Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 2011

So Much for Dictator Engagement

Elliott Abrams gets to the heart of why the Obama administration has been caught flat-footed by the recent revolts in the Arab world:

U.S. officials talked to Mubarak plenty in 2009 and 2010, and even talked to the far more repressive President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, but they talked about their goals for Israeli-Palestinian peace and ignored the police states outside the doors of those presidential palaces. When the Iranian regime stole the June 2009 elections and people went to the streets, the Obama administration feared that speaking out in their support might jeopardize the nuclear negotiations. The “reset” sought with Russia has been with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, not the Russian people suffering his increasingly despotic and lawless rule.

This has been the greatest failure of policy and imagination in the administration’s approach: Looking at the world map, it sees states and their rulers, but has forgotten the millions of people suffering under and beginning to rebel against those rulers. “Engagement” has not been the problem, but rather the administration’s insistence on engaging with regimes rather than with the people trying to survive under them.

Abrams wonders if the Obama administration will now realize that “dictatorships are never truly stable.” It’s hard to say. Let’s not forget that Obama viewed Egypt as the pinnacle of Muslim Middle East stability. So much so that he chose to make his “address to the Muslim world” from Cairo, despite criticism that he’d be bolstering a dictatorship.

Clearly, from the assorted and contradictory messages coming out of the State Department and White House today, the administration has yet to catch up to events, let alone decide on a future policy course. The rest of the world cares little about lame-duck comebacks, moving memorial speeches, and State of the Union sales pitches. Obama cannot campaign his way into meaningful foreign policy. If he fails to support genuinely the forces of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, the region’s democrats won’t be consoled by sunny rhetoric any more than police states will be cowed by the occasional and vague mention of “political reform.”

Elliott Abrams gets to the heart of why the Obama administration has been caught flat-footed by the recent revolts in the Arab world:

U.S. officials talked to Mubarak plenty in 2009 and 2010, and even talked to the far more repressive President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, but they talked about their goals for Israeli-Palestinian peace and ignored the police states outside the doors of those presidential palaces. When the Iranian regime stole the June 2009 elections and people went to the streets, the Obama administration feared that speaking out in their support might jeopardize the nuclear negotiations. The “reset” sought with Russia has been with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, not the Russian people suffering his increasingly despotic and lawless rule.

This has been the greatest failure of policy and imagination in the administration’s approach: Looking at the world map, it sees states and their rulers, but has forgotten the millions of people suffering under and beginning to rebel against those rulers. “Engagement” has not been the problem, but rather the administration’s insistence on engaging with regimes rather than with the people trying to survive under them.

Abrams wonders if the Obama administration will now realize that “dictatorships are never truly stable.” It’s hard to say. Let’s not forget that Obama viewed Egypt as the pinnacle of Muslim Middle East stability. So much so that he chose to make his “address to the Muslim world” from Cairo, despite criticism that he’d be bolstering a dictatorship.

Clearly, from the assorted and contradictory messages coming out of the State Department and White House today, the administration has yet to catch up to events, let alone decide on a future policy course. The rest of the world cares little about lame-duck comebacks, moving memorial speeches, and State of the Union sales pitches. Obama cannot campaign his way into meaningful foreign policy. If he fails to support genuinely the forces of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, the region’s democrats won’t be consoled by sunny rhetoric any more than police states will be cowed by the occasional and vague mention of “political reform.”

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Obama’s New Anti-Satellite Weapons Push to Cede Space to the Chinese?

In 2006, the Chinese reportedly used an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) to blind one of our satellites. In 2007, they definitely used an ASAT to shoot down one of their own satellites. Incidents like these led the Pentagon in 2008 and Secretary Gates in 2010 to assert that China’s ASAT program was meant, respectively, to enhance their power projection and to curtail ours.

So naturally — per Eli Lake’s extensive report this morning — the Obama administration is pushing for a U.S./EU agreement that would severely restrict our ASAT capabilities. Experts who back the administration describe it as a “not exactly binding” minor move, the upshot being that Obama wouldn’t have to secure Senate approval for the measure. But experts and congressional staffers both insist that it would significantly curb what we can do in space and would endanger our ability to develop and deploy both offensive and defensive assets:

[A] congressional staff member said: “There is a suspicion that this is a slippery slope to arms control for space-based weapons, anti-satellite weapons and a back door to potentially limiting missile defense.”… “Because it appears that they are talking about limiting operations … it could be that this is as much an agreement on the law of war as it is on arms control,” Mr. Spring [a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation] said. “If it is something more like a law-of-war agreement, then you are creating a situation of legal jeopardy for a military commander who is responsible for operating systems in space.”

Presumably, the argument is that if we give up ours, they’ll give up theirs. The muddy, cascading norms argument is always trotted out when people push for unilateral disarmament, which is what opposing space militarization means in an age of Chinese ascendancy. In a full-blown movement, you’ll find the argument buttressed by everything from “at least our side won’t be complicit” moral preening to “it’ll snowball into a global movement, then there won’t be any more sides” activist nonsense. But it’s always there, in part because we have a surplus of foreign-policy experts churning out implausible advantages for their pet policies — and then selling those fanciful pretexts as objective evaluations.

If stopping Israeli construction in a particular Jerusalem neighborhood can placate Afghanis who’ve never seen a map of Israel, is it too much to suggest that unilateral Western gestures on space militarization will cause Beijing to abandon its ASAT program?

Turns out, there’s an answer to that:

The State Department has exchanged language with the EU on the code of conduct. The U.S. and Russia also have begun talks about creating confidence-building measures regarding space-based activities. The U.S. has reached out to China on space issues, but Beijing has declined offers to discuss the issue, according to a senior State Department official. [emphasis added]

Disappointing to be sure, but I’m sure there’s still something else we can give up that would swing them.

In 2006, the Chinese reportedly used an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) to blind one of our satellites. In 2007, they definitely used an ASAT to shoot down one of their own satellites. Incidents like these led the Pentagon in 2008 and Secretary Gates in 2010 to assert that China’s ASAT program was meant, respectively, to enhance their power projection and to curtail ours.

So naturally — per Eli Lake’s extensive report this morning — the Obama administration is pushing for a U.S./EU agreement that would severely restrict our ASAT capabilities. Experts who back the administration describe it as a “not exactly binding” minor move, the upshot being that Obama wouldn’t have to secure Senate approval for the measure. But experts and congressional staffers both insist that it would significantly curb what we can do in space and would endanger our ability to develop and deploy both offensive and defensive assets:

[A] congressional staff member said: “There is a suspicion that this is a slippery slope to arms control for space-based weapons, anti-satellite weapons and a back door to potentially limiting missile defense.”… “Because it appears that they are talking about limiting operations … it could be that this is as much an agreement on the law of war as it is on arms control,” Mr. Spring [a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation] said. “If it is something more like a law-of-war agreement, then you are creating a situation of legal jeopardy for a military commander who is responsible for operating systems in space.”

