Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 8, 2011

That Good Old ‘Pattern of Cooperation’

Over the last few days, the conservative media and blogosphere in the U.S. and Britain have been roiled by WikiLeaks documents suggesting that, in order to secure Russia’s agreement to the New START Treaty, the U.S. agreed to disclose information about the Trident missiles it transfers to Britain. Media Matters predictably claims that there is nothing untoward involved, that it’s all an invention of the “right-wing media.” And P.J. Crowley argued that New START simply “carried forward and updated this notification procedure” from the 1991 START Treaty.

Yet a careful reading of the 1991 and 2011 treaties reveals significant differences between the U.S.’s obligations vis-à-vis Britain and Russia in these treaties. These differences all tend in one direction: they reduce the secrecy surrounding the UK’s nuclear deterrent, a secrecy that the UK has sought to preserve for the obvious reason that secrecy enhances the effectiveness of the deterrent. But, as is often the case with these partial disclosures, the questions they raise are at least as troubling as the answers they provide.

Three such issues stand out. First, we have no idea how the U.S. will fulfill its disclosure obligations under New START, or what else it has promised to reveal about Britain’s (or other allies’) forces. Second, by committing to reveal information not just about U.S.-made missiles but also about Britain’s storage arrangements for those missiles, the U.S. effectively asserts that Britain is a suitable subject for U.S.-Russian bargaining. No more direct refutation of the fundamental premise of NATO — that its members are sovereign states — could be imagined. And third, the WikiLeaks cable makes the broader point that the Russian strategy is to force the administration to choose between more arms-control agreements, which it knows they want badly, and its alliance commitments.

Frankly, when this story first broke, my thought was that it was the worst rupture in U.S.-UK nuclear cooperation since the 1962 Skybolt fiasco, which revolved around the U.S.’s cancellation of a nuclear-capable air-to-surface missile on which Britain had planned to base its nuclear force. But the parallel is not exact. Skybolt reflected U.S carelessness and incomprehension, not ill-will or simple lack of concern. As Richard Neustadt summed it up in his classic study, Alliance Politics: “The reason is not far to seek. Those who play at governing in London or in Washington are playing different games by different rules.” Skybolt broke the pattern of cooperation, but that pattern was rapidly rebuilt at Bermuda through a deal that gave Britain access to U.S.-made Polaris missiles.

New START, on the other hand, continues the pattern of this administration’s disdain for traditional American allies, and the pattern of its desire to reset relations with autocracies around the world at the expense of those allies. It is almost quaint that New START uses the term of art for our relations with Britain, for if the administration continues on in this vein, we will not have “patterns of cooperation” to worry about much longer.

Over the last few days, the conservative media and blogosphere in the U.S. and Britain have been roiled by WikiLeaks documents suggesting that, in order to secure Russia’s agreement to the New START Treaty, the U.S. agreed to disclose information about the Trident missiles it transfers to Britain. Media Matters predictably claims that there is nothing untoward involved, that it’s all an invention of the “right-wing media.” And P.J. Crowley argued that New START simply “carried forward and updated this notification procedure” from the 1991 START Treaty.

Yet a careful reading of the 1991 and 2011 treaties reveals significant differences between the U.S.’s obligations vis-à-vis Britain and Russia in these treaties. These differences all tend in one direction: they reduce the secrecy surrounding the UK’s nuclear deterrent, a secrecy that the UK has sought to preserve for the obvious reason that secrecy enhances the effectiveness of the deterrent. But, as is often the case with these partial disclosures, the questions they raise are at least as troubling as the answers they provide.

Three such issues stand out. First, we have no idea how the U.S. will fulfill its disclosure obligations under New START, or what else it has promised to reveal about Britain’s (or other allies’) forces. Second, by committing to reveal information not just about U.S.-made missiles but also about Britain’s storage arrangements for those missiles, the U.S. effectively asserts that Britain is a suitable subject for U.S.-Russian bargaining. No more direct refutation of the fundamental premise of NATO — that its members are sovereign states — could be imagined. And third, the WikiLeaks cable makes the broader point that the Russian strategy is to force the administration to choose between more arms-control agreements, which it knows they want badly, and its alliance commitments.

Frankly, when this story first broke, my thought was that it was the worst rupture in U.S.-UK nuclear cooperation since the 1962 Skybolt fiasco, which revolved around the U.S.’s cancellation of a nuclear-capable air-to-surface missile on which Britain had planned to base its nuclear force. But the parallel is not exact. Skybolt reflected U.S carelessness and incomprehension, not ill-will or simple lack of concern. As Richard Neustadt summed it up in his classic study, Alliance Politics: “The reason is not far to seek. Those who play at governing in London or in Washington are playing different games by different rules.” Skybolt broke the pattern of cooperation, but that pattern was rapidly rebuilt at Bermuda through a deal that gave Britain access to U.S.-made Polaris missiles.

New START, on the other hand, continues the pattern of this administration’s disdain for traditional American allies, and the pattern of its desire to reset relations with autocracies around the world at the expense of those allies. It is almost quaint that New START uses the term of art for our relations with Britain, for if the administration continues on in this vein, we will not have “patterns of cooperation” to worry about much longer.

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All Aboard the T-Rex Express

President Obama is going to call for spending $53 billion over the next six years on high-speed railroads between major cities, with $8 billion in the 2012 budget. He touted the idea in the State of the Union and, indeed, has been pushing it since he took office.

But high-speed rail is exactly what we don’t need to spend money on, for reasons Robert J. Samuelson explained with his usual clarity a year and a half ago. The countries that have bullet trains also have: (1) high population density — Japan has 10 times the number of people per square mile as the U.S., and France three times; (2) very high gas prices; (3) unitary governments that don’t have to fear endless court battles over environmental issues, etc.; and (4) relatively small national territories. France, the largest country in Western Europe, is smaller than Texas.

Even in the areas where bullet trains might make sense from a population-density standpoint, such as the Boston–New York–Washington corridor, they would make no sense from an economic one. Bullet trains cannot run on regular tracks, which Amtrak’s Acela trains on this route do. They need dedicated, carefully engineered lines that might well run $50 million a mile to construct. That would be $20 billion for construction alone (ignoring minor matters such as tunnels under the Hudson River). If they sold 10 million tickets a year on that line, they would have to charge $100 per ticket just to cover the interest on the construction costs. Then there are the land-acquisition costs (which would be huge in this part of the country), the cost of the rolling stock, fuel costs, maintenance costs, labor costs, and so on. Unsubsidized, it would probably be cheaper for a party of six to charter a jet to fly from Boston to Washington than to take the bullet train.

But, of course, it would be subsidized, just as Amtrak trains (no bullet trains they) are. Amtrak has been a money pit for the government ever since it was established.

