Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 21, 2011

Other Than That …

Near the end of a long front-page story in the Los Angeles Times regarding the Palestinian “prime minister,” the reporter noted that Salam Fayyad’s political fortunes “face a major test this summer, when his state-readiness campaign is slated to be completed by Aug. 26.” Fayyad insisted that the work can be completed on time and said he has “no Plan B.” On the other hand:

He acknowledged that there is major unfinished business, including weak courts, a nonfunctioning parliament and the absence of elections because of the split between Fatah and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. All of that, including the reunification of Fatah and Hamas, needs to be completed before Palestinians will be ready for statehood, he said.

In identifying the problem of “weak courts,” Fayyad knows whereof he speaks. In December, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the West Bank local elections had been illegally cancelled. But the court has no power to enforce its ruling, and Fayyad has ignored a letter to him from the Central Elections Commission regarding rescheduling.

So, other than establishing an independent judiciary; a functioning legislature; a unified political system; holding elections on a local, legislative, or presidential level; and dismantling the terrorist group that occupies half the putative state, the state-readiness effort is right on schedule.

Near the end of a long front-page story in the Los Angeles Times regarding the Palestinian “prime minister,” the reporter noted that Salam Fayyad’s political fortunes “face a major test this summer, when his state-readiness campaign is slated to be completed by Aug. 26.” Fayyad insisted that the work can be completed on time and said he has “no Plan B.” On the other hand:

He acknowledged that there is major unfinished business, including weak courts, a nonfunctioning parliament and the absence of elections because of the split between Fatah and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. All of that, including the reunification of Fatah and Hamas, needs to be completed before Palestinians will be ready for statehood, he said.

In identifying the problem of “weak courts,” Fayyad knows whereof he speaks. In December, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the West Bank local elections had been illegally cancelled. But the court has no power to enforce its ruling, and Fayyad has ignored a letter to him from the Central Elections Commission regarding rescheduling.

So, other than establishing an independent judiciary; a functioning legislature; a unified political system; holding elections on a local, legislative, or presidential level; and dismantling the terrorist group that occupies half the putative state, the state-readiness effort is right on schedule.

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Citizens United Protected Free Speech, Not the GOP

The one-year anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision is being treated in some quarters as a Republican triumph. According to this reading, the ruling that invalidated legislation that unconstitutionally attempted to restrict the political speech of groups was strictly a partisan affair. In this version of reality, the upshot of the 2010 election was that Republican and conservative organizations were freed up by the High Court’s spiking of provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill and therefore coasted to victory last November. Thus the spin today is that since the Democrats have no chance of undoing the Court’s decision via legislation, they must now retool their fundraising operations to adjust to the post–Citizens United world.

But this interpretation is entirely fallacious. Conservatives have historically opposed restrictive campaign-finance laws because they believed that attempts to silence political speech, such as the documentary film about Hilary Clinton that was at the heart of Citizens United, was inherently illegitimate. Campaign-finance “reform” laws have never, as their authors claim, eliminated the role of money in politics. But they did play favorites as to which kind of money was legal. Such good laws are good for incumbent politicians because they stifle challengers, and great for media companies, which are free to spout their views about candidates on their editorial pages and, alas, in their news columns as well, while restricting the right of others to purchase the same freedom.

But the main point here is that the focus on Citizens United allows liberals to engage in conspiracy theories about why they lost the last election rather than face up to the fact that the grassroots uprising against the policies of the Obama administration is what accounted for the GOP landslide victory in the congressional elections, not the money that some conservative groups were allowed to spend last year.

While Citizens United overturned regulations that were more likely to handicap conservative pro-business groups rather than liberal ones such as unions, the free flow of money in campaigns doesn’t necessarily mean either side will have an advantage in the future. Just as the Obama campaign broke records in 2008 by harnessing the enthusiasm of liberals, the lack of draconian regulations intended to silence free speech in the future will be no hindrance to the Democrats if they can manage to appear as the party with the answers again. That’s the thing about free speech: it allows the sentiments of the people, whether the pendulum has swung to the left or to the right, to be heard.

The Court’s verdict one year ago will continue to be felt not in terms of who wins the election in 2012 or any other year but in the ability of ordinary Americans to band together to speak out on the issues and the candidates. While at the moment that does not appear to appeal to many Democrats, it is the essence of democracy.

The one-year anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision is being treated in some quarters as a Republican triumph. According to this reading, the ruling that invalidated legislation that unconstitutionally attempted to restrict the political speech of groups was strictly a partisan affair. In this version of reality, the upshot of the 2010 election was that Republican and conservative organizations were freed up by the High Court’s spiking of provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill and therefore coasted to victory last November. Thus the spin today is that since the Democrats have no chance of undoing the Court’s decision via legislation, they must now retool their fundraising operations to adjust to the post–Citizens United world.

But this interpretation is entirely fallacious. Conservatives have historically opposed restrictive campaign-finance laws because they believed that attempts to silence political speech, such as the documentary film about Hilary Clinton that was at the heart of Citizens United, was inherently illegitimate. Campaign-finance “reform” laws have never, as their authors claim, eliminated the role of money in politics. But they did play favorites as to which kind of money was legal. Such good laws are good for incumbent politicians because they stifle challengers, and great for media companies, which are free to spout their views about candidates on their editorial pages and, alas, in their news columns as well, while restricting the right of others to purchase the same freedom.

But the main point here is that the focus on Citizens United allows liberals to engage in conspiracy theories about why they lost the last election rather than face up to the fact that the grassroots uprising against the policies of the Obama administration is what accounted for the GOP landslide victory in the congressional elections, not the money that some conservative groups were allowed to spend last year.