Presumably, the argument is that if we give up ours, they’ll give up theirs. The muddy, cascading norms argument is always trotted out when people push for unilateral disarmament, which is what opposing space militarization means in an age of Chinese ascendancy. In a full-blown movement, you’ll find the argument buttressed by everything from “at least our side won’t be complicit” moral preening to “it’ll snowball into a global movement, then there won’t be any more sides” activist nonsense. But it’s always there, in part because we have a surplus of foreign-policy experts churning out implausible advantages for their pet policies — and then selling those fanciful pretexts as objective evaluations.

If stopping Israeli construction in a particular Jerusalem neighborhood can placate Afghanis who’ve never seen a map of Israel, is it too much to suggest that unilateral Western gestures on space militarization will cause Beijing to abandon its ASAT program?

Turns out, there’s an answer to that:

The State Department has exchanged language with the EU on the code of conduct. The U.S. and Russia also have begun talks about creating confidence-building measures regarding space-based activities. The U.S. has reached out to China on space issues, but Beijing has declined offers to discuss the issue, according to a senior State Department official. [emphasis added]

Disappointing to be sure, but I’m sure there’s still something else we can give up that would swing them.

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Here’s an Idea for the President

How about the president, who claims a unique affinity with the Muslim world, actually taking at least a modestly advisory role when it comes to a moment of change in the Muslim world? Or is his supposedly unique affinity only with those in unjust leadership positions in that world?

How about the president, who claims a unique affinity with the Muslim world, actually taking at least a modestly advisory role when it comes to a moment of change in the Muslim world? Or is his supposedly unique affinity only with those in unjust leadership positions in that world?

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The White House Sort of Speaks

Robert Gibbs, the outgoing White House press spokesman, is not covering his departing head with glory as he speaks about the Egypt crisis. It’s certainly not Gibbs’s fault that the administration finds itself unable to speak with a moment’s clarity about the crisis, and keeps repeating the weasel word “restraint.” Gibbs says contingencies are being discussed, but also says Obama hasn’t spoken to foreign leaders. The U.S. is reviewing its aid posture — maybe. And everybody should refrain from violence. Certainly the White House doesn’t want to handcuff itself. But that is not the impression one gets from this press briefing. What one gets from this press briefing is that an administration in office for a little more than two years is entirely at sea when it comes to dealing with this crisis, which has been a possibility on the horizon for weeks. There’s something extraordinarily amateurish about this conduct.

Robert Gibbs, the outgoing White House press spokesman, is not covering his departing head with glory as he speaks about the Egypt crisis. It’s certainly not Gibbs’s fault that the administration finds itself unable to speak with a moment’s clarity about the crisis, and keeps repeating the weasel word “restraint.” Gibbs says contingencies are being discussed, but also says Obama hasn’t spoken to foreign leaders. The U.S. is reviewing its aid posture — maybe. And everybody should refrain from violence. Certainly the White House doesn’t want to handcuff itself. But that is not the impression one gets from this press briefing. What one gets from this press briefing is that an administration in office for a little more than two years is entirely at sea when it comes to dealing with this crisis, which has been a possibility on the horizon for weeks. There’s something extraordinarily amateurish about this conduct.

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Is Romney Losing His 2008 Supporters?

Some of Mitt Romney’s most influential supporters during his 2008 presidential campaign told Politico that they haven’t yet decided whether they’ll back his 2012 run, the paper reported today. According to the article, this is a “big warning sign” that Romney’s candidacy is in trouble:

As much as anything else, it calls into question just how far ahead of the pack he is as the 2012 contenders emerge. Even as Romney tries to project inevitability by signing up top GOP money men in Washington and New York, the defections suggest he’s seen as far from a sure thing even among insiders. After all, if top Republicans were willing to commit to Romney four years ago when he was a lesser known commodity, why won’t they get on board now when he’s a household name in the political circles and clearly among the most formidable candidates for his party’s nomination?

Politico is right that Romney will face some new challenges in building a support base for 2012. While he may have been seen as the front-runner for the nomination shortly after the 2008 election, the rise of the Tea Party and the public’s rejection of health-care reform make him a riskier bet today.

But it also seems a bit early to read so much into this situation. Romney hasn’t even officially announced his candidacy — and neither have most of the other potential GOP candidates — so it’s understandable that his former supporters aren’t eagerly revealing their endorsements to Politico reporters at the moment.

So, no, this doesn’t look like a reason to predict problems for Romney yet. But it’s definitely a good forecast for the obstacles his campaign will run into down the road.

Some of Mitt Romney’s most influential supporters during his 2008 presidential campaign told Politico that they haven’t yet decided whether they’ll back his 2012 run, the paper reported today. According to the article, this is a “big warning sign” that Romney’s candidacy is in trouble:

As much as anything else, it calls into question just how far ahead of the pack he is as the 2012 contenders emerge. Even as Romney tries to project inevitability by signing up top GOP money men in Washington and New York, the defections suggest he’s seen as far from a sure thing even among insiders. After all, if top Republicans were willing to commit to Romney four years ago when he was a lesser known commodity, why won’t they get on board now when he’s a household name in the political circles and clearly among the most formidable candidates for his party’s nomination?

Politico is right that Romney will face some new challenges in building a support base for 2012. While he may have been seen as the front-runner for the nomination shortly after the 2008 election, the rise of the Tea Party and the public’s rejection of health-care reform make him a riskier bet today.

But it also seems a bit early to read so much into this situation. Romney hasn’t even officially announced his candidacy — and neither have most of the other potential GOP candidates — so it’s understandable that his former supporters aren’t eagerly revealing their endorsements to Politico reporters at the moment.

So, no, this doesn’t look like a reason to predict problems for Romney yet. But it’s definitely a good forecast for the obstacles his campaign will run into down the road.

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What We Don’t Know

I’ve been watching TV and reading the news and following everything I can about Egypt today. And what’s clear is … nothing. Changing channels and watching Twitter and reading blogs simultaneously create a sense of rapid change when in fact much of the footage is repetitive, the information is incredibly spotty, and reporters on the scene who have no way of knowing what’s going on six blocks from them are discoursing on the potential of regime collapse. It is very important in these circumstances not to extrapolate from people throwing things and tanks rolling about to world-historical change. This may be such a moment, but we’ve seen such footage innumerable times before — as in Thailand last year — without major result.

