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Posts For: December 26, 2010

Gitmo Will Stay Open (But It’s Really, Really Bad)

The Obama administration now acknowledges what the rest of us already knew. You can’t close a facility housing stateless unlawful enemy combatants with a presidential signature. “The White House admitted Sunday it would be unable to shut Guantanamo Bay in the near future, even as it acknowledged the U.S. naval prison camp is a rallying cry for Islamic extremists,” the AFP reports.

For a White House skilled in the art of dangerous mixed messages, this is a magnum opus. The damage is inflicted both at home and abroad. First, at home: the president has said he considers Gitmo a betrayal of American values, stating, “Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies.” He once went so far as to claim that “the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” Now, with the admission that Gitmo must remain open, Americans are left to ponder the persistence of a self-described terrorist-creating policy. Is the machinery of our governance so decrepit that we have no choice but to move ahead with policies that are antithetical to American principles? Is there no way to fight a war on terrorism that is both honorable and effective?

Around the world, it will be noted that President Obama embraced the narrative of Islamist grievance against the United States, only to confirm its worst aspect by reneging on his pledges to be different and to right supposed wrongs. Peaceful Muslims who had shed no tears for terrorists didn’t need Obama’s patronizing gesture to reaffirm their distaste for jihad, while Islamists now have a colorful two-part talking point to bolster their claim that America is an untrustworthy force of evil: the American president gave lip service to their complaints and then continued to cage up their brothers like animals.

In total, incoherence triumphs. Amid accounts of  the Great Obama Comeback, let’s not lose sight of the enduring challenges created by the Great Obama Discombobulation.

The Obama administration now acknowledges what the rest of us already knew. You can’t close a facility housing stateless unlawful enemy combatants with a presidential signature. “The White House admitted Sunday it would be unable to shut Guantanamo Bay in the near future, even as it acknowledged the U.S. naval prison camp is a rallying cry for Islamic extremists,” the AFP reports.

For a White House skilled in the art of dangerous mixed messages, this is a magnum opus. The damage is inflicted both at home and abroad. First, at home: the president has said he considers Gitmo a betrayal of American values, stating, “Rather than keeping us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies.” He once went so far as to claim that “the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.” Now, with the admission that Gitmo must remain open, Americans are left to ponder the persistence of a self-described terrorist-creating policy. Is the machinery of our governance so decrepit that we have no choice but to move ahead with policies that are antithetical to American principles? Is there no way to fight a war on terrorism that is both honorable and effective?

Around the world, it will be noted that President Obama embraced the narrative of Islamist grievance against the United States, only to confirm its worst aspect by reneging on his pledges to be different and to right supposed wrongs. Peaceful Muslims who had shed no tears for terrorists didn’t need Obama’s patronizing gesture to reaffirm their distaste for jihad, while Islamists now have a colorful two-part talking point to bolster their claim that America is an untrustworthy force of evil: the American president gave lip service to their complaints and then continued to cage up their brothers like animals.

In total, incoherence triumphs. Amid accounts of  the Great Obama Comeback, let’s not lose sight of the enduring challenges created by the Great Obama Discombobulation.

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Kristof Scores an Own Goal

Did Nicholas Kristof hang himself with a noose of his own pacifist design?

After the first gulf war, the United States retained bases in Saudi Arabia on the assumption that they would enhance American security. Instead, they appear to have provoked fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden into attacking the U.S. In other words, hugely expensive bases undermined American security (and we later closed them anyway). Wouldn’t our money have been better spent helping American kids get a college education?

In point of fact, we had those bases to contain Saddam. I’m glad someone is willing to acknowledge that the cost of containment was high.

Did Nicholas Kristof hang himself with a noose of his own pacifist design?

After the first gulf war, the United States retained bases in Saudi Arabia on the assumption that they would enhance American security. Instead, they appear to have provoked fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden into attacking the U.S. In other words, hugely expensive bases undermined American security (and we later closed them anyway). Wouldn’t our money have been better spent helping American kids get a college education?

In point of fact, we had those bases to contain Saddam. I’m glad someone is willing to acknowledge that the cost of containment was high.

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Afternoon Commentary

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

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An Edifice Over an Abyss

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s valuable interview with Jennifer Rubin (part one on Friday; part two today) contains a useful observation about the current Palestinian push for recognition of a state. Oren says there are two models of Middle East state-building:

In the first, you build from the bottom up. Then you are bestowed or declare independence. The second is that you attain independence and figure out what institutions you will have later. This was the model for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Israel is the first model. We had more than 60 years to build institutions. … Oslo was the classic second model, and Arafat rejected institution building. We saw how that worked out. It’s building an edifice over an abyss.