While Citizens United overturned regulations that were more likely to handicap conservative pro-business groups rather than liberal ones such as unions, the free flow of money in campaigns doesn’t necessarily mean either side will have an advantage in the future. Just as the Obama campaign broke records in 2008 by harnessing the enthusiasm of liberals, the lack of draconian regulations intended to silence free speech in the future will be no hindrance to the Democrats if they can manage to appear as the party with the answers again. That’s the thing about free speech: it allows the sentiments of the people, whether the pendulum has swung to the left or to the right, to be heard.

The Court’s verdict one year ago will continue to be felt not in terms of who wins the election in 2012 or any other year but in the ability of ordinary Americans to band together to speak out on the issues and the candidates. While at the moment that does not appear to appeal to many Democrats, it is the essence of democracy.

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Democracy and Homogeneity in Tunisia

As we try to determine the odds of a successful democracy in post-revolution Tunisia, it’s worth considering the question of ethnic and religious homogeneity. This quote jumped out from a Reuters story: “‘Tunisia is a small country but it has room for everyone and everyone’s ideas. They thought there would be chaos in Tunisia but we are united. We do not have Shi’ites, Christians, Jews. We are all Sunni Muslims and this unites us,’ worshipper Rida Harrathi told Reuters before Friday prayers.”

The argument that there’s room for everyone because everyone is the same sounds funny to American ears, but there’s actually a solid point here. In a wonderful COMMENTARY article from March 2000, James Q. Wilson identified homogeneity as one of four important conditions that have “underlain the emergence and survival of our oldest democracies.” (The other three being isolation, property, and tradition.) Wilson wrote the following:

Several democratic nations are today ethnically diverse, but at the time democracy was being established, that diversity was so limited that it could be safely ignored. England was an Anglo-Saxon nation; America, during its founding period, was overwhelmingly English; so also, by and large, were Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. . . . I am not suggesting that ethnic homogeneity is a good thing or ought to be preserved at any cost; nor am I denying that democracies can become ethnically heterogeneous. Certainly one of the great glories of the United States is to have become both vigorously democratic and ethnically diverse. But it is a rare accomplishment. Historically, and with few exceptions, the growth of democracy and of respect for human rights was made easier—often much easier—to accomplish in nations that had a more or less common culture.

Indeed, in the formative years of a nation, ethnic diversity can be as great a problem as foreign enemies. The time, power, and money that must be devoted to maintaining one ethnic group in power is at least equivalent to the resources needed to protect against a foreign enemy. When one part of a people thinks another part is unworthy of rights, it is hard for a government to act in the name of the “rights of the people.” That is why democracy in England preceded democracy in the United Kingdom: because many parts of that kingdom—the Scots, the Irish—had very different views about who should rule them and how.

This was written three years before the Iraq invasion, but its wisdom readily brings to mind the ongoing challenges of uniting Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis to serve a common national purpose. In addition to being saturated by Sunni Islam, the Tunisian population doesn’t have much in the way of meaningful ethnic division. There are many Berbers among the Arabs, but they’ve all more-or-less assimilated. As the revolt in Tunisia has thrown us all into the tea-leaves-reading business, we could do a lot worse than to consider the question of democracy from this reality-based angle.

As we try to determine the odds of a successful democracy in post-revolution Tunisia, it’s worth considering the question of ethnic and religious homogeneity. This quote jumped out from a Reuters story: “‘Tunisia is a small country but it has room for everyone and everyone’s ideas. They thought there would be chaos in Tunisia but we are united. We do not have Shi’ites, Christians, Jews. We are all Sunni Muslims and this unites us,’ worshipper Rida Harrathi told Reuters before Friday prayers.”

The argument that there’s room for everyone because everyone is the same sounds funny to American ears, but there’s actually a solid point here. In a wonderful COMMENTARY article from March 2000, James Q. Wilson identified homogeneity as one of four important conditions that have “underlain the emergence and survival of our oldest democracies.” (The other three being isolation, property, and tradition.) Wilson wrote the following:

Several democratic nations are today ethnically diverse, but at the time democracy was being established, that diversity was so limited that it could be safely ignored. England was an Anglo-Saxon nation; America, during its founding period, was overwhelmingly English; so also, by and large, were Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. . . . I am not suggesting that ethnic homogeneity is a good thing or ought to be preserved at any cost; nor am I denying that democracies can become ethnically heterogeneous. Certainly one of the great glories of the United States is to have become both vigorously democratic and ethnically diverse. But it is a rare accomplishment. Historically, and with few exceptions, the growth of democracy and of respect for human rights was made easier—often much easier—to accomplish in nations that had a more or less common culture.

Indeed, in the formative years of a nation, ethnic diversity can be as great a problem as foreign enemies. The time, power, and money that must be devoted to maintaining one ethnic group in power is at least equivalent to the resources needed to protect against a foreign enemy. When one part of a people thinks another part is unworthy of rights, it is hard for a government to act in the name of the “rights of the people.” That is why democracy in England preceded democracy in the United Kingdom: because many parts of that kingdom—the Scots, the Irish—had very different views about who should rule them and how.

This was written three years before the Iraq invasion, but its wisdom readily brings to mind the ongoing challenges of uniting Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis to serve a common national purpose. In addition to being saturated by Sunni Islam, the Tunisian population doesn’t have much in the way of meaningful ethnic division. There are many Berbers among the Arabs, but they’ve all more-or-less assimilated. As the revolt in Tunisia has thrown us all into the tea-leaves-reading business, we could do a lot worse than to consider the question of democracy from this reality-based angle.