I’ve been watching TV and reading the news and following everything I can about Egypt today. And what’s clear is … nothing. Changing channels and watching Twitter and reading blogs simultaneously create a sense of rapid change when in fact much of the footage is repetitive, the information is incredibly spotty, and reporters on the scene who have no way of knowing what’s going on six blocks from them are discoursing on the potential of regime collapse. It is very important in these circumstances not to extrapolate from people throwing things and tanks rolling about to world-historical change. This may be such a moment, but we’ve seen such footage innumerable times before — as in Thailand last year — without major result.

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Uprising Goes Straight for the Canal

Navies and merchant fleets the world over are watching the riots in Egypt with concern. Friday’s news that protesters have attacked the main police station in the city of Suez is a grim development: it transforms the threat to the Suez Canal from a distant consideration to an immediate possibility. The port city of Suez overlooks the southern entrance to the canal; it hosts — along with Port Said, at the northern entrance on the Mediterranean side — Egypt’s security, administrative, and maritime-service forces. Ships queue up daily outside Port Suez to await the north-bound convoy through the canal, which leaves as soon as the south-bound convoy has finished its transit. Egypt provides security along the canal’s 120-mile length, a swath of desert abutting the 200-foot waterway on either side. Veterans of Suez transits know that nothing but armed vigilance will hinder enterprising terrorists or insurgents operating from the banks.

There can be no doubt that the uprising in Egypt, like the one in Tunisia, is fueled by popular sentiment. Ordinary Egyptians have many reasons to want to change their government. But reporting about the riots, in Suez and elsewhere, contains indications that the popular protests are being exploited by more organized groups. The police station in Suez was not stormed by a wave of bodies: it was firebombed by “protesters” wearing surgical masks. In a rural area of the northern Sinai, “protesters” fired RPGs at a police station from nearby rooftops, while several hundred Bedouins exchanged small-arms fire with police.

These are the not the typical actions of frustrated citizens. Mass protests, flag-waving, chanting, impromptu speeches, perhaps the burning of tires and garbage, as in Lebanon this week: these are the things angry citizens do, and the Egyptians have been doing them. But both Hamas and Hezbollah have recent histories of operating in the Sinai; the organized attacks on police are characteristic of their methods and weaponry. Egypt has been gravely concerned about the influence of their principal backer, Iran, for several years — and the organized attack on the main police station in the port city of Suez, situated on one of the world’s major choke points, bears the hallmark of Iranian strategic thinking.

As with Tunisia, the unrest in Egypt is erupting for good reasons and appears spontaneous. But self-appointed revolutionaries have long honed the art of exploiting popular unrest. We can expect Egypt to be beset by organized cells — some undoubtedly backed by Iran — in the coming days. The security of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean is at risk. No outcome is predestined, but this uprising is attended by the same kinds of predators who have sought their fortunes in the uprisings of desperate peoples since 1789.

We are taking a detour back into history, if by a new route — and the same thing is true that has been true since the end of World War II: no nation other than the United States is capable of addressing this emerging problem with an equal concern for freedom and security. Other nations will have to form coalitions to take it on, if Obama’s America sits on the sidelines. We won’t like the outcome if it is handled that way.

Navies and merchant fleets the world over are watching the riots in Egypt with concern. Friday’s news that protesters have attacked the main police station in the city of Suez is a grim development: it transforms the threat to the Suez Canal from a distant consideration to an immediate possibility. The port city of Suez overlooks the southern entrance to the canal; it hosts — along with Port Said, at the northern entrance on the Mediterranean side — Egypt’s security, administrative, and maritime-service forces. Ships queue up daily outside Port Suez to await the north-bound convoy through the canal, which leaves as soon as the south-bound convoy has finished its transit. Egypt provides security along the canal’s 120-mile length, a swath of desert abutting the 200-foot waterway on either side. Veterans of Suez transits know that nothing but armed vigilance will hinder enterprising terrorists or insurgents operating from the banks.

There can be no doubt that the uprising in Egypt, like the one in Tunisia, is fueled by popular sentiment. Ordinary Egyptians have many reasons to want to change their government. But reporting about the riots, in Suez and elsewhere, contains indications that the popular protests are being exploited by more organized groups. The police station in Suez was not stormed by a wave of bodies: it was firebombed by “protesters” wearing surgical masks. In a rural area of the northern Sinai, “protesters” fired RPGs at a police station from nearby rooftops, while several hundred Bedouins exchanged small-arms fire with police.

These are the not the typical actions of frustrated citizens. Mass protests, flag-waving, chanting, impromptu speeches, perhaps the burning of tires and garbage, as in Lebanon this week: these are the things angry citizens do, and the Egyptians have been doing them. But both Hamas and Hezbollah have recent histories of operating in the Sinai; the organized attacks on police are characteristic of their methods and weaponry. Egypt has been gravely concerned about the influence of their principal backer, Iran, for several years — and the organized attack on the main police station in the port city of Suez, situated on one of the world’s major choke points, bears the hallmark of Iranian strategic thinking.

As with Tunisia, the unrest in Egypt is erupting for good reasons and appears spontaneous. But self-appointed revolutionaries have long honed the art of exploiting popular unrest. We can expect Egypt to be beset by organized cells — some undoubtedly backed by Iran — in the coming days. The security of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean is at risk. No outcome is predestined, but this uprising is attended by the same kinds of predators who have sought their fortunes in the uprisings of desperate peoples since 1789.

We are taking a detour back into history, if by a new route — and the same thing is true that has been true since the end of World War II: no nation other than the United States is capable of addressing this emerging problem with an equal concern for freedom and security. Other nations will have to form coalitions to take it on, if Obama’s America sits on the sidelines. We won’t like the outcome if it is handled that way.

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Clinton, Jordanian FM: No. 1 Priority Is Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

Tunisia’s transition government is creating black lists of long-serving officials to be expelled from the government, which covers most of the people who have experience governing. Egypt is literally on fire, Yemen is about to follow, and Jordan is on deck. The nightmare land-for-peace scenario — where Israel cedes strategic depth to a stable government only to see it fall to radicals who abandon previous agreements — is roughly at 50/50 right now, with only an unstable Egyptian government standing in the way.

