Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 27, 2010

More J Street Donors Revealed

The Jerusalem Post has the latest on J Street’s unusual donors:

According to records filed with the US Federal Election Committee on October 20 and October 21, J Street recorded hundreds of donations from Americans of all sorts, most Jewish and some Muslim. But several names jumped out from the 2,100 pages.

Lenny Ben David, who wrote the item, mentions Genevieve Lynch, a member of the National Iranian American Council’s board.

Lynch, the NIAC board member and a member of J Street’s Finance Committee, is listed contributing $10,000 in October. At one point last year, J Street and NIAC leaders worked together to block anti-Iran sanctions measures proposed by Congress. Belatedly, J Street changed its position and supported sanctions.

Nancy Dutton earmarked last week $250 for the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak. Her late husband Fred served as a Saudi foreign agent in Washington for 30 years. (During the 1982 AWACS debate he was believed to be responsible for the line, “Reagan or Begin?” which strongly suggested American Jews’ double loyalty.)  After Fred’s death, Nancy picked up the pricey Saudi gig.

Oddly enough, the donors have a decidedly anti-Israel perspective:

Another new name on the J Street PAC’s list of contributors is  M. Cherif Bassiouni, a well-known professor of law at DePaul University. Bassiouni is also an unlikely candidate to contribute to a purported “pro-Israel” organization.  Several years ago he complained in an article in the Harvard International Law Journal, “A large segment of the world population asks why Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, which includes the commission of ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Convention and what the customary law of armed conflict considers ‘war crimes,’ is deemed justified, while Palestinians’ unlawful acts of targeting civilians are condemned? These are only some contemporary examples of the double standard that fuels terrorism.”

Now, the jig has been up for some time that J Street allies itself with foes of the Jewish state. The latest is simply more evidence, as if any were needed, that J Street’s pro-Israel label is fraudulent and its sponsored candidates are those it perceives to be most helpful to its — and its allies’ — mission.

The Jerusalem Post has the latest on J Street’s unusual donors:

According to records filed with the US Federal Election Committee on October 20 and October 21, J Street recorded hundreds of donations from Americans of all sorts, most Jewish and some Muslim. But several names jumped out from the 2,100 pages.

Lenny Ben David, who wrote the item, mentions Genevieve Lynch, a member of the National Iranian American Council’s board.

Lynch, the NIAC board member and a member of J Street’s Finance Committee, is listed contributing $10,000 in October. At one point last year, J Street and NIAC leaders worked together to block anti-Iran sanctions measures proposed by Congress. Belatedly, J Street changed its position and supported sanctions.

Nancy Dutton earmarked last week $250 for the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak. Her late husband Fred served as a Saudi foreign agent in Washington for 30 years. (During the 1982 AWACS debate he was believed to be responsible for the line, “Reagan or Begin?” which strongly suggested American Jews’ double loyalty.)  After Fred’s death, Nancy picked up the pricey Saudi gig.

Oddly enough, the donors have a decidedly anti-Israel perspective:

Another new name on the J Street PAC’s list of contributors is  M. Cherif Bassiouni, a well-known professor of law at DePaul University. Bassiouni is also an unlikely candidate to contribute to a purported “pro-Israel” organization.  Several years ago he complained in an article in the Harvard International Law Journal, “A large segment of the world population asks why Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people, which includes the commission of ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Convention and what the customary law of armed conflict considers ‘war crimes,’ is deemed justified, while Palestinians’ unlawful acts of targeting civilians are condemned? These are only some contemporary examples of the double standard that fuels terrorism.”

Now, the jig has been up for some time that J Street allies itself with foes of the Jewish state. The latest is simply more evidence, as if any were needed, that J Street’s pro-Israel label is fraudulent and its sponsored candidates are those it perceives to be most helpful to its — and its allies’ — mission.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Plame and Fortune

The Sean Penn–Naomi Watts take on the Joseph Wilson–Valerie Plame story, Fair Game, is coming to theaters on November 5, and though political movies almost always flop, and it’s likely to suffer much the same box-office fate as the instantly forgotten Nothing but the Truth, a fictionalized version from two years ago in which Kate Beckinsale played a Judith Miller–like character and Vera Farmiga was a stand-in for Plame, it’s important for those who actually read the newspapers and know the facts to point out the way Fair Game massages reality to suit its own purposes.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

The Sean Penn–Naomi Watts take on the Joseph Wilson–Valerie Plame story, Fair Game, is coming to theaters on November 5, and though political movies almost always flop, and it’s likely to suffer much the same box-office fate as the instantly forgotten Nothing but the Truth, a fictionalized version from two years ago in which Kate Beckinsale played a Judith Miller–like character and Vera Farmiga was a stand-in for Plame, it’s important for those who actually read the newspapers and know the facts to point out the way Fair Game massages reality to suit its own purposes.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Paul, R.I.P.

We are sad to report:

Paul the Octopus, who gained fame by predicting results at the World Cup, died in his tank on Tuesday morning at the Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany. Paul correctly predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany’s World Cup matches.

Lest you think that 2 1/2 was too young and the “natural causes” explanation fishy, I can report that the octopus gurus at the National Zoo in Washington (on previous visits unrelated to Paul) told me that two to three years is the normal lifespan of these creatures. We hope he enjoys an eternity of soccer game predictions, far from the PETA protesters, who would have been all too happy to set him “free” into a wild in which he would have been ill-equipped to survive.

