Commentary Magazine


Posts For: December 2010

Everyone Does Not Know What Everyone Supposedly Knows

For more than a decade, the guiding principle of the peace process has been that “everyone knows” what peace will look like: a Palestinian state on roughly the 1967 lines, with land swaps for the major Israeli settlement blocs, a shared Jerusalem, international compensation for the Palestinian refugees, and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state rather than Israel.

A new poll conducted jointly by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace shows that the Palestinian public opposes such a solution by a lopsided majority.

The poll presented a package modeled on the Clinton Parameters: (1) an Israeli withdrawal from more than 97 percent of the West Bank and a land swap for the remaining 2-3 percent; (2) a Palestinian state with a “strong security force” but no army, with a multinational force to ensure security; (3) Palestinian sovereignty over land, water, and airspace, but an Israeli right to use the airspace for training purposes and to maintain two West Bank early-warning stations for 15 years; (4) a capital in East Jerusalem and sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods and the Old City (other than the Jewish Quarter and the “Wailing Wall”); and (5) a “right of return” for refugees to the new state and compensation for their “refugeehood” and loss of property.

The package was opposed by 58 percent of the Palestinians, with only 40 percent favoring it.

It was not a case of one or more individual elements in the package causing a problem. Each of the five elements was polled separately; not one of them commanded majority support.

Writing today in Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plocker asserts that while most Israelis are prepared to support a Palestinian state, they have in mind a state “not much different from the Palestinian Authority that exists today.”

Ask now in a poll how many Israelis are ready for the evacuation of 150-200,000 settlers from Judea and Samaria, an IDF withdrawal from bases in the Jordan Valley, the deployment of Palestinian border police between Kalkilya and Kfar Saba, a new border in Jerusalem and turning the territories into a foreign country that will absorb hundreds of thousands of militant refugees from the camps in Lebanon – and see how the numbers of those who support a “two-state solution” drop to near zero.

Interestingly, the new poll showed that Israelis supported the hypothetical package by 52 percent to 39 percent, demonstrating that a majority or plurality of Israelis (the poll has a 4.5 percent margin of error) would support a demilitarized Palestinian state, as long as the IDF is empowered to keep it that way, the state does not assert a “right of return” to Israel, and there is a land swap that does not require the mass uprooting of Israelis from their homes. Plocker’s assertion may show, however, that a lot depends on how polling questions are framed, and the implications of flooding the West Bank with refugees (as opposed to resettling them where most have lived all their lives) deserve further study.

But all this is hypothetical. The Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2000 and effectively rejected them again in 2008 in the Annapolis Process. The new poll makes it clear they would reject them a third time, despite what “everyone knows.”

For more than a decade, the guiding principle of the peace process has been that “everyone knows” what peace will look like: a Palestinian state on roughly the 1967 lines, with land swaps for the major Israeli settlement blocs, a shared Jerusalem, international compensation for the Palestinian refugees, and a “right of return” to the new Palestinian state rather than Israel.

A new poll conducted jointly by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace shows that the Palestinian public opposes such a solution by a lopsided majority.

The poll presented a package modeled on the Clinton Parameters: (1) an Israeli withdrawal from more than 97 percent of the West Bank and a land swap for the remaining 2-3 percent; (2) a Palestinian state with a “strong security force” but no army, with a multinational force to ensure security; (3) Palestinian sovereignty over land, water, and airspace, but an Israeli right to use the airspace for training purposes and to maintain two West Bank early-warning stations for 15 years; (4) a capital in East Jerusalem and sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods and the Old City (other than the Jewish Quarter and the “Wailing Wall”); and (5) a “right of return” for refugees to the new state and compensation for their “refugeehood” and loss of property.

The package was opposed by 58 percent of the Palestinians, with only 40 percent favoring it.

It was not a case of one or more individual elements in the package causing a problem. Each of the five elements was polled separately; not one of them commanded majority support.

Writing today in Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plocker asserts that while most Israelis are prepared to support a Palestinian state, they have in mind a state “not much different from the Palestinian Authority that exists today.”

Ask now in a poll how many Israelis are ready for the evacuation of 150-200,000 settlers from Judea and Samaria, an IDF withdrawal from bases in the Jordan Valley, the deployment of Palestinian border police between Kalkilya and Kfar Saba, a new border in Jerusalem and turning the territories into a foreign country that will absorb hundreds of thousands of militant refugees from the camps in Lebanon – and see how the numbers of those who support a “two-state solution” drop to near zero.

Interestingly, the new poll showed that Israelis supported the hypothetical package by 52 percent to 39 percent, demonstrating that a majority or plurality of Israelis (the poll has a 4.5 percent margin of error) would support a demilitarized Palestinian state, as long as the IDF is empowered to keep it that way, the state does not assert a “right of return” to Israel, and there is a land swap that does not require the mass uprooting of Israelis from their homes. Plocker’s assertion may show, however, that a lot depends on how polling questions are framed, and the implications of flooding the West Bank with refugees (as opposed to resettling them where most have lived all their lives) deserve further study.

But all this is hypothetical. The Palestinians rejected the Clinton Parameters in 2000 and effectively rejected them again in 2008 in the Annapolis Process. The new poll makes it clear they would reject them a third time, despite what “everyone knows.”

Read Less

Boycotts vs. Public Debate

As reported in various outlets, several groups — including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America — are boycotting the 2011 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference because CPAC is allowing GOProud, a conservative gay-rights organization, to be a sponsoring organization (one of more than 70). This strikes me as a bad idea on several levels.

As Ed Morrissey points out, CPAC brings together a variety of conservative groups holding different beliefs. They include libertarians, social conservatives, internationalists, isolationists, atheists, religious believers, and more. The point isn’t to determine a platform that conservatives must embrace; it is to engage in a debate about the merits of various issues. That should include those who embrace repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and same-sex marriage. Like it or not, those issues are part of the public conversation; they should therefore be engaged in a serious, thoughtful manner. Boycotting conferences to express moral disapproval won’t accomplish anything useful.

Beyond that, the boycotting organizations come across as defensive and insecure, as if they fear that their arguments cannot win the day on the merits. Perhaps they can or perhaps they cannot; but for organizations to pick up their marbles and leave — and in the process to accuse CPAC of engaging in a “moral sell-out” and of committing an act of “moral surrender” — strikes me as small-minded and unwise.

Part of this, I suppose, is subjective. There are certainly some hate groups that would be inappropriate to have as a sponsoring organization. But a gay-rights advocacy group like GOProud certainly doesn’t qualify. It shouldn’t be denied the chance to make its case. Groups that believe they have a strong moral and intellectual case should welcome a public debate on the merits. To do so is consistent with the American tradition. To fail to do so is contrary to it.

As reported in various outlets, several groups — including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America — are boycotting the 2011 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference because CPAC is allowing GOProud, a conservative gay-rights organization, to be a sponsoring organization (one of more than 70). This strikes me as a bad idea on several levels.