Under normal thinking, the uncertainty over land-for-peace would cause a rethinking of land-for-peace, and violent riots would engender a focus on things that aren’t violent riots. But dogma is dogma:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that peace in the Middle East remained the top US priority, despite unrest in the region and a leak of alleged Palestinian negotiation documents. Clinton confirmed she would head next week to Munich for talks of the “Quartet” of Middle East mediators and said she spoke at length about the conflict with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh of Jordan, a close US partner. “For both our nations, permanent peace in the Middle East remains our number one priority,” Clinton told a joint news conference with Judeh. … “Such an agreement, Jordan and the United States believe, will not only bring peace and prosperity to those who are directly affected, but it will be a major step toward a world free of extremism,” she said. [emphasis added]

Good to see that the Jordanians are keeping their eyes on the ball, too, despite already facing tribal pressure and now being subject to the same economic-Islamist alliance sweeping the rest of the Middle East. Given the Palestinian Authority’s precarious weakness, it’s not unlikely that a West Bank state would quickly become radicalized, with the instability spilling across the Jordan River and all the way into Amman. Though, in fairness, under this scenario, their declared “number one priority” would have been solved, and Israel would be out of the West Bank, such that they’d finally be able to focus on less-critical issues like the Jordanian kingdom not getting overthrown.

Usually the diplomatic obsession with Israel — irrational and incoherent as it is — at least has the quality of being interesting. Foreign-policy experts have to invent elaborate geopolitical and geo-cultural theories like linkage. Then, because those theories are wrong, they have to come up with creative epistemic and rhetorical ways of justifying them — insider access to Muslim diplomats, movement detectable only to experts, critical distinctions between public and private spheres in the Arab world, etc. It’s like reading about all the brilliant people who tried to save the medieval church’s Earth-centered solar system by sticking epicycles everywhere. Sure, it’s a last-ditch effort to save a fundamentally incorrect theory, one being propped up in the interests of ideology — but at least it’s interesting.

This, in sharp contrast, is just silly. And while I hope and think that the secretary of state was just mouthing the usual ritualistic incantations, the fact that she felt the need to do so shows how far removed from reality Middle East diplomacy has gotten.

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The Price of Defense Cutbacks Can Be Greater Than We Think

Despite the fact that we are still fighting two wars, even many Republicans (especially some of the new Tea Party members) in Congress seem ready to contemplate serious cuts to the defense budget. That means the armed services are almost certainly going to have to make do in the future with even fewer resources than they have in the past few years. And that is going to put even more of a burden on our solders, sailors, airmen, and marines, who have already been pressed to the breaking point by the need to have so many of them deployed overseas.

While the media generally approaches this problem from the standpoint of a human-interest story and the terrible problems of service personnel and their families, there is another angle to this dilemma that may have an even worse impact on national security: the deployment of individuals to war zones who have no business being anywhere near the enemy or sensitive information and equipment. That appears to be the case with the infamous Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier believed to be responsible for the leak of hundreds of thousands of sensitive reports and diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks organization.

According to a report in McClatchy newspapers, Manning’s supervisor warned higher-ups that the soldier had demonstrated unstable behavior and ought not to be sent to Iraq, where his job would put him in contact with classified material. While the ensuing screw-up saw a few different officers punt on the question because they thought someone else would address it, it appears that the main factor that lead Manning to be sent to Iraq where he would be in position to create the largest single security breach in American history was that the Army was short of qualified personnel. According to the McClatchy story:

The findings in the Manning investigation likely will renew concerns that commanders once again refused to address signs of a troubled soldier because they needed his skills to deploy a fully staffed unit to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Time magazine’s Swampland blog treats this as yet another example of how people who are potentially disturbed are being sent to war and speculates that it “kind of makes you wonder what other surprises await us, either overseas or when these folks return.”

But, as Swampland puts it, the need “for bodies on the front lines” is not just a matter of mean or stupid military officials exploiting or mistreating poor, downtrodden privates. Rather, it is a question of how the armed services have increasingly become starved for resources and personnel even as we ask them to fight the war on Islamist terror in two countries as well as to perform humanitarian, peacekeeping, and other non-military missions.

The price for budget cuts isn’t just paid in unneeded Army or Air Force bases or superfluous high-tech weapons that cost more than we ever thought they would (though we probably have more than a few of both of those kinds of boondoggles). Defense budget cuts primarily affect the ordinary Army, Navy, and Air Force members who are forced to do more for longer periods with even less help. And it also could sometime mean that unqualified people or those who ought never to be put in harm’s way or near an important document are going to get shuffled into those posts. Bradley Manning’s personnel file isn’t just a scandal that will probably get some middle-level officer cashiered. It’s a standing argument against draconian defense cuts.

Despite the fact that we are still fighting two wars, even many Republicans (especially some of the new Tea Party members) in Congress seem ready to contemplate serious cuts to the defense budget. That means the armed services are almost certainly going to have to make do in the future with even fewer resources than they have in the past few years. And that is going to put even more of a burden on our solders, sailors, airmen, and marines, who have already been pressed to the breaking point by the need to have so many of them deployed overseas.

While the media generally approaches this problem from the standpoint of a human-interest story and the terrible problems of service personnel and their families, there is another angle to this dilemma that may have an even worse impact on national security: the deployment of individuals to war zones who have no business being anywhere near the enemy or sensitive information and equipment. That appears to be the case with the infamous Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier believed to be responsible for the leak of hundreds of thousands of sensitive reports and diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks organization.

According to a report in McClatchy newspapers, Manning’s supervisor warned higher-ups that the soldier had demonstrated unstable behavior and ought not to be sent to Iraq, where his job would put him in contact with classified material. While the ensuing screw-up saw a few different officers punt on the question because they thought someone else would address it, it appears that the main factor that lead Manning to be sent to Iraq where he would be in position to create the largest single security breach in American history was that the Army was short of qualified personnel. According to the McClatchy story:

The findings in the Manning investigation likely will renew concerns that commanders once again refused to address signs of a troubled soldier because they needed his skills to deploy a fully staffed unit to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Time magazine’s Swampland blog treats this as yet another example of how people who are potentially disturbed are being sent to war and speculates that it “kind of makes you wonder what other surprises await us, either overseas or when these folks return.”

But, as Swampland puts it, the need “for bodies on the front lines” is not just a matter of mean or stupid military officials exploiting or mistreating poor, downtrodden privates. Rather, it is a question of how the armed services have increasingly become starved for resources and personnel even as we ask them to fight the war on Islamist terror in two countries as well as to perform humanitarian, peacekeeping, and other non-military missions.

The price for budget cuts isn’t just paid in unneeded Army or Air Force bases or superfluous high-tech weapons that cost more than we ever thought they would (though we probably have more than a few of both of those kinds of boondoggles). Defense budget cuts primarily affect the ordinary Army, Navy, and Air Force members who are forced to do more for longer periods with even less help. And it also could sometime mean that unqualified people or those who ought never to be put in harm’s way or near an important document are going to get shuffled into those posts. Bradley Manning’s personnel file isn’t just a scandal that will probably get some middle-level officer cashiered. It’s a standing argument against draconian defense cuts.

