Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 17, 2011

Abbas on Democracy? Not Just Now, Please.

Over the weekend, the Palestinian Authority sought to head off any potential blowback from the revolt in Egypt by stating that they would have new elections later this year. But a few days later, after any potential democracy demonstrations had been effectively repressed by the PA in the West Bank and by Hamas in Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas is now saying that new elections are not going to happen.

The PA president, whose own term of office expired long ago without any signs in Ramallah of the need to go through the motions of another vote, announced today that elections were, after all, not possible. His reason is that it wouldn’t work because Gaza is ruled by Hamas as an independent entity.

He’s got a point, but it’s not the one he thinks he’s making. The fact is that holding elections in either the West Bank or Gaza would be a sham of democracy, since the competing parties — Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas — are both violent organizations that rule by intimidation, not persuasion. Any electoral contest between them would be, as it has been in the past, a test of their relative military strengths as much as one of the popularity of their ideas. So long as the culture of Palestinian politics is one in which the primary source of legitimacy is violence and shedding the blood of Israelis, the choice will always be between these two unsavory alternatives. Neither has the will or desire for a peace treaty with Israel.

Under these circumstances, the best we can hope for is a continuation of Prime Minister Salaam Fayad’s Israel-supported state-building and economic development that may someday lead to a sea change in Palestinian society. Until then, the idea of dignifying the undemocratic power lust of either Fatah or Hamas with the imprimatur of elections would be a mockery of democracy, not an affirmation of the concept.

Over the weekend, the Palestinian Authority sought to head off any potential blowback from the revolt in Egypt by stating that they would have new elections later this year. But a few days later, after any potential democracy demonstrations had been effectively repressed by the PA in the West Bank and by Hamas in Gaza, Mahmoud Abbas is now saying that new elections are not going to happen.

The PA president, whose own term of office expired long ago without any signs in Ramallah of the need to go through the motions of another vote, announced today that elections were, after all, not possible. His reason is that it wouldn’t work because Gaza is ruled by Hamas as an independent entity.

He’s got a point, but it’s not the one he thinks he’s making. The fact is that holding elections in either the West Bank or Gaza would be a sham of democracy, since the competing parties — Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas — are both violent organizations that rule by intimidation, not persuasion. Any electoral contest between them would be, as it has been in the past, a test of their relative military strengths as much as one of the popularity of their ideas. So long as the culture of Palestinian politics is one in which the primary source of legitimacy is violence and shedding the blood of Israelis, the choice will always be between these two unsavory alternatives. Neither has the will or desire for a peace treaty with Israel.

Under these circumstances, the best we can hope for is a continuation of Prime Minister Salaam Fayad’s Israel-supported state-building and economic development that may someday lead to a sea change in Palestinian society. Until then, the idea of dignifying the undemocratic power lust of either Fatah or Hamas with the imprimatur of elections would be a mockery of democracy, not an affirmation of the concept.

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Cutting a Wasteful Defense Program Is Good, but Attacking Entitlements Is Better

Having long advocated robust defense spending, I am obliged to also admit that not all defense dollars are spent wisely. Therefore, I applaud the House for voting to cut $450 million in funding for a second F-35 engine.

This has been a long-standing boondoggle pushed by lobbyists for General Electric and Rolls Royce, which are anxious to get a split of the engine contract that would otherwise go exclusively to Pratt & Whitney. The leadership of the Defense Department has long pushed for the elimination of the second engine — with no luck. It has been inserted into budget after budget by lawmakers intent on saving a program that produces jobs and campaign donations.

Yesterday, however, many Republicans joined with most Democrats to kill the second engine. Now the battle moves to the Senate, where John McCain has led efforts to eliminate this wasteful program.

But while killing the second engine is an important symbolic victory, it will do little to eliminate a budget deficit of $1.5 trillion this year. Even the elimination of the entire Department of Defense, with a base budget of more than $500 billion, would not save us from drowning in red ink. Balancing the budget requires hard choices about entitlement spending, which accounts for the bulk of federal spending. Cutting a universally derided defense program is relatively easy for lawmakers to do. Trimming Social Security or Medicare will require a lot more courage. So far, that courage has not been evident — although it is starting to materialize, at least among House Republicans.

Having long advocated robust defense spending, I am obliged to also admit that not all defense dollars are spent wisely. Therefore, I applaud the House for voting to cut $450 million in funding for a second F-35 engine.

This has been a long-standing boondoggle pushed by lobbyists for General Electric and Rolls Royce, which are anxious to get a split of the engine contract that would otherwise go exclusively to Pratt & Whitney. The leadership of the Defense Department has long pushed for the elimination of the second engine — with no luck. It has been inserted into budget after budget by lawmakers intent on saving a program that produces jobs and campaign donations.

Yesterday, however, many Republicans joined with most Democrats to kill the second engine. Now the battle moves to the Senate, where John McCain has led efforts to eliminate this wasteful program.

But while killing the second engine is an important symbolic victory, it will do little to eliminate a budget deficit of $1.5 trillion this year. Even the elimination of the entire Department of Defense, with a base budget of more than $500 billion, would not save us from drowning in red ink. Balancing the budget requires hard choices about entitlement spending, which accounts for the bulk of federal spending. Cutting a universally derided defense program is relatively easy for lawmakers to do. Trimming Social Security or Medicare will require a lot more courage. So far, that courage has not been evident — although it is starting to materialize, at least among House Republicans.

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Two Who Have Inspired More Revolutions than Mao or Lenin

A week ago, I noted that events in Egypt had once again shown the power of peaceful protest as opposed to guerrilla or terrorist attacks. Today the New York Times runs the umpteenth profile of Gene Sharp, the former academic who is the apostle of nonviolent resistance.