We are sad to report:

Paul the Octopus, who gained fame by predicting results at the World Cup, died in his tank on Tuesday morning at the Sea Life aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany. Paul correctly predicted the outcome of all seven of Germany’s World Cup matches.

Lest you think that 2 1/2 was too young and the “natural causes” explanation fishy, I can report that the octopus gurus at the National Zoo in Washington (on previous visits unrelated to Paul) told me that two to three years is the normal lifespan of these creatures. We hope he enjoys an eternity of soccer game predictions, far from the PETA protesters, who would have been all too happy to set him “free” into a wild in which he would have been ill-equipped to survive.

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RE: Dual Debacles in the Middle East

Jackson Diehl writes:

On November 15, 1988, Yasser Arafat proudly read a declaration by his Palestinian Liberation Organization unilaterally proclaiming “the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem.” Shortly afterward the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to support the declaration; within months 93 governments had recognized the state of Palestine.

That state, of course, never came into existence. The PLO declaration, the United Nations vote, even the recognition by scores of countries, proved meaningless.

True enough. But it is not 1988. Obama is in the White House. The delegitimizers have been making the case for years that the Jewish state is illegitimate. So the reaction may be decidedly less blasé than it was more than 22 years ago. Diehl optimistically proclaims:

No country has taken steps to enforce the UN’s 1988 vote on Palestinian statehood — and none would be likely to in this case. In short, it’s hard to imagine how a state could be created without Israel’s agreement. Sanctions? Those are unlikely to win the support of either the United States or the European Union.

Is it so hard? And more important, would the Obama administration seek to find some “middle ground,” as occurred in the flotilla incident, perhaps abstaining on a “no settlement” resolution as some supposed compromise? The fact that this has not been an issue for 22 years tells us just how badly the Obama team has bollixed up Middle East diplomacy.

Jackson Diehl writes:

On November 15, 1988, Yasser Arafat proudly read a declaration by his Palestinian Liberation Organization unilaterally proclaiming “the establishment of the State of Palestine on our Palestinian territory with its capital Jerusalem.” Shortly afterward the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to support the declaration; within months 93 governments had recognized the state of Palestine.

That state, of course, never came into existence. The PLO declaration, the United Nations vote, even the recognition by scores of countries, proved meaningless.

True enough. But it is not 1988. Obama is in the White House. The delegitimizers have been making the case for years that the Jewish state is illegitimate. So the reaction may be decidedly less blasé than it was more than 22 years ago. Diehl optimistically proclaims:

No country has taken steps to enforce the UN’s 1988 vote on Palestinian statehood — and none would be likely to in this case. In short, it’s hard to imagine how a state could be created without Israel’s agreement. Sanctions? Those are unlikely to win the support of either the United States or the European Union.

Is it so hard? And more important, would the Obama administration seek to find some “middle ground,” as occurred in the flotilla incident, perhaps abstaining on a “no settlement” resolution as some supposed compromise? The fact that this has not been an issue for 22 years tells us just how badly the Obama team has bollixed up Middle East diplomacy.

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Afghanistan: Moscow to the Rescue

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella. Read More

I’m almost always in agreement with Max Boot’s assessments of the tactical situation in Afghanistan, and I think he’s correct when he says Hamid Karzai is, to invoke the Margaret Thatcher phrase, “someone we can do business with.” He is right to point out that these factors are not cause for despair — that there are, in fact, positive signs to be seen in them. I would never accuse Fouad Ajami, whose opinion piece Max references, of a disingenuous approach to the Karzai question. But naysayers do seem to be latching on to every tactical setback and unsavory development in Afghanistan to encourage a growing sense that the conflict is unwinnable.

It’s not. That said, however, there are major factors mounting against it: not on the battlefield but in the halls of state power and diplomacy. I’m not sure Americans appreciate the extent to which the other nations no longer see this war as ours to win or lose — or victory as ours to define.

Once it became obvious that President Obama did not intend to pursue the focused, determined counterinsurgency course proposed by General McChrystal, the other players’ alternate views of the situation crystallized. Our NATO allies are eager to cut a deal with the Taliban because they perceive that Obama does not, in fact, have the will to reshape the situation on the ground through military action. European NATO is concerned about its troops ending up surrounded and on the defensive in a Central Asian redoubt. But that danger adds a vulnerability to Europe’s relations with Russia and the other Asian nations that concerns Europeans even more. These concerns are amplified by the increasing recalcitrance of Pakistan, which is based partly on Islamabad’s fear that the U.S. and NATO are seeking a “separate peace” with certain factions of the Taliban. The map is inexorable: if Pakistan is an unreliable path into Afghanistan, and Iran is not an option, then what’s left is the Central Asian land route under Russia’s security umbrella.

A quiet announcement by NATO’s secretary-general on Monday indicates that the NATO nations, approaching this unpleasant reality head-on, have decided to do what they can to make a partnership out of the necessity of Russian involvement. The UK Independent reports that NATO (with full U.S. participation) is inviting Russia into Afghanistan in a military role. The acceptance from the Russians comes with strings, of course; as the Independent puts it, “Moscow is seeking what it terms as more cooperation from NATO.” Not defining this cooperative quid pro quo in advance would seem to indicate a colossal breakdown in NATO’s bargaining skills; what we can be sure of is that the price of Russian involvement will be political — and high.

With this agreement, Russia positions itself as a nexus of independent influence in the Afghan settlement: a new option for Pakistan — and Iran and India — to play Russia off against the U.S. These factors combine to produce a bottom line that is quickly outracing the American people’s lagging idea of our role Afghanistan. We have much the largest military commitment there, but we are dealing away the latitude to define victory and decide what the strategy will be.