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A Policy That Pleases No One

In a private meeting with British MEPs on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman is reported to have said: “Washington wants a clearer British commitment to remain in the EU. … [A]ll key issues must run through Europe.” He was not expressing a personal preference. He was reiterating the administration’s policy. After all, it was the vice president who last May described Brussels as “the capital of the free world.” But this is not a policy that is likely to achieve results satisfactory to anyone.

I wrote my doctoral thesis on the first British application to the EEC in 1961 and, more broadly, on the European issue in British politics from 1956 to 1963, so I’ve had 10 painful years of slogging through thousands of pages of public and private documents on this subject. The reactions of the British people to the negotiations to enter the EEC in 1961 to 1963 are particularly relevant to the ambassador’s statement and the administration’s policy. Harold Macmillan’s government took these reactions so seriously that it carried out a secret survey of public opinion — surveying the public in this way was then a rather novel idea — to figure out if it was winning or losing, and why. (As it happened, it was losing,)

The survey found that opposition to joining the EEC centered, first, on loyalty to kith and kin in the Commonwealth. Second came the somewhat parochial concerns of the farmers, who were worried (and how wrong they turned out to be) that the Common Agricultural Policy wouldn’t ship enough money their way. Less significant than both of these sentiments, but still important, came the belief that Britain was only entering Europe because the U.S. had ordered it to do so and that the U.S. was collaborating with the EEC in an attack on British sovereignty. As a matter of fact, this was not fully true. The U.S. did strongly support British entry, but Macmillan wasn’t simply being ordered around. He had his own reasons for his policy. Indeed, he had so many reasons that it is almost impossible to answer the seeming simple question “Why did Britain apply for entry?” Read More

In a private meeting with British MEPs on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman is reported to have said: “Washington wants a clearer British commitment to remain in the EU. … [A]ll key issues must run through Europe.” He was not expressing a personal preference. He was reiterating the administration’s policy. After all, it was the vice president who last May described Brussels as “the capital of the free world.” But this is not a policy that is likely to achieve results satisfactory to anyone.

I wrote my doctoral thesis on the first British application to the EEC in 1961 and, more broadly, on the European issue in British politics from 1956 to 1963, so I’ve had 10 painful years of slogging through thousands of pages of public and private documents on this subject. The reactions of the British people to the negotiations to enter the EEC in 1961 to 1963 are particularly relevant to the ambassador’s statement and the administration’s policy. Harold Macmillan’s government took these reactions so seriously that it carried out a secret survey of public opinion — surveying the public in this way was then a rather novel idea — to figure out if it was winning or losing, and why. (As it happened, it was losing,)

The survey found that opposition to joining the EEC centered, first, on loyalty to kith and kin in the Commonwealth. Second came the somewhat parochial concerns of the farmers, who were worried (and how wrong they turned out to be) that the Common Agricultural Policy wouldn’t ship enough money their way. Less significant than both of these sentiments, but still important, came the belief that Britain was only entering Europe because the U.S. had ordered it to do so and that the U.S. was collaborating with the EEC in an attack on British sovereignty. As a matter of fact, this was not fully true. The U.S. did strongly support British entry, but Macmillan wasn’t simply being ordered around. He had his own reasons for his policy. Indeed, he had so many reasons that it is almost impossible to answer the seeming simple question “Why did Britain apply for entry?”

The problem with the Obama administration’s policy — which has basically been the policy of most U.S. administrations since 1961, with the partial exception of the more Euroskeptic tenure of George W. Bush — is that it raises these concerns about American bullying all over again, and raises them in a uniquely unhelpful way. Let us suppose for a moment that you desire — as I do not — that Britain should remain in the EU. U.S. declarations to this effect do nothing to convince those skeptical of this policy, because they suggest that the U.S. is cooperating with the EU to destroy British sovereignty, which is precisely why the skeptics are opposed to EU membership in the first place. Americans who desire Britain to stay in will best achieve this aim by not talking about it.

On the other hand, if you favor British withdrawal, it is regrettably true that the ambassador’s statements will anger the Euroskeptics — who tend to be more pro-American — and damage the Special Relationship by suggesting that the Americans have more or less given up on the idea of Britain as a sovereign and self-governing partner. The result is not to encourage strong Anglo-American relations; it is to encourage weaker British relations with both Europe and the U.S. Paradoxically, again, Americans who believe Britain should leave the EU have little to gain from statements like the ambassador’s, no matter how much public uproar they cause in Britain.

I am tempted to say it’s amazing that the administration has come upon a policy in this realm that will not achieve good results for anyone, no matter what they believe. But, as events in other parts of the world are illustrating, they seem to have a positive knack for this kind of thing.

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Is All Criticism of Israel Out of Bounds?

That’s what Chas Freeman claimed during a panel discussion with Steve Clemons this week. In an attempt to defend himself against charges that he’s an “Israel-basher,” Freeman argued that anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government is labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

“I think we have a very sad situation in this country … in which any criticism of, whatever it is, that the current government of Israel is doing, is immediately cited as evidence of anti-Israel bias, or anti-Semitism,” said Freeman.

This is a false argument. There is nothing biased or anti-Semitic about criticizing or disagreeing with Israeli policy. But the criticism can become biased or anti-Semitic when it’s disproportionate, dishonest, or consistently one-sided.

Freeman gives a perfect example of this when he launches into his theory about how the Israel lobby has a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy:

The United States essentially has disqualified itself as a mediator. I say that with great sadness, because I believe on many occasions we had opportunities to go for peace, I think there has been an implicit promise of peace on many occasions and we did not do that. We cannot play the role of mediator because of the political hammerlock that the right wing in Israel through its supporters here exercises in our politics. We are simply biased.

If someone’s analysis of the Middle East conflict is derived from the deeply paranoid theory that the U.S. government policy is controlled by a group of American citizens acting as Israeli foreign agents, then the term “Israel-basher” sounds like a pretty fair characterization.

That’s what Chas Freeman claimed during a panel discussion with Steve Clemons this week. In an attempt to defend himself against charges that he’s an “Israel-basher,” Freeman argued that anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government is labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

“I think we have a very sad situation in this country … in which any criticism of, whatever it is, that the current government of Israel is doing, is immediately cited as evidence of anti-Israel bias, or anti-Semitism,” said Freeman.

This is a false argument. There is nothing biased or anti-Semitic about criticizing or disagreeing with Israeli policy. But the criticism can become biased or anti-Semitic when it’s disproportionate, dishonest, or consistently one-sided.

Freeman gives a perfect example of this when he launches into his theory about how the Israel lobby has a stranglehold on U.S. foreign policy:

The United States essentially has disqualified itself as a mediator. I say that with great sadness, because I believe on many occasions we had opportunities to go for peace, I think there has been an implicit promise of peace on many occasions and we did not do that. We cannot play the role of mediator because of the political hammerlock that the right wing in Israel through its supporters here exercises in our politics. We are simply biased.