Operating from a nondescript house in Boston, Sharp has published numerous how-to guides over the years for overturning a regime without violence; his most notable effort is a pamphlet, “From Dictatorship to Democracy.” His work has been picked up by his former pupil Peter Ackerman, a former investment banker who has founded the Institute for Nonviolent Conflict (and is a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, where I work). The methods they advocate have spread across the world, inspiring protesters from Siberia to Egypt. Indeed, every successful revolution using “Sharp” methods inspires imitators — the Times notes that Egyptian protesters stumbled onto his work after studying what happened in Serbia.

It is fair to say that Sharp and Ackerman have been indirectly responsible for more revolutions than anyone since Lenin or Mao — and, unlike the avatars of “socialist” upheavals, their work made the world a better place, helping to create numerous liberal democracies. It is hard to think of worthier recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee should act soon — Sharp is no longer a young man and his work deserves recognition while he is still around to enjoy it.

Of course, he no doubt thinks that the greatest recognition he can receive is from the expansion of liberty. And he is right.

A week ago, I noted that events in Egypt had once again shown the power of peaceful protest as opposed to guerrilla or terrorist attacks. Today the New York Times runs the umpteenth profile of Gene Sharp, the former academic who is the apostle of nonviolent resistance.

Operating from a nondescript house in Boston, Sharp has published numerous how-to guides over the years for overturning a regime without violence; his most notable effort is a pamphlet, “From Dictatorship to Democracy.” His work has been picked up by his former pupil Peter Ackerman, a former investment banker who has founded the Institute for Nonviolent Conflict (and is a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, where I work). The methods they advocate have spread across the world, inspiring protesters from Siberia to Egypt. Indeed, every successful revolution using “Sharp” methods inspires imitators — the Times notes that Egyptian protesters stumbled onto his work after studying what happened in Serbia.

It is fair to say that Sharp and Ackerman have been indirectly responsible for more revolutions than anyone since Lenin or Mao — and, unlike the avatars of “socialist” upheavals, their work made the world a better place, helping to create numerous liberal democracies. It is hard to think of worthier recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel committee should act soon — Sharp is no longer a young man and his work deserves recognition while he is still around to enjoy it.

Of course, he no doubt thinks that the greatest recognition he can receive is from the expansion of liberty. And he is right.

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Democrats and Republicans Unite to Oppose UN Security Council Resolution

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer have issued a joint statement calling on the Obama administration to veto the possible anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution:

Instead of negotiating directly with Israel to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict, Palestinian leaders continue to seek to circumvent the negotiating process by advocating anti-Israel measures at the U.N. Security Council, U.N. General Assembly, and U.N. Human Rights Council. The U.S. should not condone or reward this behavior by supporting their resolutions. We strongly urge the Administration to veto this resolution and to uphold our longstanding commitment to Israel’s security.

This isn’t the first bipartisan opposition to the resolution today. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have issued statements encouraging the U.S. to use its veto power to block the proposal.

Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman has said that “any failure to stand with Israel during these difficult times in the Middle East will only encourage the enemies of America and Israel.”

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen noted that a vote in favor of the resolution “would work against our country’s consistent position, which has been that such issues can only be resolved by the two parties negotiating directly with each other.”

And Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Nina Lowey, and Rep. Anthony Weiner have also spoken out strongly against the proposal today.

As John pointed out earlier, allowing an anti-Israel resolution or statement to pass would be politically idiotic, considering the widespread political support for Israel. And with the immediate backlash today from members of both parties, even the Obama administration couldn’t be clueless enough to actually let that happen. Could it?

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer have issued a joint statement calling on the Obama administration to veto the possible anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution:

Instead of negotiating directly with Israel to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict, Palestinian leaders continue to seek to circumvent the negotiating process by advocating anti-Israel measures at the U.N. Security Council, U.N. General Assembly, and U.N. Human Rights Council. The U.S. should not condone or reward this behavior by supporting their resolutions. We strongly urge the Administration to veto this resolution and to uphold our longstanding commitment to Israel’s security.

This isn’t the first bipartisan opposition to the resolution today. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have issued statements encouraging the U.S. to use its veto power to block the proposal.

Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman has said that “any failure to stand with Israel during these difficult times in the Middle East will only encourage the enemies of America and Israel.”

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen noted that a vote in favor of the resolution “would work against our country’s consistent position, which has been that such issues can only be resolved by the two parties negotiating directly with each other.”

And Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Nina Lowey, and Rep. Anthony Weiner have also spoken out strongly against the proposal today.

As John pointed out earlier, allowing an anti-Israel resolution or statement to pass would be politically idiotic, considering the widespread political support for Israel. And with the immediate backlash today from members of both parties, even the Obama administration couldn’t be clueless enough to actually let that happen. Could it?

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CNN It’s Not

In the Washington Post, Jonathan Capehart records a friend’s astute observation regarding the celebrated Al Jazeera coverage of Egypt:

“I was curious how they would handle the Lara Logan incident,” [Paul] Chamberlain continued. “Go here and search ‘Lara Logan.’ ” When you do it, your reaction might be the same as mine to Chamberlain, “um … crickets.” There was and continues to be nothing there. Or at al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language site. Wow. He did note that BBC, Times of India and Le Monde all carried stories on Logan’s assault.

Lest we forget, Al Jazeera is a good mini-analogue for the region at large. It shows many welcome indications of openness and a willingness to mimic Western institutions, but we romanticize its achievements at our own risk.

In the Washington Post, Jonathan Capehart records a friend’s astute observation regarding the celebrated Al Jazeera coverage of Egypt:

“I was curious how they would handle the Lara Logan incident,” [Paul] Chamberlain continued. “Go here and search ‘Lara Logan.’ ” When you do it, your reaction might be the same as mine to Chamberlain, “um … crickets.” There was and continues to be nothing there. Or at al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language site. Wow. He did note that BBC, Times of India and Le Monde all carried stories on Logan’s assault.