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Where Have All the Anti-War Rallies Gone?

President Obama has continued many of the global-war-on-terrorism policies that were initiated under the Bush administration. And yet the size of the anti-war movement — which grew when President Bush was in office — has plummeted under Obama.

Reason TV examines this trend in the following video:

As the video demonstrates, the popularity of the anti-war movement under Bush was based on pure partisan politics. While 78 percent of Democrats approved of Obama’s foreign policy in 2010, only 22 percent approved of Bush’s foreign policy in 2003.

And as historian Thaddeus Russell notes in the video, the overwhelming majority of the anti-war movement’s adherents exist on the political fringe.

“The people who populate the anti-war movement today are kind of on the fringes of American politics,” said Russell. “And so on the left you have hardcore socialists and on the right you have libertarians. There’s almost no one in the center who’s really putting any energy into stopping these wars.”

Something else that may have contributed to the drop of interest in the anti-war movement is Obama’s foreign-policy rhetoric. Bush was much more straightforward when he spoke about the wars, the danger posed by our enemies, and the importance of protecting human rights and freedom around the world. In comparison, Obama has often acted as if we aren’t fighting any wars — which may help Democrats feel less hypocritical about supporting the same foreign policy they previously protested.

President Obama has continued many of the global-war-on-terrorism policies that were initiated under the Bush administration. And yet the size of the anti-war movement — which grew when President Bush was in office — has plummeted under Obama.

Reason TV examines this trend in the following video:

As the video demonstrates, the popularity of the anti-war movement under Bush was based on pure partisan politics. While 78 percent of Democrats approved of Obama’s foreign policy in 2010, only 22 percent approved of Bush’s foreign policy in 2003.

And as historian Thaddeus Russell notes in the video, the overwhelming majority of the anti-war movement’s adherents exist on the political fringe.

“The people who populate the anti-war movement today are kind of on the fringes of American politics,” said Russell. “And so on the left you have hardcore socialists and on the right you have libertarians. There’s almost no one in the center who’s really putting any energy into stopping these wars.”

Something else that may have contributed to the drop of interest in the anti-war movement is Obama’s foreign-policy rhetoric. Bush was much more straightforward when he spoke about the wars, the danger posed by our enemies, and the importance of protecting human rights and freedom around the world. In comparison, Obama has often acted as if we aren’t fighting any wars — which may help Democrats feel less hypocritical about supporting the same foreign policy they previously protested.

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BREAKING: In Gaza, Sometimes People Surf a Lot

This update brought to you courtesy of Agence France-Presse, which yesterday published an article and uploaded to YouTube an accompanying video on the startling phenomenon. It’s a good thing they did too, because you might have missed the staggeringly critical geopolitical importance of Gaza surfing when it was covered in 2007 by the Los Angeles Times or in 2009 by Der Spiegel and ABC News or in 2010 by CNN and the Atlantic and the BBC.

In any case, make sure you revisit those pieces before tackling this one, both for deep background and because you wouldn’t want to miss exemplars of hard-nosed journalism like “the surfer paddled out from the shore. Lying on his battered board, he scanned the horizon. The turquoise water glittered in the midday sun … he caught a wave, effortlessly” and “dirt poor and mainly from refugee camps, they find joy riding waves, often on makeshift boards, in the green waters off Gaza’s beaches.” You can also prepare by watching ABC News’s 2009 YouTube video on the subject.

Gaza surfing, it turns out, is a hopelessly multivalenced topic. Sometimes the upshot is that Israel imposes insurmountable hardships on Palestinians. Sometimes the upshot is that Palestinians surmount Israeli hardships. Sometimes it’s both in the same story, with the Palestinians surmounting insurmountable Israeli hardships in the same way that the industrious and booming Gaza economy is perennially crippled by Israeli self-defense measures. But always, per the 700-plus-word BBC treatise on the subject, there is a fundamental lesson to be learned: “Palestinians are people like in any other country.” We love to surf, they love to surf, they’re just like us.

In Gaza, they also bomb Christian bookstores, turn hospitals into ammo dumps, create armies of suicide-bomber women and children, produce movies about how killing enemy Jews is the height of religious worship, hold summer camps to create child soldiers, stage school plays demonizing Israelis, air children’s TV brimming with vulgar and violent bigotry, and fascistically regulate women’s bodies — all the while overwhelmingly supporting Iranian proxies bent on eradicating millions of Jews — but whatever. Gaza is just like Venice Beach, right?

Anyway — obviously — these stories aren’t so much journalism as they are agitprop. They don’t even cover actual issues about Gaza beaches, such as whether Hamas has loosened its “modest” beach dress code, a proxy for Gaza Islamism, or whether critically endangered sea turtles are still getting hacked up by grinning children and their beaming fathers. But why report on women in Islam or Mediterranean keystone species when there are clumsy and pathos-soaked odes to the indefatigable Palestinian spirit to be penned?

This update brought to you courtesy of Agence France-Presse, which yesterday published an article and uploaded to YouTube an accompanying video on the startling phenomenon. It’s a good thing they did too, because you might have missed the staggeringly critical geopolitical importance of Gaza surfing when it was covered in 2007 by the Los Angeles Times or in 2009 by Der Spiegel and ABC News or in 2010 by CNN and the Atlantic and the BBC.

