Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 26, 2010

Outreach to Egypt?

The Obami, sensitive to accusations that they have been slothful on human rights, recently held a meeting with activists and foreign policy gurus on how they might promote democracy in Egypt. (Perhaps not giving the regime $1.5B free and clear would be a start.) But while the Obama team is having meetings, the Mubarak government is continuing its thuggish tactics:

Egypt’s parliamentary elections Sunday have been ushered in by one of the most sweeping campaigns to silence critics since President Hosni Mubarak came to power nearly 30 years ago, with the government seemingly determined to shut out its top rival, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, police and armed gangs have broken up campaign events by Brotherhood candidates – even attacking the movement’s top member in parliament in his car. More than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested during the election campaign.

The measures have been so dramatic that a judge in an administrative court in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria late on Wednesday ordered elections to be halted in at least 10 out of 11 city districts because so many candidates, particularly from the Brotherhood, had been disqualified by authorities.

This, quite plainly, is yet another snub of Obama personally. Just as the North Koreans see no downside to attacking its neighbor, Mubarak expects no adverse consequences from snubbing the U.S. president. Eli Lake observes:

Cairo’s snubbing of Mr. Obama follows the U.S. president’s run of hard luck in general on Middle East diplomacy. This month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected Mr. Obama’s personal request to relinquish the presidency. In 2009, the Iranian government rejected multiple offers from Mr. Obama to resume direct negotiations.

The mood from official Cairo was captured in a front-page editorial this week in the state-run and -funded newspaper, Al-Ahram, which often serves as a weather vane for the thinking inside the Mubarak regime.

“America and its experts should know and realize the Egyptian leadership role,” al-Ahram’s editor, Osama Saraya, said in the editorial. “Egypt has played and plays an important role in matters of regional peace and security … and is capable of bringing regional stability to all the areas that are regressing due to wrong U.S. policies in Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. … The United States is the one that ought to listen to Egypt, and not the other way around.”

In other words, the least-effective human rights policy in decades has contributed to the most egregious human right violations in decades and exposed our lack of influence in the region. We should not be surprised nor should we underestimate the degree to which Obama’s policy is both morally feckless and strategically flawed. Egypt is a tinderbox, increasingly polarized between an authoritarian government and the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Egyptian democracy activists are disillusioned by the American administration.

We might try some real Muslim Outreach — a policy of increased support for democratizers, financial support for Egypt conditioned on progress on human rights, and forceful public rhetoric (rather than the mute routine Hillary put on during the foreign minister’s recent visit). The problem with Muslim Outreach is not that we are doing it but that we are doing it so badly. And in the process, we’re proving that America is declining in influence in the region.

The Obami, sensitive to accusations that they have been slothful on human rights, recently held a meeting with activists and foreign policy gurus on how they might promote democracy in Egypt. (Perhaps not giving the regime $1.5B free and clear would be a start.) But while the Obama team is having meetings, the Mubarak government is continuing its thuggish tactics:

Egypt’s parliamentary elections Sunday have been ushered in by one of the most sweeping campaigns to silence critics since President Hosni Mubarak came to power nearly 30 years ago, with the government seemingly determined to shut out its top rival, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, police and armed gangs have broken up campaign events by Brotherhood candidates – even attacking the movement’s top member in parliament in his car. More than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested during the election campaign.

The measures have been so dramatic that a judge in an administrative court in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria late on Wednesday ordered elections to be halted in at least 10 out of 11 city districts because so many candidates, particularly from the Brotherhood, had been disqualified by authorities.

This, quite plainly, is yet another snub of Obama personally. Just as the North Koreans see no downside to attacking its neighbor, Mubarak expects no adverse consequences from snubbing the U.S. president. Eli Lake observes:

Cairo’s snubbing of Mr. Obama follows the U.S. president’s run of hard luck in general on Middle East diplomacy. This month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected Mr. Obama’s personal request to relinquish the presidency. In 2009, the Iranian government rejected multiple offers from Mr. Obama to resume direct negotiations.