No political leader ever announces he is doing this. Don’t expect Obama to be explicit about it. NATO has been working on the Russian accord without fanfare and will probably announce it as something of an afterthought in Lisbon, where the public emphasis is expected to be on missile-defense cooperation with Moscow. But this will be a decisive turn in the Afghan war. Assuming we proceed with this agreement, the war will, in fact, no longer be ours to wage as we see fit. Whatever his precise intentions, Obama probably couldn’t have found a better way to induce the war’s American supporters to want to get out of it on his timetable.

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The Worst-Case Scenario for the GOP Is Pretty Darn Good

Nate Silver provides a helpful picture of the worst-case scenario for Republicans. He certainly is not, and does not claim to be, neutral in his observations and is not a pollster himself. But he’s about the most intellectually honest analyst on the Dem side. So what’s he say about the House?

FiveThirtyEight’s forecast now projects the most likely composition of the House to be 231 Republicans and 204 Democrats. This is a one-seat improvement for the Republicans from yesterday’s forecast, and would mean that they’d gain a net of 52 seats over all.

Consider 52 seats the floor for the GOP House pickups. As the Hill sums up:

The Hill 2010 Midterm Election poll, surveying nearly 17,000 likely voters in 42 toss-up districts over four weeks, points to a massive Republican wave that, barring an extraordinary turnaround, will deliver crushing nationwide defeats for President Obama’s party.

As for the Senate, here is some very useful analysis of the differences between the House and Senate races:

If the entire Senate were up for re-election in this political climate, the Republicans would be favored to earn a filibuster-proof majority, and might even earn a veto-proof majority! …

By comparison, in the House, where everyone is up for re-election every two years, Republicans appear most likely to win something like 53 percent of available seats. The fraction could conceivably approach 60 percent if they have a really terrific night, or it could be a bit below 50 if the Democrats overperform their polls and hold the House. But the Republicans almost without doubt will win a higher fraction of the available Senate seats (and probably also the available governors’ seats, although that could be a lot closer) than they will in the House.

And he is honest enough to point out that there is a candidate quality-control problem on both sides of the aisle:

My hunch is that Shelly Berkely would probably be crushing Ms. Angle in Nevada were she on the ballot in place of Mr. Reid; Lisa Madigan would probably have a clear lead over Mark Kirk in Illinois; there are even states like Arizona — where John McCain’s approval ratings are actually quite poor — in which an absolutely top-tier Democratic nominee might have made a competitive race. And meanwhile, the Republicans have some strong candidates, including both establishment choices like Rob Portman in Ohio and John Hoeven in North Dakota, and antiestablishment ones like Marco Rubio in Florida (a Tea Partier), and probably even Ron Johnson in Wisconsin (another Tea Partier), who has run a really smart campaign, although he’s not quite out of the woods yet against the incumbent, Russ Feingold.

To sum up, there is precious little good news for the Democrats. They are on track to lose the House, scads of Senate seats, and their Senate majority leader. (Even pre-programming some voting machines in Nevada isn’t likely to save Harry Reid.) The notion that the Tea Party has handicapped the GOP is belied by the facts, which Silver’s liberal colleagues would do well (at least for the sake of their intellectual integrity) to stop ignoring.

Nate Silver provides a helpful picture of the worst-case scenario for Republicans. He certainly is not, and does not claim to be, neutral in his observations and is not a pollster himself. But he’s about the most intellectually honest analyst on the Dem side. So what’s he say about the House?

FiveThirtyEight’s forecast now projects the most likely composition of the House to be 231 Republicans and 204 Democrats. This is a one-seat improvement for the Republicans from yesterday’s forecast, and would mean that they’d gain a net of 52 seats over all.

Consider 52 seats the floor for the GOP House pickups. As the Hill sums up:

The Hill 2010 Midterm Election poll, surveying nearly 17,000 likely voters in 42 toss-up districts over four weeks, points to a massive Republican wave that, barring an extraordinary turnaround, will deliver crushing nationwide defeats for President Obama’s party.

As for the Senate, here is some very useful analysis of the differences between the House and Senate races:

If the entire Senate were up for re-election in this political climate, the Republicans would be favored to earn a filibuster-proof majority, and might even earn a veto-proof majority! …

By comparison, in the House, where everyone is up for re-election every two years, Republicans appear most likely to win something like 53 percent of available seats. The fraction could conceivably approach 60 percent if they have a really terrific night, or it could be a bit below 50 if the Democrats overperform their polls and hold the House. But the Republicans almost without doubt will win a higher fraction of the available Senate seats (and probably also the available governors’ seats, although that could be a lot closer) than they will in the House.

And he is honest enough to point out that there is a candidate quality-control problem on both sides of the aisle:

My hunch is that Shelly Berkely would probably be crushing Ms. Angle in Nevada were she on the ballot in place of Mr. Reid; Lisa Madigan would probably have a clear lead over Mark Kirk in Illinois; there are even states like Arizona — where John McCain’s approval ratings are actually quite poor — in which an absolutely top-tier Democratic nominee might have made a competitive race. And meanwhile, the Republicans have some strong candidates, including both establishment choices like Rob Portman in Ohio and John Hoeven in North Dakota, and antiestablishment ones like Marco Rubio in Florida (a Tea Partier), and probably even Ron Johnson in Wisconsin (another Tea Partier), who has run a really smart campaign, although he’s not quite out of the woods yet against the incumbent, Russ Feingold.