If someone’s analysis of the Middle East conflict is derived from the deeply paranoid theory that the U.S. government policy is controlled by a group of American citizens acting as Israeli foreign agents, then the term “Israel-basher” sounds like a pretty fair characterization.

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What Not to Say About Egypt

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s latest statement in response to the protests in Egypt should be immortalized as a classic articulation of the absurd, approaching the level of “Let them eat cake.” As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians defy a state-imposed curfew, set fire to Hosni Mubarak’s party headquarters, overturn cars, and set off explosions nationwide while demanding that Mubarak leave the country, Clinton took a moment out of her day to note the following:

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors. We call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully. We urge Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and reverse unprecedented steps it has taken to cut down means of communications.

That is, to be sure, the best, most admirable line for the administration to take – if today were January 20. On January 28, it is not merely late; it is surreal. The protests are not peaceful and the regime is not so much cracking down as it is fighting for its survival. The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings. But back when that was the case, the Obama administration was too busy being pragmatic and humble to raise the issue of human rights in Egypt.

Hang on, there’s more. Clinton outdid herself with this: “We strongly believe that the Egyptian government needs to engage with its people on immediate reforms. We want to partner with the Egyptian people and its government.” You can’t even call that fence-sitting, because the fence in question does not exist outside Hillary Clinton’s imagination. If we take this statement to mean anything in the real world, it would be that the U.S. intends to lead some sort of post-uprising group-therapy workshop between a dictator and his enraged subjects. Whatever else comes from the riots in Egypt, it has killed “smart power” in its tracks.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s latest statement in response to the protests in Egypt should be immortalized as a classic articulation of the absurd, approaching the level of “Let them eat cake.” As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians defy a state-imposed curfew, set fire to Hosni Mubarak’s party headquarters, overturn cars, and set off explosions nationwide while demanding that Mubarak leave the country, Clinton took a moment out of her day to note the following:

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors. We call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully. We urge Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and reverse unprecedented steps it has taken to cut down means of communications.

That is, to be sure, the best, most admirable line for the administration to take – if today were January 20. On January 28, it is not merely late; it is surreal. The protests are not peaceful and the regime is not so much cracking down as it is fighting for its survival. The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings. But back when that was the case, the Obama administration was too busy being pragmatic and humble to raise the issue of human rights in Egypt.

Hang on, there’s more. Clinton outdid herself with this: “We strongly believe that the Egyptian government needs to engage with its people on immediate reforms. We want to partner with the Egyptian people and its government.” You can’t even call that fence-sitting, because the fence in question does not exist outside Hillary Clinton’s imagination. If we take this statement to mean anything in the real world, it would be that the U.S. intends to lead some sort of post-uprising group-therapy workshop between a dictator and his enraged subjects. Whatever else comes from the riots in Egypt, it has killed “smart power” in its tracks.

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The PR Geniuses at J Street Are at It Again

Apparently J Street is still feeling burned after its last legitimate congressional supporter, Rep. Gary Ackerman, publicly cut ties with the group on Wednesday. The organization sent out an e-mail blast today, calling on its supporters to bombard the congressman with messages deriding him for ending his connection with J Street.

What makes this bad move worse is Ackerman’s prominent position on the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East. He’s probably not the type of person J Street can afford to make an enemy out of. And yet:

We are sad and disappointed that the Congressman lacks the courage of his convictions on this issue. …

It is a failure of leadership when a senior official like Congressman Ackerman chooses to fall back on yesterday’s politics — blaming only the Palestinians for the present impasse, calling those who see it differently names, and questioning our support for Israel.

Click here to tell Congressman Ackerman that Israel needs friends who will speak hard truths and push for a two-state solution now before it’s too late.

The e-mail allows supporters to submit a signature and a personal message that will be added to a petition that denounces Ackerman. It also says that the notes will be forwarded directly to the congressman. However, after reading this blast, I think it’s safe to assume that the only messages Ackerman is going to get are a string of emotionally charged voicemails from Jeremy Ben Ami.

Apparently J Street is still feeling burned after its last legitimate congressional supporter, Rep. Gary Ackerman, publicly cut ties with the group on Wednesday. The organization sent out an e-mail blast today, calling on its supporters to bombard the congressman with messages deriding him for ending his connection with J Street.

What makes this bad move worse is Ackerman’s prominent position on the Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East. He’s probably not the type of person J Street can afford to make an enemy out of. And yet:

We are sad and disappointed that the Congressman lacks the courage of his convictions on this issue. …

It is a failure of leadership when a senior official like Congressman Ackerman chooses to fall back on yesterday’s politics — blaming only the Palestinians for the present impasse, calling those who see it differently names, and questioning our support for Israel.

Click here to tell Congressman Ackerman that Israel needs friends who will speak hard truths and push for a two-state solution now before it’s too late.

The e-mail allows supporters to submit a signature and a personal message that will be added to a petition that denounces Ackerman. It also says that the notes will be forwarded directly to the congressman. However, after reading this blast, I think it’s safe to assume that the only messages Ackerman is going to get are a string of emotionally charged voicemails from Jeremy Ben Ami.

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Vindication for Bush’s Freedom Agenda

As popular unrest sweeps the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunisia to Yemen to Egypt, it’s worth recalling the words and warning of President George W. Bush – in this case, his November 19, 2003, address at Whitehall Palace in London, where Bush said this:

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. …

As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.

Now we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror. We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region, and we will meet our responsibilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq by finishing the work of democracy we have begun.

During the course of the Bush presidency, his “freedom agenda” was criticized from several different quarters, including foreign-policy “realists” who believed that the bargain Bush spoke about — tolerating oppression for the sake of “stability” — was worth it.

It wasn’t. The core argument Bush made, which is that America must stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity — the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance — was right. No people on earth long to live in oppression and servitude, as slaves instead of free people, to be kept in chains or experience the lash of the whip.

How this conviction should play itself out in the real world is not self-evident; the success of such a policy depends on the wisdom and prudence of statesmen. Implementing a policy is a good deal harder than proclaiming one. Still, it seems to be that events are vindicating the freedom agenda as a strategy and a moral insight, as even the Obama administration is coming to learn.

As popular unrest sweeps the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunisia to Yemen to Egypt, it’s worth recalling the words and warning of President George W. Bush – in this case, his November 19, 2003, address at Whitehall Palace in London, where Bush said this:

We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. …

As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.

Now we’re pursuing a different course, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We will consistently challenge the enemies of reform and confront the allies of terror. We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region, and we will meet our responsibilities in Afghanistan and in Iraq by finishing the work of democracy we have begun.

