to size up their opponents and discern that unilateral gestures are a hindrance rather than a help (e.g. Syria).

At times the sympathetic foreign policy gurus from whom Baker solicits input have difficulty trying to come up with compliments. Richard Haass (who now favors regime change in Iran, something Obama clearly does not) manages this on Obama’s efforts to date: “These are not transformational developments … but in foreign policy it’s important to keep the ball moving down the field in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening.” On Iran? On the Middle East?

The Obama foreign policy is a hodge-podge of bad ideas (multilateralism, American un-exceptionalism, disdain for human rights) incompetently executed. It is, moreover, one that refuses to confront in a serious way the greatest challenge we face — a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state that is replacing the U.S.-Israel alliance as the dominant player in the Middle East. No matter how hard the Gray Lady tries, one is hard pressed to find a coherent, effective, and principled foreign policy coming out of this administration.

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Let Them Meet Steel

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

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Reality Intrudes

The AP characterized Obama’s comments on the Middle East “peace process” at the conclusion of the nuclear summit as “surprisingly downbeat.” But, given what’s been coming out of the White House these days, it was the best news Israel and its supporters have had in weeks — since the beginning of the contrived tizzy over a Jerusalem housing permit. It was, I’ll grant you, a bit of a surprise. A sliver of reality, it seems, has intruded into the Obami’s Israel policy. The AP reports:

The two sides “may say to themselves, ‘We are not prepared to resolve these issues no matter how much pressure the United States brings to bear,'” Obama said.

Obama reiterated that peace is a vital goal, but one that may be beyond reach “even if we are applying all of our political capital.”

Obama was responding to a question about whether the successful negotiation of a new arms control treaty with Russia and the agreements he won at this week’s nuclear summit could help him make gains elsewhere. His words are a recognition that although he pledged to work hard for a deal from his first day in office, Obama has gotten little traction in the decades-old conflict.

Now it’s not normally good news for Israel’s supporters when James “f*** the Jews” Baker is quoted by an American president. But in this case it was an improvement over what we’ve heard of late:

He added, “The truth is that in some of these conflicts, the United States cannot impose solutions, unless the participants in these conflicts are willing to break out of old patterns of antagonism.”

Quoting former US secretary of state James Baker, who served under George H.W. Bush, Obama said, “We can’t want it more than they do.”

So what happened to the “imposed peace plan” leaks — and the Zbigniew Brzezinski counsel? Did Bibi’s “forget it” response cause the Obami to back off? We don’t know, and we don’t know whether the talk of a potential imposed peace deal was merely another stunt to bully Israel. The threat of an imposed peace could very well have been the latest and maybe most harebrained gambit yet to get Bibi to do what he will not — cough up more concessions and strike a deal on Jerusalem that no prime minister would countenance.

So “poof” goes another short-sighted, and entirely unattainable, diplomatic move? Maybe. Or it may be back in some other form (i.e., a “bridging” proposal during proximity talks). But for now, it is a small sign (and a lesson for Israel and its supporters) that the Obami, like all bullies, can be chased off by a firm and unequivocal refusal to be intimidated.

The AP characterized Obama’s comments on the Middle East “peace process” at the conclusion of the nuclear summit as “surprisingly downbeat.” But, given what’s been coming out of the White House these days, it was the best news Israel and its supporters have had in weeks — since the beginning of the contrived tizzy over a Jerusalem housing permit. It was, I’ll grant you, a bit of a surprise. A sliver of reality, it seems, has intruded into the Obami’s Israel policy. The AP reports:

The two sides “may say to themselves, ‘We are not prepared to resolve these issues no matter how much pressure the United States brings to bear,'” Obama said.

Obama reiterated that peace is a vital goal, but one that may be beyond reach “even if we are applying all of our political capital.”

Obama was responding to a question about whether the successful negotiation of a new arms control treaty with Russia and the agreements he won at this week’s nuclear summit could help him make gains elsewhere. His words are a recognition that although he pledged to work hard for a deal from his first day in office, Obama has gotten little traction in the decades-old conflict.

Now it’s not normally good news for Israel’s supporters when James “f*** the Jews” Baker is quoted by an American president. But in this case it was an improvement over what we’ve heard of late:

He added, “The truth is that in some of these conflicts, the United States cannot impose solutions, unless the participants in these conflicts are willing to break out of old patterns of antagonism.”