To sum up, there is precious little good news for the Democrats. They are on track to lose the House, scads of Senate seats, and their Senate majority leader. (Even pre-programming some voting machines in Nevada isn’t likely to save Harry Reid.) The notion that the Tea Party has handicapped the GOP is belied by the facts, which Silver’s liberal colleagues would do well (at least for the sake of their intellectual integrity) to stop ignoring.

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The Times‘s Great War Correspondents

I often take issue with articles and columns in the New York Times, but it remains a great newspaper with many first-rate, fearless news-gatherers. One of them was severely wounded Saturday while accompanying U.S. troops in the Arghandab Valley near Kandahar. Photographer Joao Silva stepped on a mine while on patrol. Thankfully, he survived. Medics administered immediate assistance, and he was evacuated by helicopter. Typical of his professionalism and dedication, he continued snapping pictures even after being hit. He will undergo his long-term recovery at Walter Reed hospital in Washington. (The story is here.)

Silva is hardly the only Times journalist who has placed himself in harm’s way in search of a story. Reporter Stephen Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban last year and freed in a raid which killed his interpreter. Farrell only had to spend four days with his captors; his colleague David Rohde spent seven months in Taliban captivity before escaping.

Their self-sacrifice has not been in vain. For all the many problems of the Times, its war reporting has been outstanding, thanks to the efforts not only of the individuals mentioned above but also many others such as Michael Gordon, Dexter Filkins, C.J. Chivers, John Burns, Alissa Rubin, and Carlotta Gall. They have been fearless truth-gatherers and have generally described the wars they have covered fairly and accurately. Certainly in Iraq, they provided a better picture of what was happening than the hopelessly rosy-eyed descriptions generated by U.S. military commanders from 2003 to 2006. In Afghanistan, I have also found their reporting generally to be on the money.

I wish Silva a speedy recovery and hope his colleagues remain safe when they are on the front lines — as they often are.

I often take issue with articles and columns in the New York Times, but it remains a great newspaper with many first-rate, fearless news-gatherers. One of them was severely wounded Saturday while accompanying U.S. troops in the Arghandab Valley near Kandahar. Photographer Joao Silva stepped on a mine while on patrol. Thankfully, he survived. Medics administered immediate assistance, and he was evacuated by helicopter. Typical of his professionalism and dedication, he continued snapping pictures even after being hit. He will undergo his long-term recovery at Walter Reed hospital in Washington. (The story is here.)

Silva is hardly the only Times journalist who has placed himself in harm’s way in search of a story. Reporter Stephen Farrell was kidnapped by the Taliban last year and freed in a raid which killed his interpreter. Farrell only had to spend four days with his captors; his colleague David Rohde spent seven months in Taliban captivity before escaping.

Their self-sacrifice has not been in vain. For all the many problems of the Times, its war reporting has been outstanding, thanks to the efforts not only of the individuals mentioned above but also many others such as Michael Gordon, Dexter Filkins, C.J. Chivers, John Burns, Alissa Rubin, and Carlotta Gall. They have been fearless truth-gatherers and have generally described the wars they have covered fairly and accurately. Certainly in Iraq, they provided a better picture of what was happening than the hopelessly rosy-eyed descriptions generated by U.S. military commanders from 2003 to 2006. In Afghanistan, I have also found their reporting generally to be on the money.

I wish Silva a speedy recovery and hope his colleagues remain safe when they are on the front lines — as they often are.

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Middle East Chaos

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

It is not simply that Iran is moving steadily toward membership in the nuclear powers’ club. It is not only that the UN is plotting to carve up Israel. No, these are symptoms of an underlying problem: the U.S.’s retreat from the Middle East and the decline of American influence. There are other signs as well.

The administration has been demonstrating abject weakness with Syria. It mounted no meaningful response to violations of UN Resolution 1701. It has attempted to confirm and redeploy an ambassador to Damascus. Back in March, Elliott Abrams reeled off the list of “engagement” moves that bore an uncanny resemblance to appeasement:

* High level envoys have been sent to Damascus: Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Syria in mid-February, the highest ranking U.S. official to set foot there in more than five years, and Middle East envoy George Mitchell has visited three times. High-ranking Central Command officers have been sent to Damascus to discuss cooperation against terrorism.

* President Obama has now nominated an ambassador to Damascus, the first since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn in 2005 after the murder of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Lebanon (which was widely blamed on the Assad regime).

* The president has also removed the American block to Syria’s attempt to join the World Trade Organization.

* The United States has eased some export licenses for Syria, mostly in the area of aircraft.

* Syria’s deputy foreign minister was invited to Washington in October, the first such visit in several years.

So how’s that working out? As we’ve seen, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran (the opposite reaction intended by the Obama team), even as he displays his contempt for the U.S.:

Syria’s president has accused the United States of sowing chaos overseas, snubbing Washington’s efforts to improve ties with Damascus. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al-Hayat newspaper in an interview published Tuesday that the US “created chaos in every place it entered.” “Is Afghanistan stable? Is Somalia stable? Did they bring stability to Lebanon in 1983?” Assad asked, referring to US intervention in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

To this, the U.S. replied, “Are not.” In diplomatic terms: “Spokesman P.J. Crowley charged that Syria is destabilizing Lebanon by supplying arms to militants and issuing arrest warrants for Lebanese officials. ‘These activities by Syria directly undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty and directly undermine Syria’s stated commitments to Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence,’ Crowley said. ‘We believe we’re playing a constructive role in the region, and we believe that Syria is not.”’ This “tough retort,” according to the press account, is what passes for the administration’s Syria policy.