The mood from official Cairo was captured in a front-page editorial this week in the state-run and -funded newspaper, Al-Ahram, which often serves as a weather vane for the thinking inside the Mubarak regime.

“America and its experts should know and realize the Egyptian leadership role,” al-Ahram’s editor, Osama Saraya, said in the editorial. “Egypt has played and plays an important role in matters of regional peace and security … and is capable of bringing regional stability to all the areas that are regressing due to wrong U.S. policies in Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. … The United States is the one that ought to listen to Egypt, and not the other way around.”

In other words, the least-effective human rights policy in decades has contributed to the most egregious human right violations in decades and exposed our lack of influence in the region. We should not be surprised nor should we underestimate the degree to which Obama’s policy is both morally feckless and strategically flawed. Egypt is a tinderbox, increasingly polarized between an authoritarian government and the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Egyptian democracy activists are disillusioned by the American administration.

We might try some real Muslim Outreach — a policy of increased support for democratizers, financial support for Egypt conditioned on progress on human rights, and forceful public rhetoric (rather than the mute routine Hillary put on during the foreign minister’s recent visit). The problem with Muslim Outreach is not that we are doing it but that we are doing it so badly. And in the process, we’re proving that America is declining in influence in the region.

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Desperate — About Everything

The most common adjective used to describe the administration these days is “desperate.” It is desperate to get a New START deal, and get it now. It is “desperate” to restart the non-direct, non-peace talks. It has made common cause with the Fed’s “desperate” bond-buying scheme.

The increasingly frantic policy gambits can be attributed to the attempt to convince the voters that Obama is not a failed president. If only he can get a deal on — fill in the blank — then he’ll cut the losing streak and regain his political mojo. The theory is as, well, desperate as are the individual schemes. The president’s difficulties stem from his jobs-killing agenda, his misunderstanding of the Middle East and most other foreign policy conflicts,  and his inability to relate to voters. Should he manage to force through a largely irrelevant New START treaty or eke out another 90 days of Middle East talks, would this restore his luster? Hardly. And in the meantime, most especially in his enthusiasm for the Fed’s decision to rev up the printing press, Obama reveals his own political weakness, economic illiteracy, and foreign policy fabulism. In short, none of it is helping.

The most common adjective used to describe the administration these days is “desperate.” It is desperate to get a New START deal, and get it now. It is “desperate” to restart the non-direct, non-peace talks. It has made common cause with the Fed’s “desperate” bond-buying scheme.

The increasingly frantic policy gambits can be attributed to the attempt to convince the voters that Obama is not a failed president. If only he can get a deal on — fill in the blank — then he’ll cut the losing streak and regain his political mojo. The theory is as, well, desperate as are the individual schemes. The president’s difficulties stem from his jobs-killing agenda, his misunderstanding of the Middle East and most other foreign policy conflicts,  and his inability to relate to voters. Should he manage to force through a largely irrelevant New START treaty or eke out another 90 days of Middle East talks, would this restore his luster? Hardly. And in the meantime, most especially in his enthusiasm for the Fed’s decision to rev up the printing press, Obama reveals his own political weakness, economic illiteracy, and foreign policy fabulism. In short, none of it is helping.

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Tied Up in Knots — Again

It’s a game of chicken. Bibi has agreed to present to his cabinet the Obami’s harebrained scheme to restart the non-peace talks if he can get it in writing. Why is that so hard? Perhaps the deal isn’t the deal, or the administration is placing conditions upon conditions. Meanwhile, the PA seems nervous that talks might start, so they roll out their best rejectionist tactics:

Israeli officials accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of looking for excuses not to negotiate, after Abbas said Thursday he would return to the negotiations if Israel declared a complete settlement freeze for a defined period of time during which the border issue would be resolved. Abbas reportedly made those comments during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

One Israeli official said that Abbas was “making sure he is high up on the tree. It is a pity he is entrenching himself in his pre-conditions, and we don’t understand the logic. It is almost as if he is searching for excuses not to negotiate.”