As Ed Morrissey points out, CPAC brings together a variety of conservative groups holding different beliefs. They include libertarians, social conservatives, internationalists, isolationists, atheists, religious believers, and more. The point isn’t to determine a platform that conservatives must embrace; it is to engage in a debate about the merits of various issues. That should include those who embrace repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and same-sex marriage. Like it or not, those issues are part of the public conversation; they should therefore be engaged in a serious, thoughtful manner. Boycotting conferences to express moral disapproval won’t accomplish anything useful.

Beyond that, the boycotting organizations come across as defensive and insecure, as if they fear that their arguments cannot win the day on the merits. Perhaps they can or perhaps they cannot; but for organizations to pick up their marbles and leave — and in the process to accuse CPAC of engaging in a “moral sell-out” and of committing an act of “moral surrender” — strikes me as small-minded and unwise.

Part of this, I suppose, is subjective. There are certainly some hate groups that would be inappropriate to have as a sponsoring organization. But a gay-rights advocacy group like GOProud certainly doesn’t qualify. It shouldn’t be denied the chance to make its case. Groups that believe they have a strong moral and intellectual case should welcome a public debate on the merits. To do so is consistent with the American tradition. To fail to do so is contrary to it.

Read Less

Anarchists, Unite (a Little)!

The New York Times reports on the latest European letter bomb, this one sent to the Greek embassy in Rome: “An Italian group called the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the defused letter bomb, as well as for two letter bombs that exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies to Rome on Dec. 23, seriously injuring two people. … Italian and Greek police officials say that anarchist groups across Europe maintain close ties with each other through the Internet, and often act to call attention to their cause.”

If the Informal Anarchist Federation sounds a bit wishy-washy, you’ve got to remember there are certain organizational challenges inherent in anarchism. Imagine the chat-room drama that led to this moniker.

–We need a name.

–What’s this “we” stuff, Mr. Dictator? I’m an anarchist. I have a name. It’s Bob, and it suits me fine, thank you very much.

–Point taken, Bob. But how do we, excuse me, I mean, how does one indicate solidarity or cohesion without a representative name of some sort? Read More

The New York Times reports on the latest European letter bomb, this one sent to the Greek embassy in Rome: “An Italian group called the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the defused letter bomb, as well as for two letter bombs that exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies to Rome on Dec. 23, seriously injuring two people. … Italian and Greek police officials say that anarchist groups across Europe maintain close ties with each other through the Internet, and often act to call attention to their cause.”

If the Informal Anarchist Federation sounds a bit wishy-washy, you’ve got to remember there are certain organizational challenges inherent in anarchism. Imagine the chat-room drama that led to this moniker.

–We need a name.

–What’s this “we” stuff, Mr. Dictator? I’m an anarchist. I have a name. It’s Bob, and it suits me fine, thank you very much.

–Point taken, Bob. But how do we, excuse me, I mean, how does one indicate solidarity or cohesion without a representative name of some sort?

–Hello? Anonymous?

–That’s taken. Anonymous goes by Anonymous.

–What do you mean anonymous goes by anonymous? Since when?

–Since they launched the DDOS attacks in support of WikiLeaks.

–Those attacks were anonymous.

–Right. I mean, wrong. The A was capitalized.

–Damn. Typo in my paper.

–Live and learn. Anyway, we, uh, I mean this still needs a name.

–I’m thinking. Got it! Nobody. Signed Nobody. Menacing, right?

–“Nobody bombed an embassy in Paris today”?  “Governments around the world have to worry about nobody”?

–Point taken.

–How about a simple, non-dramatic, descriptive approach? The Anarchist Federation.

–What’s your home address again?

–Why?

–Well, as an anarchist, I’m obligated to bomb federations not join them.

–Take it easy. I’m thinking of a compromise. How about the Loose Anarchist Federation?

–Uh, little acronym issue there.

–Right. Hmmm. The Informal Anarchist Federation?

–”Look out. The Informal Anarchist Federation is after you. Better institute dress-down Fridays.” Why not the Business Casual Anarchist Federation? The Half-Baked Anarchist Federation …

–Holy cow! I’m about to the miss the mailman. I’ve got to post this letter bomb by noon.

–See what happens when you waste time collaborating as fellow citizens?

–Informal going once, twice …

–Fine. Thank goodness our names aren’t attached to this thing.

–After this, I say we go back to the old A in the circle.

–Sure. Because anarchism is all about tradition and institutions and safe symbols, isn’t it. Wouldn’t want to think for ourselves, would we …

–Logging off, Bob.

Read Less

The 2011 Economy and Obama’s Political Fate

Newly released data show that home prices across 20 major metropolitan areas fell 1.3 percent in October from September, the third straight month-over-month drop. Many economists expect the decline to continue into at least next spring, erasing most of the gains made since prices bottomed out in early 2008. “This looks like a double-dip [in housing],” according to David Blitzter, chairman of the Standard & Poor’s index committee. “Somebody who thought last year that it’s going to be straight up from here was wrong.”

For every dollar decline in housing wealth, consumers reduce spending by about a nickel in the subsequent 18 months, according to Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com.

Falling housing prices, then, while not necessarily derailing a recovery, can mitigate one.

Whether the housing market will recover by 2012 is unclear. But we do know this: objective economic conditions will largely determine Mr. Obama’s political fate. If the economy continues to struggle and stagger — if housing prices continue to fall, if unemployment continues to remain high, and if growth continues to be sluggish — the president will find himself in a perilous situation. And all the talk about his “comeback” and how successful he was during the lame-duck session of Congress will evaporate like the morning mist.

Many people forget that when unemployment was above 10 percent, Ronald Reagan — the Great Communicator — was deeply unpopular and considered by many Americans to be out of touch, dogmatic, and easily defeatable. He won a landslide re-election in 1984 because in 1983 the economy took off like a rocket. If it hadn’t, the Morning in America theme would have been a bust.

This doesn’t mean that other factors beyond the economy won’t come into play in 2012. Presidential elections are decided by a cluster of things; some of them are objective conditions, while others have to do with subjective impressions. ObamaCare will continue to be a focal point of attention. And events we cannot now anticipate will arise; how the president responds will matter a great deal.

Still, the optics of how the president ended 2010 — whether he has regained political momentum or not — will matter hardly at all. The political narrative will shift dozens of times between now and the 2012 election. And as almost every president before him has discovered, Mr. Obama will find that the state of the American economy will play a significant, and perhaps a decisive, role in his re-election prospects.

Newly released data show that home prices across 20 major metropolitan areas fell 1.3 percent in October from September, the third straight month-over-month drop. Many economists expect the decline to continue into at least next spring, erasing most of the gains made since prices bottomed out in early 2008. “This looks like a double-dip [in housing],” according to David Blitzter, chairman of the Standard & Poor’s index committee. “Somebody who thought last year that it’s going to be straight up from here was wrong.”

For every dollar decline in housing wealth, consumers reduce spending by about a nickel in the subsequent 18 months, according to Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com.

Falling housing prices, then, while not necessarily derailing a recovery, can mitigate one.

Whether the housing market will recover by 2012 is unclear. But we do know this: objective economic conditions will largely determine Mr. Obama’s political fate. If the economy continues to struggle and stagger — if housing prices continue to fall, if unemployment continues to remain high, and if growth continues to be sluggish — the president will find himself in a perilous situation. And all the talk about his “comeback” and how successful he was during the lame-duck session of Congress will evaporate like the morning mist.

