Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 18, 2011

If Qaddafi Isn’t Safe, No One Is Safe

I was almost certain we wouldn’t see much, if any, upheaval in Libya, and even wrote less than a week ago that only the very brave or the very stupid would dare stand up to Muammar Qaddafi’s totalitarian system. As Michael Rubin has pointed out, no country on earth aside from North Korea (and I’d add the possible exception of Turkmenistan) is more oppressive than the vast Libyan dungeon. Even Bashar al-Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath Party state is lax by comparison.

So it’s rather extraordinary that the Arab revolt has broken out in Qaddafi-land. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

Hardly anyone in Libya could imagine standing up to, let alone overthrowing, Qaddafi just a few weeks ago, but Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak turned out to be much more vulnerable than anybody expected. They seemed to be pushed out of power so easily. It’s not true that if they can be overthrown that anyone can be overthrown, but the invincibility of the Arab police states has nevertheless been proved a myth. The fear that so grips the hearts of the Middle East’s peoples is breaking.

Some in the foreign-policy “realist” camp are concerned that the Arab revolt is only targeting the nominally “pro-American” states, but that’s not true anymore. The anti-American states are considerably more vicious and more likely to survive for that reason, but all the Arab rulers outside Lebanon and Iraq are despotic. (The real power in Lebanon — Hezbollah — is also despotic.)

The likelihood that all these tyrants will be swept away and replaced with parliamentary democracies is practically zero, but the Arab world has needed a powerful shaking up for a very long time and, for good or for ill, is finally getting it. No one knows where this is going, and nobody can control it. Let’s not pop the champagne corks or slit our wrists until things settle down.

I was almost certain we wouldn’t see much, if any, upheaval in Libya, and even wrote less than a week ago that only the very brave or the very stupid would dare stand up to Muammar Qaddafi’s totalitarian system. As Michael Rubin has pointed out, no country on earth aside from North Korea (and I’d add the possible exception of Turkmenistan) is more oppressive than the vast Libyan dungeon. Even Bashar al-Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath Party state is lax by comparison.

So it’s rather extraordinary that the Arab revolt has broken out in Qaddafi-land. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

Hardly anyone in Libya could imagine standing up to, let alone overthrowing, Qaddafi just a few weeks ago, but Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak turned out to be much more vulnerable than anybody expected. They seemed to be pushed out of power so easily. It’s not true that if they can be overthrown that anyone can be overthrown, but the invincibility of the Arab police states has nevertheless been proved a myth. The fear that so grips the hearts of the Middle East’s peoples is breaking.

Some in the foreign-policy “realist” camp are concerned that the Arab revolt is only targeting the nominally “pro-American” states, but that’s not true anymore. The anti-American states are considerably more vicious and more likely to survive for that reason, but all the Arab rulers outside Lebanon and Iraq are despotic. (The real power in Lebanon — Hezbollah — is also despotic.)

The likelihood that all these tyrants will be swept away and replaced with parliamentary democracies is practically zero, but the Arab world has needed a powerful shaking up for a very long time and, for good or for ill, is finally getting it. No one knows where this is going, and nobody can control it. Let’s not pop the champagne corks or slit our wrists until things settle down.

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What Was Susan Rice’s Embarrassing Anti-Israel Tirade Supposed to Accomplish?

Why didn’t Susan Rice just get up and say, “I’m being forced to veto this condemnation of Israel because the Israel Lobby controls D.C., I’m bitterly resentful about it, and Stephen Walt will soon be explaining why”? It would have been less damaging than the spectacle we just witnessed, wherein, as John pointed out, the American ambassador to the United Nations telegraphed — through words, body language, and her anti-Israel tantrum — that she didn’t support the policy she was implementing on behalf of the president.

No one’s under any illusions that Rice prefers basking in the agapic embrace of Turtle Bay to defending the only stable ally America currently has in the Middle East. But did she really need to make it so obvious? The president of the United States might be tarnishing the solemnity of his office by stirring up domestic unrest against his political opponents, but can’t we at least try not to look like a banana republic in front of actual banana republics?

Of course, this is all under the assumption that Rice really was acting out against the White House’s decision. If the administration actually instructed her to say one thing and do another on the world’s largest diplomatic stage, then we’ve got bigger problems.

What exactly was this public display of petulance supposed to accomplish? Having disappointed the Arab world by vetoing the proposal, was the point also to disappoint the Israelis by joining the UN lynch mob in words but not deeds? This did actual damage to U.S. credibility and influence. It damaged them in a direct way by ensuring that we’d alienate everybody today, and it damaged them in a potentially more significant way by creating a chasm between our words and our actions. It’s almost as if Rice spent the week telling everyone that a veto wouldn’t advance U.S. interests in any way, and then set out to make sure that’s exactly what happened. Did anyone even vet this internationalist pablum?

And no, of course it’s not United States policy to view construction within the settlement blocs as “illegitimate.” At least it wasn’t once the Bush letters came out, which unambiguously recognized the permanence of major Israeli settlements. But since Rice’s speech didn’t really reflect the explicit policy choices of this government, presumably she didn’t feel bound by the commitments of previous governments either. So a banana republic it is.

Why didn’t Susan Rice just get up and say, “I’m being forced to veto this condemnation of Israel because the Israel Lobby controls D.C., I’m bitterly resentful about it, and Stephen Walt will soon be explaining why”? It would have been less damaging than the spectacle we just witnessed, wherein, as John pointed out, the American ambassador to the United Nations telegraphed — through words, body language, and her anti-Israel tantrum — that she didn’t support the policy she was implementing on behalf of the president.

No one’s under any illusions that Rice prefers basking in the agapic embrace of Turtle Bay to defending the only stable ally America currently has in the Middle East. But did she really need to make it so obvious? The president of the United States might be tarnishing the solemnity of his office by stirring up domestic unrest against his political opponents, but can’t we at least try not to look like a banana republic in front of actual banana republics?

Of course, this is all under the assumption that Rice really was acting out against the White House’s decision. If the administration actually instructed her to say one thing and do another on the world’s largest diplomatic stage, then we’ve got bigger problems.

What exactly was this public display of petulance supposed to accomplish? Having disappointed the Arab world by vetoing the proposal, was the point also to disappoint the Israelis by joining the UN lynch mob in words but not deeds? This did actual damage to U.S. credibility and influence. It damaged them in a direct way by ensuring that we’d alienate everybody today, and it damaged them in a potentially more significant way by creating a chasm between our words and our actions. It’s almost as if Rice spent the week telling everyone that a veto wouldn’t advance U.S. interests in any way, and then set out to make sure that’s exactly what happened. Did anyone even vet this internationalist pablum?

And no, of course it’s not United States policy to view construction within the settlement blocs as “illegitimate.” At least it wasn’t once the Bush letters came out, which unambiguously recognized the permanence of major Israeli settlements. But since Rice’s speech didn’t really reflect the explicit policy choices of this government, presumably she didn’t feel bound by the commitments of previous governments either. So a banana republic it is.