And speaking of Lebanon:

The Obama administration, already struggling to stave off a collapse of Middle East peace talks, is increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader.

With an international tribunal expected to hand down indictments in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in the coming months, the Hezbollah militia is maneuvering furiously to halt the investigation, or failing that, to unseat Lebanon’s government, which backs it.

The New York Times helpfully offers that the Obama team has, contrary to appearances, really (honestly!) not been obsessed with the failed Palestinian-Israeli non-peace talks. It has instead been focused on this looming crisis:

The administration’s worries go beyond Lebanon itself, and help explain why it, and not the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has been the major preoccupation of American foreign policy officials for the last few weeks. The diplomatic activity follows a splashy tour of Lebanon by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who got an ecstatic reception from members of Hezbollah, the Shiite movement financed and equipped by Iran. American officials were particularly struck by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s trip to a small town a few miles north of the Israeli border, where he called for the “Zionists to be wiped out.”

With unintended comedic effect, the dispatched U.S. envoy, Jeffrey D. Feltman, proclaims: “You don’t want the perception of a vacuum. … You don’t want the perception that Ahmadinejad is the only game in town.” Umm, it’s a little late for that realization, isn’t it? And if that’s the problem, then throwing ourselves at the mullahs’ feet in order to restart the charade of nuclear talks is hardly going to improve matters.

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‘Engagement’ Is Broken

Everywhere “engagement” has been tried, it has failed. Iran is more repressive and less inclined to slow its nuclear program. Bashar al-Assad and  Hosni Mubarak are more repressive than ever, secure in the knowledge that there are no consequences for how they treat their own people. From Sudan to China, the despots are immune to the Obami’s charms. Burma is no exception, as the Washington Post editors explain:

The Nov. 7 poll will be Burma’s first in 20 years, and it might have provided an avenue toward a gradual easing of dictatorial control. But it has not worked out that way. There are a few opposition candidates, but even if all of them win, the junta is guaranteed control of the new parliament. It accomplished this certainty by blocking many parties from participating, including the National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1990 election but was never permitted to take office; by setting fees so high that in many districts only government-backed candidates could register; by stipulating that the military may allot close to one-quarter of all seats after the election takes place; and by harassing and threatening opposition candidates who have tried, against all odds, to compete. No international observers will be permitted; no foreign journalists are being allowed in.

The editors correctly anticipate that the election will be followed by calls to relax sanctions. The editors urge the administration to rebuff the pleas and get its act together:

The Obama administration, which thus far has provided too little leadership on Burma, should be ready to parry these calls. It should appoint the special representative and policy coordinator mandated by Congress; refine its financial sanctions to target Burma’s leaders and their families; and put some muscle behind its claimed support for a U.N. inquiry into the regime’s crimes against humanity, namely the military’s depredations against ethnic minorities. The Voice of America should rethink its plan to cut back broadcasting hours to Burma the month after the election, while Congress should provide the VOA with enough funds to carry out its mission.

Unfortunately, the administration’s credibility is low these days with friends and foes. We’ve given breathing room to tyrannical regimes and left dissidents in the lurch. No wonder sham elections, “emergency law” extensions, and the like are all the rage. Perhaps after January, the new Congress can hold some hearings on the efficacy of engagement.

Everywhere “engagement” has been tried, it has failed. Iran is more repressive and less inclined to slow its nuclear program. Bashar al-Assad and  Hosni Mubarak are more repressive than ever, secure in the knowledge that there are no consequences for how they treat their own people. From Sudan to China, the despots are immune to the Obami’s charms. Burma is no exception, as the Washington Post editors explain:

The Nov. 7 poll will be Burma’s first in 20 years, and it might have provided an avenue toward a gradual easing of dictatorial control. But it has not worked out that way. There are a few opposition candidates, but even if all of them win, the junta is guaranteed control of the new parliament. It accomplished this certainty by blocking many parties from participating, including the National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1990 election but was never permitted to take office; by setting fees so high that in many districts only government-backed candidates could register; by stipulating that the military may allot close to one-quarter of all seats after the election takes place; and by harassing and threatening opposition candidates who have tried, against all odds, to compete. No international observers will be permitted; no foreign journalists are being allowed in.

The editors correctly anticipate that the election will be followed by calls to relax sanctions. The editors urge the administration to rebuff the pleas and get its act together:

The Obama administration, which thus far has provided too little leadership on Burma, should be ready to parry these calls. It should appoint the special representative and policy coordinator mandated by Congress; refine its financial sanctions to target Burma’s leaders and their families; and put some muscle behind its claimed support for a U.N. inquiry into the regime’s crimes against humanity, namely the military’s depredations against ethnic minorities. The Voice of America should rethink its plan to cut back broadcasting hours to Burma the month after the election, while Congress should provide the VOA with enough funds to carry out its mission.

Unfortunately, the administration’s credibility is low these days with friends and foes. We’ve given breathing room to tyrannical regimes and left dissidents in the lurch. No wonder sham elections, “emergency law” extensions, and the like are all the rage. Perhaps after January, the new Congress can hold some hearings on the efficacy of engagement.