Many people forget that when unemployment was above 10 percent, Ronald Reagan — the Great Communicator — was deeply unpopular and considered by many Americans to be out of touch, dogmatic, and easily defeatable. He won a landslide re-election in 1984 because in 1983 the economy took off like a rocket. If it hadn’t, the Morning in America theme would have been a bust.

This doesn’t mean that other factors beyond the economy won’t come into play in 2012. Presidential elections are decided by a cluster of things; some of them are objective conditions, while others have to do with subjective impressions. ObamaCare will continue to be a focal point of attention. And events we cannot now anticipate will arise; how the president responds will matter a great deal.

Still, the optics of how the president ended 2010 — whether he has regained political momentum or not — will matter hardly at all. The political narrative will shift dozens of times between now and the 2012 election. And as almost every president before him has discovered, Mr. Obama will find that the state of the American economy will play a significant, and perhaps a decisive, role in his re-election prospects.

Read Less

The War in Afghanistan Is Part of the Larger Struggle Against Global Terrorism

When I recently participated in an Intelligence Squared US debate about Afghanistan, my debate partner, terrorism expert Peter Bergen (who, like me, argued that it’s not a lost cause), was practically hooted off the stage by a skeptical audience when he said there was not much difference between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Now his insight is confirmed by U.S. intelligence reporting.

As described in the New York Times, “New intelligence assessments from the region assert that insurgent factions now are setting aside their historic rivalries to behave like ‘a syndicate,’ joining forces in ways not seen before.” The elements of the “syndicate” cited are the Quetta Shura Taliban led by Mullah Omar, the Haqqani Network, and HiG (Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin), which are increasingly cooperating to stage attacks in Afghanistan from their safe havens in Pakistan. But all three have close links to other jihadist groups based in Pakistan, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehrik-i-Taliban (aka the Pakistan Taliban), and, lest we forget, al-Qaeda. An American officer quoted by the Times does a good job of summing up the state of play among the jihadists:

“This is actually a syndicate of related and associated militant groups and networks, Trying to parse them, as if they have firewalls in between them, is really kind of silly. They cooperate with each other. They franchise work with each other.”

If that’s the case — and the preponderance of intelligence reporting certainly points in that direction — then it’s silly to disassociate the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, as so many critics of the war effort do, from the broader struggle against jihadist groups bent on inflicting serious harm on America and on our allies. There are real differences among the jihadist groups, but there is also a growing commonality of tactics and purpose. The war in Afghanistan is part of a broader struggle — a global war — that we must win not only to safeguard distant allies but also our own territory.

When I recently participated in an Intelligence Squared US debate about Afghanistan, my debate partner, terrorism expert Peter Bergen (who, like me, argued that it’s not a lost cause), was practically hooted off the stage by a skeptical audience when he said there was not much difference between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Now his insight is confirmed by U.S. intelligence reporting.

As described in the New York Times, “New intelligence assessments from the region assert that insurgent factions now are setting aside their historic rivalries to behave like ‘a syndicate,’ joining forces in ways not seen before.” The elements of the “syndicate” cited are the Quetta Shura Taliban led by Mullah Omar, the Haqqani Network, and HiG (Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin), which are increasingly cooperating to stage attacks in Afghanistan from their safe havens in Pakistan. But all three have close links to other jihadist groups based in Pakistan, including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehrik-i-Taliban (aka the Pakistan Taliban), and, lest we forget, al-Qaeda. An American officer quoted by the Times does a good job of summing up the state of play among the jihadists:

“This is actually a syndicate of related and associated militant groups and networks, Trying to parse them, as if they have firewalls in between them, is really kind of silly. They cooperate with each other. They franchise work with each other.”

If that’s the case — and the preponderance of intelligence reporting certainly points in that direction — then it’s silly to disassociate the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, as so many critics of the war effort do, from the broader struggle against jihadist groups bent on inflicting serious harm on America and on our allies. There are real differences among the jihadist groups, but there is also a growing commonality of tactics and purpose. The war in Afghanistan is part of a broader struggle — a global war — that we must win not only to safeguard distant allies but also our own territory.

Read Less

Dogma and the New Progressives

Peter Berkowitz is one of the finest thinkers and writers on the scene today. He proves this again with his essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011” in the December/January issue of Policy Review.

Berkowitz, in analyzing what he calls the “new progressives,” helps explain one of the distinguishing features of the Obama presidency: its disdain for the people’s preferences and the lengths to which Mr. Obama goes to disguise his elitism and contempt for the views of the public.

In describing President Obama, Berkowitz writes this:

Confidence that one possesses the complete and final understanding of morals and politics can encourage a politician to think of himself as a transformer and redeemer rather than as a statesman. It can impel a president confronting dramatic electoral backlash to attribute opposition to his party and his programs to a fear that blinds voters to “facts and science and argument.” And it can drive him to rouse loyalists to adopt the ancient warriors’ ethic and declare, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” One reason that progressives under pressure so readily succumb to the common temptation to deride voters who disagree with them as frightened and foolish and to portray fellow citizens as adversaries to be vanquished is that progressive assumptions about knowledge and politics make such conclusions about those who decline to follow their lead hard to escape.

Berkowitz goes on to write that the “dogma embedded in the new progressivism, that it has transcended the legitimate and enduring divisions between left and right, is a potent mix of partisan self-deception and academic rationalization. It signifies not progress, but a dangerous decline.”

Mr. Berkowitz does not pretend to have provided a Unified Field Theory to explain Barack Obama. But his essay does help enlighten the public to what animates the president and many of his allies. It’s an impressive and persuasive case Berkowitz has made. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

Peter Berkowitz is one of the finest thinkers and writers on the scene today. He proves this again with his essay “Obama and the State of Progressivism, 2011” in the December/January issue of Policy Review.

Berkowitz, in analyzing what he calls the “new progressives,” helps explain one of the distinguishing features of the Obama presidency: its disdain for the people’s preferences and the lengths to which Mr. Obama goes to disguise his elitism and contempt for the views of the public.

In describing President Obama, Berkowitz writes this:

Confidence that one possesses the complete and final understanding of morals and politics can encourage a politician to think of himself as a transformer and redeemer rather than as a statesman. It can impel a president confronting dramatic electoral backlash to attribute opposition to his party and his programs to a fear that blinds voters to “facts and science and argument.” And it can drive him to rouse loyalists to adopt the ancient warriors’ ethic and declare, “We’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” One reason that progressives under pressure so readily succumb to the common temptation to deride voters who disagree with them as frightened and foolish and to portray fellow citizens as adversaries to be vanquished is that progressive assumptions about knowledge and politics make such conclusions about those who decline to follow their lead hard to escape.

Berkowitz goes on to write that the “dogma embedded in the new progressivism, that it has transcended the legitimate and enduring divisions between left and right, is a potent mix of partisan self-deception and academic rationalization. It signifies not progress, but a dangerous decline.”