If bullet trains made sense in the United States, there would be entrepreneurs only too glad to build them. Before Congress votes to spend vast sums on bullet trains, members might want to read about the sad history of the Concorde, an airplane that the British and French governments poured tens of billions into designing and building only to find that no one wanted to buy them, because only the very rich could afford to fly in them. The Concordes that survive today are all in museums — like the skeletons of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

President Obama is going to call for spending $53 billion over the next six years on high-speed railroads between major cities, with $8 billion in the 2012 budget. He touted the idea in the State of the Union and, indeed, has been pushing it since he took office.

But high-speed rail is exactly what we don’t need to spend money on, for reasons Robert J. Samuelson explained with his usual clarity a year and a half ago. The countries that have bullet trains also have: (1) high population density — Japan has 10 times the number of people per square mile as the U.S., and France three times; (2) very high gas prices; (3) unitary governments that don’t have to fear endless court battles over environmental issues, etc.; and (4) relatively small national territories. France, the largest country in Western Europe, is smaller than Texas.

Even in the areas where bullet trains might make sense from a population-density standpoint, such as the Boston–New York–Washington corridor, they would make no sense from an economic one. Bullet trains cannot run on regular tracks, which Amtrak’s Acela trains on this route do. They need dedicated, carefully engineered lines that might well run $50 million a mile to construct. That would be $20 billion for construction alone (ignoring minor matters such as tunnels under the Hudson River). If they sold 10 million tickets a year on that line, they would have to charge $100 per ticket just to cover the interest on the construction costs. Then there are the land-acquisition costs (which would be huge in this part of the country), the cost of the rolling stock, fuel costs, maintenance costs, labor costs, and so on. Unsubsidized, it would probably be cheaper for a party of six to charter a jet to fly from Boston to Washington than to take the bullet train.

But, of course, it would be subsidized, just as Amtrak trains (no bullet trains they) are. Amtrak has been a money pit for the government ever since it was established.

If bullet trains made sense in the United States, there would be entrepreneurs only too glad to build them. Before Congress votes to spend vast sums on bullet trains, members might want to read about the sad history of the Concorde, an airplane that the British and French governments poured tens of billions into designing and building only to find that no one wanted to buy them, because only the very rich could afford to fly in them. The Concordes that survive today are all in museums — like the skeletons of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

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UC Irvine Students Will Be Prosecuted for Disrupting Oren Speech

Last year’s controversy at the University of California, Irvine — where members of the Muslim Student Union attempted to shut down a speech by Ambassador Michael Oren — looks like it’s finally headed toward some sort of resolution. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that authorities are charging the students who heckled and disrupted Oren with “conspiring to disrupt a meeting.”

The move comes after about 50 protesters rallied in front of the Orange County district attorney’s office Tuesday. Though some have criticized the students’ method of protest, many said that university punishment was sufficient enough for the “Irvine 11,” as the students came to be known.

In a statement, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said the case was filed because of an “organized attempted to squelch the speaker.” He also said the students “meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting.”

UC Irvine already punished the Muslim Student Association for violating university policy, but the district attorney believes that legal action is also necessary. Evidence has emerged indicating that the MSA had established a premeditated plan to disrupt the speech, and members were allegedly instructed to deny the coordination if questioned.

Similar free-speech violations happen regularly at universities across the country, and they are rarely, if ever, prosecuted. Left-wing student groups often attempt to shout down speakers they disagree with, and they do so knowing that they probably won’t have to deal with any consequences.

But the Orange County district attorney has made it clear that these acts won’t be tolerated any longer.

“We must decide whether we are a country of laws or a country of anarchy,” said Rackauckas in a statement. “We cannot tolerate a pre-planned violation of the law, even if the crime takes place on a school campus and even if the defendants are college students. In our democratic society, we cannot tolerate a deliberate, organized, repetitive and collective effort to significantly disrupt a speaker who hundreds assembled to hear.”

Last year’s controversy at the University of California, Irvine — where members of the Muslim Student Union attempted to shut down a speech by Ambassador Michael Oren — looks like it’s finally headed toward some sort of resolution. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that authorities are charging the students who heckled and disrupted Oren with “conspiring to disrupt a meeting.”

The move comes after about 50 protesters rallied in front of the Orange County district attorney’s office Tuesday. Though some have criticized the students’ method of protest, many said that university punishment was sufficient enough for the “Irvine 11,” as the students came to be known.

In a statement, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said the case was filed because of an “organized attempted to squelch the speaker.” He also said the students “meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting.”

UC Irvine already punished the Muslim Student Association for violating university policy, but the district attorney believes that legal action is also necessary. Evidence has emerged indicating that the MSA had established a premeditated plan to disrupt the speech, and members were allegedly instructed to deny the coordination if questioned.

Similar free-speech violations happen regularly at universities across the country, and they are rarely, if ever, prosecuted. Left-wing student groups often attempt to shout down speakers they disagree with, and they do so knowing that they probably won’t have to deal with any consequences.

But the Orange County district attorney has made it clear that these acts won’t be tolerated any longer.

“We must decide whether we are a country of laws or a country of anarchy,” said Rackauckas in a statement. “We cannot tolerate a pre-planned violation of the law, even if the crime takes place on a school campus and even if the defendants are college students. In our democratic society, we cannot tolerate a deliberate, organized, repetitive and collective effort to significantly disrupt a speaker who hundreds assembled to hear.”

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Democratic Party Moves Further to the Left

Back in 2008, the prevailing wisdom was that the Republican Party was shrinking and moving sharply to the right and would eventually become a “regional” party confined to the South. Of course, two years later, the GOP won sweeping victories in Congress as conservative policies grew in popularity.

Now it looks like the Democratic Party is the one shedding members and becoming more ideologically rigid. According to John Fund, yesterday’s resignation of blue dog Rep. Jane Harman and the potential bankruptcy of the Democratic Leadership Council were two news items that “confirmed the perilous condition of moderates within the Democratic Party.”

“Progressives are winning the battle for the party,” Progressive Congress president Darcy Burner told Politico.com. “The corporate-focused DLC type of politics isn’t working inside the Democratic party.”

The [Democratic Leadership Council’s] decline is one more illustration that the core of the Democratic Party apparently has decided that no course correction is needed after what President Obama called its “shellacking” in the midterm elections. The DLC helped elect and re-elect Bill Clinton, one of its first chairmen, in the 1990s by promoting support for balanced budgets, free trade, welfare reform and tough law enforcement. But the organization fell on hard times after it was seen as insufficiently confrontational with President George W. Bush. And its support of the 2003 Iraq war angered a growing militant strain among left-wing Democrats.

Fund also points to Sen. Joe Lieberman’s recent announcement that he will retire from politics as another sign that the party is shifting to the left.

“The party remains firmly in the grip of its most liberal elements, and that means Republicans can count on only so much cooperation or compromise as they pursue their own agenda,” Fund writes.

President Obama can only count on so much cooperation from his fellow Democrats as well. He may be trying to move toward the center to make himself more politically palatable for 2012, but the increasingly progressive Democratic Party certainly will not make that task easy for him.