In any case, make sure you revisit those pieces before tackling this one, both for deep background and because you wouldn’t want to miss exemplars of hard-nosed journalism like “the surfer paddled out from the shore. Lying on his battered board, he scanned the horizon. The turquoise water glittered in the midday sun … he caught a wave, effortlessly” and “dirt poor and mainly from refugee camps, they find joy riding waves, often on makeshift boards, in the green waters off Gaza’s beaches.” You can also prepare by watching ABC News’s 2009 YouTube video on the subject.

Gaza surfing, it turns out, is a hopelessly multivalenced topic. Sometimes the upshot is that Israel imposes insurmountable hardships on Palestinians. Sometimes the upshot is that Palestinians surmount Israeli hardships. Sometimes it’s both in the same story, with the Palestinians surmounting insurmountable Israeli hardships in the same way that the industrious and booming Gaza economy is perennially crippled by Israeli self-defense measures. But always, per the 700-plus-word BBC treatise on the subject, there is a fundamental lesson to be learned: “Palestinians are people like in any other country.” We love to surf, they love to surf, they’re just like us.

In Gaza, they also bomb Christian bookstores, turn hospitals into ammo dumps, create armies of suicide-bomber women and children, produce movies about how killing enemy Jews is the height of religious worship, hold summer camps to create child soldiers, stage school plays demonizing Israelis, air children’s TV brimming with vulgar and violent bigotry, and fascistically regulate women’s bodies — all the while overwhelmingly supporting Iranian proxies bent on eradicating millions of Jews — but whatever. Gaza is just like Venice Beach, right?

Anyway — obviously — these stories aren’t so much journalism as they are agitprop. They don’t even cover actual issues about Gaza beaches, such as whether Hamas has loosened its “modest” beach dress code, a proxy for Gaza Islamism, or whether critically endangered sea turtles are still getting hacked up by grinning children and their beaming fathers. But why report on women in Islam or Mediterranean keystone species when there are clumsy and pathos-soaked odes to the indefatigable Palestinian spirit to be penned?

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USAID: Mend It, Don’t End It

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

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The Definition of ‘Anti-Israel’

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally. Read More

Last week, Steve Clemons organized a contingent of foreign-policy officials and commentators to send a letter to President Obama urging the U.S. to support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

It included many prominent critics of the Israel — Peter Beinart, Chas Freeman, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just a few.

Based on their well-documented eagerness to condemn Israel whenever possible, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin referred to the group as “Israel-bashers” – prompting an angry response from Clemons and setting off a debate about the meaning of “pro-Israel,” according to Ben Smith:

The group J Street has been waging, and mostly losing, a political fight with more hawkish allies of Israel over the meaning of the term “pro-Israel,” and today another Washington skirmish erupts on the topic. …

There are two fights underway at the moment: One is defining the politically acceptable space in Washington for debating Israel policy; the other is the push by Bill Kristol and his allies to identify support for Israel explicitly with the Republican Party. That latter effort, ironically, has some of the same goals of the former, which would like to see the Democratic Party soften its hard line.

I wholeheartedly disagree with Smith’s assessment. I highly doubt that any Israel supporters on the right want to turn support for Israel into a partisan issue, especially since pro-Israel views are widespread throughout both political parties. As we saw from the midterm elections, it’s politically suicidal for candidates to take anti-Israel stances — regardless of party affiliation — because those are positions that most of the public disagree with.

As for Clemons’s protestations at being called anti-Israel, I have several comments.

Being critical of settlement construction is not an inherently anti-Israel position. But the tone of the argument and the way it’s framed and presented is a good indicator of whether someone is a friend or foe of the Jewish state.

Calling on Israel to halt settlement construction within the framework of peace negotiations — like in a statement from the Quartet — is one thing. Overturning years of precedent by joining together with enemies of Israel, as they grandstand and demonize the Jewish state in an international public forum, is appalling and would be a disgraceful way to treat any ally.

That’s the entire point of the resolution before the Security Council. It’s meant to single out and scapegoat Israel for the delays in the peace process. In reality, there are many obstructions to the negotiations — the biggest ones coming from the Palestinian side — and neither Clemons’s letter nor the Security Council resolution mentions any of them.

What else can that be called except bias?

If Clemons seriously wants to see the end of settlement-building, I can’t imagine a worse way to go about it than by supporting a UN resolution. Historically, more progress has been made on curbing settlement construction when the U.S. has lobbied Israel privately (e.g., the secret agreements under Sharon and Bush). And I fail to see how humiliating one of our closest and most loyal allies in front of the world will help bring about further progress on peace negotiations.

The UN resolution demonizes Israel, unfairly scapegoats Israel and undermines peace negotiations. If that’s not anti-Israel, then what is?

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The Fall of Beirut

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

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J Street Backs Effort to Condemn Israel at the UN

Once again, the left-wing lobby J Street is twisting the definition of “pro-Israel” beyond recognition. With the Palestinians and their allies at the United Nations poised to launch another attempt to brand Israel as a pariah, the group that claims that their allegedly “pro-peace” stand is the true path to being “pro-Israel” has now called upon the Obama administration to find a way to vote for the measure rather than vetoing it.

The measure, which will formally brand Israel as a violator of international law because of its settlement policy, has been endorsed by other so-called “pro-Israel” figures such as Peter Beinart who have claimed that it is the duty of “liberal Zionists” to save Israel from itself (which is to say that they disagree with the verdict of Israel’s voters, who sensibly rejected J Street’s preferred candidates at the ballot box and believe that the result of the last election should be overruled by American fiat).