Mr. Berkowitz does not pretend to have provided a Unified Field Theory to explain Barack Obama. But his essay does help enlighten the public to what animates the president and many of his allies. It’s an impressive and persuasive case Berkowitz has made. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

Read Less

Not So Fast with the “1962” Allusions

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

Read Less

Obama Takes Moral Step Backward in Treatment of Suspected Terrorists

“No part of President Obama’s agenda has been as thoroughly repudiated as the one regarding terrorist detainees,” the Wall Street Journal has editorialized. That verdict seems reasonable given Mr. Obama’s unfulfilled pledge to close Guantanamo Bay, the administration’s reversal of the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan, and the near acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani in a civilian trial earlier this year.

But the editorial also reports this: White House aides say they are working up an executive order to allow the U.S. to hold enemy combatants indefinitely. “One reason Mr. Obama has been forced to allow indefinite detention is because he seems unwilling to allow more military commission trials at Guantanamo,” according to the Journal.

That is an extraordinary turn of events. Mr. Obama ran for president by lacerating his predecessor for acting in ways that were, he said, lawless and unconstitutional, in violation of basic human rights, and an affront to international law, and in ways that discredited and disgraced America’s name around the globe. And now we learn that Mr. Upholder of International Law himself, Barack Obama, is going to continue his policy of holding enemy combatants indefinitely.

At least the Bush policy of military tribunals, which was based on wartime precedent and previous Supreme Court rulings, allowed suspects a lawyer and a trial by jury. When in 2006 the Supreme Court struck down military tribunals (in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld), the Bush administration and Congress effectively rewrote the law, passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The administration was trying to find the right balance between indefinite detention on the one hand and not providing suspected terrorists with the full array of constitutional rights an American citizen possesses on the other. (The Supreme Court’s 2008 terribly misguided ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which for the first time in our history conferred a constitutional right to habeas corpus to alien enemies detained abroad by our military force in an ongoing war, made striking this balance far more complicated.)

President Obama, because he appears unwilling to allow military commission trials at Guantanamo, seems to have settled on indefinite detention. This is a significant moral step backward.

Under the Obama regime, suspected terrorists have no rights and no recourse. It also means that terrorists who deserve to be convicted and punished for their malevolent acts will avoid that judgment. In the withering words of the Journal editorial, “Nazis Hermann Goering and Adolf Eichmann were sentenced to hang for their crimes, but KSM and Ramzi bin al Shibh get three squares a day and the hope that someday they might be released.”

Even allowing for the fact that governing is a good deal more difficult than issuing campaign promises, the Obama administration’s incompetence is striking, its course of action indefensible. The president has once again made a hash of things.

“No part of President Obama’s agenda has been as thoroughly repudiated as the one regarding terrorist detainees,” the Wall Street Journal has editorialized. That verdict seems reasonable given Mr. Obama’s unfulfilled pledge to close Guantanamo Bay, the administration’s reversal of the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan, and the near acquittal of Ahmed Ghailani in a civilian trial earlier this year.

But the editorial also reports this: White House aides say they are working up an executive order to allow the U.S. to hold enemy combatants indefinitely. “One reason Mr. Obama has been forced to allow indefinite detention is because he seems unwilling to allow more military commission trials at Guantanamo,” according to the Journal.

That is an extraordinary turn of events. Mr. Obama ran for president by lacerating his predecessor for acting in ways that were, he said, lawless and unconstitutional, in violation of basic human rights, and an affront to international law, and in ways that discredited and disgraced America’s name around the globe. And now we learn that Mr. Upholder of International Law himself, Barack Obama, is going to continue his policy of holding enemy combatants indefinitely.

At least the Bush policy of military tribunals, which was based on wartime precedent and previous Supreme Court rulings, allowed suspects a lawyer and a trial by jury. When in 2006 the Supreme Court struck down military tribunals (in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld), the Bush administration and Congress effectively rewrote the law, passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The administration was trying to find the right balance between indefinite detention on the one hand and not providing suspected terrorists with the full array of constitutional rights an American citizen possesses on the other. (The Supreme Court’s 2008 terribly misguided ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, which for the first time in our history conferred a constitutional right to habeas corpus to alien enemies detained abroad by our military force in an ongoing war, made striking this balance far more complicated.)

President Obama, because he appears unwilling to allow military commission trials at Guantanamo, seems to have settled on indefinite detention. This is a significant moral step backward.

Under the Obama regime, suspected terrorists have no rights and no recourse. It also means that terrorists who deserve to be convicted and punished for their malevolent acts will avoid that judgment. In the withering words of the Journal editorial, “Nazis Hermann Goering and Adolf Eichmann were sentenced to hang for their crimes, but KSM and Ramzi bin al Shibh get three squares a day and the hope that someday they might be released.”

Even allowing for the fact that governing is a good deal more difficult than issuing campaign promises, the Obama administration’s incompetence is striking, its course of action indefensible. The president has once again made a hash of things.

Read Less

Why FOX Is Crowing

The 2010 cable news ratings are in — and it was an unprecedented rout.

FOX News has the top dozen rated shows on cable news. Thirteen FOX News programs draw more than 1 million viewers; three draw more than 2 million; and one program, The O’Reilly Factor, draws more than 3 million. In fact, the 11:00 p.m. repeat of The O’Reilly Factor, which ranks eighth (1.41 million viewers), easily outdistanced the top-rated program on MSNBC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, which ranked 13th (1.035 million viewers).

CNN’s top-rated show, Larry King Live, finished at number 18 (672,000 viewers). Things were so bad for CNN in 2010 that Nancy Grace of Headline News ranked ahead of King, who has now retired from his nightly hosting duties.

The genius of Roger Ailes is that he not only brought the network to the top but, once there, continued to build on its dominance. We’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s no wonder that FOX News provokes such envy and animus from its competitors. They not only can’t beat FOX News; they can hardly compete with it anymore.

The 2010 cable news ratings are in — and it was an unprecedented rout.

FOX News has the top dozen rated shows on cable news. Thirteen FOX News programs draw more than 1 million viewers; three draw more than 2 million; and one program, The O’Reilly Factor, draws more than 3 million. In fact, the 11:00 p.m. repeat of The O’Reilly Factor, which ranks eighth (1.41 million viewers), easily outdistanced the top-rated program on MSNBC, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, which ranked 13th (1.035 million viewers).

CNN’s top-rated show, Larry King Live, finished at number 18 (672,000 viewers). Things were so bad for CNN in 2010 that Nancy Grace of Headline News ranked ahead of King, who has now retired from his nightly hosting duties.

The genius of Roger Ailes is that he not only brought the network to the top but, once there, continued to build on its dominance. We’ve never seen anything quite like this. It’s no wonder that FOX News provokes such envy and animus from its competitors. They not only can’t beat FOX News; they can hardly compete with it anymore.

Read Less

EU Prepares to Repeat Its Cyprus Mistake in the Middle East

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

If insanity means doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then many leading European officials are certifiably insane.

A new WikiLeaks cable reveals that in January 2010, then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner proposed that the West promise “to recognize a Palestinian state within a defined timeline, regardless of the outcome of negotiations.” Nor is he alone. This month, 26 former senior European officials, including several former presidents and prime ministers, advocated recognizing a Palestinian state as an alternative to negotiations. And in July 2009, then-EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana proposed that the UN Security Council set a deadline for negotiations, and then, if no agreement were reached, dictate its own final-status arrangement and recognize a Palestinian state in those parameters.