Back in 2008, the prevailing wisdom was that the Republican Party was shrinking and moving sharply to the right and would eventually become a “regional” party confined to the South. Of course, two years later, the GOP won sweeping victories in Congress as conservative policies grew in popularity.

Now it looks like the Democratic Party is the one shedding members and becoming more ideologically rigid. According to John Fund, yesterday’s resignation of blue dog Rep. Jane Harman and the potential bankruptcy of the Democratic Leadership Council were two news items that “confirmed the perilous condition of moderates within the Democratic Party.”

“Progressives are winning the battle for the party,” Progressive Congress president Darcy Burner told Politico.com. “The corporate-focused DLC type of politics isn’t working inside the Democratic party.”

The [Democratic Leadership Council’s] decline is one more illustration that the core of the Democratic Party apparently has decided that no course correction is needed after what President Obama called its “shellacking” in the midterm elections. The DLC helped elect and re-elect Bill Clinton, one of its first chairmen, in the 1990s by promoting support for balanced budgets, free trade, welfare reform and tough law enforcement. But the organization fell on hard times after it was seen as insufficiently confrontational with President George W. Bush. And its support of the 2003 Iraq war angered a growing militant strain among left-wing Democrats.

Fund also points to Sen. Joe Lieberman’s recent announcement that he will retire from politics as another sign that the party is shifting to the left.

“The party remains firmly in the grip of its most liberal elements, and that means Republicans can count on only so much cooperation or compromise as they pursue their own agenda,” Fund writes.

President Obama can only count on so much cooperation from his fellow Democrats as well. He may be trying to move toward the center to make himself more politically palatable for 2012, but the increasingly progressive Democratic Party certainly will not make that task easy for him.

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Where Is Obama on Bush Arrest Threat?

Regarding that story about the Swiss arrest threat against President Bush, David Frum points out that one person has been conspicuously silent on the matter. As NGOs claim credit for thwarting Bush’s trip to Switzerland, President Obama has made no attempt to intervene on behalf of his beleaguered predecessor:

It’s hard to know how much of this story is true, and how much is fundraising bluster. But if even a small portion of the news is true, President Obama has a duty to speak up and to warn foreign governments that further indulgence of this kind of nonsense by their court systems will be viewed as an unfriendly act by the United States. It is one more reminder of why the concept of an International Criminal Court is such an invitation to mischief.

And for those inclined to enjoy the mischief: Just wait until somebody serves an arrest warrant in Luxembourg on ex-President Obama for ordering all those drone strikes on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Frum’s note about the accuracy of this story is prudent, especially since the human-rights groups involved have been promoting it all over the place. However, a Swiss Jewish charity confirmed that it did cancel a planned keynote address by Bush due to safety concerns over possible protests. So it does sound like human-rights groups have put a lot of pressure on the organizations involved in Bush’s trip.

Frum also makes the good point that Obama has a personal stake in speaking out on this issue. After all, his administration has continued many of the same counterterrorism policies that drove left-wing NGOs hysterical under Bush. It’s only a matter of time until Obama finds himself fielding subpoenas to the Hague — and when he does, he’ll want the next guy (or gal) in office sticking up for him.

Regarding that story about the Swiss arrest threat against President Bush, David Frum points out that one person has been conspicuously silent on the matter. As NGOs claim credit for thwarting Bush’s trip to Switzerland, President Obama has made no attempt to intervene on behalf of his beleaguered predecessor:

It’s hard to know how much of this story is true, and how much is fundraising bluster. But if even a small portion of the news is true, President Obama has a duty to speak up and to warn foreign governments that further indulgence of this kind of nonsense by their court systems will be viewed as an unfriendly act by the United States. It is one more reminder of why the concept of an International Criminal Court is such an invitation to mischief.

And for those inclined to enjoy the mischief: Just wait until somebody serves an arrest warrant in Luxembourg on ex-President Obama for ordering all those drone strikes on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Frum’s note about the accuracy of this story is prudent, especially since the human-rights groups involved have been promoting it all over the place. However, a Swiss Jewish charity confirmed that it did cancel a planned keynote address by Bush due to safety concerns over possible protests. So it does sound like human-rights groups have put a lot of pressure on the organizations involved in Bush’s trip.

Frum also makes the good point that Obama has a personal stake in speaking out on this issue. After all, his administration has continued many of the same counterterrorism policies that drove left-wing NGOs hysterical under Bush. It’s only a matter of time until Obama finds himself fielding subpoenas to the Hague — and when he does, he’ll want the next guy (or gal) in office sticking up for him.

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The Outgoing Press Secretary’s Anti-Resume

A montage of everything that outgoing White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is not.

Enjoy.

A montage of everything that outgoing White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is not.

Enjoy.

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What AOL Purchased Along with the Huffington Post

AOL’s $315 million Huffington Post buy is a daring venture, and not just because its success depends on the news website’s ability to turn a profit. The real risk is that the political views of Arianna Huffington — the new head of AOL’s recently formed media group — have the potential to turn off advertisers:

Under the $315 million acquisition agreement, Huffington, 60, will join AOL and become president and editor-in-chief of a newly formed media group. In the position, she’ll oversee all of New York-based AOL’s content, from the TechCrunch blog to the Patch local news sites to new content initiatives.

While the goal is to help AOL become a more powerful force in online advertising, there’s a risk in putting Huffington in charge of editorial, said Rob Enderle, a San Jose, California-based technology consultant. Her political views, often critical of corporations and Republicans, may be polarizing, he said.

Business Week notes that Huffington’s politics have scared off advertisers in the past: “In 2001, FedEx Corp. and Sears, Roebuck & Co., now part of Sears Holdings Corp., pulled their advertising from ABC television’s ‘Politically Incorrect’ after Huffington and host Bill Maher described past U.S. military actions as cowardly.”

Huffington may moderate herself in new position at AOL. But if she continues to put out the type of content that she’s previously published at the Huffington Post, then it’s easy to see why advertisers might be hesitant to sign on.

Here’s just a reminder of some of the most vicious and deplorable posts and columns the Huffington Post has published over the years:

Tony Snow deserved to get cancer: “I hear about Tony Snow and say to myself, well, stand up every day, lie to the American people at the behest of your dictator-esque boss and well, how could a cancer NOT grow in you,” wrote Charles Karel Bouley on March 22, 2007. “Work for Fox News, spinning the truth in to a billion knots and how can your gut not rot?”

Vice President Cheney should die of a heart attack: “I give thanks O Lord for Dick Cheney’s Heart, that brave organ which has done its darn-tootin’ best on four separate occasions to do what we can only dream about,” wrote Tony Hendra on November 23, 2006. “O Lord, give Dick Cheney’s Heart, Our Sacred Secret Weapon, the strength to try one more time! For greater love hath no heart than that it lay down its life to rid the planet of its Number One Human Tumor.”