Quoting former US secretary of state James Baker, who served under George H.W. Bush, Obama said, “We can’t want it more than they do.”

So what happened to the “imposed peace plan” leaks — and the Zbigniew Brzezinski counsel? Did Bibi’s “forget it” response cause the Obami to back off? We don’t know, and we don’t know whether the talk of a potential imposed peace deal was merely another stunt to bully Israel. The threat of an imposed peace could very well have been the latest and maybe most harebrained gambit yet to get Bibi to do what he will not — cough up more concessions and strike a deal on Jerusalem that no prime minister would countenance.

So “poof” goes another short-sighted, and entirely unattainable, diplomatic move? Maybe. Or it may be back in some other form (i.e., a “bridging” proposal during proximity talks). But for now, it is a small sign (and a lesson for Israel and its supporters) that the Obami, like all bullies, can be chased off by a firm and unequivocal refusal to be intimidated.

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Won’t Get Out of the STARTing Gate

Obama is quite pleased with his START agreement and sees this as evidence of his reset with the Russians. But there are serious questions — about the linkage to our missile defense programs and about modernization of our nuclear stockpile. It seems there just aren’t the votes in the U.S. Senate now to ratify the deal:

The new nuclear arms reduction treaty signed last week is unlikely to be ratified by the Senate this year, a GOP leader suggested Monday evening.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the third-ranking GOP member of the Senate, said that it would take longer than the end of the year to get together the 67 votes necessary to ratify the nuclear arms treaty President Barack Obama signed last week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“No, not this year. That’s my view,” Alexander said during an appearance on Fox News when asked if the Senate would ratify the treaty this year.

“We have a lot of questions,” he said. “We need to get the right answers and then it might get 67 votes.”

And if there aren’t the votes this year, I’ll go out on a limb and predict there certainly won’t be the votes next year. So the shining “achievement” of the Obami’s year-long suck-uppery to the Russians is an unratifiable agreement and the Russian refusal to agree to more than pin-prick sanctions against Iran. Alas, our Eastern European allies were thrown under the bus for precious little.

Obama is quite pleased with his START agreement and sees this as evidence of his reset with the Russians. But there are serious questions — about the linkage to our missile defense programs and about modernization of our nuclear stockpile. It seems there just aren’t the votes in the U.S. Senate now to ratify the deal:

The new nuclear arms reduction treaty signed last week is unlikely to be ratified by the Senate this year, a GOP leader suggested Monday evening.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the third-ranking GOP member of the Senate, said that it would take longer than the end of the year to get together the 67 votes necessary to ratify the nuclear arms treaty President Barack Obama signed last week with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“No, not this year. That’s my view,” Alexander said during an appearance on Fox News when asked if the Senate would ratify the treaty this year.

“We have a lot of questions,” he said. “We need to get the right answers and then it might get 67 votes.”

And if there aren’t the votes this year, I’ll go out on a limb and predict there certainly won’t be the votes next year. So the shining “achievement” of the Obami’s year-long suck-uppery to the Russians is an unratifiable agreement and the Russian refusal to agree to more than pin-prick sanctions against Iran. Alas, our Eastern European allies were thrown under the bus for precious little.

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Reversing Course on Karzai

The Obami are not ones to confess to errors in their foreign policy endeavors. When things go awry, then tend to slink away quietly (as in Honduras, when they could no longer back the raving stooge of Hugo Chavez), stall for time (on Iran engagement), or double down (on its Israel bullying). But they have entirely and rather obviously reversed course with regard to Hamid Karzai. The Wall Street Journal editors observe:

What term best describes a policy of subjecting a foreign ally to a long stream of invidious leaks and public rebukes—and then taking it all back?

Answer: “Smart diplomacy.”

We refer, of course, to the treatment meted by the Obama Administration over the past year to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Obama finally reversed course last week with a letter to Mr. Karzai “expressing support for their shared partnership” and inviting him to the White House, according to the Los Angeles Times.

That really is smart, even if it comes a couple of insults too late.