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Civility Watch: Wisconsin Dems and Unions Cross the Line

As Alana has noted, one of the interesting sidelights of the confrontation in Wisconsin is the way that, once again, liberal hypocrisy on hate speech has been exposed. The dispute between Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislative majority intent on passing legislation that would limit collective bargaining by state-employee unions and force their members to pay for some of their health-care and pension costs and the Democrats and unions who oppose these measures illustrates the double standard by which our chattering classes view politics in this country.

Throughout 2009 and 2010, during the heated debate about President Obama’s health-care legislation, Americans were repeatedly told by the leaders of the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, and even supposedly nonpartisan groups like the Anti-Defamation League that there was something profoundly and uniquely troubling about the angry language and behavior of those who opposed ObamaCare and the stimulus spending bill. Conservative Tea Party activists were continuously slammed as a threat to democracy because of the way they spoke about Obama or characterized the Democratic majority in Congress. The fact that the political left had spent the previous eight years demonizing President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and the Republicans was ignored. The hue and cry over the need for more civility in politics was treated as an indication that there was something peculiarly unwholesome or even racist in the revulsion felt by a great many Americans toward the president’s policies. In November 2010, the idea that such sentiments were the preserve of a crackpot minority was exposed as a myth when the voters handed Obama a record midterm election defeat and sent scores of Tea Partiers to Washington.

A few months later, as Republicans in many states look to clean up the mess left behind by profligate governments of both parties, left-wing protesters are now employing the same sort of despicable rhetoric that we were told was the exclusive preserve of a dangerous anti-democratic right wing. A few weeks ago, protesters organized by the supposedly squeaky clean Common Cause lobby demonstrated outside a think-tank conference with signs calling for the lynching of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. And this week, as the unions and their Democratic allies sought to override the verdict of the voters by attempting to stop the meeting of the Wisconsin legislature, liberals were in the streets of Madison bearing signs with swastikas comparing Walker to Hitler. Indeed, Democratic State Senator Lena Taylor specifically compared Walker to Hitler.

To those who would argue that this is mere hyperbole, I would point out that liberals did not accept this excuse when they were blasting the Tea Party last year. Moreover, it is very clear from the tenor of the protests and by the rhetoric being exhibited by the Democrats in this dispute that they view their opponents as inherently illegitimate and unworthy of a fair hearing or of holding office. This is exactly what Democrats were complaining about when they spoke of harsh criticism of Obama.

So we have to ask all the people who were bemoaning the incivility of the Tea Party and Obama critics, when will you speak about what is going on in Wisconsin? Will the Jewish Funds for Justice, which rightly criticized Glenn Beck and Roger Ailes for inappropriate language about the Holocaust (while failing to note Democrats who did the same thing), take out another full-page ad in newspapers denouncing Wisconsin Democrats?

As Alana has noted, one of the interesting sidelights of the confrontation in Wisconsin is the way that, once again, liberal hypocrisy on hate speech has been exposed. The dispute between Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislative majority intent on passing legislation that would limit collective bargaining by state-employee unions and force their members to pay for some of their health-care and pension costs and the Democrats and unions who oppose these measures illustrates the double standard by which our chattering classes view politics in this country.

Throughout 2009 and 2010, during the heated debate about President Obama’s health-care legislation, Americans were repeatedly told by the leaders of the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, and even supposedly nonpartisan groups like the Anti-Defamation League that there was something profoundly and uniquely troubling about the angry language and behavior of those who opposed ObamaCare and the stimulus spending bill. Conservative Tea Party activists were continuously slammed as a threat to democracy because of the way they spoke about Obama or characterized the Democratic majority in Congress. The fact that the political left had spent the previous eight years demonizing President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and the Republicans was ignored. The hue and cry over the need for more civility in politics was treated as an indication that there was something peculiarly unwholesome or even racist in the revulsion felt by a great many Americans toward the president’s policies. In November 2010, the idea that such sentiments were the preserve of a crackpot minority was exposed as a myth when the voters handed Obama a record midterm election defeat and sent scores of Tea Partiers to Washington.

A few months later, as Republicans in many states look to clean up the mess left behind by profligate governments of both parties, left-wing protesters are now employing the same sort of despicable rhetoric that we were told was the exclusive preserve of a dangerous anti-democratic right wing. A few weeks ago, protesters organized by the supposedly squeaky clean Common Cause lobby demonstrated outside a think-tank conference with signs calling for the lynching of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. And this week, as the unions and their Democratic allies sought to override the verdict of the voters by attempting to stop the meeting of the Wisconsin legislature, liberals were in the streets of Madison bearing signs with swastikas comparing Walker to Hitler. Indeed, Democratic State Senator Lena Taylor specifically compared Walker to Hitler.

To those who would argue that this is mere hyperbole, I would point out that liberals did not accept this excuse when they were blasting the Tea Party last year. Moreover, it is very clear from the tenor of the protests and by the rhetoric being exhibited by the Democrats in this dispute that they view their opponents as inherently illegitimate and unworthy of a fair hearing or of holding office. This is exactly what Democrats were complaining about when they spoke of harsh criticism of Obama.

So we have to ask all the people who were bemoaning the incivility of the Tea Party and Obama critics, when will you speak about what is going on in Wisconsin? Will the Jewish Funds for Justice, which rightly criticized Glenn Beck and Roger Ailes for inappropriate language about the Holocaust (while failing to note Democrats who did the same thing), take out another full-page ad in newspapers denouncing Wisconsin Democrats?

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UN: Good Veto, Bad Administration

Just now, in the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice raised her hand to oppose the resolution condemning Israel’s settlement activity. Thus, the Obama administration did not join the jackals at the U.N. thirsting for Israel’s delegitimization. And thank God for that. But then Rice opened her mouth, and as I write, is delivering a truly foul speech in which she flatly declares that “we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” and declares that such activity is, essentially, the cause for “corroded hopes” in the Middle East. She condemned “the folly and legitimacy” of continued settlement activity.

The action was the right thing; but no one should mistake the action as an act of friendship from the Obama administration, still in thrall to the notion that Israeli action rather than Arab and Palestinian action is the primary problem between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

Just now, in the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice raised her hand to oppose the resolution condemning Israel’s settlement activity. Thus, the Obama administration did not join the jackals at the U.N. thirsting for Israel’s delegitimization. And thank God for that. But then Rice opened her mouth, and as I write, is delivering a truly foul speech in which she flatly declares that “we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” and declares that such activity is, essentially, the cause for “corroded hopes” in the Middle East. She condemned “the folly and legitimacy” of continued settlement activity.