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A Counter View to Fouad Ajami’s Skepticism Regarding Afghanistan

Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

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Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

The problem is that in carrying out this mission we must work with wholly imperfect allies. Karzai is no angel. But then neither is Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq — a leader whom Ajami presciently championed even when others scoffed at his potential to rise above his sectarian roots. In many ways, Maliki has been an even more troubling ally than Karzai. For all his faults, Karzai is not known to be personally sympathetic to the Taliban, who killed his father. By contrast, Maliki had a lot of sympathy for Shiite sectarianism. He has been surrounded by Iranian agents and Shiite extremists, who were deeply implicated in the work of the death squads that were killing hundreds of Sunnis every night in 2006-2007. It may be discouraging to hear that Karzai accepts a couple of million dollars in cash from Iran but is there any doubt that Maliki has taken far more money from Tehran? And not just money. As this article noted, Iran actually provided Maliki with his presidential jet, complete with Iranian pilots. Say what you will about Karzai, but at least he doesn’t routinely entrust his life to an Iranian aircraft.

Moreover, Maliki has been as notorious as Karzai for showing a lack of gratitude toward American efforts to save his county. As I noted in this 2008 op-ed, Maliki has had a pattern of dismissing the American contribution to Iraqi security, saying, for instance, in May 2006, that “[Iraqi] forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.” Maliki opposed the surge, which saved his country in 2007 and even when it succeeded refused to give us credit. As I noted:

In the famous interview with Der Spiegel last weekend, he was asked why Iraq has become more peaceful. He mentioned “many factors,” including “the political rapprochement we have managed to achieve,” “the progress being made by our security forces,” “the deep sense of abhorrence with which the population has reacted to the atrocities of al-Qaida and the militias,” and “the economic recovery.” No mention of the surge.

Yet for all of Maliki’s maddening imperfections — which stand in high relief now as he ruthlessly maneuvers for another term — he showed ability to rise above his sectarian origins. He displayed real political courage in ordering his forces to attack the Sadrists in Basra and Sadr City in 2008. Now, of course, he is cutting deals with those same Sadrists. That, alas, is how the political game is played in unstable countries like Iraq — or Afghanistan. That should not cause us to despair of either country’s future.

If we could work with Maliki, we can certainly work with Karzai. The former, after all, does not speak English and spent years of exile living in Syria and Iran, two of the most anti-American states in the world. Karzai, by contrast, is a fluent English-speaker with several brothers who have lived in the U.S. for years and even hold U.S. citizenship. He is, in many ways, a more natural fit as an ally than Maliki. There is little doubt that he and his brothers are implicated in the corruption of Afghani politics, but at least, unlike Maliki, they are not cozying up to Iranian-backed death squads. To the extent that Karzai has cozied up to Ahmadinejad and the mullahs, it has been as a hedge against a precipitous American pullout. But Karzai also knows that the Iranians are double-dealing — they are supporting the Taliban too — which can give Karzai little confidence that Iran would be a reliable ally. At the end of the day, Karzai knows that his future and his country’s rests with the United States and NATO; that we are all that is keeping him from death or exile.

It would be nice if Karzai showed more political courage in working with us and refrained from denouncing us, but some of his denunciations have, alas, the ring of truth — and some of his actions are actually well intentioned. Take his attempts to close down private security companies that are terrorizing ordinary Afghanis and driving them into the arms of the Taliban. Most of these companies are, in fact, directly or indirectly, funded by American taxpayers — just as Karzai alleges. Many of them are also run by Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and by others linked to the Karzai clan. (See this report from the Institute for the Study of War for details.) So by closing down these firms, Karzai seems to be moving against his family’s economic interests. If he were simply interested in continuing to exploit this lucrative economic niche, he would leave the existing situation alone.

I don’t know what motivates Karzai but I suspect that, like most people, he is moved by a combination of noble and ignoble impulses — idealism and selfishness, self-interest and the public interest. He is no Adenaeur or De Gaulle or Ataturk or Washington — but then neither is Maliki. He is deeply imperfect, but he is the president of Afghanistan, and I do believe it is possible to work with him. Luckily, we have in Kabul the same general — David Petraeus — who skillfully worked with Maliki at a time when many Americans wrote him off as incorrigible. Already Petreaus has shown a similar ability to get useful concessions out of Karzai, for instance winning the president’s approval for setting up the Afghan Local Police, an initiative to supplement the Afghan Security Forces, which Karzai initially opposed.

Running through Ajami’s article is a deep skepticism not only about Karzai but also about Barack Obama. He criticizes Obama, rightly, for displaying irresolution. I too have been dismayed by the deadline Obama laid out for our withdrawal from Afghanistan — but I have been cheered to see, as I have noted in previous posts, that Obama is backing off that deadline. What foes for Karzai also goes for Obama: you go to war with the leaders you have — not the ones you would like to have. But I don’t believe that either Karzai or Obama is so flawed that it is impossible to prevail in Afghanistan — especially not when we have so many outstanding troops on the ground led by our greatest general.

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Anti-Semitism Can Be a Civil Rights Violation After All

In the September 2010 issue of COMMENTARY, Kenneth Marcus documented the rise of anti-Semitic incidents on school campuses and found that the federal government had adopted a hands-off policy:

[I]t has finally become clear that the current policy of the office charged with enforcing civil rights at American universities involves treating anti-Jewish bias as being unworthy of attention—a state of affairs in stark contrast to the agency’s quite justified alacrity in responding to virtually every other possible case of discrimination. While one cannot identify the motive for this astonishing double standard with complete certainty, the justification for it involves an unwillingness to treat Jews as a distinct group beyond considerations of  religious adherence.