Lest we forget, Al Jazeera is a good mini-analogue for the region at large. It shows many welcome indications of openness and a willingness to mimic Western institutions, but we romanticize its achievements at our own risk.

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Welcome Michael Rubin to the Blog!

You’ll note today a new voice on Contentions, though not a new voice to readers of COMMENTARY magazine. I’m delighted to report that Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has joined our team of daily bloggers. Michael’s writing, reportage, and analysis on Middle Eastern affairs has provided his readers with extraordinary enlightenment over the past decade. He has written for us on Afghanistan and Iran, and his most recent contribution to COMMENTARY appears in our upcoming March issue. It’s called “The Road to Tahrir Square,” and you can read it here.

You’ll note today a new voice on Contentions, though not a new voice to readers of COMMENTARY magazine. I’m delighted to report that Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, has joined our team of daily bloggers. Michael’s writing, reportage, and analysis on Middle Eastern affairs has provided his readers with extraordinary enlightenment over the past decade. He has written for us on Afghanistan and Iran, and his most recent contribution to COMMENTARY appears in our upcoming March issue. It’s called “The Road to Tahrir Square,” and you can read it here.

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Sadat’s ‘Cold Peace’ Legacy Is at Increasing Risk

The Muslim Brotherhood has already announced that “the Egyptian people should prepare for the war against Israel.” Yet there is another threat to the stability of the Middle East. According to Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, that threat is from a secular, but reactionary, regime — anti-American and anti-Israeli, one that has returned to its Nasserist roots. “The role of the Camp David accord has ended,” says Ayman Nour, the most Western opposition figure in Egypt.

All the secular forces in Cairo are asking for a review of or a break from the relations with both Israel and the United States. The protagonist of the revolts, Mohamed ElBaradei, has said that Israel is the biggest threat in the Middle East. “Israel has signed a peace treaty with Mubarak, not with Egypt,” said the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Leftist Karama Party leader Hamdeen Sabahi proclaims the end of the “American-Israeli domination over Egypt.” And the generals in power have just asked a former judge of the State Council, the so-called “moderate islamist” Tariq al-Bishri, to chair the committee that will reform the Egyptian constitution. Praising the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Mr. Bishri said that, against Israel, “all forms of resistance must be deployed, including violent resistance.”

The old Wafd Party wants to strengthen Egypt’s ties with Islamic countries such as Sudan. The largest leftist party, Tagammu, claims “anti-Zionist principles,” promotes solidarity among Arab states, supports the “Palestinian cause,” and opposes “normalization with Israel.” The Nasserist Party wants to “solve the Palestinian issue through the expulsion of the occupying forces from all Arab lands” and opposes the “normalization of relations with Israel.”

Even the popular movement Kefaya movement calls for “the opposition to the influence of Israel and the United States in the region.” Kefaya’s leader, George Ishak, said that “the Camp David agreement is only ink on paper.” The April 6 Movement, born a year ago, also asks for the cancellation of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. The Democratic Front plans to “resist Israeli expansionism and support the Palestinian cause.”

And Said Abdel-Khalek, former editor in chief of the Wafd Party’s Al-Wafd, said that the conflict with the Jewish state will be renewed because “there isn’t a house in Egypt that doesn’t have a martyr, killed in one of our wars with Israel. There are too many open wounds. I was an officer in the 1973 war and I can’t put my hand in an Israeli’s. And the vast majority of the people share this feeling.”

Nobody knows the future of the “cold peace” between Egyptians and Israelis, the biggest achievement of Mubarak’s regime. But Sadat’s legacy regarding Israel is already at risk. As spelled out here, a deep enmity against the Zionists is growing in Egypt.

The Muslim Brotherhood has already announced that “the Egyptian people should prepare for the war against Israel.” Yet there is another threat to the stability of the Middle East. According to Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, that threat is from a secular, but reactionary, regime — anti-American and anti-Israeli, one that has returned to its Nasserist roots. “The role of the Camp David accord has ended,” says Ayman Nour, the most Western opposition figure in Egypt.

All the secular forces in Cairo are asking for a review of or a break from the relations with both Israel and the United States. The protagonist of the revolts, Mohamed ElBaradei, has said that Israel is the biggest threat in the Middle East. “Israel has signed a peace treaty with Mubarak, not with Egypt,” said the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Leftist Karama Party leader Hamdeen Sabahi proclaims the end of the “American-Israeli domination over Egypt.” And the generals in power have just asked a former judge of the State Council, the so-called “moderate islamist” Tariq al-Bishri, to chair the committee that will reform the Egyptian constitution. Praising the founder of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Mr. Bishri said that, against Israel, “all forms of resistance must be deployed, including violent resistance.”

The old Wafd Party wants to strengthen Egypt’s ties with Islamic countries such as Sudan. The largest leftist party, Tagammu, claims “anti-Zionist principles,” promotes solidarity among Arab states, supports the “Palestinian cause,” and opposes “normalization with Israel.” The Nasserist Party wants to “solve the Palestinian issue through the expulsion of the occupying forces from all Arab lands” and opposes the “normalization of relations with Israel.”

Even the popular movement Kefaya movement calls for “the opposition to the influence of Israel and the United States in the region.” Kefaya’s leader, George Ishak, said that “the Camp David agreement is only ink on paper.” The April 6 Movement, born a year ago, also asks for the cancellation of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. The Democratic Front plans to “resist Israeli expansionism and support the Palestinian cause.”

And Said Abdel-Khalek, former editor in chief of the Wafd Party’s Al-Wafd, said that the conflict with the Jewish state will be renewed because “there isn’t a house in Egypt that doesn’t have a martyr, killed in one of our wars with Israel. There are too many open wounds. I was an officer in the 1973 war and I can’t put my hand in an Israeli’s. And the vast majority of the people share this feeling.”