The action was the right thing; but no one should mistake the action as an act of friendship from the Obama administration, still in thrall to the notion that Israeli action rather than Arab and Palestinian action is the primary problem between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

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Left-Wing Activists Carry Hitler, Nazi Signs at Rally

Remember the massive media coverage and the constant handwringing by progressives over the alleged prevalence of extremist rhetoric at Tea Party rallies? Last summer, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote that “accusations that once were beyond the pale — not just talk of Nazis and Marxists but intimations of tyranny, revolution and bloodshed — are now routine.”

As Pete noted, it will be interesting to see if the same liberal pundits also condemn the signs waved by left-wing activists at a protest against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal.

Yid with Lid has photos of demonstrators holding signs with messages like “Hitler Outlawed Unions, Too!” “Hosni + Hitler = Dictator Scott Walker” and an image of Walker with a Hitler mustache and a swastika.

Many of the protest signs also compared Gov. Walker to Mubarak. “One down, one to go” read several, which were decorated with photos of the ousted Egyptian leader and the Wisconsin governor. This sudden hatred of Mubarak from the left also makes one wonder where these people were when President Bush was pushing his freedom agenda in the Middle East.

Yid with Lid also notes that the anti-Walker protesters were bused in for the demonstration by the DNC arm Organizing for America. There were many attempts to tie the Republican Party to some of the offensive rhetoric used by a few unsavory individuals who attended Tea Party protests. But as far as anyone knows, the RNC had no hand in organizing Tea Party rallies. Will the Democratic Party, clearly much more involved in this Wisconsin demonstration, have to answer to the same charges?

Remember the massive media coverage and the constant handwringing by progressives over the alleged prevalence of extremist rhetoric at Tea Party rallies? Last summer, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote that “accusations that once were beyond the pale — not just talk of Nazis and Marxists but intimations of tyranny, revolution and bloodshed — are now routine.”

As Pete noted, it will be interesting to see if the same liberal pundits also condemn the signs waved by left-wing activists at a protest against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal.

Yid with Lid has photos of demonstrators holding signs with messages like “Hitler Outlawed Unions, Too!” “Hosni + Hitler = Dictator Scott Walker” and an image of Walker with a Hitler mustache and a swastika.

Many of the protest signs also compared Gov. Walker to Mubarak. “One down, one to go” read several, which were decorated with photos of the ousted Egyptian leader and the Wisconsin governor. This sudden hatred of Mubarak from the left also makes one wonder where these people were when President Bush was pushing his freedom agenda in the Middle East.

Yid with Lid also notes that the anti-Walker protesters were bused in for the demonstration by the DNC arm Organizing for America. There were many attempts to tie the Republican Party to some of the offensive rhetoric used by a few unsavory individuals who attended Tea Party protests. But as far as anyone knows, the RNC had no hand in organizing Tea Party rallies. Will the Democratic Party, clearly much more involved in this Wisconsin demonstration, have to answer to the same charges?

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What to Do About Bahrain

Bahrain is the tiniest Arab country; it could fit six times over into Rhode Island, with plenty of space left over. When I spent a summer in Bahrain about 15 years ago, I used to bike around the country every weekend for exercise. As the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, Bahrain is among America’s most important Arab allies. After Jordan, Bahrain is the Arab state in which the United States can least afford regime change.

Bahrain is also replete with historical and sectarian baggage. It was a Persian province until the early 16th century, when the Portuguese navy, then using the Persian Gulf as a waypoint on the road to India, seized it. When travelers leave the capital Manama, it’s hard not to stumble over the remains of old Portuguese fortifications. The Iranian government has never fully reconciled itself to Bahrain’s loss. When the British evacuated the Persian Gulf in 1970, the Shah claimed the island. Even though Bahrain is perhaps 70 percent Shiite and almost half the country speaks Farsi at home, a UN-supervised plebiscite determined that most Bahrainis wanted independence.

In 2007, Ali Shariatmadari, an appointee of Supreme Leader Khamenei and editor of his mouthpiece daily Kayhan, renewed the Iranian claim over Bahrain, and Iranian authorities have since repeatedly spoken of Bahrain in the same manner  in which Saddam Hussein once spoke about Kuwait. When Iranian officials talk about their desire to transform the Persian Gulf into a Persian lake, they envision sending Bahrain’s Sunni ruling elite packing and returning Iranian dominance to Bahrain in order to rid the region of American influence. Read More

Bahrain is the tiniest Arab country; it could fit six times over into Rhode Island, with plenty of space left over. When I spent a summer in Bahrain about 15 years ago, I used to bike around the country every weekend for exercise. As the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, Bahrain is among America’s most important Arab allies. After Jordan, Bahrain is the Arab state in which the United States can least afford regime change.

Bahrain is also replete with historical and sectarian baggage. It was a Persian province until the early 16th century, when the Portuguese navy, then using the Persian Gulf as a waypoint on the road to India, seized it. When travelers leave the capital Manama, it’s hard not to stumble over the remains of old Portuguese fortifications. The Iranian government has never fully reconciled itself to Bahrain’s loss. When the British evacuated the Persian Gulf in 1970, the Shah claimed the island. Even though Bahrain is perhaps 70 percent Shiite and almost half the country speaks Farsi at home, a UN-supervised plebiscite determined that most Bahrainis wanted independence.

In 2007, Ali Shariatmadari, an appointee of Supreme Leader Khamenei and editor of his mouthpiece daily Kayhan, renewed the Iranian claim over Bahrain, and Iranian authorities have since repeatedly spoken of Bahrain in the same manner  in which Saddam Hussein once spoke about Kuwait. When Iranian officials talk about their desire to transform the Persian Gulf into a Persian lake, they envision sending Bahrain’s Sunni ruling elite packing and returning Iranian dominance to Bahrain in order to rid the region of American influence.

Iran will never have a free hand in Bahrain, however. Connected by a causeway to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi royal family sees Bahrain as a frontline in the battle between Sunnis and Shiites. Whenever the Iranians have supported Shiite insurrection and riots, Saudi troops have quietly crossed the causeway to help Bahrain authorities put down the uprising.

The uprising today is not Iranian-inspired, although the Iranian regime may try to hijack it. The case for reform in Bahrain — and the other Persian Gulf states — is real, however. So what might Obama do?

The White House and State Department should make this the moment to promote real constitutionalism. Article 33 of the Bahrain constitution is a dictator’s dream. The list of royal prerogatives can be found here.

Preserve the monarchies — they are more moderate than republics. The royal families also personify unique nationalism, but they should no longer be above the law. Governments should be elected, not dismissed on the whims of a hereditary ruler. At the same time, constitutions might empower national leaders with decisions over defense, for effective defense and defense partnerships require long-term planning and commitment. Realists may want to go back to the old days, when pro-American dictators ruled over fiefs and kept the natives in line; but it is unrealistic to believe those days can continue.

Promoting a constitutional transformation not only in Bahrain but also in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait may present the best hope for renewed stability and preservation of regimes that are essential to U.S. national security.