That situation, thanks to Ken and other advocates, including the Zionist Organization of America, has now been remedied. In an October 26 letter, Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, set forth detailed guidelines on school harassment. In this section, the government reverses itself on its previous indifference to anti-Semitic incidents. Ali provides a hypothetical situation in which  a “junior high school received reports of several incidents of anti-Semitic conduct at the school. Anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas, was scrawled on the stalls of the school bathroom.” The conduct included “two ninth-graders trying to force two seventh-graders to give them money. The ninth-graders told the seventh-graders, ‘You Jews have all of the money, give us some.’ … At the same school, a group of eighth-grade students repeatedly called a Jewish student ‘Drew the dirty Jew.'”

The Education Department analyzed the case this way:

The school administrators failed to recognize that anti-Semitic harassment can trigger responsibilities under Title VI. …

Because the school failed to recognize that the incidents created a hostile environment, it addressed each only in isolation, and therefore failed to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent its recurrence. In addition to disciplining the perpetrators, remedial steps could have included counseling the perpetrators about the hurtful effect of their conduct, publicly labeling the incidents as anti-Semitic, reaffirming the school’s policy against discrimination, and publicizing the means by which students may report harassment. …

The problem of anti-Semitism on campuses is growing. Perhaps this development will spur school administrators to re-examine their curious double standard when it comes to anti-Jewish incidents.

In the September 2010 issue of COMMENTARY, Kenneth Marcus documented the rise of anti-Semitic incidents on school campuses and found that the federal government had adopted a hands-off policy:

[I]t has finally become clear that the current policy of the office charged with enforcing civil rights at American universities involves treating anti-Jewish bias as being unworthy of attention—a state of affairs in stark contrast to the agency’s quite justified alacrity in responding to virtually every other possible case of discrimination. While one cannot identify the motive for this astonishing double standard with complete certainty, the justification for it involves an unwillingness to treat Jews as a distinct group beyond considerations of  religious adherence.

That situation, thanks to Ken and other advocates, including the Zionist Organization of America, has now been remedied. In an October 26 letter, Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, set forth detailed guidelines on school harassment. In this section, the government reverses itself on its previous indifference to anti-Semitic incidents. Ali provides a hypothetical situation in which  a “junior high school received reports of several incidents of anti-Semitic conduct at the school. Anti-Semitic graffiti, including swastikas, was scrawled on the stalls of the school bathroom.” The conduct included “two ninth-graders trying to force two seventh-graders to give them money. The ninth-graders told the seventh-graders, ‘You Jews have all of the money, give us some.’ … At the same school, a group of eighth-grade students repeatedly called a Jewish student ‘Drew the dirty Jew.'”

The Education Department analyzed the case this way:

The school administrators failed to recognize that anti-Semitic harassment can trigger responsibilities under Title VI. …

Because the school failed to recognize that the incidents created a hostile environment, it addressed each only in isolation, and therefore failed to take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment and prevent its recurrence. In addition to disciplining the perpetrators, remedial steps could have included counseling the perpetrators about the hurtful effect of their conduct, publicly labeling the incidents as anti-Semitic, reaffirming the school’s policy against discrimination, and publicizing the means by which students may report harassment. …

The problem of anti-Semitism on campuses is growing. Perhaps this development will spur school administrators to re-examine their curious double standard when it comes to anti-Jewish incidents.

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The Latest Excuse to Do Nothing About Iran’s Nuclear Plans

You could spot this one coming:

The Obama administration is pushing to revive a failed deal for Iran to send some of its nuclear stockpile overseas in exchange for assistance with peaceful uses of nuclear technology, according to senior U.S. officials. The aim is to try to reduce Tehran’s ability to quickly produce an atomic weapon.

Washington and other Western capitals are hoping Tehran will return to the negotiating table because they believe a fresh round of international economic sanctions against Iran—put in place after the previous fuel-swap deal fell apart last year—has begun to bite hard.

This, of course, is an act of pure desperation by the Obama administration, which assured us that Iran would have to demonstrate some seriousness about giving up its nuclear ambitions before it would resume talks. But the administration now faces a choice: military action (by the U.S. or Israel) or acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. So they look for a smoke screen — another round of gamesmanship and stalling by the mullahs, who all the while work steadily toward their dream of becoming a nuclear power. And recall that in the original deal, the proposed idea of shipping an undetermined fraction of Iranian enriched uranium elsewhere was hardly a guarantee that Iran would not proceed with its nuclear plans. Even the current scheme recognizes that the problem has gotten worse with the passage of time:

Iran has grown its supply of low-enriched uranium over the past year to roughly 2,800 kilograms from around 1,800 kilograms as of September, according to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog body, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has also begun producing low-enriched uranium at levels closer to weapons-grade.

U.S. officials said the current talks are focused on securing a much larger amount of Iran’s nuclear-fuel stockpile. The U.S. also is seeking to build on the fuel-swap arrangement that Iran reached with Turkey and Brazil in May. That called for Iran to ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for conversion into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor, but didn’t address U.S. fears about Iran enriching uranium further. “Any revised approach would have to address the deficiencies that the U.S. and other P5+1 countries have pointed out in the proposal made by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil in May,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy.

Are you comforted that we’ll get a verifiable, enforceable mechanism that will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Me neither. But it is potentially an effective blocking technique — blocking not the mullahs but the Israelis from taking military action to defang the Iranian regime. We will see if the new Congress and pro-Israel groups go along with this latest gambit in a never-ending series of maneuvers, the sole purpose of which is to avoid a confrontation with Iran. That this approach may also guarantee continued progress by the Iranians is seemingly of lesser importance to the Obama team.