But the EU has tried unilateral recognition before, in Cyprus. And it proved disastrous.

In April 2004, Cyprus voted on a UN-brokered deal to reunite its Greek and Turkish halves. The deal overwhelmingly favored the Greeks: it required Turks to cede 22 percent of their territory after evicting all Turkish residents; let half the 200,000 Greek refugees return to their former homes in Turkish Cyprus; and gave Greeks a two-thirds majority on the united island’s presidential council. Yet 75 percent of Greeks rejected the deal, while 65 percent of Turks approved it.

Why? Because Greek Cyprus was promised immediate EU membership regardless of how it voted, while Turkish Cyprus was offered admission only if both Turks and Greeks approved the deal. Since the Greeks would pay no penalty for voting no, they had every incentive to hold out for an even better deal. Specifically, they wanted all their refugees returned to Turkish Cyprus, so they could outnumber and outvote Turks even in the federation’s Turkish half.

But the decision to admit Greek Cyprus regardless didn’t just scuttle the peace deal. Next, it destroyed the credibility of EU promises because Greek Cyprus, now a member, vetoed promised moves to ease the Turkish half’s economic isolation in reward for its vote. Then it scuttled accession negotiations with Turkey because Nicosia quickly vetoed further progress due to its ongoing dispute with Ankara over Turkish Cyprus — a rejection some have blamed for Turkey’s subsequent turn eastward. Finally, it effectively killed EU-NATO cooperation because NATO member Turkey won’t recognize EU member Cyprus until the Cyprus dispute is resolved, and therefore vetoes cooperative initiatives.

The EU’s Palestine plan would clearly have the same result. By promising recognition without negotiations, it would certainly scuttle any chance of peace: if Palestinians can get most of what they want without an agreement and still keep agitating for the rest, they would have no incentive to make any concessions, even on such deal breakers as the “right of return.”

But since Israelis and Palestinians, unlike Greek and Turkish Cypriots, aren’t already separated into two de facto states, it might also spark a war — thereby fomenting precisely the kind of bloodshed that Europeans claim to want to prevent. In short, the consequences could be even worse than they were in Cyprus.

Unfortunately, the EU seems incapable of learning from past mistakes. And Israelis and Palestinians will pay the price.

Read Less

What the Assange Book Deal Supports

In a previous post, I expressed outrage that two supposedly reputable publishers–Random House and Canongate–were planning to fork over more than a million bucks to the odious Julian Assange to write his memoirs. I’d like to emphasize the sort of sleazy action they are subsidizing by drawing attention to this Guardian story, alluded to in today’s Afternoon Commentary:

Zimbabwe is to investigate bringing treason charges against the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, and other individuals over confidential talks with US diplomats revealed by Wikileaks….. A cable dated 24 December 2009 suggested Tsvangirai privately insisted sanctions “must be kept in place”.

High treason in Zimbabwe can result in the death penalty.

This is typical of WikiLeaks’ impact. Far from showing any nefarious doings by the U.S. government, which Assange seems to hate so much, his stolen documents actually show U.S. diplomats simply doing their jobs by meeting with various people around the world–including people who would rather not see their dealings with America revealed to their enemies. Yet reveal them Assange does, not caring, apparently, about the impact of his revelations, whether they cause embarrassment or imprisonment or even death.

Perhaps with December 31 approaching Bertelesmann execs might make a New Year’s resolution: We resolve next year not to subsidize evil authors. That might even be easier to keep than the usual weight-loss resolutions.

In a previous post, I expressed outrage that two supposedly reputable publishers–Random House and Canongate–were planning to fork over more than a million bucks to the odious Julian Assange to write his memoirs. I’d like to emphasize the sort of sleazy action they are subsidizing by drawing attention to this Guardian story, alluded to in today’s Afternoon Commentary:

Zimbabwe is to investigate bringing treason charges against the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, and other individuals over confidential talks with US diplomats revealed by Wikileaks….. A cable dated 24 December 2009 suggested Tsvangirai privately insisted sanctions “must be kept in place”.

High treason in Zimbabwe can result in the death penalty.

This is typical of WikiLeaks’ impact. Far from showing any nefarious doings by the U.S. government, which Assange seems to hate so much, his stolen documents actually show U.S. diplomats simply doing their jobs by meeting with various people around the world–including people who would rather not see their dealings with America revealed to their enemies. Yet reveal them Assange does, not caring, apparently, about the impact of his revelations, whether they cause embarrassment or imprisonment or even death.

Perhaps with December 31 approaching Bertelesmann execs might make a New Year’s resolution: We resolve next year not to subsidize evil authors. That might even be easier to keep than the usual weight-loss resolutions.

Read Less

Open Minds Open Wallets

The AP has a story about how American businesses are now looking to market products to Muslim consumers:

The worldwide market for Islamically permitted goods, called halal, has grown to more than half a billion dollars annually. Ritually slaughtered meat is a mainstay, but the halal industry is much broader, including foods and seasoning that omit alcohol, pork products and other forbidden ingredients, along with cosmetics, finance and clothing.

Corporations have been courting immigrant Muslim communities in Europe for several years. Nestle, for example, has about 20 factories in Europe with halal-certified production lines and advertises to Western Muslims through its marketing campaign called “Taste of Home.” Nestle plans to increase its ethnic and halal offerings in Europe in coming years.

In the United States, iconic American companies such as McDonald’s (which already has a popular halal menu overseas) and Wal-Mart have entered the halal arena. In August, the natural grocery giant Whole Foods began selling its first nationally distributed halal food product — frozen Indian entrees called Saffron Road.

There is no reason to think that Muslims, in themselves, represent a uniquely promising niche market. What’s happening here is subtler. It’s about branding, not selling. Companies want to be seen by all potential consumers as being socially aware, on the side of the good guys, and behind fashionable causes. Four years ago, with An Inconvenient Truth dominating the culture, this meant offering bottles with 20 percent less plastic or toilet paper made from 100 percent recycled paper. But the market is turbulent and with the increased discrediting of global-warming alarmism, the popularity of green brands has taken a measurable hit.  Today, with cover stories apologizing for American Islamophobia, being a compassionate corporation means offering halal frozen dinners and Islamic themed fabric patterns. In case it escapes the average consumer that these companies are brave and compassionate beyond measure, the AP story is peppered with ridiculous allusions to the “risks” these right-thinking businesses are incurring. It goes without saying that the planet was no more doomed to heat up than American Muslims are threatened by their neighbors. Under the guise of the great American tradition of equality, these companies are capitalizing on the great American tradition of PR. They got this story out of it, didn’t they?

The AP has a story about how American businesses are now looking to market products to Muslim consumers:

The worldwide market for Islamically permitted goods, called halal, has grown to more than half a billion dollars annually. Ritually slaughtered meat is a mainstay, but the halal industry is much broader, including foods and seasoning that omit alcohol, pork products and other forbidden ingredients, along with cosmetics, finance and clothing.