Republican voters are the equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan: “Who are these swine? These flag-sucking half-wits who get fleeced and fooled by stupid rich kids like George W. Bush?” wrote John Cusack on Nov. 11, 2005. “They are the racists and hate mongers among us — they are the Ku Klux Klan.”

Cheney should be killed with Osama bin Laden’s dead body: “I gather up the body of the world’s most notorious terrorist and hurl it over the balcony,” wrote Alec Baldwin on July 4, 2006. “Then, in the final stroke of luck, Bin Laden lands on Dick Cheney. God bless America.”

And these are just a few of the many examples that weren’t too vulgar to reprint. If Huffington can manage to run AOL’s new media empire without sinking to publishing these types of base and hateful “news” articles, then it could be a great success. But if not, advertisers should run in the other direction.

AOL’s $315 million Huffington Post buy is a daring venture, and not just because its success depends on the news website’s ability to turn a profit. The real risk is that the political views of Arianna Huffington — the new head of AOL’s recently formed media group — have the potential to turn off advertisers:

Under the $315 million acquisition agreement, Huffington, 60, will join AOL and become president and editor-in-chief of a newly formed media group. In the position, she’ll oversee all of New York-based AOL’s content, from the TechCrunch blog to the Patch local news sites to new content initiatives.

While the goal is to help AOL become a more powerful force in online advertising, there’s a risk in putting Huffington in charge of editorial, said Rob Enderle, a San Jose, California-based technology consultant. Her political views, often critical of corporations and Republicans, may be polarizing, he said.

Business Week notes that Huffington’s politics have scared off advertisers in the past: “In 2001, FedEx Corp. and Sears, Roebuck & Co., now part of Sears Holdings Corp., pulled their advertising from ABC television’s ‘Politically Incorrect’ after Huffington and host Bill Maher described past U.S. military actions as cowardly.”

Huffington may moderate herself in new position at AOL. But if she continues to put out the type of content that she’s previously published at the Huffington Post, then it’s easy to see why advertisers might be hesitant to sign on.

Here’s just a reminder of some of the most vicious and deplorable posts and columns the Huffington Post has published over the years:

Tony Snow deserved to get cancer: “I hear about Tony Snow and say to myself, well, stand up every day, lie to the American people at the behest of your dictator-esque boss and well, how could a cancer NOT grow in you,” wrote Charles Karel Bouley on March 22, 2007. “Work for Fox News, spinning the truth in to a billion knots and how can your gut not rot?”

Vice President Cheney should die of a heart attack: “I give thanks O Lord for Dick Cheney’s Heart, that brave organ which has done its darn-tootin’ best on four separate occasions to do what we can only dream about,” wrote Tony Hendra on November 23, 2006. “O Lord, give Dick Cheney’s Heart, Our Sacred Secret Weapon, the strength to try one more time! For greater love hath no heart than that it lay down its life to rid the planet of its Number One Human Tumor.”

Republican voters are the equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan: “Who are these swine? These flag-sucking half-wits who get fleeced and fooled by stupid rich kids like George W. Bush?” wrote John Cusack on Nov. 11, 2005. “They are the racists and hate mongers among us — they are the Ku Klux Klan.”

Cheney should be killed with Osama bin Laden’s dead body: “I gather up the body of the world’s most notorious terrorist and hurl it over the balcony,” wrote Alec Baldwin on July 4, 2006. “Then, in the final stroke of luck, Bin Laden lands on Dick Cheney. God bless America.”

And these are just a few of the many examples that weren’t too vulgar to reprint. If Huffington can manage to run AOL’s new media empire without sinking to publishing these types of base and hateful “news” articles, then it could be a great success. But if not, advertisers should run in the other direction.

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Jeane Kirkpatrick on Universal Moral Rights

In the discussion about the role democracy and human rights should play in American foreign policy, Jeane Kirkpatrick is sometimes invoked on the side of the “realist” school, based in part on her climate-changing COMMENTARY essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards.” But there is another essay Kirkpatrick wrote in 1977, in response to Jimmy Carter’s major human-rights-policy address given at the University of Notre Dame, which should be read as well.

Jeane believed President Carter’s speech was a particularly poor one. But in “On the Invocation of Universal Values,” Kirkpatrick says that Carter’s re-emphasis of human rights reassured Americans and others that U.S. policy was “guided by a vision of the public good.” An important effect of the human-rights campaign was “to affirm a moral principle which needs continuing reaffirmation: That there are universal moral rights that men as men (and women as women) are entitled to and that these ought to be respected by governments.” And she went on to say that “Since democracies have an especially great need for moral consensus, continuing appeals to conscience are both restorative and stabilizing.” She then praised Carter for having “recalled America (and others) to historic moral imperatives and for having placed individual rights back on the international agenda.”

Now, Kirkpatrick would later become a fierce critic of the Carter administration for its disastrous record. And anyone who knew Jeane will testify that she was no romantic when it came to American foreign policy. She warned about the challenges of moving “beyond the invocation of universal values and general principles to the knotty business of applying them in this notoriously imperfect, intractable world.”

Like all who serve in government, she knew that implementing policy is more difficult than articulating the principles that ought to guide policy. Still, like the man she served so well, Ronald Reagan, Kirkpatrick believed in universal moral rights and believed America, because of its founding ideals, had to give voice and concrete support to them.

Her convictions were right then, and they are right now.

In the discussion about the role democracy and human rights should play in American foreign policy, Jeane Kirkpatrick is sometimes invoked on the side of the “realist” school, based in part on her climate-changing COMMENTARY essay “Dictatorships and Double Standards.” But there is another essay Kirkpatrick wrote in 1977, in response to Jimmy Carter’s major human-rights-policy address given at the University of Notre Dame, which should be read as well.

Jeane believed President Carter’s speech was a particularly poor one. But in “On the Invocation of Universal Values,” Kirkpatrick says that Carter’s re-emphasis of human rights reassured Americans and others that U.S. policy was “guided by a vision of the public good.” An important effect of the human-rights campaign was “to affirm a moral principle which needs continuing reaffirmation: That there are universal moral rights that men as men (and women as women) are entitled to and that these ought to be respected by governments.” And she went on to say that “Since democracies have an especially great need for moral consensus, continuing appeals to conscience are both restorative and stabilizing.” She then praised Carter for having “recalled America (and others) to historic moral imperatives and for having placed individual rights back on the international agenda.”

Now, Kirkpatrick would later become a fierce critic of the Carter administration for its disastrous record. And anyone who knew Jeane will testify that she was no romantic when it came to American foreign policy. She warned about the challenges of moving “beyond the invocation of universal values and general principles to the knotty business of applying them in this notoriously imperfect, intractable world.”

Like all who serve in government, she knew that implementing policy is more difficult than articulating the principles that ought to guide policy. Still, like the man she served so well, Ronald Reagan, Kirkpatrick believed in universal moral rights and believed America, because of its founding ideals, had to give voice and concrete support to them.