Well it’s late and comes after denting the essential relationship we must maintain in order to mount a successful counterinsurgency effort in a critical battlefield in the war against Islamic terrorists. And the Obama team has, again, proven the U.S. to be a problematic ally. Moreover, it has — yet again — seemingly allowed personal pique to control a key relationship, with no thought to where the tit-for-tat would lead. So it must now reverse course and try to repair the damage.

It’s startling, on one level, to see how ill-conceived and short-sighted this gang can be in handling key relationships. On the other hand, there is a point at which even they perceive when they have run into a dead end, with no advantage to be gained by aggravating an essential ally. Might this lesson be transferable to other settings — to the Israeli-U.S. relationship, for example? Well, we can hope.

 

The Obami are not ones to confess to errors in their foreign policy endeavors. When things go awry, then tend to slink away quietly (as in Honduras, when they could no longer back the raving stooge of Hugo Chavez), stall for time (on Iran engagement), or double down (on its Israel bullying). But they have entirely and rather obviously reversed course with regard to Hamid Karzai. The Wall Street Journal editors observe:

What term best describes a policy of subjecting a foreign ally to a long stream of invidious leaks and public rebukes—and then taking it all back?

Answer: “Smart diplomacy.”

We refer, of course, to the treatment meted by the Obama Administration over the past year to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Obama finally reversed course last week with a letter to Mr. Karzai “expressing support for their shared partnership” and inviting him to the White House, according to the Los Angeles Times.

That really is smart, even if it comes a couple of insults too late.

Well it’s late and comes after denting the essential relationship we must maintain in order to mount a successful counterinsurgency effort in a critical battlefield in the war against Islamic terrorists. And the Obama team has, again, proven the U.S. to be a problematic ally. Moreover, it has — yet again — seemingly allowed personal pique to control a key relationship, with no thought to where the tit-for-tat would lead. So it must now reverse course and try to repair the damage.

It’s startling, on one level, to see how ill-conceived and short-sighted this gang can be in handling key relationships. On the other hand, there is a point at which even they perceive when they have run into a dead end, with no advantage to be gained by aggravating an essential ally. Might this lesson be transferable to other settings — to the Israeli-U.S. relationship, for example? Well, we can hope.

 

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Congress Objects to Obami’s Israel and Iran Policies

Seventy-six senators have joined in a letter, backed by AIPAC, to Hillary Clinton asking that the Obama administration knock off its Jerusalem onslaught and focus attention on Palestinian rejectionism. They write:

We write to urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations. In fact, we strongly believe that it is more important than ever for Israel and the Palestinians to enter into direct, face-to-face negotiations without preconditions on either side.

Despite your best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen for over a year. Indeed, in a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions. By contrast, Israel’s prime minister stated categorically that he is eager to begin unconditional peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Direct negotiations are in the interest of all parties involved — including the United States.

They want Hillary to reaffirm the “unbreakable bonds” between the two countries and remind the administration that “differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies.” It is noteworthy who signed and who did not. Chuck Schumer, who gave a rousing speech at AIPAC but recently ducked an incisive inquiry on the Obami policy, signed on, as did some Democrats up for re-election, including Barbara Boxer, Arlen Specter, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Who’s missing? The Democratic leadership: Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, veteran senators Diane Feinstein and Chris Dodd, and unofficial secretary of state John Kerry. The five apparently are still in the business of running interference for the administration.

Now, the letter could have been more pointed, calling attention to the administration’s “condemnation” of Israel and objecting to the prospect of an “imposed” settlement agreement. Yes, the White House and some key, dutiful congressional allies remain seemingly impervious to the harm inflicted on the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and in turn on the credibility and standing of the U.S.. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful sign that there is broad opposition to the Obami’s anti-Israel gambit. Perhaps before it is too late we’ll hear a definitive and clear renunciation — a condemnation! — of the idea of an imposed settlement deal.