During the course of the Bush presidency, his “freedom agenda” was criticized from several different quarters, including foreign-policy “realists” who believed that the bargain Bush spoke about — tolerating oppression for the sake of “stability” — was worth it.

It wasn’t. The core argument Bush made, which is that America must stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity — the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance — was right. No people on earth long to live in oppression and servitude, as slaves instead of free people, to be kept in chains or experience the lash of the whip.

How this conviction should play itself out in the real world is not self-evident; the success of such a policy depends on the wisdom and prudence of statesmen. Implementing a policy is a good deal harder than proclaiming one. Still, it seems to be that events are vindicating the freedom agenda as a strategy and a moral insight, as even the Obama administration is coming to learn.

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And You Think We’ve Got Troubles . . .

Two articles in today’s New York Times show just how much trouble Japan is in economically. On the front page is an article on how young Japanese are finding it increasingly difficult to find a good job. Only 56.7 percent of college students have a firm job offer when they graduate, an all-time low.

An aging population is clogging the nation’s economy with the vested interests of older generations, young people and social experts warn, making an already hierarchical society even more rigid and conservative. The result is that Japan is holding back and marginalizing its youth at a time when it actually needs them to help create the new products, companies and industries that a mature economy requires to grow.

With a population that is actually falling in numbers, a very low birth rate, virtually no immigration, and an ever-increasing life expectancy, Japan is a demographic time bomb as the average age of the population steadily increases. There are more and more recipients of old-age pensions and medical care and fewer and fewer young workers to fund them.

And Standard and Poor’s has lowered Japan’s credit rating, down to AA-. That’s three steps below the top grade of AAA. China has the same rating, but China is growing rapidly, and its debt is only about 15 percent of GDP. Japan’s debt this year will reach 203 percent. (The debt/GDP ratio of Greece last year when it nearly defaulted and had to be rescued by the European Union was 137 percent.)

Of all the major economic powers, Japan is by far in the worst shape, and its politicians seem unable to take the tough steps necessary to turn things around. It’s hard to imagine that only 25 years ago, there was a spate of chin-pulling books and articles on how Japan was poised to become the world’s leading economy.

Two articles in today’s New York Times show just how much trouble Japan is in economically. On the front page is an article on how young Japanese are finding it increasingly difficult to find a good job. Only 56.7 percent of college students have a firm job offer when they graduate, an all-time low.

An aging population is clogging the nation’s economy with the vested interests of older generations, young people and social experts warn, making an already hierarchical society even more rigid and conservative. The result is that Japan is holding back and marginalizing its youth at a time when it actually needs them to help create the new products, companies and industries that a mature economy requires to grow.

With a population that is actually falling in numbers, a very low birth rate, virtually no immigration, and an ever-increasing life expectancy, Japan is a demographic time bomb as the average age of the population steadily increases. There are more and more recipients of old-age pensions and medical care and fewer and fewer young workers to fund them.

And Standard and Poor’s has lowered Japan’s credit rating, down to AA-. That’s three steps below the top grade of AAA. China has the same rating, but China is growing rapidly, and its debt is only about 15 percent of GDP. Japan’s debt this year will reach 203 percent. (The debt/GDP ratio of Greece last year when it nearly defaulted and had to be rescued by the European Union was 137 percent.)

Of all the major economic powers, Japan is by far in the worst shape, and its politicians seem unable to take the tough steps necessary to turn things around. It’s hard to imagine that only 25 years ago, there was a spate of chin-pulling books and articles on how Japan was poised to become the world’s leading economy.

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RE: Why Did Peace Talks Fail?

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

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FROM THE JANUARY ISSUE: ‘The Problem with Printing Money’

The Federal Reserve’s dramatic new intervention into the U.S. economy—a $600 billion purchase of Treasury bonds that was immediately branded with the nautical nickname of QE2—had barely gotten underway in November 2010 before the Fed itself began sending signals that it had a public-relations disaster on its hands. In a speech to European central bankers in Frankfurt only two weeks after the policy was announced, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said he didn’t like using the term “quantitative easing”—much less “QE2” —because it didn’t precisely describe what the central bank was trying to do by running the printing presses overtime.

To read the rest of this article from COMMENTARY‘s January issue, click here.

To become a subscriber to COMMENTARY — online or print – click here.

The Federal Reserve’s dramatic new intervention into the U.S. economy—a $600 billion purchase of Treasury bonds that was immediately branded with the nautical nickname of QE2—had barely gotten underway in November 2010 before the Fed itself began sending signals that it had a public-relations disaster on its hands. In a speech to European central bankers in Frankfurt only two weeks after the policy was announced, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said he didn’t like using the term “quantitative easing”—much less “QE2” —because it didn’t precisely describe what the central bank was trying to do by running the printing presses overtime.

To read the rest of this article from COMMENTARY‘s January issue, click here.

To become a subscriber to COMMENTARY — online or print – click here.

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Note to Bill O’Reilly, RE: Jon Stewart — Quit While You’re Behind

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart is engaged in a television duel with Bill O’Reilly. It started with Stewart taking Fox News, including Bill O’Reilly, to task for periodically invoking the Nazi analogy. O’Reilly fired back, saying Stewart had taken O’Reilly’s comments out of context. Last night Stewart answered O’Reilly.

Out of this back and forth emerge a few things. First, let’s agree to do away with Nazi analogies unless extraordinary circumstances (like, say, genocide) demand it. Using it as often as people do is offensive and weakens rather than strengthens an argument. Second, don’t use anonymous (and disgusting) Web comments to make broad, sweeping characterizations. And third, don’t debate Jon Stewart unless you have a really strong argument on your side.

Though he’s a political liberal, I enjoy Jon Stewart. On a nightly basis, he demonstrates that he’s America’s best satirist, smart, well-informed, and formidable. If Bill O’Reilly is wise, he’ll quit while he’s behind. (h/t: Mediaite.com)

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart is engaged in a television duel with Bill O’Reilly. It started with Stewart taking Fox News, including Bill O’Reilly, to task for periodically invoking the Nazi analogy. O’Reilly fired back, saying Stewart had taken O’Reilly’s comments out of context. Last night Stewart answered O’Reilly.

Out of this back and forth emerge a few things. First, let’s agree to do away with Nazi analogies unless extraordinary circumstances (like, say, genocide) demand it. Using it as often as people do is offensive and weakens rather than strengthens an argument. Second, don’t use anonymous (and disgusting) Web comments to make broad, sweeping characterizations. And third, don’t debate Jon Stewart unless you have a really strong argument on your side.