Her convictions were right then, and they are right now.

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Did Anyone Read the Egyptian Constitution?

When reporters have to ask State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley the same question multiple times, it is generally a sign the administration (1) does not want to answer it, or (2) does not know the answer (even if it should). Perhaps one of those two theories explains the following colloquy from yesterday’s press conference:

QUESTION: … without repeating the well-worn talking points … about orderly transition, et cetera, et cetera, free elections, does the Administration believe that Mubarak’s departure at this point would be unhelpful and might actually complicate the reforms?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we believe there should be an orderly transition — hang on, Matt, I’m going to — and who plays what role in that transition is up to the people of Egypt.

QUESTION: I’m not asking what –

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: I’m asking you if the Administration — recognizing that you’re not telling the Egyptians what to do, is it the Administration’s view that his hasty departure could actually complicate matters?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’re not focused on personalities. Read More

When reporters have to ask State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley the same question multiple times, it is generally a sign the administration (1) does not want to answer it, or (2) does not know the answer (even if it should). Perhaps one of those two theories explains the following colloquy from yesterday’s press conference:

QUESTION: … without repeating the well-worn talking points … about orderly transition, et cetera, et cetera, free elections, does the Administration believe that Mubarak’s departure at this point would be unhelpful and might actually complicate the reforms?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we believe there should be an orderly transition — hang on, Matt, I’m going to — and who plays what role in that transition is up to the people of Egypt.

QUESTION: I’m not asking what –

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: I’m asking you if the Administration — recognizing that you’re not telling the Egyptians what to do, is it the Administration’s view that his hasty departure could actually complicate matters?

MR. CROWLEY: Again, we’re not focused on personalities.

QUESTION: I’m not asking you if you’re focused on personalities.

MR. CROWLEY: And I’m trying to answer your question. There are things that have to be done to get to a free and fair, credible, and competitive election. There’s more than one path to get there. There’s plenty of room in this process for a variety of players. We want to have an inclusive process. The role that President Mubarak plays in this, the role that others play in this, those are decisions to be made inside Egypt.

QUESTION: But I’m not asking what role he should play. I’m not asking that at all. And I’m not suggesting that you’re — that this has anything to do with broad, inclusive dialogue. I’m just asking if the Administration itself thinks that a hasty departure by Mubarak would complicate things.

MR. CROWLEY: I know you’re focused on President Mubarak. I mean –

QUESTION: It’s not – I’m –

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, but let me move beyond President Mubarak for a second.

QUESTION: But I’m not asking to move beyond President Mubarak.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no, but I –

QUESTION: I’m asking you about Mubarak.

MR. CROWLEY: Let me attempt to be responsive to your question.

QUESTION: Well, from what I’ve gotten so far, I’m not sure that’s possible. (Laughter.)

Crowley then answered the question:

MR. CROWLEY: … Look, if President Mubarak stepped down today, under the existing constitution, as I understand it, there would have to be an election within 60 days. A question that that would pose is whether Egypt today is prepared to have a competitive, open election, given the recent past where, quite honestly, elections were less than free and fair. …

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if you say that, why is it so hard for you to say that, yes, you think it would complicate things if he stepped down? Do you think Egypt can be ready — if Mubarak stepped down today, could Egypt be ready for a free and fair and credible election in 60 days time?

MR. CROWLEY: I think that would be a challenging undertaking.

QUESTION: Okay. So why is it that difficult to get that out of you? I mean, you could have said that – the very first answer to my question.

Here’s a third theory — sort of a combination of the first two: on February 2, when Robert Gibbs called for the transition in Egypt to happen now (and said “now” began “yesterday”), perhaps the administration did not realize that an immediate Mubarak resignation would trigger an election in 60 days.

Consider this colloquy from Hillary Clinton’s February 6 briefing with the traveling press:

QUESTION: But, Madam Secretary, it does seem that, given all these kind of administrative hurdles that you’ve been talking about these last few days, that … there is this reality on the ground, if you will, that dictates that [Mubarak] is going to have to play some role.

SECRETARY CLINTON: That has to be up to the Egyptian people. They have a constitution which, as I understand it — and I am no expert on the Egyptian constitution, never gave it a moment’s thought, really, so now I am trying to play catch-up — as I understand the constitution, if the president were to resign, he would be succeeded by the speaker of the house. And presidential elections would have to be held in 60 days.

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Tunnel Politics Take Two: Feds Look to Cave to Christie

Last October, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was roasted by the deep thinkers at the New York Times for having the chutzpah to refuse to sink his state deeper in debt to build a new train tunnel under the Hudson River. Acting on the principle that it would be madness to spend billions that his state doesn’t have, Christie pulled the plug on a project that was beset with astronomical cost overruns even though he acknowledged that commuters would ultimately benefit from having another tunnel for New Jersey Transit and Amtrak to use to cross into New York City.

At the time, Christie was derided for his “lack of vision,” but yesterday it appears as if his political opponents got the message. At a press conference in Newark, Democratic Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez announced, along with the head of Amtrak, that the federal government would try a different approach to building the tunnel. While the new version of the tunnel will probably wind up costing even more than the one Christie deep-sixed, this time New Jersey won’t be stuck paying for the inevitable cost overruns that even the governor’s conservative estimates pegged at over $8 billion. Instead, it will be a federal project to which the states of New Jersey and New York may eventually contribute. And, despite the horror expressed by such advocates of fiscal responsibility as Paul Krugman, the new tunnel project will actually make a lot more sense, since it will connect to New York’s Penn Station transportation hub rather than concluding in a dead end beneath Macy’s department store, as in the original plans.

The new tunnel is, however, a long way off, with the projected completion date sometime in 2020. In fact, a federal engineering study about the feasibility of the plan is expected to take up to three years, but at least that will give the states some time to ponder how much they will be able to kick in to help get it built. Christie was right that this was always more a federal responsibility, but despite all the happy talk coming from Lautenberg and Hernandez, the financial details are still fuzzy. President Obama waxed lyrical about high-speed trains (which the new tunnel will facilitate) in his State of the Union speech, but while such trains make more sense in the Northeast Corridor than anywhere else, it is still far from clear whether they will ever come close to being economically viable.

Not surprisingly, Christie was elated by the new plan, saying that he was “thrilled” that his concerns about the old project had been addressed. While no one in New Jersey is happy about the dismal service offered by New Jersey Transit or the fact that it will be many years before things get better, those who predicted that his tunnel decision would sink Christie were dead wrong. Voters wanted a governor would treat the state treasury as something other than a bottomless piggy bank for boondoggles like the tunnel (whose bloated costs were unhappily reminiscent of plot lines in The Sopranos) when they elected Christie. He stuck to his principles and then forced the rest of the political establishment to follow his lead. So chalk this up as another victory for Christie.