While their assumption that building Jewish communities in the West Bank and in those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is utterly false, many Israelis and friends of Israel do not support building throughout the territories. But the point here is not whether it is wise to put down new settlements in areas that would almost certainly be given to the Palestinians in the unlikely event of peace. (And the reason why peace is unlikely has nothing to do with settlements and everything to do with the fact that the Palestinians have refused to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.) The goal of Palestinian diplomacy is to isolate Israel and to brand it and its policies as the sole obstacle to peace.

Though J Street’s statement tries to draw a distinction between the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the settlements that exist close to the untenable 1949 armistice lines and other bad settlements elsewhere, the point of the resolution is to treat the homes of more than half a million Israeli Jews as “stolen” property that must be given up by Israel if it expects to be allowed to survive. Far from advancing the cause of peace, this resolution will serve to make it even more unlikely, since what would follow its passage would be an international campaign for divestment and boycotting of Israel that would be based on the supposed legal imprimatur of the UN.

That is why anyone who claims to be a friend of Israel must call on the Obama administration to fulfill its obligation as an ally and veto this resolution. An American vote in favor of this measure, no matter how it is worded, or even an abstention, would send a loud signal to the world that Obama has abandoned the Jewish state. This would not only damage Israel; it would also embolden Arab and Islamist rejectionists to dig in their heels and make even the theoretical chance of a peace deal even less plausible. It would also heighten the chances of another round of violence from Hamas and Hezbollah.

That J Street would choose to endorse this resolution, however weasel-worded that endorsement might be, is yet another sign that this George Soros–funded entity is hopelessly out of touch with mainstream pro-Israel sentiment and is, in fact, more likely to side with Israel’s foes in a pinch (as it did when it opposed Israel’s counteroffensive against Hamas terrorists in Gaza in December 2008) than with its friends.

Once again, the left-wing lobby J Street is twisting the definition of “pro-Israel” beyond recognition. With the Palestinians and their allies at the United Nations poised to launch another attempt to brand Israel as a pariah, the group that claims that their allegedly “pro-peace” stand is the true path to being “pro-Israel” has now called upon the Obama administration to find a way to vote for the measure rather than vetoing it.

The measure, which will formally brand Israel as a violator of international law because of its settlement policy, has been endorsed by other so-called “pro-Israel” figures such as Peter Beinart who have claimed that it is the duty of “liberal Zionists” to save Israel from itself (which is to say that they disagree with the verdict of Israel’s voters, who sensibly rejected J Street’s preferred candidates at the ballot box and believe that the result of the last election should be overruled by American fiat).

While their assumption that building Jewish communities in the West Bank and in those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 is utterly false, many Israelis and friends of Israel do not support building throughout the territories. But the point here is not whether it is wise to put down new settlements in areas that would almost certainly be given to the Palestinians in the unlikely event of peace. (And the reason why peace is unlikely has nothing to do with settlements and everything to do with the fact that the Palestinians have refused to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.) The goal of Palestinian diplomacy is to isolate Israel and to brand it and its policies as the sole obstacle to peace.

Though J Street’s statement tries to draw a distinction between the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and the settlements that exist close to the untenable 1949 armistice lines and other bad settlements elsewhere, the point of the resolution is to treat the homes of more than half a million Israeli Jews as “stolen” property that must be given up by Israel if it expects to be allowed to survive. Far from advancing the cause of peace, this resolution will serve to make it even more unlikely, since what would follow its passage would be an international campaign for divestment and boycotting of Israel that would be based on the supposed legal imprimatur of the UN.

That is why anyone who claims to be a friend of Israel must call on the Obama administration to fulfill its obligation as an ally and veto this resolution. An American vote in favor of this measure, no matter how it is worded, or even an abstention, would send a loud signal to the world that Obama has abandoned the Jewish state. This would not only damage Israel; it would also embolden Arab and Islamist rejectionists to dig in their heels and make even the theoretical chance of a peace deal even less plausible. It would also heighten the chances of another round of violence from Hamas and Hezbollah.

That J Street would choose to endorse this resolution, however weasel-worded that endorsement might be, is yet another sign that this George Soros–funded entity is hopelessly out of touch with mainstream pro-Israel sentiment and is, in fact, more likely to side with Israel’s foes in a pinch (as it did when it opposed Israel’s counteroffensive against Hamas terrorists in Gaza in December 2008) than with its friends.

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The Unintended Consequences of a Unilateral Declaration of Statehood for Palestine

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes. Read More

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes.

The Arab world — already under pressure on account of developments in Tunisia and uncertain succession challenges from Egypt to Saudi Arabia — might only act in so far as their actions will safeguard the regimes. As usual, their support will be rhetorical — with some diplomatic backing here and there — but hardly decisive. There may be some pledges of cash; whether the money comes is a different, and altogether sadly familiar, story.

Meanwhile, rejectionists in Gaza, Damascus, and Tehran will probably see this development as an opportunity — to wreak havoc, to fan the flames of conflict, to corner the PA for its acquiescence to Israel, and to establish themselves once and for all as the authentic standard bearers of the Palestinian cause.

Clearly, then, the only way forward seems to be the old one and the one that Palestinians currently avoid — direct negotiations with Israel to solve all outstanding issues. Instead, the PA and its diplomatic apparatus pursues the beaten path of failure — change the international balance in your favor so as to weaken your opponent’s negotiating ability, in the hope that this strategy will obviate the need for direct talks. Hence the quest for a UN resolution on settlements — to get the UN, not direct negotiations, to solve borders and territory.

Palestinians are woefully unprepared to handle both the likely consequences of a unilateral declaration and the Israeli response — not to mention the practical implications of independence. They also fail to see that all the successful diplomacy in the world will not undo what history did since 1947 to their ambitions.