Nobody knows the future of the “cold peace” between Egyptians and Israelis, the biggest achievement of Mubarak’s regime. But Sadat’s legacy regarding Israel is already at risk. As spelled out here, a deep enmity against the Zionists is growing in Egypt.

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Helen Thomas Doubles Down: ‘I Should Have Said Russia, Too’

During an interview with Joy Behar last night, Helen Thomas made it clear that she was standing behind her statements that Israeli Jews should “go back” to Germany and Poland. However, she did make a couple of additions to the list of countries that Jews should “return” to, such as Russia and the United States.

“They’ve been free ever since,” said Thomas, referring to the Jews after the Holocaust. “They didn’t have to go anywhere really, because they weren’t being persecuted anymore, but they were taking other people’s land.”

A visibly uncomfortable Behar then asked Thomas whether she considered herself anti-Semitic – and got something less than a clear answer. “Hell no. I’m a Semite. Of Arab background,” said Thomas. “[The Jews are] not Semites. Most of them are from Europe.”

The former White House reporter then launched into a tirade against the Israel lobby. “We have organized lobbyists in favor of Israel,” she said. “You can’t open your mouth. I can call the president of the United States anything in the book, but if you say one thing about Israel … you’re off-limits.”

Asked whether she had any regrets about making her controversial statement last spring, Thomas said her only regret was that “everybody misinterpreted it.”

“You have the Ari Fleischers and the Abe Foxmans distorting everything,” said Thomas. “So I certainly knew that and I should have kept my mouth shut probably.”

After insisting that her statements weren’t insensitive, the journalism veteran launched into a rambling diatribe about Palestinians being “pushed from their homes” in the middle of the night.

Watch the full clip here if you wish. Though you could probably hear a more rational and pleasant perspective on Middle East policy from a ranting homeless person at a bus station.

During an interview with Joy Behar last night, Helen Thomas made it clear that she was standing behind her statements that Israeli Jews should “go back” to Germany and Poland. However, she did make a couple of additions to the list of countries that Jews should “return” to, such as Russia and the United States.

“They’ve been free ever since,” said Thomas, referring to the Jews after the Holocaust. “They didn’t have to go anywhere really, because they weren’t being persecuted anymore, but they were taking other people’s land.”

A visibly uncomfortable Behar then asked Thomas whether she considered herself anti-Semitic – and got something less than a clear answer. “Hell no. I’m a Semite. Of Arab background,” said Thomas. “[The Jews are] not Semites. Most of them are from Europe.”

The former White House reporter then launched into a tirade against the Israel lobby. “We have organized lobbyists in favor of Israel,” she said. “You can’t open your mouth. I can call the president of the United States anything in the book, but if you say one thing about Israel … you’re off-limits.”

Asked whether she had any regrets about making her controversial statement last spring, Thomas said her only regret was that “everybody misinterpreted it.”

“You have the Ari Fleischers and the Abe Foxmans distorting everything,” said Thomas. “So I certainly knew that and I should have kept my mouth shut probably.”

After insisting that her statements weren’t insensitive, the journalism veteran launched into a rambling diatribe about Palestinians being “pushed from their homes” in the middle of the night.

Watch the full clip here if you wish. Though you could probably hear a more rational and pleasant perspective on Middle East policy from a ranting homeless person at a bus station.

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Internet Freedom, Back Again

Alana Goodman notes that Hillary Clinton has made a tough speech on Internet freedom. When I read Alana’s post, I thought it was news from last year. Quoth the Washington Post on January 22, 2010:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Thursday for a global Internet free of censorship. … In a sweeping “Internet freedom” speech, Clinton also called for nations to band together to punish cyber attacks meant to quiet citizens and disrupt businesses abroad. … Clinton said the United States would push to preserve the ability of anyone to connect and freely transfer information over the Web. While short on details for how that goal would be achieved, her speech sends a signal that technology plays an important role in U.S. diplomacy. Read More

Alana Goodman notes that Hillary Clinton has made a tough speech on Internet freedom. When I read Alana’s post, I thought it was news from last year. Quoth the Washington Post on January 22, 2010:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Thursday for a global Internet free of censorship. … In a sweeping “Internet freedom” speech, Clinton also called for nations to band together to punish cyber attacks meant to quiet citizens and disrupt businesses abroad. … Clinton said the United States would push to preserve the ability of anyone to connect and freely transfer information over the Web. While short on details for how that goal would be achieved, her speech sends a signal that technology plays an important role in U.S. diplomacy.

So, a year on, how’s that working out? Well, Radio Netherlands has just published a summary of a leaked Senate report criticizing State Department efforts to counter Internet censorship over the past year. The report finds “scant follow-up” from the administration over the past 12 months, notes that most of the money allocated by Congress has not been spent, blames State for becoming the client of the governments with which it interacts regularly, condemns its “inept handling” of the one major technology it did deploy — software that rapidly proved to be so insecure as to pose a danger to the dissidents it sought to empower — and recommends that all funding be shifted to the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

The leaked report is good news because it shows that the Senate is on the case. But its findings are common knowledge to anyone who has followed this issue: see, for instance, Jackson Diehl’s op-ed from last October, which makes the additional and particularly valuable point that State has not done much more than “avoid offending the Chinese government.”

The administration’s approach was initially to argue that Internet freedom required, as Diehl put it, “heading off governments’ moves to regulate the Internet.” This was a prelude to blowing American money on meaningless seminars on Internet freedom with third-tier Chinese bureaucrats. Secretary Clinton’s latest call for “global standards” for Internet use, though heavier on regulation, is really just more of the same: while there’s no way that China (or Iran) is going to accept such standards, talking about them is a great way to waste time, get rid of the money Congress has allocated, and avoid coming to grips with the issue.