This reminds me of Ron Dermer’s presentation to AIPAC in May 2009, previewing the one Netanyahu would make days later in his first meeting with President Obama. Dermer described Netanyahu’s plan as a three-track approach: two bottom-up tracks (security and economic development) combined with a top-down one (political negotiations). The goal was not an immediate “peace-to-end-all-peace, deal of the century,” but developments on the ground necessary to make peace possible:

What happened in Annapolis is that the government almost exclusively focused on political negotiation. They invested all their energy … in reaching an elusive agreement. And I agree with Aaron [David Miller] that there is no way now on the Palestinian side to make the sorts of compromises that will be required for a deal on the core issues. Yet despite that, the previous government just decided to negotiate, and negotiate, and negotiate …

What Netanyahu will do – and you will see it in a rather dramatic fashion over the next two years … is work to change the reality on the ground, first through security [by facilitating creation of a Palestinian police force] … and [removing] bureaucratic obstacles to economic development. …

What has happened up to now is to try to build the pyramid from the top down. It doesn’t work that way. You have to … have the Palestinians have rule of law, have a decent economy … and slowly but surely you actually build lots of stakeholders.

In the last two years, security in the West Bank has improved, as has the Palestinian economy – developments for which Netanyahu has been given insufficient credit. But Palestinian society remains steeped in anti-Semitism, and the Palestinian Authority lacks the rule of law: a “president” whose term expired two years ago; an unelected “prime minister;” local elections that were cancelled; and political reform that is, in the words of a former PA minister, “a joke.” The next chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says it is impossible to track the PA’s use of American aid (“Try looking at their budgets … you’ll never find out where that money goes”).

An undemocratic, anti-Semitic state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one (much less one with defensible borders), is unlikely to “live side by side in peace.” The Palestinians are pushing the edifice, but the abyss is still there.

Read Less

Kissinger, Not His Critics, Is the One With a ‘Short Memory’

Two weeks ago the transcript of a 1973 recording from the Nixon White House was released. In it, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger suggested to President Nixon that the plight of captive Soviet Jewry was a matter of indifference for the United States. He punctuated this point by saying that even if the Soviet government were to “put Jews in gas chambers” it wouldn’t make any difference to U.S. policymakers. Kissinger was blasted by a number of writers and publications, including Contentions, where we pointed out that Kissinger’s eagerness to show his chief that he wouldn’t let his own identity as a Jew who fled to America from Germany during the 1930s affect his judgment recalled those highly placed American Jews who failed to speak out during the Holocaust.

Kissinger’s initial reply to his critics was an e-mail sent to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that included no mention of his gas chambers comment, let alone an apology, but instead simply demanded that those who cared about the issue should put his remarks in historical context.  But on Friday, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post, Kissinger finally broke down and apologized, albeit while still contending that his words were taken out of context and speaking primarily of his own hurt feelings:

For someone who lost in the Holocaust many members of my immediate family and a large proportion of those with whom I grew up, it is hurtful to see an out-of-context remark being taken so contrary to its intentions and to my convictions, which were profoundly shaped by these events. References to gas chambers have no place in political discourse, and I am sorry I made that remark 37 years ago.

The former secretary of state then goes on to take issue with arguments raised by Michael Gerson in the Post as well by others that attempted to do exactly what Kissinger has pleaded with us to do: put his comments in context. The problem was not so much Kissinger’s vile words but the policy they represented all too well. His program of détente sought to lower tensions with the Soviets. It left no room for American activism on behalf of human rights behind the still impassible Iron Curtain. But in his op-ed Kissinger attempts to put himself forward as an unsung hero of the Soviet Jewry movement. He sees the disagreement between his “quiet diplomacy” and the ideas of Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson and others who demanded sanctions on the Soviets until they agreed to our demands for freedom for the Jews as merely one of tactics not goals. Indeed, he seems to labor under the misapprehension that his attempts to make nice with the Soviets during this period were successful. Kissinger prefers to believe that the Jackson-Vanik sanctions on the Soviet Union, or indeed, the refusenik movement or the widespread pressure on Moscow on a variety of human rights issues, had no impact on the fall of the empire that Ronald Reagan, a vocal critic of Kissinger’s policies, rightly termed “evil.” But if, as Kissinger claims, “memories are short,” it is his memory, and not those who have condemned détente, that is faulty.