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New NIE on Iran: International Pressure Still Working

The newest national intelligence estimate (NIE) on Iran will not be issued in an unclassified version, but administration officials disclosed its key judgments to journalists this week. The new NIE assesses that Iran has resumed some level of work on the weaponization aspect of developing nuclear weapons, a change from the assessment of the 2007 NIE that such work had been halted in 2003. But the new NIE suggests Iran’s leaders are split on whether to actually develop a bomb. The reason for this disunity is assessed to be the effect of international sanctions.

Interestingly, in 2007, the intelligence community attributed Iran’s work stoppage of 2003 to the effects of international pressure. The 2007 NIE slipped the bonds of intelligence professionalism to issue this policy suggestion:

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.

Whether this Skinnerite program of behavior modification has actually been instituted in the past three years is a topic for another time. Once again, however, the U.S. intelligence community is assessing that international pressure is causing the Iranians to be of two minds about going ahead with a nuclear weapon. Read More

The newest national intelligence estimate (NIE) on Iran will not be issued in an unclassified version, but administration officials disclosed its key judgments to journalists this week. The new NIE assesses that Iran has resumed some level of work on the weaponization aspect of developing nuclear weapons, a change from the assessment of the 2007 NIE that such work had been halted in 2003. But the new NIE suggests Iran’s leaders are split on whether to actually develop a bomb. The reason for this disunity is assessed to be the effect of international sanctions.

Interestingly, in 2007, the intelligence community attributed Iran’s work stoppage of 2003 to the effects of international pressure. The 2007 NIE slipped the bonds of intelligence professionalism to issue this policy suggestion:

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.

Whether this Skinnerite program of behavior modification has actually been instituted in the past three years is a topic for another time. Once again, however, the U.S. intelligence community is assessing that international pressure is causing the Iranians to be of two minds about going ahead with a nuclear weapon.

John Bolton — who was the undersecretary for state arms control in 2003 — debunked the idea from the 2007 NIE that international pressure had had anything to do with Iran ceasing weaponization work that summer. As he pointed out, there had not been any concerted international pressure in the months preceding the alleged suspension of weaponization work. The main “international pressure” exerted in 2003 was the example set by the invasion of Iraq.

There has been international pressure exerted since, however: three rounds of UN sanctions, which started in 2006, and U.S. and EU sanctions that were intensified in 2010. Their results to date are not impressive. While the mullahs strive to decide if they want a nuclear arsenal, they have made significant progress toward one, and all since the first UN sanctions were implemented (see here, here, and here). Key milestones — e.g., starting higher-level enrichment, in the teeth of international opposition — have been achieved since the post-election unrest in 2009. Iranian rhetoric has been unified; Iranian diplomacy has been consistent: no concessions have been made to assuage the concerns of the international community.

Actual dithering on policy usually looks less purposeful than this. A more realistic assessment was made by Israel’s new chief of military intelligence in late January: Iran’s revolutionary leaders are not conflicted on policy; they are trying to judge the right time to escalate their nuclear effort. That assessment, unlike the reported conclusion of the new NIE, has the virtue of fitting all the facts.

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Pledges Not to Fire on Protesters

Could this potentially be a turning point for Iran’s Green movement? The Telegraph is reporting that senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers have sent a letter to their commanding officer, Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, vowing that they will not open fire on their own people. They’ve also asked him to instruct the Basij to refrain from violence:

Following the recent violence that occurred during anti-government protests in Egypt, the officers argue that it is against the principles of Shi’ite Islamic law to use violence against their own people.

In a suggestion of a major split within the Islamic Republic’s ruling hierarchy over its handling of anti-government protests, the letter has been circulated widely throughout the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards, the body responsible for defending religious system. …

It goes on to state unequivocally, “We promise our people that we will not shoot nor beat our brothers who are seeking to express legitimate protest against the policies and conduct of their leader.”

The letter asks the commanding officer to issue explicit instructions of nonviolence to the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia. The Basij was responsible for much of the crackdown on protesters in 2009, and it will be a major turning point for the pro-democracy demonstrators if it declines to use force. That is, of course, if the commanding officer decides to issue the instructions and the Basij actually agrees to follow them.

Of course, just the fact that this letter was sent is a great show of solidarity between the military officers and the protesters. There’s no doubt that it will help further energize the Green movement.

Could this potentially be a turning point for Iran’s Green movement? The Telegraph is reporting that senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers have sent a letter to their commanding officer, Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, vowing that they will not open fire on their own people. They’ve also asked him to instruct the Basij to refrain from violence:

Following the recent violence that occurred during anti-government protests in Egypt, the officers argue that it is against the principles of Shi’ite Islamic law to use violence against their own people.

In a suggestion of a major split within the Islamic Republic’s ruling hierarchy over its handling of anti-government protests, the letter has been circulated widely throughout the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards, the body responsible for defending religious system. …

It goes on to state unequivocally, “We promise our people that we will not shoot nor beat our brothers who are seeking to express legitimate protest against the policies and conduct of their leader.”

The letter asks the commanding officer to issue explicit instructions of nonviolence to the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij militia. The Basij was responsible for much of the crackdown on protesters in 2009, and it will be a major turning point for the pro-democracy demonstrators if it declines to use force. That is, of course, if the commanding officer decides to issue the instructions and the Basij actually agrees to follow them.

Of course, just the fact that this letter was sent is a great show of solidarity between the military officers and the protesters. There’s no doubt that it will help further energize the Green movement.

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Iranian Judiciary Leaders Pursuing Sedition Trial for Opposition Leaders

Iranian judiciary leaders have declared that opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi will stand trial for sedition, according to several reports. This news comes shortly after 220 members of the Iranian parliament signed a letter calling on the judiciary to prosecute the two opposition leaders.

The deputy chief of the judiciary for Legal and Judicial Development told the Fars News Agency that the “judiciary will definitely fulfill its duty with regard to the trial of Mousavi and Karroubi,” according to the Washington Times. “People should know that the judiciary will not ignore its duty with regard to the trial of sedition masterminds and will try them in due time.”

Iran’s Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani also indicated that the trial would occur but called on government supporters to be patient.

“We ask everybody to allow the judicial system to work within the framework of law and observe the interests of the system,” he told the Mehr News Agency on Thursday, according to People’s Daily Online. He added that, once the judiciary system investigates the sedition case, it “for sure will not come short in this regard.”

Like many offenses, sedition is punishable by death in Iran. And while the Iranian government has expressed an eagerness to prosecute Mousavi and Karroubi, such a trial could also result in a backlash against the government and serve as an even greater rallying cry for the Green movement.

Iranian judiciary leaders have declared that opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi will stand trial for sedition, according to several reports. This news comes shortly after 220 members of the Iranian parliament signed a letter calling on the judiciary to prosecute the two opposition leaders.