Corporations have been courting immigrant Muslim communities in Europe for several years. Nestle, for example, has about 20 factories in Europe with halal-certified production lines and advertises to Western Muslims through its marketing campaign called “Taste of Home.” Nestle plans to increase its ethnic and halal offerings in Europe in coming years.

In the United States, iconic American companies such as McDonald’s (which already has a popular halal menu overseas) and Wal-Mart have entered the halal arena. In August, the natural grocery giant Whole Foods began selling its first nationally distributed halal food product — frozen Indian entrees called Saffron Road.

There is no reason to think that Muslims, in themselves, represent a uniquely promising niche market. What’s happening here is subtler. It’s about branding, not selling. Companies want to be seen by all potential consumers as being socially aware, on the side of the good guys, and behind fashionable causes. Four years ago, with An Inconvenient Truth dominating the culture, this meant offering bottles with 20 percent less plastic or toilet paper made from 100 percent recycled paper. But the market is turbulent and with the increased discrediting of global-warming alarmism, the popularity of green brands has taken a measurable hit.  Today, with cover stories apologizing for American Islamophobia, being a compassionate corporation means offering halal frozen dinners and Islamic themed fabric patterns. In case it escapes the average consumer that these companies are brave and compassionate beyond measure, the AP story is peppered with ridiculous allusions to the “risks” these right-thinking businesses are incurring. It goes without saying that the planet was no more doomed to heat up than American Muslims are threatened by their neighbors. Under the guise of the great American tradition of equality, these companies are capitalizing on the great American tradition of PR. They got this story out of it, didn’t they?

Read Less

Good Thing Bush the Unilateralist Is Gone

Now the Democrats can focus on rebuilding all those broken international alliances. Here’s Barney Frank doing his part, earlier today: “And the liberal community’s got to focus more on Afghanistan, Iraq, NATO,” he said. “NATO is a great drain on our treasury and serves no strategic purpose.”

Does he know how to reassure our skittish friends or what?

Now the Democrats can focus on rebuilding all those broken international alliances. Here’s Barney Frank doing his part, earlier today: “And the liberal community’s got to focus more on Afghanistan, Iraq, NATO,” he said. “NATO is a great drain on our treasury and serves no strategic purpose.”

Does he know how to reassure our skittish friends or what?

Read Less

Maliki’s Confidence

I am not terribly surprised that Prime Minister Maliki says in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t want U.S. troops in Iraq after 2010. He has never been particularly keen on the American military presence and he has long had exaggerated ideas about the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to control the country on their own. He was at best a reluctant supporter of the surge in 2007, and that mainly because of all the pressure applied to him by President Bush, General Petraeus, and Ambassador Crocker.

If he is anything Maliki is a staunch Iraqi nationalist, which suggests that he is right that an American departure will not simply allow Iran to dominate Iraq — but Iranian influence will certainly grow without an American counterbalance.

In fairness, Maliki’s faith in his country has been to some extent vindicated since 2008. The original plan for Iraq — as they stand up, we will stand down — was misguided as violence climbed from 2003 to 2007, but it has actually worked out pretty well since the success of the surge. But there are still 50,000 U.S. troops in the country. Will the Iraqi Security Forces get the support and training they need if the figure is down to zero, or close to it, by the end of 2010? And, more importantly, will the various sectarian groups avoid clashes in the absence of American peacekeepers? I don’t know the answer to those questions but I do know that the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Jim Jeffrey, is painting an overly rosey scenario with this claim reported in the Journal:

In a briefing for Western reporters last week, Mr. Jeffrey said that despite the requirement to pull out all American troops at the end of 2011, the framework document and other agreements between Baghdad and Washington contain “a very robust security agenda.”

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad will house a “significantly sized” office aimed at security cooperation, Mr. Jeffrey said, comprised of about 80 to 90 military personnel that would take over most of the current functions of the U.S. military in advising, assisting, training and equipping Iraqi forces.

Will 80-90 military personnel, plus an unspecified number of contractors, really be able to fill the gap left by the departure of 50,000 U.S. troops? Count me as skeptical. If such a wholesale departure of U.S. troops does occur, Iraq will face stiff challenges. It may very well surmount those obstacles, but I would be more confident in its future, as I have said before, if there were a substantial and longterm American presence just as there has been in Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

I am not terribly surprised that Prime Minister Maliki says in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t want U.S. troops in Iraq after 2010. He has never been particularly keen on the American military presence and he has long had exaggerated ideas about the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to control the country on their own. He was at best a reluctant supporter of the surge in 2007, and that mainly because of all the pressure applied to him by President Bush, General Petraeus, and Ambassador Crocker.

If he is anything Maliki is a staunch Iraqi nationalist, which suggests that he is right that an American departure will not simply allow Iran to dominate Iraq — but Iranian influence will certainly grow without an American counterbalance.

In fairness, Maliki’s faith in his country has been to some extent vindicated since 2008. The original plan for Iraq — as they stand up, we will stand down — was misguided as violence climbed from 2003 to 2007, but it has actually worked out pretty well since the success of the surge. But there are still 50,000 U.S. troops in the country. Will the Iraqi Security Forces get the support and training they need if the figure is down to zero, or close to it, by the end of 2010? And, more importantly, will the various sectarian groups avoid clashes in the absence of American peacekeepers? I don’t know the answer to those questions but I do know that the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Jim Jeffrey, is painting an overly rosey scenario with this claim reported in the Journal:

In a briefing for Western reporters last week, Mr. Jeffrey said that despite the requirement to pull out all American troops at the end of 2011, the framework document and other agreements between Baghdad and Washington contain “a very robust security agenda.”

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad will house a “significantly sized” office aimed at security cooperation, Mr. Jeffrey said, comprised of about 80 to 90 military personnel that would take over most of the current functions of the U.S. military in advising, assisting, training and equipping Iraqi forces.

Will 80-90 military personnel, plus an unspecified number of contractors, really be able to fill the gap left by the departure of 50,000 U.S. troops? Count me as skeptical. If such a wholesale departure of U.S. troops does occur, Iraq will face stiff challenges. It may very well surmount those obstacles, but I would be more confident in its future, as I have said before, if there were a substantial and longterm American presence just as there has been in Germany, Japan, and South Korea.

Read Less

Afternoon Commentary

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

Read Less

Chris Christie Makes His First Mistake

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has led a largely charmed life since taking office in January. In the year since he defeated incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, he has become the darling of conservatives who applaud his take-no-prisoners style in dealing with all comers and become a hit on YouTube with videos showing him taking on the press and the teachers unions. Last week he was afforded a star turn on 60 Minutes, where he was able to lambast his predecessors and highlight the fact that contracts with public sector workers are bankrupting his state. Despite being a magnet for confrontation and controversy, Christie has avoided mistakes. That is, he did up until this past weekend when he left the state Sunday morning for a trip with his family to Disney World — just as a massive snowstorm was about to bury the state — and decided to stay there instead of coming home to direct the recovery.