Last October, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was roasted by the deep thinkers at the New York Times for having the chutzpah to refuse to sink his state deeper in debt to build a new train tunnel under the Hudson River. Acting on the principle that it would be madness to spend billions that his state doesn’t have, Christie pulled the plug on a project that was beset with astronomical cost overruns even though he acknowledged that commuters would ultimately benefit from having another tunnel for New Jersey Transit and Amtrak to use to cross into New York City.

At the time, Christie was derided for his “lack of vision,” but yesterday it appears as if his political opponents got the message. At a press conference in Newark, Democratic Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez announced, along with the head of Amtrak, that the federal government would try a different approach to building the tunnel. While the new version of the tunnel will probably wind up costing even more than the one Christie deep-sixed, this time New Jersey won’t be stuck paying for the inevitable cost overruns that even the governor’s conservative estimates pegged at over $8 billion. Instead, it will be a federal project to which the states of New Jersey and New York may eventually contribute. And, despite the horror expressed by such advocates of fiscal responsibility as Paul Krugman, the new tunnel project will actually make a lot more sense, since it will connect to New York’s Penn Station transportation hub rather than concluding in a dead end beneath Macy’s department store, as in the original plans.

The new tunnel is, however, a long way off, with the projected completion date sometime in 2020. In fact, a federal engineering study about the feasibility of the plan is expected to take up to three years, but at least that will give the states some time to ponder how much they will be able to kick in to help get it built. Christie was right that this was always more a federal responsibility, but despite all the happy talk coming from Lautenberg and Hernandez, the financial details are still fuzzy. President Obama waxed lyrical about high-speed trains (which the new tunnel will facilitate) in his State of the Union speech, but while such trains make more sense in the Northeast Corridor than anywhere else, it is still far from clear whether they will ever come close to being economically viable.

Not surprisingly, Christie was elated by the new plan, saying that he was “thrilled” that his concerns about the old project had been addressed. While no one in New Jersey is happy about the dismal service offered by New Jersey Transit or the fact that it will be many years before things get better, those who predicted that his tunnel decision would sink Christie were dead wrong. Voters wanted a governor would treat the state treasury as something other than a bottomless piggy bank for boondoggles like the tunnel (whose bloated costs were unhappily reminiscent of plot lines in The Sopranos) when they elected Christie. He stuck to his principles and then forced the rest of the political establishment to follow his lead. So chalk this up as another victory for Christie.

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Glenn Beck’s Fevered Mind

Glenn Beck went off on a rather extraordinary monologue last week about a caliphate taking over much of the world. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard took exception to what Beck said. And yesterday Beck fired back.

Set aside (if you can) Beck’s childish and churlish attacks on Kristol and focus on the substance of the disagreement.

Beck lectures Kristol on the dangers of “getting into bed with dictators.” It’s “really something the left does and not something the right should do.” But of course Bill’s position on Egypt is that America ought to get out of bed with dictators. That’s the main point of Kristol’s editorial, after all. And whether you agree with Kristol or not, he has been a strong advocate for the so-called Freedom Agenda, which argues that in the past the United States, in opting for “stability” over liberty in the Middle East, has gotten neither.

More important, though, people should simply listen to the original Beck meditation on the coming worldwide caliphate. It is Beck Unplugged, complete with chalkboards and maps; with happy faces and sad ones; with friends, enemies, and “frenemies”; with references to the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers, and Bernardine Dohrn; and of course dire, apocalyptic warnings. The result of the “coming insurrection” will be that the “whole world starts to implode.”

“Play it out with me,” Beck pleads. “The entire Mediterranean is on fire,” he cries out us — but not just the Mediterranean. This all-consuming blaze is spreading to the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Italy, Greece, and Germany; to Russia, Africa, Morocco, and almost every place in between. Beck demonstrates “how this whole thing cascades over to us.” And beware: none of this is happenstance. “This is coordinated,” America’s intrepid truth teller informs us. Pro-democracy talk is part of a “progressive movement.” The masses in Egypt’s Liberty Square are “useful idiots.” And oh-by-the-way, he promises to tell us what the real reason behind the 2003 Iraq war was:

Two wars in Iraq. We said no bombing there. Ancient Babylon. Ancient Babylon. Why? Because the Bible tells us that that is the seat — right here — of power of a global, evil empire. Well, that’s also where the 12th imam from Iran is supposedly going to show up. Everybody on this side wants ancient Babylon for their caliphate.

Leave it to Glenn Beck to sees dots on a map and connect lines invisible to mere mortals, lines that are the result of a massive and astonishingly well-organized conspiracy. It is something out of the twilight zone.

I’ve been warning about Glenn Beck for a couple of years now, concerned about his erratic behavior and conspiracy theories. “My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now — and will soon flame out,” I wrote in 2009. “Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism … he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.”

That is triply so today. Beck now insists that he personifies conservative principles. In fact, Beck’s ruminations are not the product of a conservative mind as much as a fevered one. If conservatism were ever to hitch its wagon to this self-described rodeo clown, it would collapse as a movement. Thankfully, conservatism’s pedigree, from Burke to Buckley to Reagan, will keep that from happening.

Glenn Beck went off on a rather extraordinary monologue last week about a caliphate taking over much of the world. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard took exception to what Beck said. And yesterday Beck fired back.

Set aside (if you can) Beck’s childish and churlish attacks on Kristol and focus on the substance of the disagreement.

Beck lectures Kristol on the dangers of “getting into bed with dictators.” It’s “really something the left does and not something the right should do.” But of course Bill’s position on Egypt is that America ought to get out of bed with dictators. That’s the main point of Kristol’s editorial, after all. And whether you agree with Kristol or not, he has been a strong advocate for the so-called Freedom Agenda, which argues that in the past the United States, in opting for “stability” over liberty in the Middle East, has gotten neither.

More important, though, people should simply listen to the original Beck meditation on the coming worldwide caliphate. It is Beck Unplugged, complete with chalkboards and maps; with happy faces and sad ones; with friends, enemies, and “frenemies”; with references to the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers, and Bernardine Dohrn; and of course dire, apocalyptic warnings. The result of the “coming insurrection” will be that the “whole world starts to implode.”

“Play it out with me,” Beck pleads. “The entire Mediterranean is on fire,” he cries out us — but not just the Mediterranean. This all-consuming blaze is spreading to the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Italy, Greece, and Germany; to Russia, Africa, Morocco, and almost every place in between. Beck demonstrates “how this whole thing cascades over to us.” And beware: none of this is happenstance. “This is coordinated,” America’s intrepid truth teller informs us. Pro-democracy talk is part of a “progressive movement.” The masses in Egypt’s Liberty Square are “useful idiots.” And oh-by-the-way, he promises to tell us what the real reason behind the 2003 Iraq war was:

Two wars in Iraq. We said no bombing there. Ancient Babylon. Ancient Babylon. Why? Because the Bible tells us that that is the seat — right here — of power of a global, evil empire. Well, that’s also where the 12th imam from Iran is supposedly going to show up. Everybody on this side wants ancient Babylon for their caliphate.