It’s too soon to accept that the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were simply caused by Facebook, Twitter, and the Internet. Technology enthusiasts naturally say such things, but theirs is the faith of the true believer. Still, the fact that these regimes tried to control the Net, and clamped down even harder when the streets started to stir, is strong evidence that they viewed online freedom as their enemy. America — with Congress playing a constructive and serious part — was set to play a leading role in advancing that freedom. That would have been the right thing to do — it is still the right thing to do — even if it meant confronting the Chinese.

Instead, we did nothing, and we are still doing nothing. That is an embarrassment — almost as embarrassing as Secretary Clinton’s trotting out a supposedly revolutionary policy after a year of doing nothing about it

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Middle East Roundup

Libya: Protests have spread in Libya, with demonstrators in the eastern city of al-Baida burning posters of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. Protesters reported four deaths; Libyan security confirmed only two. The protests began a few days ago, when security forces in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, arrested one of the regime’s only human-rights lawyers. Protesters then began to chant, “There is no God but Allah and Qaddafi is his enemy.” Libyan security reportedly issued a memorandum demanding Qaddafi make public experiences and complaining of low morale in the security forces.

Iraqi Kurdistan: Violence has escalated in Iraqi Kurdistan since I first reported this morning. Security forces have issued a curfew until 7 a.m. tomorrow morning. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has seized the opposition Goran headquarters in the regional capital of Erbil and reportedly burned it down.

Bahrain: Protests have grown increasingly violent in Bahrain, as the Shiite majority demonstrates against the pro-Western Sunni elite. The tiniest Arab state, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and arguably America’s greatest strategic asset among Arab countries — the single Arab country in which the United States cannot afford regime change. Iran has long had designs on Bahrain that are somewhat analogous to the claims Saddam Hussein laid over Kuwait.

Iran: Violence also continues to spin out of control in Iran. The Iranian press is reporting the arrest of several children of former officials and ayatollahs in a sign that the generation gap is trumping family loyalty as Iranians seek the freedom so long denied them.

Libya: Protests have spread in Libya, with demonstrators in the eastern city of al-Baida burning posters of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. Protesters reported four deaths; Libyan security confirmed only two. The protests began a few days ago, when security forces in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, arrested one of the regime’s only human-rights lawyers. Protesters then began to chant, “There is no God but Allah and Qaddafi is his enemy.” Libyan security reportedly issued a memorandum demanding Qaddafi make public experiences and complaining of low morale in the security forces.

Iraqi Kurdistan: Violence has escalated in Iraqi Kurdistan since I first reported this morning. Security forces have issued a curfew until 7 a.m. tomorrow morning. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has seized the opposition Goran headquarters in the regional capital of Erbil and reportedly burned it down.

Bahrain: Protests have grown increasingly violent in Bahrain, as the Shiite majority demonstrates against the pro-Western Sunni elite. The tiniest Arab state, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet and arguably America’s greatest strategic asset among Arab countries — the single Arab country in which the United States cannot afford regime change. Iran has long had designs on Bahrain that are somewhat analogous to the claims Saddam Hussein laid over Kuwait.

Iran: Violence also continues to spin out of control in Iran. The Iranian press is reporting the arrest of several children of former officials and ayatollahs in a sign that the generation gap is trumping family loyalty as Iranians seek the freedom so long denied them.

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Unacceptable

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement today on the reports that the U.S. has offered to support a Security Council Presidential Statement on Israeli settlements in order to avoid having to decide whether to veto the pending UN Security Council draft resolution to the same effect. Her statement reads as follows:

Support for this anti-Israel statement is a major concession to enemies of the Jewish State and other free democracies.  It telegraphs that the U.S. can be bullied into abandoning critical democratic allies and core U.S. principles. Read More

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement today on the reports that the U.S. has offered to support a Security Council Presidential Statement on Israeli settlements in order to avoid having to decide whether to veto the pending UN Security Council draft resolution to the same effect. Her statement reads as follows:

Support for this anti-Israel statement is a major concession to enemies of the Jewish State and other free democracies.  It telegraphs that the U.S. can be bullied into abandoning critical democratic allies and core U.S. principles.

Palestinian leaders refuse to negotiate directly with Israel, while Israel has made unprecedented concessions and continues to repeatedly offer to negotiate anywhere, anytime.  Responsible nations should be heralding Israel’s commitment to achieving peace and security, not giving credence to the relentless campaigns by anti-democratic forces to deny that commitment.

Offering to criticize our closest ally at the UN isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable.  Pretending that criticism of Israel is OK if it comes in a ‘Presidential Statement’ instead of a resolution isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable.  Twisting and turning and tying yourself in knots to avoid using our veto to defend our allies and interests isn’t leadership, it’s unacceptable.

The Administration should change course, stand unequivocally with Israel, and publicly pledge to block any anti-Israel UN Security Council action.

Ros-Lehtinen’s press release notes that, on January 27, 2011, she and five fellow senior members of Congress (House Majority Leader Eric Cantor; House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer; Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard L. Berman; and U.S. Reps. Steve Chabot and Gary L. Ackerman, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia) sent a bipartisan letter to the president requesting that the administration veto the UN Security Council draft resolution criticizing Israel.

The press release states that they have yet to receive a response to the letter.

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Who Really Cares About the ‘Palestinian Cause’?

There’s an idea in certain foreign-policy circles that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the driving force behind many of the problems in the Middle East. But as recent events have illustrated, it’s democracy, not the “Palestinian cause,” that has been the main rallying cry of the uprisings across the Arab world.

To be sure, there is a prevalent anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt. But while Muslim Brotherhood leaders have engaged in a lot of bravado about ending the peace treaty, little has been said about ending the blockade of Gaza, which Western pro-Palestinian activists have been vocal in condemning. And while Arab leaders are eager to use the “Palestinian cause” as another way to bludgeon Israel, their actions indicate that they care little about the Palestinians.