Though he’s a political liberal, I enjoy Jon Stewart. On a nightly basis, he demonstrates that he’s America’s best satirist, smart, well-informed, and formidable. If Bill O’Reilly is wise, he’ll quit while he’s behind. (h/t: Mediaite.com)

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The Jewish Chronicle Joins Condemnation of the Guardian

The Jewish Chronicle, a highly influential newspaper among the British Jewish community, published a surprisingly hard-hitting editorial today slamming the Guardian for its coverage of the Palestinian Papers controversy.

“There is nothing, of itself, wrong with the Guardian publishing its scoop; all serious newspapers relish scoops,” wrote the Chronicle, in reference to the Guardian‘s collaborating with Al Jazeera to break the Palestinian Papers story. “What is very wrong is the way the paper chose to present its story: the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance of its handing down instructions to the Palestinians of how they should behave.”

The Guardian and Al Jazeera have been criticized for heavily spinning the story: taking quotes out of context, printing misleading claims, and leaving out information that might contradict a preconceived narrative.

But that’s nothing new for the Guardian, especially when it comes to its obsessive and highly tendentious coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s editorial section, however, did cross a line with the Palestinian Papers story — one that may be impossible to step back over.

Let’s no longer pretend that the Guardian supports a two-state solution. This week its editorial board aligned itself with the views of Hamas. Its columnists have called on Palestinians to rise up against the Palestinian Authority leaders. And, perhaps most shameful, it printed a cartoon of PA President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew — drawn by cartoonist Carlos Latuff, known for his viciously anti-Israel work.

“The Guardian crossed a line this week. It has not practised journalism but rather hardcore political activism, playing with people’s lives,” the Chronicle concluded.

The Chronicle’s editors are correct in their condemnation. Other Jewish organizations concerned about anti-Semitic incitement would be smart to follow their lead.

The Jewish Chronicle, a highly influential newspaper among the British Jewish community, published a surprisingly hard-hitting editorial today slamming the Guardian for its coverage of the Palestinian Papers controversy.

“There is nothing, of itself, wrong with the Guardian publishing its scoop; all serious newspapers relish scoops,” wrote the Chronicle, in reference to the Guardian‘s collaborating with Al Jazeera to break the Palestinian Papers story. “What is very wrong is the way the paper chose to present its story: the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance of its handing down instructions to the Palestinians of how they should behave.”

The Guardian and Al Jazeera have been criticized for heavily spinning the story: taking quotes out of context, printing misleading claims, and leaving out information that might contradict a preconceived narrative.

But that’s nothing new for the Guardian, especially when it comes to its obsessive and highly tendentious coverage of Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s editorial section, however, did cross a line with the Palestinian Papers story — one that may be impossible to step back over.

Let’s no longer pretend that the Guardian supports a two-state solution. This week its editorial board aligned itself with the views of Hamas. Its columnists have called on Palestinians to rise up against the Palestinian Authority leaders. And, perhaps most shameful, it printed a cartoon of PA President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew — drawn by cartoonist Carlos Latuff, known for his viciously anti-Israel work.

“The Guardian crossed a line this week. It has not practised journalism but rather hardcore political activism, playing with people’s lives,” the Chronicle concluded.

The Chronicle’s editors are correct in their condemnation. Other Jewish organizations concerned about anti-Semitic incitement would be smart to follow their lead.

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Why Did Peace Talks Fail? Abbas Wouldn’t Take the Pen and Sign

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status. Read More

The New York Times is reporting today that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert’s memoirs confirm what has long been known to be true: that in September 2008, Mahmoud Abbas walked away from a peace agreement that would have guaranteed a Palestinian state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem.

Excerpts from Olmert’s memoirs were published yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, and his recollections, along with the Palestinian documents released by Al Jazeera this week, provide a fairly comprehensive picture of what went on in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. This week we have been hearing a great deal about how accommodating Abbas was in “conceding” that Jews would be allowed to stay in their homes in Jerusalem and that Israel would not allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to transform the Jewish state into one more Arab one. But the real concessions were, as has consistently been the case since the Oslo process began in 1993, made by Israel.

Olmert’s 2008 concessions were unprecedented. He not only was prepared to give the Palestinians their state; he also gave in on the question of an Israeli security presence along the Jordan River (that border would be patrolled by an international force with no Israelis present); he was prepared to allow Jerusalem’s holy places to be placed in the hands of a multinational committee; and he was even prepared to allow a symbolic number of refugees to settle in Israel while “generously compensating” all others who claimed that status.

These concessions represented grave setbacks to Israeli security and Jewish rights. Israel’s past experience with international security forces along its borders are mixed, though the horrible record of United Nations forces in Lebanon — which allowed terrorists free access to the frontier — is a reminder of the cost of relying on foreign troops to guarantee Israeli security. Similarly, it should be noted that the only period during which Jews — and members of other faiths — have had full access to sacred spots has been since 1967. Prior to that, Jewish access to the holy places was virtually nonexistent. Olmert’s reliance on the goodwill of an international community that has never been particularly concerned with Jewish rights was extraordinary. And as for the refugees, his willingness to allow some back into Israel and to compensate the others completely ignores the fact that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were forced out of their homes after 1948 seem to have been completely forgotten in his pact with Abbas.

Olmert would have had a difficult time selling such a terrible deal to Israelis, but the odds are they would have accepted it if it meant that the Palestinians were truly willing to end the conflict. But it never came to that. Why? It was simply because Abbas couldn’t bring himself to take yes for an answer. For all the chatter about how many concessions the Palestinians were willing to make, when it came to actually making peace and taking the best deal possible, Abbas was no different from his old boss Yasir Arafat, who turned down Bill Clinton and the Israelis at Camp David in 2000.

As Olmert tells it, on Sept. 16, 2008, in a meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli handed Abbas a map showing his Palestinian state including parts of Jerusalem.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] said that he could not decide and that he needed time,” Mr. Olmert writes. “I told him that he was making an historic mistake.

“ ‘Give me the map so that I can consult with my colleagues,’ he said to me. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is fairer or more just. Don’t hesitate. This is hard for me too, but we don’t have an option of not resolving this.’”

Abbas and Olmert never met again. Faced with an opportunity to end the conflict and create the Palestinian state that has supposedly been his movement’s goal, Abbas couldn’t take the pen and sign because he knew that the culture of Palestinian politics was such that he could not persuade his people to compromise. The essence of Palestinian nationalism has always been and remains the negation of both Zionism and the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Concede that and there is no Palestinian nationalism. So once again, the Palestinians walked away from peace.

Yesterday Abbas’s top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claimed in an article in the Guardian that the Al Jazeera documents show that the Palestinians had no partner for peace. We will continue to hear more big lies from the Palestinians and their Western cheerleaders in the future. But the truth is, as Abbas’s refusal to take the pen proves, even the most moderate Palestinian leaders still can’t make peace.

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