It seems that the Obami have gotten a bit tangled up in the specifics of what the 90 days of negotiations would actual be about:

While the Palestinians want the border issue to be the focus of the start of the talks, arguing that once the borders were set it would be clear where Israel could and could not build, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position is that border issues could not be divorced from other core issues such as security arrangements and Israel’s demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, something that would be tantamount to their accepting the principle that the descendents of Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to pre-1967 Israel.

Netanyahu is also apparently unwilling to pledge to wrap up an agreement on borders during the time when there is a settlement freeze. And the US, for its part, is reportedly unwilling to commit in writing that this would be the last settlement freeze it would ask for, apparently wanting to keep open the option of another freeze if the border issue was not wrapped up during one 90-day freeze.

Whoa! Wasn’t part of the deal that the Obami would never, ever, cross their hearts, ask for another freeze? If there is a method to this chaotic bribe-a-thon, it’s not yet apparent. Unlike the Bush team, which actually had the parties talking to each other, this crew can only bicker about what it is that they offered Israel in order to induce the PA to return to the table. If there has been a less competent Middle East negotiating team, I can’t recall it.

It’s a game of chicken. Bibi has agreed to present to his cabinet the Obami’s harebrained scheme to restart the non-peace talks if he can get it in writing. Why is that so hard? Perhaps the deal isn’t the deal, or the administration is placing conditions upon conditions. Meanwhile, the PA seems nervous that talks might start, so they roll out their best rejectionist tactics:

Israeli officials accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of looking for excuses not to negotiate, after Abbas said Thursday he would return to the negotiations if Israel declared a complete settlement freeze for a defined period of time during which the border issue would be resolved. Abbas reportedly made those comments during a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah.

One Israeli official said that Abbas was “making sure he is high up on the tree. It is a pity he is entrenching himself in his pre-conditions, and we don’t understand the logic. It is almost as if he is searching for excuses not to negotiate.”

It seems that the Obami have gotten a bit tangled up in the specifics of what the 90 days of negotiations would actual be about:

While the Palestinians want the border issue to be the focus of the start of the talks, arguing that once the borders were set it would be clear where Israel could and could not build, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position is that border issues could not be divorced from other core issues such as security arrangements and Israel’s demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, something that would be tantamount to their accepting the principle that the descendents of Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to pre-1967 Israel.

Netanyahu is also apparently unwilling to pledge to wrap up an agreement on borders during the time when there is a settlement freeze. And the US, for its part, is reportedly unwilling to commit in writing that this would be the last settlement freeze it would ask for, apparently wanting to keep open the option of another freeze if the border issue was not wrapped up during one 90-day freeze.

Whoa! Wasn’t part of the deal that the Obami would never, ever, cross their hearts, ask for another freeze? If there is a method to this chaotic bribe-a-thon, it’s not yet apparent. Unlike the Bush team, which actually had the parties talking to each other, this crew can only bicker about what it is that they offered Israel in order to induce the PA to return to the table. If there has been a less competent Middle East negotiating team, I can’t recall it.

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Who Is Tim Pawlenty?

In the 2012 prognostications, Tim Pawlenty has sometimes been an afterthought. It’s not for lack of earnestness or for lack of a good track record as governor. He has both. But he’s yet to break through the clutter and explain why him — rather than Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, John Thune, or Mitt Romney. That may change over time, and each of those four may fizzle or decide against a run. Pawlenty is inching closer to a decision, in the same methodical fashion in which he governed:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has not made a final decision on whether to make a White House bid, but he’s laying the groundwork and is confident he could run a serious and well-funded campaign if he decides to go ahead.

In a meeting with reporters last week in San Diego, Pawlenty said he is still contemplating whether he is the right person to lead the country out of an economic crisis.