Meanwhile, steam is also gathering on both the House and Senate sides to move forward with an Iran sanctions bill. Later today, Reps. Mike Pence and Jesse Jackson, Jr. are scheduled to hold a presser to introduce a letter advocating that “punishing sanctions” be imposed on the Iranian regime. Again, the Obami policy — thin-gruel sanctions that Obama proclaims are “no magic wand” to halting the Iranians’ nuclear program — seems to lack the confidence of a broad bipartisan group of lawmakers. We’ll see if the administration is amenable to pressure from them. So far, it’s been immune to public or congressional objections in its effort to reorient American Middle East policy. It remains to be seen whether the gang whose solution to opposition is usually “double-down!” will relent in its assault against Israel and rev up its efforts to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

Seventy-six senators have joined in a letter, backed by AIPAC, to Hillary Clinton asking that the Obama administration knock off its Jerusalem onslaught and focus attention on Palestinian rejectionism. They write:

We write to urge you to do everything possible to ensure that the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israeli administrations over the untimely announcement of future housing construction in East Jerusalem do not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or harm U.S.-Israel relations. In fact, we strongly believe that it is more important than ever for Israel and the Palestinians to enter into direct, face-to-face negotiations without preconditions on either side.

Despite your best efforts, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been frozen for over a year. Indeed, in a reversal of 16 years of policy, Palestinian leaders are refusing to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. Instead, they have put forward a growing list of unprecedented preconditions. By contrast, Israel’s prime minister stated categorically that he is eager to begin unconditional peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Direct negotiations are in the interest of all parties involved — including the United States.

They want Hillary to reaffirm the “unbreakable bonds” between the two countries and remind the administration that “differences are best resolved amicably and in a manner that befits longstanding strategic allies.” It is noteworthy who signed and who did not. Chuck Schumer, who gave a rousing speech at AIPAC but recently ducked an incisive inquiry on the Obami policy, signed on, as did some Democrats up for re-election, including Barbara Boxer, Arlen Specter, and Kirsten Gillibrand. Who’s missing? The Democratic leadership: Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, veteran senators Diane Feinstein and Chris Dodd, and unofficial secretary of state John Kerry. The five apparently are still in the business of running interference for the administration.

Now, the letter could have been more pointed, calling attention to the administration’s “condemnation” of Israel and objecting to the prospect of an “imposed” settlement agreement. Yes, the White House and some key, dutiful congressional allies remain seemingly impervious to the harm inflicted on the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and in turn on the credibility and standing of the U.S.. Nevertheless, this is a hopeful sign that there is broad opposition to the Obami’s anti-Israel gambit. Perhaps before it is too late we’ll hear a definitive and clear renunciation — a condemnation! — of the idea of an imposed settlement deal.

Meanwhile, steam is also gathering on both the House and Senate sides to move forward with an Iran sanctions bill. Later today, Reps. Mike Pence and Jesse Jackson, Jr. are scheduled to hold a presser to introduce a letter advocating that “punishing sanctions” be imposed on the Iranian regime. Again, the Obami policy — thin-gruel sanctions that Obama proclaims are “no magic wand” to halting the Iranians’ nuclear program — seems to lack the confidence of a broad bipartisan group of lawmakers. We’ll see if the administration is amenable to pressure from them. So far, it’s been immune to public or congressional objections in its effort to reorient American Middle East policy. It remains to be seen whether the gang whose solution to opposition is usually “double-down!” will relent in its assault against Israel and rev up its efforts to prevent Iran from realizing its nuclear ambitions.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

In the second part of a fascinating interview (which should be read in full), former Israeli Defense Minister and ambassador to the U.S. Moshe Arens posits that Bibi has been too accommodating: “What he has been doing, however, is apologizing to the Obama administration, which, as part of its maneuver to pressure Israel, declared it was insulted by the announcement that 1,600 housing units were being added to a Jerusalem neighborhood. The whole thing is really ludicrous. It all had to do with some clerk on the local planning commission and a meeting that happened to fall on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. But the Netanyahu government decided to play along and say, ‘You’re insulted? OK, we apologize.’ It could have said, ‘You’re not insulted. There’s no reason to be insulted. You don’t know what you’re talking about.'”

Sen. Jon Kyl declares that the emperor has no clothes: “The greatest threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism comes from Iran, which has for years supported terrorists and is growing closer and closer to having a nuclear weapons capability. The summit, with 42 heads of state in Washington, should have been an opportunity to develop a consensus to deal with the greatest threat to our security: an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability. Despite the talk at the security summit, it appears we are no closer to tough sanctions or a meaningful Security Council resolution today, seven months after the President said that the regime would face sanctions.”

But don’t you feel safer — all nuclear material is going to be secured in four years. Who tells Ahmadinejad?