Apparently, Christie has never heard of Tom Meskill, the Republican governor of Connecticut who decided to stay in Vermont on a ski vacation in 1974 while his state was slammed by a blizzard. Meskill never recovered from the hit to his reputation. And there are many other examples of political careers being buried in snow. But the statement issued by Christie’s office about his absence seemed not to realize that the governor had blundered:

Snow in the Northeast happens often, which is why the response was handled expeditiously between the acting governor, secretary of transportation, state police and governor’s staff with all the appropriate and necessary coordination. And like every other day, the governor was and continues to be in regular contact with his staff and cabinet officers.

While it’s true that “snow happens,” people expect their elected leaders to be on the scene and stay there during emergencies, whether it’s a snowstorm or a terror attack. While Christie’s “so what” attitude may be consistent with his general demeanor in office, it’s not enough to be on the phone coordinating things. The symbolism of sharing the experiences of other citizens and being on hand to show concern is an important aspect of leadership. Telling off your critics and not being intimidated by powerful groups is one thing. Acting as if the normal rules of political life don’t apply to you is quite another. It might be unfair to ask anyone to abandon what was, no doubt, a planned family vacation, just to be around during a snow emergency. But that comes with the territory when you choose to be governor of a state.

Christie also needs to take responsibility for the fact that his lieutenant governor was out of the state at the same time he was in Florida. While this was obviously a scheduling snafu, it left the state in the hands of the president of the State Senate, a Democrat, who behaved appropriately while in charge. New Jersey didn’t used to have a lieutenant governor but residents of the state are probably wondering why they bothered creating the post if they aren’t going to be around in the governor’s absence.

Fortunately for Christie, nothing terribly bad happened during the storm so perhaps this incident will not alter his image as a rising star. For all of the plaudits that have rightly come his way during the past year, we need to remember that this is Christie’s first major elected office and that he is, for all of his natural talent, still something of a novice. Rather than just arrogantly tossing this off as not his problem, he needs to recognize that he made a rookie mistake and that the next time he puts his personal agenda above his official responsibilities, he might not be so lucky.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has led a largely charmed life since taking office in January. In the year since he defeated incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine, he has become the darling of conservatives who applaud his take-no-prisoners style in dealing with all comers and become a hit on YouTube with videos showing him taking on the press and the teachers unions. Last week he was afforded a star turn on 60 Minutes, where he was able to lambast his predecessors and highlight the fact that contracts with public sector workers are bankrupting his state. Despite being a magnet for confrontation and controversy, Christie has avoided mistakes. That is, he did up until this past weekend when he left the state Sunday morning for a trip with his family to Disney World — just as a massive snowstorm was about to bury the state — and decided to stay there instead of coming home to direct the recovery.

Apparently, Christie has never heard of Tom Meskill, the Republican governor of Connecticut who decided to stay in Vermont on a ski vacation in 1974 while his state was slammed by a blizzard. Meskill never recovered from the hit to his reputation. And there are many other examples of political careers being buried in snow. But the statement issued by Christie’s office about his absence seemed not to realize that the governor had blundered:

Snow in the Northeast happens often, which is why the response was handled expeditiously between the acting governor, secretary of transportation, state police and governor’s staff with all the appropriate and necessary coordination. And like every other day, the governor was and continues to be in regular contact with his staff and cabinet officers.

While it’s true that “snow happens,” people expect their elected leaders to be on the scene and stay there during emergencies, whether it’s a snowstorm or a terror attack. While Christie’s “so what” attitude may be consistent with his general demeanor in office, it’s not enough to be on the phone coordinating things. The symbolism of sharing the experiences of other citizens and being on hand to show concern is an important aspect of leadership. Telling off your critics and not being intimidated by powerful groups is one thing. Acting as if the normal rules of political life don’t apply to you is quite another. It might be unfair to ask anyone to abandon what was, no doubt, a planned family vacation, just to be around during a snow emergency. But that comes with the territory when you choose to be governor of a state.

Christie also needs to take responsibility for the fact that his lieutenant governor was out of the state at the same time he was in Florida. While this was obviously a scheduling snafu, it left the state in the hands of the president of the State Senate, a Democrat, who behaved appropriately while in charge. New Jersey didn’t used to have a lieutenant governor but residents of the state are probably wondering why they bothered creating the post if they aren’t going to be around in the governor’s absence.

Fortunately for Christie, nothing terribly bad happened during the storm so perhaps this incident will not alter his image as a rising star. For all of the plaudits that have rightly come his way during the past year, we need to remember that this is Christie’s first major elected office and that he is, for all of his natural talent, still something of a novice. Rather than just arrogantly tossing this off as not his problem, he needs to recognize that he made a rookie mistake and that the next time he puts his personal agenda above his official responsibilities, he might not be so lucky.

Read Less

How Obama Could Louse Up the Obama-Comeback Story

We are going to hear, over the next few months, that Barack Obama has staged a dramatic comeback. The story line began last week, with his string of bill signings, and will continue when the fourth-quarter economic numbers show an improved growth rate (maybe up to 3 percent) with expectations of more to come in the first quarter of next year. He has now established, whether honestly or not, that he can work with Republicans, etc. etc. It will be the mainstream media meme to end all mainstream media memes.

That’s fine, and good for him, but here’s the truth: We also judge presidents based on how they react in unexpected and unanticipated situations — when the oil well explodes in the waters off Louisiana, when the Republican is elected in Massachusetts to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, when somebody announces something about apartment construction in East Jerusalem, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians take to the streets. Nothing that’s happened since the election should give us any reason to believe that the gut-instinct way Obama reacts to difficulties, setbacks, or disappointments has changed. He seems split between remaining almost affectless (as in the month or so post-Deepwater) and overly angry (his post-election press conference, and the press conference after the tax-cut deal in which he called Republicans hostage takers and Democrats sanctimonious).

Sure, when he gets his way, he’s all smiles and bonhomie, but that’s not going to be the hand he’s dealt next year either domestically or in foreign affairs. He managed to pull off a few weeks of last-minute triumphs that have made him feel good and that do set him up far better than failure would have done. But he’s going to have to fight against his own nature to cope with the kinds of troubles that will be coming at him in the next year, and usually, troubles only deepen people’s core personalities, they don’t alter them.

We are going to hear, over the next few months, that Barack Obama has staged a dramatic comeback. The story line began last week, with his string of bill signings, and will continue when the fourth-quarter economic numbers show an improved growth rate (maybe up to 3 percent) with expectations of more to come in the first quarter of next year. He has now established, whether honestly or not, that he can work with Republicans, etc. etc. It will be the mainstream media meme to end all mainstream media memes.

That’s fine, and good for him, but here’s the truth: We also judge presidents based on how they react in unexpected and unanticipated situations — when the oil well explodes in the waters off Louisiana, when the Republican is elected in Massachusetts to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, when somebody announces something about apartment construction in East Jerusalem, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians take to the streets. Nothing that’s happened since the election should give us any reason to believe that the gut-instinct way Obama reacts to difficulties, setbacks, or disappointments has changed. He seems split between remaining almost affectless (as in the month or so post-Deepwater) and overly angry (his post-election press conference, and the press conference after the tax-cut deal in which he called Republicans hostage takers and Democrats sanctimonious).