“I haven’t made a final decision yet. I mean, we’re obviously looking at it. But as to whether we do it or don’t do it, I’m not going to make up my mind internally for probably a few months yet,” Pawlenty said. “I’ve got a set of experiences and skills that might benefit the country. But, I haven’t made a decision whether I’m the right person to do that, whether I’m the only person who can do that.”

For now, Pawlenty is mainly defined as what the other candidates are not. Sarah Palin quit the governorship, but Pawlenty makes the case that the key issue will be “‘as you look at the personal and political records of those individuals, what does that tell you about their fortitude personally? Do they have the record to actually back up the rhetoric?’ Pawlenty asked. ‘In other words, are they just giving you pretty rhetoric or do they actually get it done?’” He’s a Midwesterner from a Purple State, not a Southerner from a deep Red State as is Barbour. He’s been uncompromising on social issues rather than suggesting that such issues are irrelevant as McDaniels did. And he’s never supported ObamaCare lite. But being “not flawed like each of the others” isn’t likely to deliver the nomination.

Pawlenty could use a theme and a distinct persona. Once he has those, he would do well to start communicating what he is all about to the conservative electorate. If he doesn’t, he’s going to soon drift into the also-ran category, or if he’s solid (but unexceptional) on the campaign trail, the short list for VP candidates.

In the 2012 prognostications, Tim Pawlenty has sometimes been an afterthought. It’s not for lack of earnestness or for lack of a good track record as governor. He has both. But he’s yet to break through the clutter and explain why him — rather than Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, John Thune, or Mitt Romney. That may change over time, and each of those four may fizzle or decide against a run. Pawlenty is inching closer to a decision, in the same methodical fashion in which he governed:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has not made a final decision on whether to make a White House bid, but he’s laying the groundwork and is confident he could run a serious and well-funded campaign if he decides to go ahead.

In a meeting with reporters last week in San Diego, Pawlenty said he is still contemplating whether he is the right person to lead the country out of an economic crisis.

“I haven’t made a final decision yet. I mean, we’re obviously looking at it. But as to whether we do it or don’t do it, I’m not going to make up my mind internally for probably a few months yet,” Pawlenty said. “I’ve got a set of experiences and skills that might benefit the country. But, I haven’t made a decision whether I’m the right person to do that, whether I’m the only person who can do that.”

For now, Pawlenty is mainly defined as what the other candidates are not. Sarah Palin quit the governorship, but Pawlenty makes the case that the key issue will be “‘as you look at the personal and political records of those individuals, what does that tell you about their fortitude personally? Do they have the record to actually back up the rhetoric?’ Pawlenty asked. ‘In other words, are they just giving you pretty rhetoric or do they actually get it done?’” He’s a Midwesterner from a Purple State, not a Southerner from a deep Red State as is Barbour. He’s been uncompromising on social issues rather than suggesting that such issues are irrelevant as McDaniels did. And he’s never supported ObamaCare lite. But being “not flawed like each of the others” isn’t likely to deliver the nomination.

Pawlenty could use a theme and a distinct persona. Once he has those, he would do well to start communicating what he is all about to the conservative electorate. If he doesn’t, he’s going to soon drift into the also-ran category, or if he’s solid (but unexceptional) on the campaign trail, the short list for VP candidates.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

This isn’t going to win over the critics who say she lacks political judgment. “Sarah Palin dismissed Barbara Bush’s recent criticism as a matter of class privilege. … ‘I don’t want to concede that we have to get used to this kind of thing, because i don’t think the majority of Americans want to put up with the blue-bloods — and i want to say it with all due respect because I love the Bushes — the blue bloods who want to pick and chose their winners instead of allowing competition’ … Palin also suggested that the Bushes upper-class status had contributed to ‘the economic policies that were in place that got us into these economic woeful times.’” Whatever you think of Bush 41, this isn’t what a presidential candidate should sound like.