Far from “an effective global strategy” that produced stability and a lessening of tensions, détente had the opposite effect from what its mastermind intended. Like the treaty that Kissinger negotiated with the North Vietnamese (a dubious achievement that led to more Communist aggression, though it earned him and Le Duc Tho a Nobel Peace Prize that bears an unfortunate comparison to the Oslo Accords that won Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat the same award), his attempts to ameliorate the Soviets only encouraged them to further adventurism in Africa, the Middle East, and ultimately Afghanistan. It was only after Ronald Reagan reversed Kissinger’s disastrous foreign policy that the tide began to turn in favor of freedom and the West.

I don’t doubt that Kissinger cringed when he read his unfortunate comments in print 37 years later and wishes he had stated his views in a less offensive manner. But the proper historical context into which to place this conversation is one in which the architect of a strategically faulty policy is attempting to justify his indifference to the fate of Soviet Jews. We needn’t focus on the mention of “gas chambers” to know that Kissinger was dead wrong then and just as wrong today.

Two weeks ago the transcript of a 1973 recording from the Nixon White House was released. In it, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger suggested to President Nixon that the plight of captive Soviet Jewry was a matter of indifference for the United States. He punctuated this point by saying that even if the Soviet government were to “put Jews in gas chambers” it wouldn’t make any difference to U.S. policymakers. Kissinger was blasted by a number of writers and publications, including Contentions, where we pointed out that Kissinger’s eagerness to show his chief that he wouldn’t let his own identity as a Jew who fled to America from Germany during the 1930s affect his judgment recalled those highly placed American Jews who failed to speak out during the Holocaust.

Kissinger’s initial reply to his critics was an e-mail sent to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that included no mention of his gas chambers comment, let alone an apology, but instead simply demanded that those who cared about the issue should put his remarks in historical context.  But on Friday, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post, Kissinger finally broke down and apologized, albeit while still contending that his words were taken out of context and speaking primarily of his own hurt feelings:

For someone who lost in the Holocaust many members of my immediate family and a large proportion of those with whom I grew up, it is hurtful to see an out-of-context remark being taken so contrary to its intentions and to my convictions, which were profoundly shaped by these events. References to gas chambers have no place in political discourse, and I am sorry I made that remark 37 years ago.

The former secretary of state then goes on to take issue with arguments raised by Michael Gerson in the Post as well by others that attempted to do exactly what Kissinger has pleaded with us to do: put his comments in context. The problem was not so much Kissinger’s vile words but the policy they represented all too well. His program of détente sought to lower tensions with the Soviets. It left no room for American activism on behalf of human rights behind the still impassible Iron Curtain. But in his op-ed Kissinger attempts to put himself forward as an unsung hero of the Soviet Jewry movement. He sees the disagreement between his “quiet diplomacy” and the ideas of Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson and others who demanded sanctions on the Soviets until they agreed to our demands for freedom for the Jews as merely one of tactics not goals. Indeed, he seems to labor under the misapprehension that his attempts to make nice with the Soviets during this period were successful. Kissinger prefers to believe that the Jackson-Vanik sanctions on the Soviet Union, or indeed, the refusenik movement or the widespread pressure on Moscow on a variety of human rights issues, had no impact on the fall of the empire that Ronald Reagan, a vocal critic of Kissinger’s policies, rightly termed “evil.” But if, as Kissinger claims, “memories are short,” it is his memory, and not those who have condemned détente, that is faulty.

Far from “an effective global strategy” that produced stability and a lessening of tensions, détente had the opposite effect from what its mastermind intended. Like the treaty that Kissinger negotiated with the North Vietnamese (a dubious achievement that led to more Communist aggression, though it earned him and Le Duc Tho a Nobel Peace Prize that bears an unfortunate comparison to the Oslo Accords that won Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat the same award), his attempts to ameliorate the Soviets only encouraged them to further adventurism in Africa, the Middle East, and ultimately Afghanistan. It was only after Ronald Reagan reversed Kissinger’s disastrous foreign policy that the tide began to turn in favor of freedom and the West.

I don’t doubt that Kissinger cringed when he read his unfortunate comments in print 37 years later and wishes he had stated his views in a less offensive manner. But the proper historical context into which to place this conversation is one in which the architect of a strategically faulty policy is attempting to justify his indifference to the fate of Soviet Jews. We needn’t focus on the mention of “gas chambers” to know that Kissinger was dead wrong then and just as wrong today.

Read Less




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