The deputy chief of the judiciary for Legal and Judicial Development told the Fars News Agency that the “judiciary will definitely fulfill its duty with regard to the trial of Mousavi and Karroubi,” according to the Washington Times. “People should know that the judiciary will not ignore its duty with regard to the trial of sedition masterminds and will try them in due time.”

Iran’s Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani also indicated that the trial would occur but called on government supporters to be patient.

“We ask everybody to allow the judicial system to work within the framework of law and observe the interests of the system,” he told the Mehr News Agency on Thursday, according to People’s Daily Online. He added that, once the judiciary system investigates the sedition case, it “for sure will not come short in this regard.”

Like many offenses, sedition is punishable by death in Iran. And while the Iranian government has expressed an eagerness to prosecute Mousavi and Karroubi, such a trial could also result in a backlash against the government and serve as an even greater rallying cry for the Green movement.

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The Unrest in Madison

Here are a couple of predictions related to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s relatively modest requests of government unions (asking many of the state’s public employees to start contributing to their own pension and health-care benefits and limiting their collective bargaining rights to negotiations over pay rather than benefits) and the massive, angry protests they have elicited.

First, Governor Walker — if he holds shape and doesn’t back down (and I rather doubt he will back down) — will eventually benefit from this collision. Government unions, on the other hand, will suffer badly. The hysterical reaction to Walker’s reforms — comparing the governor of Wisconsin to (take your pick) Mubarak, Mussolini, or Hitler — is going to go down very poorly with the citizens of Wisconsin. Many of the public-employee protesters come across as pampered, childish, selfish, and overwrought.

Second, President Obama’s intervention in this matter — declaring that what is going on in Wisconsin is an “assault” on unions — will be about as successful as his interventions in other state and local matters, from the Arizona immigration law, to the mosque controversy in New York City, to the statement that the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” in arresting Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates. Which is to say, not successful at all.

What is happening in Madison would have been significant on its own; it is, after all, emblematic of the reforms and cuts that states have to make in order to avoid insolvency. But the intervention by the president into this fray has now raised the stakes enormously. He has made this fight his fight.

President Obama’s intervention also occurred during a week in which he released his own deeply irresponsible budget — one that avoids any of the difficult decisions that are necessary given our nation’s unprecedented fiscal imbalance. It is as if Mr. Obama, having proved he’s fundamentally unserious about fiscal issues on a national level, now wants to impede chief executives who are acting responsibly on a state level. It’s quite amazing, really.

This will, I think, be a battle that liberals will come to rue, and it may even be seen as a key moment in the larger debate about re-limiting government and restoring fiscal sanity. If you’re looking for historical parallels — and none is ever exact — think August 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired thousands of unionized air-traffic controllers for illegally going on strike, an event that marked a turning point in labor relations in America. Once again, labor groups will incur significant damage — but this time, so will the president.

Here are a couple of predictions related to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s relatively modest requests of government unions (asking many of the state’s public employees to start contributing to their own pension and health-care benefits and limiting their collective bargaining rights to negotiations over pay rather than benefits) and the massive, angry protests they have elicited.

First, Governor Walker — if he holds shape and doesn’t back down (and I rather doubt he will back down) — will eventually benefit from this collision. Government unions, on the other hand, will suffer badly. The hysterical reaction to Walker’s reforms — comparing the governor of Wisconsin to (take your pick) Mubarak, Mussolini, or Hitler — is going to go down very poorly with the citizens of Wisconsin. Many of the public-employee protesters come across as pampered, childish, selfish, and overwrought.

Second, President Obama’s intervention in this matter — declaring that what is going on in Wisconsin is an “assault” on unions — will be about as successful as his interventions in other state and local matters, from the Arizona immigration law, to the mosque controversy in New York City, to the statement that the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” in arresting Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates. Which is to say, not successful at all.

What is happening in Madison would have been significant on its own; it is, after all, emblematic of the reforms and cuts that states have to make in order to avoid insolvency. But the intervention by the president into this fray has now raised the stakes enormously. He has made this fight his fight.

President Obama’s intervention also occurred during a week in which he released his own deeply irresponsible budget — one that avoids any of the difficult decisions that are necessary given our nation’s unprecedented fiscal imbalance. It is as if Mr. Obama, having proved he’s fundamentally unserious about fiscal issues on a national level, now wants to impede chief executives who are acting responsibly on a state level. It’s quite amazing, really.

This will, I think, be a battle that liberals will come to rue, and it may even be seen as a key moment in the larger debate about re-limiting government and restoring fiscal sanity. If you’re looking for historical parallels — and none is ever exact — think August 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired thousands of unionized air-traffic controllers for illegally going on strike, an event that marked a turning point in labor relations in America. Once again, labor groups will incur significant damage — but this time, so will the president.

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Obama Wants to Condemn Israel but That’s Not Good Enough for the Palestinians

Yesterday President Obama’s plan to condemn Israel in the United Nations was roundly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. But the president’s betrayal appears to have also been rejected by its intended beneficiary: Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Obama and Abbas spoke on Thursday in a lengthy phone call during which the Palestinian rejected the president’s attempt to craft a “compromise” that would avoid a UN Security Council vote to condemn Israel’s settlement policy. The United States thought to head off a formal vote to condemn Israel by having the president of the Security Council issue a statement that branded the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem as illegitimate. The Americans also promised to support a Security Council field trip to the region and even stronger anti-settlement language in a future statement by the Quartet.

But while this unprecedented American support for a UN condemnation of Israel shocked even members of Obama’s own party into statements of outrage, it wasn’t good enough for Abbas. According to the Post, the PA leader rejected Obama’s entreaties and said that his representatives and allies at the UN would go ahead and push for a vote on their resolution that would brand Israel as a violator of international law and dare Obama to veto it.

Why would Abbas reject Obama’s plan? Read More

Yesterday President Obama’s plan to condemn Israel in the United Nations was roundly condemned by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. But the president’s betrayal appears to have also been rejected by its intended beneficiary: Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Obama and Abbas spoke on Thursday in a lengthy phone call during which the Palestinian rejected the president’s attempt to craft a “compromise” that would avoid a UN Security Council vote to condemn Israel’s settlement policy. The United States thought to head off a formal vote to condemn Israel by having the president of the Security Council issue a statement that branded the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem as illegitimate. The Americans also promised to support a Security Council field trip to the region and even stronger anti-settlement language in a future statement by the Quartet.

But while this unprecedented American support for a UN condemnation of Israel shocked even members of Obama’s own party into statements of outrage, it wasn’t good enough for Abbas. According to the Post, the PA leader rejected Obama’s entreaties and said that his representatives and allies at the UN would go ahead and push for a vote on their resolution that would brand Israel as a violator of international law and dare Obama to veto it.

Why would Abbas reject Obama’s plan?

On the face of it, this makes no sense, since American support for a formal statement delegitimizing Israeli activities would have been a triumph for Palestinian diplomacy and a cruel blow to the Jewish state. It would have directly advanced the Palestinian agenda in a manner that was virtually unprecedented, because never before has the United States been willing to allow Israel to be officially tarred with the label of law-breaker.