This is going to give “strategic patience” (otherwise known as paralysis) a bad name. “North Korea’s latest round of saber rattling leaves a politically weakened President Obama with several unpalatable options for dealing with the unstable nuclear power. The North Korean shelling of a South Korean island follows the revelation of a new centrifuge plant that could eventually allow the North to add to its nuclear stockpile. Both developments suggest the Obama administration’s policy of’ ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea is having little impact on the regime, which is focused on the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.”

This isn’t going to help the White House scare the Senate into a ratification vote: Jamie Fly writes: “New START is a rather meaningless arms-control agreement notable more for what it fails to do than what it achieves. … There remains serious criticism of New START’s merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists.”

This is a sign that no one is going to bat for Joe Miller. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit.”

This verdict isn’t going to provoke much sympathy from conservatives. Tom DeLay is the type of pol the Tea Party despises, and his politics is the sort Republican lawmakers need to repudiate.

This wasn’t going to happen with Obama’s “smart diplomacy”: “When North Korea tested a nuclear device last year, China issued bland criticism and urged Pyongyang to resume diplomacy. After a South Korean navy ship was sunk, most likely by a North Korean torpedo, Beijing sent its sympathies but called the evidence inconclusive. Now that North Korea has unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people — including two civilians — and raised tensions in the heavily armed region, Beijing again appears unwilling to rein in its neighbor.”

This lame duck session isn’t going to be what the Dems had hoped. “Not so long ago, the great fear was that the Democratic Party would return from its midterm drubbing to jam all manner of odious legislation through a lame duck session of Congress. We may need to put that in the ‘wasted worry’ category.”

This isn’t going to win over the critics who say she lacks political judgment. “Sarah Palin dismissed Barbara Bush’s recent criticism as a matter of class privilege. … ‘I don’t want to concede that we have to get used to this kind of thing, because i don’t think the majority of Americans want to put up with the blue-bloods — and i want to say it with all due respect because I love the Bushes — the blue bloods who want to pick and chose their winners instead of allowing competition’ … Palin also suggested that the Bushes upper-class status had contributed to ‘the economic policies that were in place that got us into these economic woeful times.’” Whatever you think of Bush 41, this isn’t what a presidential candidate should sound like.

This is going to give “strategic patience” (otherwise known as paralysis) a bad name. “North Korea’s latest round of saber rattling leaves a politically weakened President Obama with several unpalatable options for dealing with the unstable nuclear power. The North Korean shelling of a South Korean island follows the revelation of a new centrifuge plant that could eventually allow the North to add to its nuclear stockpile. Both developments suggest the Obama administration’s policy of’ ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea is having little impact on the regime, which is focused on the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.”

This isn’t going to help the White House scare the Senate into a ratification vote: Jamie Fly writes: “New START is a rather meaningless arms-control agreement notable more for what it fails to do than what it achieves. … There remains serious criticism of New START’s merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists.”

This is a sign that no one is going to bat for Joe Miller. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit.”

This verdict isn’t going to provoke much sympathy from conservatives. Tom DeLay is the type of pol the Tea Party despises, and his politics is the sort Republican lawmakers need to repudiate.

This wasn’t going to happen with Obama’s “smart diplomacy”: “When North Korea tested a nuclear device last year, China issued bland criticism and urged Pyongyang to resume diplomacy. After a South Korean navy ship was sunk, most likely by a North Korean torpedo, Beijing sent its sympathies but called the evidence inconclusive. Now that North Korea has unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people — including two civilians — and raised tensions in the heavily armed region, Beijing again appears unwilling to rein in its neighbor.”

This lame duck session isn’t going to be what the Dems had hoped. “Not so long ago, the great fear was that the Democratic Party would return from its midterm drubbing to jam all manner of odious legislation through a lame duck session of Congress. We may need to put that in the ‘wasted worry’ category.”

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