Jordan, which has seen protests similar to the ones in Egypt in recent weeks, is known for its discriminatory treatment of Palestinians living within its borders. And it’s noteworthy that the U.S., Japan, Canada, and a host of European countries are the top donors of foreign aid to the Palestinian territories, despite the vast wealth of many oil-rich Middle Eastern nations.

As Brendan O’Neill writes at the Australian, the Palestinian issue has mainly been taken over by Western leftist activists:

Emptied of its nationalist vigour and militancy, the Palestine problem, it seems, is now of little immediate interest to protesting Arabs and is instead the ultimate cause celebre for Western liberal campaigners who like nothing more than having a victimised people they can coo over.

O’Neill notes that there is “a profound narcissism in the pity-for-Palestinian movement,” and he is correct. It has become a way for Western activists to feel good about themselves. The people of the Middle East, encumbered by their own problems, don’t seem to have the energy to worry about the problems of others.

There’s an idea in certain foreign-policy circles that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the driving force behind many of the problems in the Middle East. But as recent events have illustrated, it’s democracy, not the “Palestinian cause,” that has been the main rallying cry of the uprisings across the Arab world.

To be sure, there is a prevalent anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt. But while Muslim Brotherhood leaders have engaged in a lot of bravado about ending the peace treaty, little has been said about ending the blockade of Gaza, which Western pro-Palestinian activists have been vocal in condemning. And while Arab leaders are eager to use the “Palestinian cause” as another way to bludgeon Israel, their actions indicate that they care little about the Palestinians.

Jordan, which has seen protests similar to the ones in Egypt in recent weeks, is known for its discriminatory treatment of Palestinians living within its borders. And it’s noteworthy that the U.S., Japan, Canada, and a host of European countries are the top donors of foreign aid to the Palestinian territories, despite the vast wealth of many oil-rich Middle Eastern nations.

As Brendan O’Neill writes at the Australian, the Palestinian issue has mainly been taken over by Western leftist activists:

Emptied of its nationalist vigour and militancy, the Palestine problem, it seems, is now of little immediate interest to protesting Arabs and is instead the ultimate cause celebre for Western liberal campaigners who like nothing more than having a victimised people they can coo over.

O’Neill notes that there is “a profound narcissism in the pity-for-Palestinian movement,” and he is correct. It has become a way for Western activists to feel good about themselves. The people of the Middle East, encumbered by their own problems, don’t seem to have the energy to worry about the problems of others.

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Exporting Western Ideas, and Books, to the Arab World

This op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Chapman University’s Donald Kochan, on the need to expose the Arab world to the fundamental texts of Western political and philosophical thought, is worth reading. Professor Kochan argues that “the export of ideas may be the most valuable commodity we have to offer.” And he provides counsel on what can be done. “Our seduction by the power of the Internet has distracted us from remembering the power of books,” Kochan argues.

Amen to that.

This op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Chapman University’s Donald Kochan, on the need to expose the Arab world to the fundamental texts of Western political and philosophical thought, is worth reading. Professor Kochan argues that “the export of ideas may be the most valuable commodity we have to offer.” And he provides counsel on what can be done. “Our seduction by the power of the Internet has distracted us from remembering the power of books,” Kochan argues.

Amen to that.

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Because Allies Grow on Trees

To put the Obama administration’s upcoming tacit approval of a UN condemnation of Israel into perspective, consider this: “In 2009 – the latest figures available – 14 of the 15 biggest recipients of U.S. aid took opposing positions to those taken by the U.S. in UN votes more often than not. Israel was the exception, with a world-beating 97 percent voting coincidence with the U.S.”

What is this die-hard American ally going to get for its “world-beating” loyalty? An America-OK’d world beating.

To put the Obama administration’s upcoming tacit approval of a UN condemnation of Israel into perspective, consider this: “In 2009 – the latest figures available – 14 of the 15 biggest recipients of U.S. aid took opposing positions to those taken by the U.S. in UN votes more often than not. Israel was the exception, with a world-beating 97 percent voting coincidence with the U.S.”

What is this die-hard American ally going to get for its “world-beating” loyalty? An America-OK’d world beating.

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Ricciardone’s No Turkey

When President Obama sent Ambassador Francis “Frank” J. Ricciardone to Turkey as a recess appointment, I was pessimistic. Ricciardone had not performed well during his tour in Egypt. So desperate to ingratiate himself with President Hosni Mubarak, he declared that the Egyptian president was so popular that, “If he had to run for office in the United States, my guess is he could win elections in the United States as a leader who is a giant on the world stage.” This statement was among the reasons why former senator Sam Brownback held up his nomination.

Turkey is a sensitive post. While some diplomats still talk optimistically about a ‘Turkey model” for post-Mubarak Egypt, the fact of the matter is that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym, the AKP) increasingly pursue a Saudi model, simultaneously promoting Islamism, subsidizing anti-Semitism, and cracking down on a free press and democratic dissent. Elections this June may be the last free elections Turkey has if the AKP gets its way.

It was refreshing to see, therefore, Ricciardone appear to recognize, if not admit, his Egypt errors. At a reception on Tuesday, Ricciardone made waves when he commented: “Journalists [in Turkey] are being detained on the one hand, while addresses about freedom of speech are given on the other. We do not understand this, so we ask you.”

The AKP’s response? “Ambassadors cannot interfere with our domestic matters, they cannot design our domestic policies. There is a domain within which they have to operate and drawn limits.”

It’s a good thing that Ricciardone has diplomatic immunity. Otherwise he might end up in a Turkish prison along with Turkish journalists. At least Ricciardone now recognizes reality. The question is, will President Obama?

When President Obama sent Ambassador Francis “Frank” J. Ricciardone to Turkey as a recess appointment, I was pessimistic. Ricciardone had not performed well during his tour in Egypt. So desperate to ingratiate himself with President Hosni Mubarak, he declared that the Egyptian president was so popular that, “If he had to run for office in the United States, my guess is he could win elections in the United States as a leader who is a giant on the world stage.” This statement was among the reasons why former senator Sam Brownback held up his nomination.