Leave it to Glenn Beck to sees dots on a map and connect lines invisible to mere mortals, lines that are the result of a massive and astonishingly well-organized conspiracy. It is something out of the twilight zone.

I’ve been warning about Glenn Beck for a couple of years now, concerned about his erratic behavior and conspiracy theories. “My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now — and will soon flame out,” I wrote in 2009. “Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism … he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.”

That is triply so today. Beck now insists that he personifies conservative principles. In fact, Beck’s ruminations are not the product of a conservative mind as much as a fevered one. If conservatism were ever to hitch its wagon to this self-described rodeo clown, it would collapse as a movement. Thankfully, conservatism’s pedigree, from Burke to Buckley to Reagan, will keep that from happening.

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Egyptian Protesters Need to Start Organizing

At Pajamas Media, Richard Fernandez points out an interesting post by Egyptian pro-democracy blogger Sandmonkey, which calls for Egyptian protesters to use the Internet as a tool to influence the country’s current political system. Sandmonkey argues that if the protests don’t work to change the status quo of the government, then liberals should organize to take the structure over from within:

You see, with such Proper citizen organization and segmentation, we’ll have the contact information and location of all the protesters that showed up, and that could be transformed into voting blocks in parliamentary districts: i.e. a foundation for an Egyptian Unity party. … Once you institute the structure, start educating the members on their rights and their obligations as citizens. Convince them to bring their friends and relatives into meeting. Establish voters’ critical mass, all under that party.

The Egyptian Unity Party, however, will not be a permanent structure, but rather a transitional entity with a clear and direct purpose: create the grassroots organization to take back the parliament and presidency in the next elections.

This sort of online grassroots movement isn’t just important; it’s absolutely necessary for the health of the Egyptian elections next fall. Not only has the Muslim Brotherhood had a cohesive online presence for years, but its history as a civil-society organization will also help it in terms of outreach. This gives the Brotherhood a head start over most liberal young Egyptians, who have limited experience at political organizing. As Sandmonkey notes, now is an opportune time for organizers to set up booths and collect contact information from protesters.

But another major issue that could be an obstacle is the safety of the protesters, who would be giving out their personal information. Sandmonkey touches on this and advises organizers to guard the member lists “with your lives.” However, there’s nothing to stop a counter-protester from setting up a booth and collecting signatures under the guise of an anti-Mubarak protester.

At Pajamas Media, Richard Fernandez points out an interesting post by Egyptian pro-democracy blogger Sandmonkey, which calls for Egyptian protesters to use the Internet as a tool to influence the country’s current political system. Sandmonkey argues that if the protests don’t work to change the status quo of the government, then liberals should organize to take the structure over from within:

You see, with such Proper citizen organization and segmentation, we’ll have the contact information and location of all the protesters that showed up, and that could be transformed into voting blocks in parliamentary districts: i.e. a foundation for an Egyptian Unity party. … Once you institute the structure, start educating the members on their rights and their obligations as citizens. Convince them to bring their friends and relatives into meeting. Establish voters’ critical mass, all under that party.

The Egyptian Unity Party, however, will not be a permanent structure, but rather a transitional entity with a clear and direct purpose: create the grassroots organization to take back the parliament and presidency in the next elections.

This sort of online grassroots movement isn’t just important; it’s absolutely necessary for the health of the Egyptian elections next fall. Not only has the Muslim Brotherhood had a cohesive online presence for years, but its history as a civil-society organization will also help it in terms of outreach. This gives the Brotherhood a head start over most liberal young Egyptians, who have limited experience at political organizing. As Sandmonkey notes, now is an opportune time for organizers to set up booths and collect contact information from protesters.

But another major issue that could be an obstacle is the safety of the protesters, who would be giving out their personal information. Sandmonkey touches on this and advises organizers to guard the member lists “with your lives.” However, there’s nothing to stop a counter-protester from setting up a booth and collecting signatures under the guise of an anti-Mubarak protester.

Read Less

The Israel Pathology

When the Egyptian uprising began, many commentators hoped it would finally put paid to the theory that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root cause of the region’s ills. John made that point here; Herb Keinon did it in The Jerusalem Post; even The New York Times’s Roger Cohen, formerly an advocate of this theory, wrote a column titled “Exit the Israel Alibi.”

But these hopes were soon dashed. This weekend, the Quartet proclaimed Israeli-Palestinian talks essential; Quartet member Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign-policy czar, even declared that events in Egypt mustn’t “distract us” from this goal.

Heaven help us. One of the Middle East’s most important countries, the lynchpin of the entire Israeli-Arab peace process, is in turmoil — something even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admits has “serious implications” for the process — and the EU’s top foreign-policy official thinks that “shouldn’t distract us” from Israeli-Palestinian talks?

And yesterday, Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, James Jones, similarly asserted that regardless of what Egyptian protesters say is driving them, what really “drives nearly everything, everything else that threatens us, everything that happens in this region” is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To understand why these presumably intelligent people can’t see that the unrest sweeping the Arab world isn’t about Israel, consider a completely unrelated article: Peter Baker’s New York Times magazine piece last month about Obama’s economic policy.

In late 2009, Baker wrote, Obama’s team thought the recession was ending. “Then came a string of episodes that [Rahm Emanuel] and others believe sidetracked the economy: the European financial crisis triggered by Greece, the gulf oil spill, conflict over Gaza and the concurrent gyrations in the stock market.”

Are they joking???

First, the Israel-Hamas “conflict over Gaza” didn’t happen in late 2009, but a year earlier, ending before Obama even took office. Yet even if the date had been correct, the idea of that war affecting the U.S. economy is ludicrous. The European crisis, sure: Europe is America’s biggest trading partner. But the U.S. has no trade with Gaza, while its trade with Israel, at $28 billion in 2009, is negligible compared to its total trade of $3.4 trillion. Nor was oil production affected: Other Middle Eastern countries weren’t involved in the war at all.

In fact, even Israel’s economy was virtually unaffected: while the 2008-09 financial crisis sparked recession throughout the West, Israel’s GDP fell by far less than that of its two major trading partners, the EU and U.S., during both quarters affected by the war (Q4 2008 and Q1 2009). So we’re supposed to believe a war that barely affected even the country that fought it caused an economic crisis in a superpower half a world away?

Only a pathological obsession with Israel could lead administration officials to blame America’s economic woes of late 2009 on a minor war fought by a marginal trading partner a full year earlier. And curing such pathology lies more in the realm of medical science than political science.

Nevertheless, it’s vital to understand just how deeply it runs. For it is shaping, or rather misshaping, the West’s foreign policy every day.