The Jerusalem Post quotes an Israeli source who speculates that the PA’s motivation in pressing forward with a Security Council resolution, rather than sufficing with a presidential statement, was motivated in part by Arab leaders’ interest in diverting attention from the unrest in the region back onto the settlements. Maybe so, but it is telling that Abbas would rather force Obama to veto an anti-Israel resolution rather than have the United States give its formal backing to a less formal statement with virtually the same content and impact. Perhaps he also thinks taking the anti-settlement cause to the International Court of Justice at The Hague would be more productive for Palestinian propaganda than a limited victory at the UN Security Council.

It remains to be seen how exactly the standoff at the Security Council will play out and whether either Obama or Abbas will back down. By showing his willingness to throw Israel under the bus, Obama has once again demonstrated that he cannot be trusted to stand by the Middle East’s only democracy. However, the president is right when he claims that this resolution will be an obstacle to advancing peace talks. But that is exactly why it is so important to Abbas.

As with everything else that has gone on under the rubric of peace-process diplomacy, Abbas’s real goal does not seem to be one focused on gaining American support for measures that would directly advance his supposed goal of statehood. Instead, as proved by his consistent unwillingness to accept peace offers from the Israelis that provided for a state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem, or even to negotiate with Netanyahu, Abbas seems far more interested in exacerbating the conflict so it can drag on indefinitely. This allows him to retain his hold on power and removes the possibility that he might be forced to confront his people with the necessity of giving up their dream of Israel’s destruction.

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Libya on Fire

Egyptians tell a joke about Hosni Mubarak’s last days: President Obama telephoned Mubarak and said, “Hosni, it is time to say goodbye to your people.” Mubarak pauses and with confusion in his voice says, “Why? Where are my people going?” It may not be long, thankfully, until Libyans will be free to tell such jokes about their ruler.

The protests against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi continue to spread throughout his North African domain. Mohamed Eljahmi, the brother of Libya’s late prisoner of conscience Fathi Eljahmi, has compiled various reports filtering out of the country, which I summarize below:

Libyan journalist Abdalla Baarasi telephoned into Al Jazeera from al-Baida, in eastern Libya. He described a military cordon around the town, helicopters overhead, and hospitals dangerously short of supplies, with dozens dead in clashes with security forces. After he pleaded, “Please help save our people in Baida and Cyrene,” the line went dead. Labrak airport is reportedly shut down, and there are conflicting reports that it is in the hands of anti-Qaddafi forces.

In Benghazi, police and security vacated the streets as the army moved in. Maj.-Gen. Al-Saadi Al-Qaddafi, the leader’s third son, arrived to supervise operations, although there are conflicting reports that Qaddafi’s other son Khamis is in charge. Both telephone landlines and mobile-phone service have now been cut off. Security forces have begun rounding up those who have spoken to satellite stations. There has been an uprising in Al-Kiwaifia prison, where hard-core criminals (as opposed to political prisoners) are kept. Libyans report rumors that Libyan security is offering amnesty to the freed prisoners if they attack the protesters. Snipers are on the rooftop of the Tibesti Hotel downtown. Read More

Egyptians tell a joke about Hosni Mubarak’s last days: President Obama telephoned Mubarak and said, “Hosni, it is time to say goodbye to your people.” Mubarak pauses and with confusion in his voice says, “Why? Where are my people going?” It may not be long, thankfully, until Libyans will be free to tell such jokes about their ruler.

The protests against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi continue to spread throughout his North African domain. Mohamed Eljahmi, the brother of Libya’s late prisoner of conscience Fathi Eljahmi, has compiled various reports filtering out of the country, which I summarize below:

Libyan journalist Abdalla Baarasi telephoned into Al Jazeera from al-Baida, in eastern Libya. He described a military cordon around the town, helicopters overhead, and hospitals dangerously short of supplies, with dozens dead in clashes with security forces. After he pleaded, “Please help save our people in Baida and Cyrene,” the line went dead. Labrak airport is reportedly shut down, and there are conflicting reports that it is in the hands of anti-Qaddafi forces.

In Benghazi, police and security vacated the streets as the army moved in. Maj.-Gen. Al-Saadi Al-Qaddafi, the leader’s third son, arrived to supervise operations, although there are conflicting reports that Qaddafi’s other son Khamis is in charge. Both telephone landlines and mobile-phone service have now been cut off. Security forces have begun rounding up those who have spoken to satellite stations. There has been an uprising in Al-Kiwaifia prison, where hard-core criminals (as opposed to political prisoners) are kept. Libyans report rumors that Libyan security is offering amnesty to the freed prisoners if they attack the protesters. Snipers are on the rooftop of the Tibesti Hotel downtown.

There was also reportedly a mass funeral for the approximately 30 people killed yesterday in the city. Thousands, including lawyers, demonstrated and camped in front of Northern Benghazi Court. They are calling for the creation of a constitution. Chants include, “Time for Qaddafi to head to Jeddah,” “We don’t want Qaddafi or his sons, Benghazi has its own men,” “Wake up Benghazi, your day has arrived,” and “The people want the execution of the Colonel [Qaddafi].” Demonstrators are claiming that one high-ranking army officer and 10 intelligence officers have defected to their side.

There are also reports of protests in other towns:

  • Ijdabia, 100 miles west of Benghazi: Two killed in demonstrations.
  • Zintan and Rijban, western mountains: State Security and Revolutionary Committees have reportedly fled. Tribal elders say the revolution will continue until Qaddafi’s fall.
  • Cyrene [Shahat], near Al-Baida: Four people reportedly killed.
  • Tobruk, eastern coast: Headquarters of the local Revolutionary Committee burned down.
  • Derna, eastern coast: Amir Saad, the son of an officer close to Qaddafi, called into Al Jazeera and said that Libyan Security in Derna, Baida, Tobruk, and Cyrene have switched sides and now are anti-Qaddafi.

Libya is the world’s most repressive police state after North Korea. Qaddafi continues to embrace terrorism. It is time for Obama to use his bully pulpit to call for Qaddafi to go so that the Libyan people can re-enter the modern world after more than four decades of living hell.

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Bob Gates: ‘Very Low Chance’ Gitmo Will Close

Following Leon Panetta’s statement implying that Guantanamo Bay will be open for a while, Defense Secretary Robert Gates conceded to the Senate Arms Services Committee yesterday that the possibility of closing the detention center is “very low.”

“I think we’re in the position, frankly, that the prospects for closing Guantanamo, as best I can tell, are very, very low,” said Gates, according to Politico. Gates said the closure is unlikely because of significant political opposition, and because it isn’t clear where high-profile terrorists will be kept if it shuts down:

Gates said that the “very broad opposition” to closing the controversial detention center from members of Congress was a key reason why he said he didn’t see the closure happening any time soon. …

Asked by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) where Osama bin Laden and other high-profile terrorists would be kept if Gitmo were closed, Gates said “the honest answer to that question is, we don’t know.”