Turkey is a sensitive post. While some diplomats still talk optimistically about a ‘Turkey model” for post-Mubarak Egypt, the fact of the matter is that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym, the AKP) increasingly pursue a Saudi model, simultaneously promoting Islamism, subsidizing anti-Semitism, and cracking down on a free press and democratic dissent. Elections this June may be the last free elections Turkey has if the AKP gets its way.

It was refreshing to see, therefore, Ricciardone appear to recognize, if not admit, his Egypt errors. At a reception on Tuesday, Ricciardone made waves when he commented: “Journalists [in Turkey] are being detained on the one hand, while addresses about freedom of speech are given on the other. We do not understand this, so we ask you.”

The AKP’s response? “Ambassadors cannot interfere with our domestic matters, they cannot design our domestic policies. There is a domain within which they have to operate and drawn limits.”

It’s a good thing that Ricciardone has diplomatic immunity. Otherwise he might end up in a Turkish prison along with Turkish journalists. At least Ricciardone now recognizes reality. The question is, will President Obama?

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Panetta: Bin Laden Would be Sent to Gitmo if Captured

The Obama administration has been outwardly critical of President Bush’s counterterrorism policies while quietly keeping most of these policies in place. Obama has expressed support for trying terrorists in civilian courts, but at a Senate hearing yesterday, CIA director Leon Panetta said that Osama bin Laden would likely be sent to Guantanamo Bay if captured:

That suggests that, at least under current law, bin Laden would not be transferred to US soil to be tried in the civilian court system. Congress last year ordered that no federal money could be spent to ship Guantanamo detainees to the US mainland. Bin Laden was indicted in the Sept. 11 attacks and could stand trial in New York. Panetta’s remarks indicate that given the choice, Obama would opt to use the Bush administration policy that Obama has long criticized.

Asked about the president’s position on sending bin Laden to Guantanamo Bay, the White House gave a non-answer.

“The president remains committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, because as our military commanders have made clear, it’s a national security priority to do so,’’ spokesman Jay Carney said, according to the Boston Globe. “I’m not going to speculate about what, you know, would happen if we were to capture Osama bin Laden.”

Clearly, Obama has realized that the policies he denounced Bush for are actually necessary for fighting the war on terror. But will the anti-war activists, who were so rabidly opposed to Gitmo under Bush, actually call Obama out for this latest shift?

The Obama administration has been outwardly critical of President Bush’s counterterrorism policies while quietly keeping most of these policies in place. Obama has expressed support for trying terrorists in civilian courts, but at a Senate hearing yesterday, CIA director Leon Panetta said that Osama bin Laden would likely be sent to Guantanamo Bay if captured:

That suggests that, at least under current law, bin Laden would not be transferred to US soil to be tried in the civilian court system. Congress last year ordered that no federal money could be spent to ship Guantanamo detainees to the US mainland. Bin Laden was indicted in the Sept. 11 attacks and could stand trial in New York. Panetta’s remarks indicate that given the choice, Obama would opt to use the Bush administration policy that Obama has long criticized.

Asked about the president’s position on sending bin Laden to Guantanamo Bay, the White House gave a non-answer.

“The president remains committed to closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, because as our military commanders have made clear, it’s a national security priority to do so,’’ spokesman Jay Carney said, according to the Boston Globe. “I’m not going to speculate about what, you know, would happen if we were to capture Osama bin Laden.”

Clearly, Obama has realized that the policies he denounced Bush for are actually necessary for fighting the war on terror. But will the anti-war activists, who were so rabidly opposed to Gitmo under Bush, actually call Obama out for this latest shift?

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Kagan and Dunne on Egypt

Here’s a recent CNN interview with Robert Kagan and Michelle Dunne, whose foresight on Egypt has properly been praised. Their observations regarding the chances for a radical Islamic government takeover in Egypt is noteworthy. And special kudos to Kagan, who described Glenn Beck’s coming-caliphate-that-will-envelop-the-world lecture as “panic-mongering of the worst kind” that also leads to the worst kind of policies.

Here’s a recent CNN interview with Robert Kagan and Michelle Dunne, whose foresight on Egypt has properly been praised. Their observations regarding the chances for a radical Islamic government takeover in Egypt is noteworthy. And special kudos to Kagan, who described Glenn Beck’s coming-caliphate-that-will-envelop-the-world lecture as “panic-mongering of the worst kind” that also leads to the worst kind of policies.

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Ron Paul Proposes Cutting Foreign Aid to Middle Eastern Countries

Sen. Rand Paul has made headlines recently with his blunt calls to end foreign assistance to Israel, and now his father, Rep. Ron Paul, is seeking a House vote on an amendment that would cut aid to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan, Josh Rogin is reporting.

Regardless, if Paul’s amendment gets a vote, it would be the first time the entire House would vote on whether or not to give $6 billion to these foreign governments. The vote would come in the midst of the largest American fiscal crisis in a generation, which could increase the chance that it would attract significant support.

“Borrowing money from China — or printing it out of thin air — to hand out overseas in [an] attempt to purchase friends has been a failing foreign policy, as we see most recently in Egypt where there is not even a government in place!” Paul wrote in his Dear Colleague letter. “We should seek friendly relations and trade overseas, but we cannot justify lavish gifts to foreign leaders when American taxpayers are increasingly feeling the pain of our economic crisis.”

It seems unbelievable that someone would want to end foreign aid to the Middle East at a time when we’ve just seen what a major role this money plays in influencing these countries. The financial assistance the U.S. gives to Egypt has bought us a great deal of leverage over the transition.

Paul’s proposal to cut aid is short-sighted. While the $6 billion will do little to help close the U.S. budget deficit, it will go a long way in buying the U.S. valuable influence in Middle Eastern countries.