Sure, when he gets his way, he’s all smiles and bonhomie, but that’s not going to be the hand he’s dealt next year either domestically or in foreign affairs. He managed to pull off a few weeks of last-minute triumphs that have made him feel good and that do set him up far better than failure would have done. But he’s going to have to fight against his own nature to cope with the kinds of troubles that will be coming at him in the next year, and usually, troubles only deepen people’s core personalities, they don’t alter them.

Read Less

Iran: Calculus Changing for the “Force Option”?

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

Read Less

More Progress in Afghanistan

The New York Times yesterday highlighted one of the more unsung good-news stories out of Afghanistan: the success that U.S. troops have been having in preventing catastrophic terrorist attacks in Kabul by the Haqqani Network. As reporter Eric Schmitt notes, the Haqqanis have been linked to the 2008 attacks against the Serena Hotel (which killed six) and Indian Embassy (which killed 58), but they “have not conducted a complicated attack in Kabul since a suicide bomber steered his explosives-laden Toyota minibus into an American convoy on May 18.”

U.S. commanders are naturally reluctant to publicly claim any kind of victory because they know that an attack could occur tomorrow but this is a testament to how effective the Joint Special Operations Command has been in targeting the Haqqani network with assistance of conventional American units. We should also not underestimate the contribution being made by Afghan security forces which police Kabul largely on their own. It has not gotten much attention but Gen. Petraeus has emphasized the need to secure the capital, where the largest concentration of the country’s population may be found, and then to expand the security zone outward. So far that plan is meeting with considerable success.

Which stands at odds with the UN findings, reported by the Wall Street Journal, which “show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year’s fighting season.” I am at a loss to explain how the UN can claim that things are getting worse when not only is Kabul much safer but so also are most of the key districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces targeted by coalition forces. Yes, there has been some deterioration in the north but it is nowhere as bad as the south had become–and it will never get as bad because the Taliban appeal only to Pashtuns and there are precious few in the north.

One partial explanation may be that the UN findings were made in October, thus ignoring at least two months of solid progress in the south. Another partial explanation may be that the UN is focusing on the uptick in fighting as coalition troops go into insurgent strong havens–rather than the result, which is less Taliban control. The early stages of any offensive always look messy; they certainly did in Iraq. And no doubt the UN was reporting in 2007 that the security situation was deteriorating in Iraq. But that was the price of breaking the insurgent grip. Something similar is happening now in Afghanistan. We can only hope the results will be as positive as they were in Iraq.

The New York Times yesterday highlighted one of the more unsung good-news stories out of Afghanistan: the success that U.S. troops have been having in preventing catastrophic terrorist attacks in Kabul by the Haqqani Network. As reporter Eric Schmitt notes, the Haqqanis have been linked to the 2008 attacks against the Serena Hotel (which killed six) and Indian Embassy (which killed 58), but they “have not conducted a complicated attack in Kabul since a suicide bomber steered his explosives-laden Toyota minibus into an American convoy on May 18.”

U.S. commanders are naturally reluctant to publicly claim any kind of victory because they know that an attack could occur tomorrow but this is a testament to how effective the Joint Special Operations Command has been in targeting the Haqqani network with assistance of conventional American units. We should also not underestimate the contribution being made by Afghan security forces which police Kabul largely on their own. It has not gotten much attention but Gen. Petraeus has emphasized the need to secure the capital, where the largest concentration of the country’s population may be found, and then to expand the security zone outward. So far that plan is meeting with considerable success.

Which stands at odds with the UN findings, reported by the Wall Street Journal, which “show a marked deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan during this year’s fighting season.” I am at a loss to explain how the UN can claim that things are getting worse when not only is Kabul much safer but so also are most of the key districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces targeted by coalition forces. Yes, there has been some deterioration in the north but it is nowhere as bad as the south had become–and it will never get as bad because the Taliban appeal only to Pashtuns and there are precious few in the north.

One partial explanation may be that the UN findings were made in October, thus ignoring at least two months of solid progress in the south. Another partial explanation may be that the UN is focusing on the uptick in fighting as coalition troops go into insurgent strong havens–rather than the result, which is less Taliban control. The early stages of any offensive always look messy; they certainly did in Iraq. And no doubt the UN was reporting in 2007 that the security situation was deteriorating in Iraq. But that was the price of breaking the insurgent grip. Something similar is happening now in Afghanistan. We can only hope the results will be as positive as they were in Iraq.

Read Less

Investing in Assange

Julian Assange, out of jail on bail in England and last seen, deliciously, complaining that someone was unfairly leaking details of his rape case in Sweden, has now made news for another reason: He has reportedly received $1.3 million from Random House and a British publishing company, Canongate, to write his memoirs. He has pledged to use the money “to keep Wikileaks afloat.” That means that Canongate (an independenet publisher) and Random House (a division of the German giant Bertelesmann) are helping to subsidize WikiLeaks, an organization that traffics in stolen documents designed to hurt American foreign policy and anyone who cooperates with American officials–including British and German officials.

Their actions stand in sharp distinction to more responsible corporations such as Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, Facebook and Twitter that have cut off WikiLeaks because they do not want to be associated with its irresponsible and possibly criminal activities.

Where is the outrage? These publishers deserve, at the very least, considerable opprobrium for throwing a lifeline to the odious Julian Assange, an Internet vandal pursuing, by his own admission, an anti-American agenda. They should certainly be in the sights of the Justice Department as it contemplates legal action against Assange. At the very least prosecutors should plan to freeze and seize any payments to him. I wonder if there might not be a civil suit possible by one of Assange’s victims–someone who has been hurt by the publication of these confidential communications–who might be able to go after the publishers for a substantial award? That may only be wishful thinking on my part but certainly it would be nice if these publishing houses did not get away with their amoral decision to try to make money out of this scandal and in the process to enrich one of the world’s most disgusting cyber-preeners and -saboteurs.

Julian Assange, out of jail on bail in England and last seen, deliciously, complaining that someone was unfairly leaking details of his rape case in Sweden, has now made news for another reason: He has reportedly received $1.3 million from Random House and a British publishing company, Canongate, to write his memoirs. He has pledged to use the money “to keep Wikileaks afloat.” That means that Canongate (an independenet publisher) and Random House (a division of the German giant Bertelesmann) are helping to subsidize WikiLeaks, an organization that traffics in stolen documents designed to hurt American foreign policy and anyone who cooperates with American officials–including British and German officials.

Their actions stand in sharp distinction to more responsible corporations such as Visa, Mastercard, Paypal, Facebook and Twitter that have cut off WikiLeaks because they do not want to be associated with its irresponsible and possibly criminal activities.

Where is the outrage? These publishers deserve, at the very least, considerable opprobrium for throwing a lifeline to the odious Julian Assange, an Internet vandal pursuing, by his own admission, an anti-American agenda. They should certainly be in the sights of the Justice Department as it contemplates legal action against Assange. At the very least prosecutors should plan to freeze and seize any payments to him. I wonder if there might not be a civil suit possible by one of Assange’s victims–someone who has been hurt by the publication of these confidential communications–who might be able to go after the publishers for a substantial award? That may only be wishful thinking on my part but certainly it would be nice if these publishing houses did not get away with their amoral decision to try to make money out of this scandal and in the process to enrich one of the world’s most disgusting cyber-preeners and -saboteurs.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.