The reason for the “very broad opposition” is obvious — Guantanamo Bay is absolutely necessary for detaining high-profile terrorists. There is simply no alternative right now. President Obama knows this, but can’t come out and say it because he made opposition to the detention center a major part of his campaign. That’s why he has to take self-contradictory positions like signing a bill that prevents Gitmo inmates from being transferred to U.S. soil, and then declaring that he will fight to overturn those restrictions.

Following Leon Panetta’s statement implying that Guantanamo Bay will be open for a while, Defense Secretary Robert Gates conceded to the Senate Arms Services Committee yesterday that the possibility of closing the detention center is “very low.”

“I think we’re in the position, frankly, that the prospects for closing Guantanamo, as best I can tell, are very, very low,” said Gates, according to Politico. Gates said the closure is unlikely because of significant political opposition, and because it isn’t clear where high-profile terrorists will be kept if it shuts down:

Gates said that the “very broad opposition” to closing the controversial detention center from members of Congress was a key reason why he said he didn’t see the closure happening any time soon. …

Asked by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) where Osama bin Laden and other high-profile terrorists would be kept if Gitmo were closed, Gates said “the honest answer to that question is, we don’t know.”

The reason for the “very broad opposition” is obvious — Guantanamo Bay is absolutely necessary for detaining high-profile terrorists. There is simply no alternative right now. President Obama knows this, but can’t come out and say it because he made opposition to the detention center a major part of his campaign. That’s why he has to take self-contradictory positions like signing a bill that prevents Gitmo inmates from being transferred to U.S. soil, and then declaring that he will fight to overturn those restrictions.

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Brainwashing and Coexistence in Hebron

While most of the world is avidly following events in Iran, Bahrain, and Yemen, Israeli leftists are preoccupied with Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s plan to promote school field trips to the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Machpela) in Hebron. Such trips, they charge, would constitute “brainwashing” and “ideological coercion”; they would educate against “tolerance and peace” and “intensify nationalist feelings, faith in power and blindness to the injustices of the occupation.” These claims are downright Orwellian.

First, as Sa’ar noted, Machpela is a foundational site in Jewish history. The Bible describes Abraham’s purchase of it as a burial site for his wife, and the subsequent burial there of six of the Jewish people’s seven founding patriarchs and matriarchs. Later, Hebron was the capital of David’s kingdom before he relocated to Jerusalem. Excising Hebron from Jewish history simply isn’t possible.

Thus, if leftists truly believe they can promote their land-for-peace program only by keeping children ignorant of this history — that letting children learn about the site’s importance would “intensify nationalist feelings” and turn them against “peace” — they may as well give up. No viable political program can be based on a Stalinist rewrite of history. And the only “brainwashing” and “ideological coercion” in this story is the left’s attempt to dictate such a rewrite to advance its political goals.

Equally outrageous, however, is the claim that visiting Machpela educates against tolerance and coexistence. Admittedly, Jewish-Arab tensions run high in Hebron, though “the occupation” is hardly the sole culprit: even before Israel was founded, Arab Hebronites periodically massacred their Jewish neighbors (see, for instance, 1929 and 1936).

But Machpela itself is an unparalleled example of coexistence: the only holy site in the world that is simultaneously an active synagogue and an active mosque. Usually, it’s open to Jewish and Muslim worshippers alike; on a handful of Jewish and Muslim holidays, it’s reserved for members of the celebrating faith. True, there is no intermingling; Jews and Muslims are kept separate for their mutual protection. Yet both can worship freely at their shared holy site. Read More

While most of the world is avidly following events in Iran, Bahrain, and Yemen, Israeli leftists are preoccupied with Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s plan to promote school field trips to the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Machpela) in Hebron. Such trips, they charge, would constitute “brainwashing” and “ideological coercion”; they would educate against “tolerance and peace” and “intensify nationalist feelings, faith in power and blindness to the injustices of the occupation.” These claims are downright Orwellian.

First, as Sa’ar noted, Machpela is a foundational site in Jewish history. The Bible describes Abraham’s purchase of it as a burial site for his wife, and the subsequent burial there of six of the Jewish people’s seven founding patriarchs and matriarchs. Later, Hebron was the capital of David’s kingdom before he relocated to Jerusalem. Excising Hebron from Jewish history simply isn’t possible.

Thus, if leftists truly believe they can promote their land-for-peace program only by keeping children ignorant of this history — that letting children learn about the site’s importance would “intensify nationalist feelings” and turn them against “peace” — they may as well give up. No viable political program can be based on a Stalinist rewrite of history. And the only “brainwashing” and “ideological coercion” in this story is the left’s attempt to dictate such a rewrite to advance its political goals.

Equally outrageous, however, is the claim that visiting Machpela educates against tolerance and coexistence. Admittedly, Jewish-Arab tensions run high in Hebron, though “the occupation” is hardly the sole culprit: even before Israel was founded, Arab Hebronites periodically massacred their Jewish neighbors (see, for instance, 1929 and 1936).

But Machpela itself is an unparalleled example of coexistence: the only holy site in the world that is simultaneously an active synagogue and an active mosque. Usually, it’s open to Jewish and Muslim worshippers alike; on a handful of Jewish and Muslim holidays, it’s reserved for members of the celebrating faith. True, there is no intermingling; Jews and Muslims are kept separate for their mutual protection. Yet both can worship freely at their shared holy site.

Contrast this with the situation on the Temple Mount, where Israel abdicated control to the Muslim religious authorities. Jews and Christians are strictly forbidden to pray on the Mount; they can’t even open a Bible or move their lips in silent prayer. If they do, they are immediately thrown out. Nor can Jews even visit freely: only a few at a time are allowed in.

And perhaps that’s why the left is so upset: visiting Machpela might give students the idea that while Jewish control protects both Jewish and Muslim freedom of worship, Muslim control protects only the latter. Worse, it might give them the idea that leftists care only about Muslim rights, not Jewish ones: after all, they applaud the ban on Jewish worship on the Mount, yet are outraged by the Israeli-enforced freedom of worship at Machpela.

Clearly, neither realization would advance the left’s political program. But if leftists really want to promote peace, lobbying their Palestinian partners to start respecting Jewish religious rights would be far more productive than trying to outlaw history.

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The New Press Secretary Must Jettison Happy Talk

My guess is that White House press secretary Jay Carney will be an improvement over his predecessor, Robert Gibbs (not a high bar to clear, I’ll admit). But if you want to see an example of how credibility can be squandered away briefing by briefing, watch this short clip of Carney, who insists that the “goals” of the stimulus package “have been met.”