Sen. Rand Paul has made headlines recently with his blunt calls to end foreign assistance to Israel, and now his father, Rep. Ron Paul, is seeking a House vote on an amendment that would cut aid to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan, Josh Rogin is reporting.

Regardless, if Paul’s amendment gets a vote, it would be the first time the entire House would vote on whether or not to give $6 billion to these foreign governments. The vote would come in the midst of the largest American fiscal crisis in a generation, which could increase the chance that it would attract significant support.

“Borrowing money from China — or printing it out of thin air — to hand out overseas in [an] attempt to purchase friends has been a failing foreign policy, as we see most recently in Egypt where there is not even a government in place!” Paul wrote in his Dear Colleague letter. “We should seek friendly relations and trade overseas, but we cannot justify lavish gifts to foreign leaders when American taxpayers are increasingly feeling the pain of our economic crisis.”

It seems unbelievable that someone would want to end foreign aid to the Middle East at a time when we’ve just seen what a major role this money plays in influencing these countries. The financial assistance the U.S. gives to Egypt has bought us a great deal of leverage over the transition.

Paul’s proposal to cut aid is short-sighted. While the $6 billion will do little to help close the U.S. budget deficit, it will go a long way in buying the U.S. valuable influence in Middle Eastern countries.

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The Courage of House Republicans

“They are suckers.”

That is the judgment of one cynical senior Democratic congressional aide, speaking to Politico about the House GOP plan to release the first detailed proposals to reduce entitlement spending.

“They have painted themselves into a corner.” The corner this Democratic aide is referring to is a statement by GOP House leaders. “Our budget will lead where the President has failed,” the statement reads, “and it will include real entitlement reforms so that we can have a conversation with the American people about the challenges we face and the need to chart a new path to prosperity.”

Expanding on this statement, Representative Paul Ryan was asked whether he was talking about “minor tinkering.” The House Budget Committee chairman said, “No, I think it’s important that you do comprehensive health care entitlement reform, other kinds of entitlement reform.”

The details of Ryan’s plan will be revealed later this spring. For now, I’m not sure people fully realize what an extraordinary decision this is. The majority party in the House of Representatives is willing to do what no Congress has ever done: fundamentally reform, and scale back, entitlement programs (most especially Medicare). House Republicans are willing to do this even though presidents and lawmakers who have attempted such things in the past have not only failed; they have been hammered into submission by demagogic attacks. Read More

“They are suckers.”

That is the judgment of one cynical senior Democratic congressional aide, speaking to Politico about the House GOP plan to release the first detailed proposals to reduce entitlement spending.

“They have painted themselves into a corner.” The corner this Democratic aide is referring to is a statement by GOP House leaders. “Our budget will lead where the President has failed,” the statement reads, “and it will include real entitlement reforms so that we can have a conversation with the American people about the challenges we face and the need to chart a new path to prosperity.”

Expanding on this statement, Representative Paul Ryan was asked whether he was talking about “minor tinkering.” The House Budget Committee chairman said, “No, I think it’s important that you do comprehensive health care entitlement reform, other kinds of entitlement reform.”

The details of Ryan’s plan will be revealed later this spring. For now, I’m not sure people fully realize what an extraordinary decision this is. The majority party in the House of Representatives is willing to do what no Congress has ever done: fundamentally reform, and scale back, entitlement programs (most especially Medicare). House Republicans are willing to do this even though presidents and lawmakers who have attempted such things in the past have not only failed; they have been hammered into submission by demagogic attacks.

Conservative House members hope this moment is unlike any previous one. The argument goes like this: the old script — the American people believe in limited government in theory and big government in practice — no longer applies. Our fiscal problems are so large, a fiscal train wreck is drawing so near, and the evidence is so incontrovertible that abdication on reforming entitlement programs (which is driving our fiscal crisis) will be punished, while dealing with them in a responsible way will be rewarded. Republicans are betting that this isn’t 1995 all over again. “Mediscare” doesn’t work nearly as well during an era of trillion-dollar annual deficits.

Have we, in fact, reached an inflection point on entitlement programs? Is there a new sobriety among the citizenry when it comes to fiscal matters?

Nobody knows. My sense is that the political landscape has changed significantly on these matters. But whether it has changed enough — and whether one half of one branch of the federal government can shape and bend public opinion — is an open question. Even the strongest advocates for taking on entitlement reform know that this path is potentially perilous.

What is not in dispute is the political courage that is on display. It is unusual, to say the least, for lawmakers to risk everything on behalf of the public good.

In the December 1981 issue of the Atlantic, David Stockman, then Ronald Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, made a run at cutting the size of government, including entitlement programs. He wanted to change the habits of the political system. And he failed. “I have a new theory,” Stockman confessed to William Greider, “there are no real conservatives in Congress.”

David Stockman never met Paul Ryan and his House colleagues.

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Will Iraqi Kurdistan Be the Next Domino to Fall?

According to independent journalists in the Iraqi Kurdish city Sulaymani, a sympathy protest in favor of Egypt and Tunisia turned bloody just a few moments ago. After the gathering, some youths threw stones at the local headquarters of Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). From within the building, KDP officials shot into the crowd, killing five and injuring at least 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan was the most pro-American region of Iraq. Barzani has also been fairly sympathetic to Israel. Despite its impressive economic development and relative security, it has also become increasingly oppressive. The top may have just burst off the pressure cooker.

According to independent journalists in the Iraqi Kurdish city Sulaymani, a sympathy protest in favor of Egypt and Tunisia turned bloody just a few moments ago. After the gathering, some youths threw stones at the local headquarters of Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). From within the building, KDP officials shot into the crowd, killing five and injuring at least 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan was the most pro-American region of Iraq. Barzani has also been fairly sympathetic to Israel. Despite its impressive economic development and relative security, it has also become increasingly oppressive. The top may have just burst off the pressure cooker.

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