What they want, in other words, is sovereignty without responsibility — a goal that reveals their game.

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley may not see it this way, of course, but their exposure of how hollow and unserious the current PA strategy is does a great service to those who are considering support for either Palestinian unilateral independence or, for that matter, the current Palestinian effort to get the UN Security Council to condemn settlements.

Settlements will not go away with a UN resolution. Palestine will not be independent just because its president said so and many heads of state around the world upgraded Palestinian missions to embassy status in La Paz, Santiago, or even Moscow.

Only direct talks will achieve this — with a full appreciation that history cannot be undone, no matter how unfair it may look to you.

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British Pol Echoes CAIR Talking Point About Islamists

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

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New Evidence in Daniel Pearl Murder May Be Useless in a Trial

A new report released by the Pearl Project, based on the group’s three-and-a-half-year investigation into the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, alleges that Pakistani authorities used perjured testimony and made other legal errors during the murder trial.

It also claims to have found new forensic evidence that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed committed the actual beheading of Pearl:

Mr. Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, in January 2002, and a videotape of his murder was delivered to U.S. officials in Pakistan in February 2002.

FBI agents and CIA officials used a technique called “vein-matching” to compare the killer’s hands, as seen in the video, with a photograph of Mr. Mohammed’s hands.

But a legal expert with personal knowledge of the case tells me that there are several reasons why this discovery probably won’t add any legal weight to the U.S.’s prosecution of KSM.

One reason is that the vein-matching technology the group cited may not be admissible in court. “While it may have some merit in an academic study, it’s not a technology that has been subject to court scrutiny under the rules of evidence dealing with expert testimony. So I would doubt seriously whether it would be admissible in a U.S. court,” Charles “Cully” Stimson, a Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told me.

Another reason is because there’s already a staggering amount of evidence that KSM committed the murder — so the Pearl Project’s linkage is a bit superfluous.

“It’s not a whodunit. And it hasn’t been a whodunit for some time,” said Stimson, who formerly served as an adviser to the Secretary of Defense on detainee issues.

In addition to the evidence that’s already been publicized — such as KSM’s confession — Stimson says that “there’s other evidence that will come to life that has been in the government for some time now that will further link him to that gruesome murder.”

“For those of us who have been involved in detaining operations with these high-value detainees, we’ve known for a long time that KSM was the throat-cutter.”

But that, of course, does not diminish the great work the Pearl Project has done in publicizing this case. After all, it’s certainly preferable to have too much evidence against vile killers like KSM rather than too little.

The Pearl Project’s full report can be found here.

A new report released by the Pearl Project, based on the group’s three-and-a-half-year investigation into the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, alleges that Pakistani authorities used perjured testimony and made other legal errors during the murder trial.

It also claims to have found new forensic evidence that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed committed the actual beheading of Pearl:

Mr. Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, in January 2002, and a videotape of his murder was delivered to U.S. officials in Pakistan in February 2002.

FBI agents and CIA officials used a technique called “vein-matching” to compare the killer’s hands, as seen in the video, with a photograph of Mr. Mohammed’s hands.

But a legal expert with personal knowledge of the case tells me that there are several reasons why this discovery probably won’t add any legal weight to the U.S.’s prosecution of KSM.

One reason is that the vein-matching technology the group cited may not be admissible in court. “While it may have some merit in an academic study, it’s not a technology that has been subject to court scrutiny under the rules of evidence dealing with expert testimony. So I would doubt seriously whether it would be admissible in a U.S. court,” Charles “Cully” Stimson, a Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told me.

Another reason is because there’s already a staggering amount of evidence that KSM committed the murder — so the Pearl Project’s linkage is a bit superfluous.

“It’s not a whodunit. And it hasn’t been a whodunit for some time,” said Stimson, who formerly served as an adviser to the Secretary of Defense on detainee issues.

In addition to the evidence that’s already been publicized — such as KSM’s confession — Stimson says that “there’s other evidence that will come to life that has been in the government for some time now that will further link him to that gruesome murder.”

“For those of us who have been involved in detaining operations with these high-value detainees, we’ve known for a long time that KSM was the throat-cutter.”

But that, of course, does not diminish the great work the Pearl Project has done in publicizing this case. After all, it’s certainly preferable to have too much evidence against vile killers like KSM rather than too little.

The Pearl Project’s full report can be found here.

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Bringing Change to Foreign Policy

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

At his Council on Foreign Relations blog, Elliott Abrams notes that Obama’s “engagement” policy suffers from an inherent contradiction:

[H]e believes in the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council [HRC], in treaties like the NPT and START, in the IAEA, in multilateral cooperation. But the regimes with which he wishes to engage do not, so that Asad tries to ruin the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Iran’s nuclear program threatens to destroy the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA. The president is in this sense in the position of those who for decades sought “world peace” primarily by engaging with the Soviet Union, which did not share that goal.

So the question for the next two years is whether the president will remain wedded to policies that cannot achieve his stated goals.

In the prior Congress, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee cheered on the Obama engagement policy — at one point writing to all 435 House members that “sustained engagement” with the HRC (and UNESCO) had “reaped important dividends” for the U.S. and Israel, proving that “engagement works.” He cited the “hard-fought” victory to keep Iran off the HRC. The next month, the HRC voted 32-to-3 to condemn Israel (again) in harsh language, and then called for an “investigation” to prove what it had just condemned; the State Department spokesman responded that the U.S. had only one vote on the HRC but would continue to “engage.”