Meanwhile, proving Kyl right, we learn that a whole lot of nothing was accomplished: “President Barack Obama acknowledged on Tuesday that, despite his full-court press for tough sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, he could not promise that China and other major powers would go along. … ‘Sanctions are not a magic wand. … What sanctions can do … is to hopefully change the calculus of a country like Iran.'” And if not, we learn to live with a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state sponsor of terror, you see.

Two senators who were not going to be nominated declare they aren’t interested in a Supreme Court nod. (Me neither!) “Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), two senators with significant legal backgrounds who have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees, took themselves out of the running Tuesday.”

Dana Milbank has a fit when he learns this isn’t the “most transparent administration in history.”

Joe Sestak is within the margin of error of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary. Maybe the whole party switcheroo wasn’t a good idea after all.

The “most ethical Congress ever” wasn’t: “Just three months after Eric Massa was elected to Congress, his young male employees on Capitol Hill began complaining to supervisors that the lawmaker was making aggressive, sexual overtures toward them, according to new interviews and internal documents. The senior staff, one of whom said he heard Massa (D-N.Y.) making lewd remarks to young staffers, tried to manage the problem internally. But reports of Massa’s inappropriate behavior continued, leaving junior workers feeling helpless, according to victims, other staffers and sources close to an ongoing House ethics investigation. … This account, drawn from more than two dozen interviews and internal documents, shows that aides were accusing the 50-year-old married lawmaker of far more egregious behavior than previously known.”

In the second part of a fascinating interview (which should be read in full), former Israeli Defense Minister and ambassador to the U.S. Moshe Arens posits that Bibi has been too accommodating: “What he has been doing, however, is apologizing to the Obama administration, which, as part of its maneuver to pressure Israel, declared it was insulted by the announcement that 1,600 housing units were being added to a Jerusalem neighborhood. The whole thing is really ludicrous. It all had to do with some clerk on the local planning commission and a meeting that happened to fall on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. But the Netanyahu government decided to play along and say, ‘You’re insulted? OK, we apologize.’ It could have said, ‘You’re not insulted. There’s no reason to be insulted. You don’t know what you’re talking about.'”

Sen. Jon Kyl declares that the emperor has no clothes: “The greatest threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorism comes from Iran, which has for years supported terrorists and is growing closer and closer to having a nuclear weapons capability. The summit, with 42 heads of state in Washington, should have been an opportunity to develop a consensus to deal with the greatest threat to our security: an Iran with a nuclear weapons capability. Despite the talk at the security summit, it appears we are no closer to tough sanctions or a meaningful Security Council resolution today, seven months after the President said that the regime would face sanctions.”

But don’t you feel safer — all nuclear material is going to be secured in four years. Who tells Ahmadinejad?

Meanwhile, proving Kyl right, we learn that a whole lot of nothing was accomplished: “President Barack Obama acknowledged on Tuesday that, despite his full-court press for tough sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program, he could not promise that China and other major powers would go along. … ‘Sanctions are not a magic wand. … What sanctions can do … is to hopefully change the calculus of a country like Iran.'” And if not, we learn to live with a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state sponsor of terror, you see.

Two senators who were not going to be nominated declare they aren’t interested in a Supreme Court nod. (Me neither!) “Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), two senators with significant legal backgrounds who have been mentioned as possible Supreme Court nominees, took themselves out of the running Tuesday.”

Dana Milbank has a fit when he learns this isn’t the “most transparent administration in history.”

Joe Sestak is within the margin of error of Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary. Maybe the whole party switcheroo wasn’t a good idea after all.

The “most ethical Congress ever” wasn’t: “Just three months after Eric Massa was elected to Congress, his young male employees on Capitol Hill began complaining to supervisors that the lawmaker was making aggressive, sexual overtures toward them, according to new interviews and internal documents. The senior staff, one of whom said he heard Massa (D-N.Y.) making lewd remarks to young staffers, tried to manage the problem internally. But reports of Massa’s inappropriate behavior continued, leaving junior workers feeling helpless, according to victims, other staffers and sources close to an ongoing House ethics investigation. … This account, drawn from more than two dozen interviews and internal documents, shows that aides were accusing the 50-year-old married lawmaker of far more egregious behavior than previously known.”

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