When the Egyptian uprising began, many commentators hoped it would finally put paid to the theory that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root cause of the region’s ills. John made that point here; Herb Keinon did it in The Jerusalem Post; even The New York Times’s Roger Cohen, formerly an advocate of this theory, wrote a column titled “Exit the Israel Alibi.”

But these hopes were soon dashed. This weekend, the Quartet proclaimed Israeli-Palestinian talks essential; Quartet member Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign-policy czar, even declared that events in Egypt mustn’t “distract us” from this goal.

Heaven help us. One of the Middle East’s most important countries, the lynchpin of the entire Israeli-Arab peace process, is in turmoil — something even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admits has “serious implications” for the process — and the EU’s top foreign-policy official thinks that “shouldn’t distract us” from Israeli-Palestinian talks?

And yesterday, Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, James Jones, similarly asserted that regardless of what Egyptian protesters say is driving them, what really “drives nearly everything, everything else that threatens us, everything that happens in this region” is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

To understand why these presumably intelligent people can’t see that the unrest sweeping the Arab world isn’t about Israel, consider a completely unrelated article: Peter Baker’s New York Times magazine piece last month about Obama’s economic policy.

In late 2009, Baker wrote, Obama’s team thought the recession was ending. “Then came a string of episodes that [Rahm Emanuel] and others believe sidetracked the economy: the European financial crisis triggered by Greece, the gulf oil spill, conflict over Gaza and the concurrent gyrations in the stock market.”

Are they joking???

First, the Israel-Hamas “conflict over Gaza” didn’t happen in late 2009, but a year earlier, ending before Obama even took office. Yet even if the date had been correct, the idea of that war affecting the U.S. economy is ludicrous. The European crisis, sure: Europe is America’s biggest trading partner. But the U.S. has no trade with Gaza, while its trade with Israel, at $28 billion in 2009, is negligible compared to its total trade of $3.4 trillion. Nor was oil production affected: Other Middle Eastern countries weren’t involved in the war at all.

In fact, even Israel’s economy was virtually unaffected: while the 2008-09 financial crisis sparked recession throughout the West, Israel’s GDP fell by far less than that of its two major trading partners, the EU and U.S., during both quarters affected by the war (Q4 2008 and Q1 2009). So we’re supposed to believe a war that barely affected even the country that fought it caused an economic crisis in a superpower half a world away?

Only a pathological obsession with Israel could lead administration officials to blame America’s economic woes of late 2009 on a minor war fought by a marginal trading partner a full year earlier. And curing such pathology lies more in the realm of medical science than political science.

Nevertheless, it’s vital to understand just how deeply it runs. For it is shaping, or rather misshaping, the West’s foreign policy every day.

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Egypt, Elections, and Freedom

In their hopeful posts on Egypt, Peter and Jonathan both cited Natan Sharansky’s Wall Street Journal interview, in which the author of The Case for Democracy asserted the developments in Egypt are positive. As Jonathan noted, Caroline Glick takes a different view; she sees Egyptian society as riddled with anti-Semitism, with pictures from the current demonstrations ignored by the mainstream media.

Daniel Greenfield takes Glick’s argument even further. In “What if the Problem Really Is the People?” he suggests that the problem runs much deeper than the current dictator:

Mubarak is the problem, we are told. … If not for him, Egypt would be a liberal model for the region. Just like Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq. But is it the dictator or the people who are the problem?

Elections are relatively easy to organize; establishing freedom is a little harder, since it requires countervailing institutions that protect minorities and dissenters, and the existence of a civil society that values them. The polls Greenfield cites suggest that Egypt neither has such a society now nor is likely to have one soon.

In her February 6 briefing for the traveling press, Hillary Clinton touted Egypt as a model for the region (“Egypt has the chance to, once again, lead the way”) and described the U.S. position as follows:

We want to see a process begun that will lead to an orderly transition that has milestones and concrete steps that lead us toward free and fair elections that install a new president who reflects the will and wishes of the Egyptian people.

We know from too many bad experiences — including the 2006 Palestinian election — that free elections are not guarantees the “moderates” will win, or that the winners will hold another one. It is good to read so many assurances that the Muslim Brotherhood represents only a minority, but the same thing was said about Hamas in 2006 just before the election that astonished Condoleezza Rice.

It is to George W. Bush’s enduring credit that he did not simply remove Saddam but stayed to produce a representative government in the heart of the Arab world. But that experience should be a lesson that a commitment much greater than simply shepherding an orderly transition toward elections is required. Sharansky made precisely that point, saying “really free elections” in Egypt will require years of democracy-building and a U.S. commitment to linkage modeled on the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment is needed.

Is Obama prepared to make that commitment? At the end of Peter’s eloquently optimistic post, he notes there are two possible theories about Obama’s inclinations and that we do not know which is correct. It is remarkable that, more than halfway through Obama’s term, we do not know what his real intentions are.

In their hopeful posts on Egypt, Peter and Jonathan both cited Natan Sharansky’s Wall Street Journal interview, in which the author of The Case for Democracy asserted the developments in Egypt are positive. As Jonathan noted, Caroline Glick takes a different view; she sees Egyptian society as riddled with anti-Semitism, with pictures from the current demonstrations ignored by the mainstream media.

Daniel Greenfield takes Glick’s argument even further. In “What if the Problem Really Is the People?” he suggests that the problem runs much deeper than the current dictator:

Mubarak is the problem, we are told. … If not for him, Egypt would be a liberal model for the region. Just like Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq. But is it the dictator or the people who are the problem?

Elections are relatively easy to organize; establishing freedom is a little harder, since it requires countervailing institutions that protect minorities and dissenters, and the existence of a civil society that values them. The polls Greenfield cites suggest that Egypt neither has such a society now nor is likely to have one soon.

In her February 6 briefing for the traveling press, Hillary Clinton touted Egypt as a model for the region (“Egypt has the chance to, once again, lead the way”) and described the U.S. position as follows:

We want to see a process begun that will lead to an orderly transition that has milestones and concrete steps that lead us toward free and fair elections that install a new president who reflects the will and wishes of the Egyptian people.

We know from too many bad experiences — including the 2006 Palestinian election — that free elections are not guarantees the “moderates” will win, or that the winners will hold another one. It is good to read so many assurances that the Muslim Brotherhood represents only a minority, but the same thing was said about Hamas in 2006 just before the election that astonished Condoleezza Rice.

It is to George W. Bush’s enduring credit that he did not simply remove Saddam but stayed to produce a representative government in the heart of the Arab world. But that experience should be a lesson that a commitment much greater than simply shepherding an orderly transition toward elections is required. Sharansky made precisely that point, saying “really free elections” in Egypt will require years of democracy-building and a U.S. commitment to linkage modeled on the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment is needed.

Is Obama prepared to make that commitment? At the end of Peter’s eloquently optimistic post, he notes there are two possible theories about Obama’s inclinations and that we do not know which is correct. It is remarkable that, more than halfway through Obama’s term, we do not know what his real intentions are.

Read Less




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