The new Congress may require the administration to start changing its policy. In “A Short United Nations To-Do List for the New Congress,” written after the November election, Heritage Foundation fellow Brett Schaefer recommended, among other steps, withholding funds from the HRC, since it has “proved to be no better — and in some ways, worse — than the commission it replaced”:

The Obama Administration engaged the HRC believing that the U.S. would be able to improve the HRC from within. Unfortunately, the performance of the HRC with the U.S. as a member has been virtually indistinguishable from its performance absent U.S. membership.

Next Tuesday, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will chair a full-committee hearing on “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” The lead-off witness will be Brett Schaefer.

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Boehner’s Tears Seen as Sign of Strength

Members of the political left — who regard themselves as crusaders for gender equality — have an interesting habit of mocking conservatives like John Boehner and Glenn Beck for getting misty-eyed in public.

Nancy Pelosi had this to say about Boehner’s penchant for tearing up last November:

You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills. If I cry, it’s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics — no, I don’t cry. I would never think of crying about any loss of an office, because that’s always a possibility, and if you’re professional, then you deal with it professionally.

That’s basically political-talk for saying Boehner acts like a girl. But according to a new Quinnipiac University study, voters in Ohio disagree: “Boehner’s tendency to cry in public is a sign of strength rather than weakness, voters say 36 – 27 percent, with 37 percent undecided,” said the study.

In the past, crying has been seen as political suicide, and it’s even been blamed for causing politicians to lose elections. So it’s quite a change if voters now see it as a symbol of strength.

There was still a pretty significant gender split on the question, however. According to the Quinnipiac study, “women see strength in Boehner’s tears 44 – 20 percent, while men see weakness 34 – 27 percent.”

And if I had to guess, I’d say that not all types of public crying are acceptable in modern politics. For example, crying in the middle of an especially overwhelming moment of glory, joy, or pride is probably fine. But crying after getting injured? That’s almost certainly unacceptable. And while misty eyes are perfectly acceptable, if more than a couple of tears are shed — four at most — it’s probably not a good political move. Needless to say, anything that involves sobbing, a running nose, or gasping for breath is totally out of bounds and should be avoided at all costs.

Members of the political left — who regard themselves as crusaders for gender equality — have an interesting habit of mocking conservatives like John Boehner and Glenn Beck for getting misty-eyed in public.

Nancy Pelosi had this to say about Boehner’s penchant for tearing up last November:

You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills. If I cry, it’s about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics — no, I don’t cry. I would never think of crying about any loss of an office, because that’s always a possibility, and if you’re professional, then you deal with it professionally.

That’s basically political-talk for saying Boehner acts like a girl. But according to a new Quinnipiac University study, voters in Ohio disagree: “Boehner’s tendency to cry in public is a sign of strength rather than weakness, voters say 36 – 27 percent, with 37 percent undecided,” said the study.

In the past, crying has been seen as political suicide, and it’s even been blamed for causing politicians to lose elections. So it’s quite a change if voters now see it as a symbol of strength.

There was still a pretty significant gender split on the question, however. According to the Quinnipiac study, “women see strength in Boehner’s tears 44 – 20 percent, while men see weakness 34 – 27 percent.”

And if I had to guess, I’d say that not all types of public crying are acceptable in modern politics. For example, crying in the middle of an especially overwhelming moment of glory, joy, or pride is probably fine. But crying after getting injured? That’s almost certainly unacceptable. And while misty eyes are perfectly acceptable, if more than a couple of tears are shed — four at most — it’s probably not a good political move. Needless to say, anything that involves sobbing, a running nose, or gasping for breath is totally out of bounds and should be avoided at all costs.

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Le Pen’s National Front and the Anti-Zionist Party

Marine Le Pen took over the party leadership of the xenophobic, far-right National Front Party this week. The Wall Street Journal noted that “Ms. Le Pen on Sunday became the party’s second leader since it was formed 38 years ago by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, and immediately promised to oppose immigration and globalization, as well as seize back powers from the European Union.”

The National Front has been, without question, a political force to be reckoned with during election cycles in France. In 2002, it defeated the French Socialists and forced a run-off election with former president Jacques Chirac. French analysts chalked up the dramatic National Front election results to a kind of infantile protest vote against the mainstream parties. In short, a post-adolescent French outburst of political disaffection but not a real flirting with French Vichy-style neo- fascism. Chirac went on to soundly prevail over the National Front.

According to a recent French poll, however, the National Front has secured 12 percent of the electorate’s support. Jean-Marie Le Pen is notorious for his statements that contain elements of Holocaust denial and crudely playing down the severity of the Holocaust, terming it a mere “detail” of history.

One “detail” that the mainstream media did not report on this week is the alliance between the National Front and those Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who loathe Israel and want to abolish the Jewish state. During the 2009 European Union parliamentary elections, the French entertainer and comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala formed the Anti-Zionist Party. He was deadly serious about his party’s aims and  has over the years been engulfed in anti-Semitic scandals.

Dieudonne’s political bedfellow at the time was the National Front. (Le Pen is purportedly the godfather of Dieudonne ‘s daughter.) What unifies Le Pen and Dieudonne, himself the son an immigrant from Cameroon, and figures from the left, such as ex-Communist Alain Soral and former Green Party member Ginette Skandrani, is hatred of Israel. It should also be noted that Yahia Gouasmi, head of the Zahra Center in Paris, which is affiliated with Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran, was a candidate on the Anti-Zionist party.

(Not unrelated: Hezbollah enjoys wide organizational latitude in France. Germany also recognizes Hezbollah as a legal political entity, and there are 900 active members in the Federal Republic.)