You could spot this one coming:

The Obama administration is pushing to revive a failed deal for Iran to send some of its nuclear stockpile overseas in exchange for assistance with peaceful uses of nuclear technology, according to senior U.S. officials. The aim is to try to reduce Tehran’s ability to quickly produce an atomic weapon.

Washington and other Western capitals are hoping Tehran will return to the negotiating table because they believe a fresh round of international economic sanctions against Iran—put in place after the previous fuel-swap deal fell apart last year—has begun to bite hard.

This, of course, is an act of pure desperation by the Obama administration, which assured us that Iran would have to demonstrate some seriousness about giving up its nuclear ambitions before it would resume talks. But the administration now faces a choice: military action (by the U.S. or Israel) or acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran. So they look for a smoke screen — another round of gamesmanship and stalling by the mullahs, who all the while work steadily toward their dream of becoming a nuclear power. And recall that in the original deal, the proposed idea of shipping an undetermined fraction of Iranian enriched uranium elsewhere was hardly a guarantee that Iran would not proceed with its nuclear plans. Even the current scheme recognizes that the problem has gotten worse with the passage of time:

Iran has grown its supply of low-enriched uranium over the past year to roughly 2,800 kilograms from around 1,800 kilograms as of September, according to the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog body, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has also begun producing low-enriched uranium at levels closer to weapons-grade.

U.S. officials said the current talks are focused on securing a much larger amount of Iran’s nuclear-fuel stockpile. The U.S. also is seeking to build on the fuel-swap arrangement that Iran reached with Turkey and Brazil in May. That called for Iran to ship out 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium for conversion into fuel rods for the Tehran reactor, but didn’t address U.S. fears about Iran enriching uranium further. “Any revised approach would have to address the deficiencies that the U.S. and other P5+1 countries have pointed out in the proposal made by Iran, Turkey, and Brazil in May,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the diplomacy.

Are you comforted that we’ll get a verifiable, enforceable mechanism that will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons? Me neither. But it is potentially an effective blocking technique — blocking not the mullahs but the Israelis from taking military action to defang the Iranian regime. We will see if the new Congress and pro-Israel groups go along with this latest gambit in a never-ending series of maneuvers, the sole purpose of which is to avoid a confrontation with Iran. That this approach may also guarantee continued progress by the Iranians is seemingly of lesser importance to the Obama team.

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Money’s Not the Dems’ Problem

The canard that the GOP is going to make off with the election because of Karl Rove or mysterious foreign money is not passing the laugh test. Politico reports:

To hear top Democrats tell it, the party is being wildly outgunned this year in the fight for campaign cash as Republicans rely on outside groups to funnel money to GOP contenders. But the numbers tell a different story. …

So far, the latest figures show that the Democratic Party machinery has outraised its Republican counterpart in this campaign cycle by almost $270 million.

And even when outside spending on television advertising and direct mail is added to the mix, Republicans still haven’t closed the gap. The money race totals come to $856 million for the Democratic committees and their aligned outside groups, compared to $677 for their Republican adversaries, based on figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In other words, money is the least of the Democrats’ problems. An unpopular president, an objectionable agenda, an arrogant disregard for the views of voters, ObamaCare, and sky-high unemployment (despite the promises that sold the stimulus plan) are all part of the picture. But money? That’s a dog-ate-my-homework excuse that is convincing no one but those doing the spinning (and maybe not even them). As Politico put it:

The argument seems designed to achieve two ends: insulating Democrats from blame that they gave up big losses in the House and Senate a mere two years after President Barack Obama’s historic win, and suggesting that the Republican wins have an unseemly edge, fueled by the secretive groups. “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where – because they won’t disclose it – is pouring in,” Pelosi recounted at a recent fundraiser.

Indeed. And the real danger for the Democrats is that they will fall in love with their own explanation and avoid taking the steps necessary to align themselves with public opinion.

The canard that the GOP is going to make off with the election because of Karl Rove or mysterious foreign money is not passing the laugh test. Politico reports:

To hear top Democrats tell it, the party is being wildly outgunned this year in the fight for campaign cash as Republicans rely on outside groups to funnel money to GOP contenders. But the numbers tell a different story. …

So far, the latest figures show that the Democratic Party machinery has outraised its Republican counterpart in this campaign cycle by almost $270 million.

And even when outside spending on television advertising and direct mail is added to the mix, Republicans still haven’t closed the gap. The money race totals come to $856 million for the Democratic committees and their aligned outside groups, compared to $677 for their Republican adversaries, based on figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

In other words, money is the least of the Democrats’ problems. An unpopular president, an objectionable agenda, an arrogant disregard for the views of voters, ObamaCare, and sky-high unemployment (despite the promises that sold the stimulus plan) are all part of the picture. But money? That’s a dog-ate-my-homework excuse that is convincing no one but those doing the spinning (and maybe not even them). As Politico put it:

The argument seems designed to achieve two ends: insulating Democrats from blame that they gave up big losses in the House and Senate a mere two years after President Barack Obama’s historic win, and suggesting that the Republican wins have an unseemly edge, fueled by the secretive groups. “Everything was going great and all of a sudden secret money from God knows where – because they won’t disclose it – is pouring in,” Pelosi recounted at a recent fundraiser.

Indeed. And the real danger for the Democrats is that they will fall in love with their own explanation and avoid taking the steps necessary to align themselves with public opinion.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.'”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.'”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

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