In 2009, the Anti-Zionist Party platform called for an end to “Zionist interference in the nation’s public affairs,” as well as a rebuke of “politicians who apologize for Zionism.” The radical anti-Israeli party demands that France “free our state, our government, our institutions from the possession and pressure of Zionist organizations; eradicate all forms of Zionism in the nation” and “prevent enterprises and institutions from contributing to the war efforts of a foreign nation, which does not respect International Law.”

With French President Nicholas Sarkozy faltering in the polls and his Socialist opposition still seen as floundering, a repeat of the National Front’s coup of making it to the second round of the next presidential election is not out of the question. This formal alliance with the Anti-Zionist Party makes such a development even more ominous.

Marine Le Pen took over the party leadership of the xenophobic, far-right National Front Party this week. The Wall Street Journal noted that “Ms. Le Pen on Sunday became the party’s second leader since it was formed 38 years ago by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, and immediately promised to oppose immigration and globalization, as well as seize back powers from the European Union.”

The National Front has been, without question, a political force to be reckoned with during election cycles in France. In 2002, it defeated the French Socialists and forced a run-off election with former president Jacques Chirac. French analysts chalked up the dramatic National Front election results to a kind of infantile protest vote against the mainstream parties. In short, a post-adolescent French outburst of political disaffection but not a real flirting with French Vichy-style neo- fascism. Chirac went on to soundly prevail over the National Front.

According to a recent French poll, however, the National Front has secured 12 percent of the electorate’s support. Jean-Marie Le Pen is notorious for his statements that contain elements of Holocaust denial and crudely playing down the severity of the Holocaust, terming it a mere “detail” of history.

One “detail” that the mainstream media did not report on this week is the alliance between the National Front and those Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who loathe Israel and want to abolish the Jewish state. During the 2009 European Union parliamentary elections, the French entertainer and comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala formed the Anti-Zionist Party. He was deadly serious about his party’s aims and  has over the years been engulfed in anti-Semitic scandals.

Dieudonne’s political bedfellow at the time was the National Front. (Le Pen is purportedly the godfather of Dieudonne ‘s daughter.) What unifies Le Pen and Dieudonne, himself the son an immigrant from Cameroon, and figures from the left, such as ex-Communist Alain Soral and former Green Party member Ginette Skandrani, is hatred of Israel. It should also be noted that Yahia Gouasmi, head of the Zahra Center in Paris, which is affiliated with Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran, was a candidate on the Anti-Zionist party.

(Not unrelated: Hezbollah enjoys wide organizational latitude in France. Germany also recognizes Hezbollah as a legal political entity, and there are 900 active members in the Federal Republic.)

In 2009, the Anti-Zionist Party platform called for an end to “Zionist interference in the nation’s public affairs,” as well as a rebuke of “politicians who apologize for Zionism.” The radical anti-Israeli party demands that France “free our state, our government, our institutions from the possession and pressure of Zionist organizations; eradicate all forms of Zionism in the nation” and “prevent enterprises and institutions from contributing to the war efforts of a foreign nation, which does not respect International Law.”

With French President Nicholas Sarkozy faltering in the polls and his Socialist opposition still seen as floundering, a repeat of the National Front’s coup of making it to the second round of the next presidential election is not out of the question. This formal alliance with the Anti-Zionist Party makes such a development even more ominous.

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Morning Commentary

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

On Saturday, P5+1 officials will meet with Iranian leaders to push them to ensure that their nuclear program is peaceful. But it looks like Iran is doing everything in its power not to cooperate: “Iran, however, is coming to Turkey offering no signs that it is willing to respect United Nations Security Council resolutions and suspend its production of nuclear fuel. ‘There is nothing to discuss’ about Iran’s nuclear program, an Iranian official said. ‘In Istanbul, we will speak about something else.’”

The day after President Hu Jintao was honored with a State Dinner by President Obama, the Chinese leader met privately with lawmakers who pressed him on China’s poor record on human rights: “Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, emerged Thursday from his huddle with Hu optimistic and hopeful on all fronts, suggesting a major breakthrough had occurred in Hu’s recognition that his nation had a subpar human rights record and that key progress was made in making China engage other nations.”

Richard Falk, the UN’s Palestine investigator, once again came out as a supporter of the 9/11 “Truth movement” on his blog last week (he’s been making “truther” statements since 2004). UN Watch is now calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to fire Falk, especially in light of Ki-moon’s condemnation of Ahmadinejad for endorsing similar theories: “The effect of Mr. Falk’s conspiracy-mongering is to deny and excuse the terrorist acts committed by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. It insults the memories of those who perished on 9/11, and deeply offends their families and loved ones — as well as all decent men and women worldwide. Mr. Falk’s repulsive comments violate UNHRC Resolution 5/2, which require U.N. experts to uphold the highest standards of integrity, probity, and good faith. Indeed, they shame the United Nations.”

Rep. Steve Cohen should probably avoid making any more public statements for the next few days, because he just keeps digging himself into a bigger hole. Cohen, who compared Republicans to Nazis earlier this week, apologized that his words are being used as a “distraction” by his political opponents, in a statement he released yesterday afternoon: “It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand — health care for 32 million Americans.”

On the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inaugural, Mike Pence talked to National Review about how the former president inspired him: “Reagan is the reason I’m a Republican. … I was active in local Democratic politics when I was a teenager in Columbus, Indiana. Then I started to hear the voice of a B-movie actor, turned governor, turned candidate. He gave voice to the ideals and values that I was raised to believe in.”

Read Less




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