In fact, the empirical goals used by the Obama administration, which are the ones we can best assess, have not been met. The president’s economic team claimed that if the stimulus package were passed, unemployment would not exceed 8 percent and it would be around 7 percent by now. Instead, unemployment rose above 10 percent, and it hasn’t dropped below 9 percent since.

When challenged on the data, Carney made excuses (“the business of predicting the future in terms of economics is tricky”) and said, “We’ve said … we don’t want to relitigate the battles of the past.”

What precisely does that mean? That we’re not to judge lawmakers and presidents based on their legislation? That we should ignore past predictions if they are wrong? That the past should be forgotten? That accountability is passé?

There is a tendency of every administration to engage in such claptrap.

Carney, in defending the administration, could have said two things — first, that the administration was wrong in its unemployment predictions; it turned out they were too optimistic, and they made a mistake. Go ahead and admit what is indisputable. Second, Carney could, however, argue that on balance the stimulus package was well worth it because it stabilized the economy and kept us from sliding into a second Great Depression. The recession is over, the economy is growing, and a million new jobs have been added. Therefore it’s legislation the administration not only stands behind but is proud of. It really isn’t all that hard. But for Carney to claim that the goals of the stimulus have been met undermines everything else he says.

One senses that we’re entering a period in American politics when there’s a premium on straight talk rather than happy talk. If Mr. Carney hopes to retain his and the president’s credibility, he might consider jettisoning shallow talking points in favor of honest arguments.

My guess is that White House press secretary Jay Carney will be an improvement over his predecessor, Robert Gibbs (not a high bar to clear, I’ll admit). But if you want to see an example of how credibility can be squandered away briefing by briefing, watch this short clip of Carney, who insists that the “goals” of the stimulus package “have been met.”

In fact, the empirical goals used by the Obama administration, which are the ones we can best assess, have not been met. The president’s economic team claimed that if the stimulus package were passed, unemployment would not exceed 8 percent and it would be around 7 percent by now. Instead, unemployment rose above 10 percent, and it hasn’t dropped below 9 percent since.

When challenged on the data, Carney made excuses (“the business of predicting the future in terms of economics is tricky”) and said, “We’ve said … we don’t want to relitigate the battles of the past.”

What precisely does that mean? That we’re not to judge lawmakers and presidents based on their legislation? That we should ignore past predictions if they are wrong? That the past should be forgotten? That accountability is passé?

There is a tendency of every administration to engage in such claptrap.

Carney, in defending the administration, could have said two things — first, that the administration was wrong in its unemployment predictions; it turned out they were too optimistic, and they made a mistake. Go ahead and admit what is indisputable. Second, Carney could, however, argue that on balance the stimulus package was well worth it because it stabilized the economy and kept us from sliding into a second Great Depression. The recession is over, the economy is growing, and a million new jobs have been added. Therefore it’s legislation the administration not only stands behind but is proud of. It really isn’t all that hard. But for Carney to claim that the goals of the stimulus have been met undermines everything else he says.

One senses that we’re entering a period in American politics when there’s a premium on straight talk rather than happy talk. If Mr. Carney hopes to retain his and the president’s credibility, he might consider jettisoning shallow talking points in favor of honest arguments.

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Obama and the Quakers’ North Korea Problem

In 1947, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the Friends Service Committee — non-governmental organizations belonging to the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers — shared the Nobel Peace Prize. Presenting the award, Gunnar Jahn, chairman of the Nobel Committee, described the AFSC’s actions both during and after World War II. Seldom had the need for the Quakers’ relief operations been so great as during World War II. The Nazis, however, refused to allow the Quakers to operate in territory they controlled. The Third Reich was willing to make one exception, however. The Quakers could work in Poland, so long as they limited their assistance to those approved by the Germans. The AFSC refused to accept such restrictions. As the Allies beat back the Germans, the AFSC was ready, however, to assist “the prisoners who were released from concentration camps in 1945, all those who had to be repatriated from forced labor or POW camps in enemy countries, all the displaced persons who have no country to which they can return, all the homeless in their own countries, all the orphans, the hungry, the starving.”

Fast-forward to the present day. The AFSC operates a project in North Korea to help make collective farms more efficient. “In 1997, AFSC was one of the first two NGOs allowed to work directly with cooperative farms in the DPRK,” they explain, adding, “AFSC now works with four cooperative farms and with technical institutions to address production and soil fertility issues. AFSC country program also works with regional institutions and experts on training and exchange projects with DPRK.”

How times and values have changed. While the Quakers refused to compromise with the Nazis, they have no such qualms about Kim Jong-il’s conditionality. They ignore the fact that North Korea’s collective farms are slave-labor camps. Nor does the AFSC seek neutrality or to assist the true victims of the North’s reign of terror. For example, the AFSC does not help North Korean defectors who often arrive in the South traumatized and destitute.

The American Friends Service Committee reports that it teaches Human Rights Education at Sidwell Friends, where the Obamas send their daughters. Certainly, ideology played a role in their selection of Sidwell. “The choice makes sense at a philosophical level as well, because of how Quakers view the challenge of shaping children into socially responsible and spiritually aware adults,” Time explained.

Given the AFSC’s relationship with Sidwell, perhaps President Obama might ask the school and the AFSC to explain why enabling brutal dictatorships is consistent with the AFSC’s understanding of human rights, unless, of course, Obama also suffers from such moral blindness.

In 1947, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the Friends Service Committee — non-governmental organizations belonging to the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers — shared the Nobel Peace Prize. Presenting the award, Gunnar Jahn, chairman of the Nobel Committee, described the AFSC’s actions both during and after World War II. Seldom had the need for the Quakers’ relief operations been so great as during World War II. The Nazis, however, refused to allow the Quakers to operate in territory they controlled. The Third Reich was willing to make one exception, however. The Quakers could work in Poland, so long as they limited their assistance to those approved by the Germans. The AFSC refused to accept such restrictions. As the Allies beat back the Germans, the AFSC was ready, however, to assist “the prisoners who were released from concentration camps in 1945, all those who had to be repatriated from forced labor or POW camps in enemy countries, all the displaced persons who have no country to which they can return, all the homeless in their own countries, all the orphans, the hungry, the starving.”

Fast-forward to the present day. The AFSC operates a project in North Korea to help make collective farms more efficient. “In 1997, AFSC was one of the first two NGOs allowed to work directly with cooperative farms in the DPRK,” they explain, adding, “AFSC now works with four cooperative farms and with technical institutions to address production and soil fertility issues. AFSC country program also works with regional institutions and experts on training and exchange projects with DPRK.”

How times and values have changed. While the Quakers refused to compromise with the Nazis, they have no such qualms about Kim Jong-il’s conditionality. They ignore the fact that North Korea’s collective farms are slave-labor camps. Nor does the AFSC seek neutrality or to assist the true victims of the North’s reign of terror. For example, the AFSC does not help North Korean defectors who often arrive in the South traumatized and destitute.

The American Friends Service Committee reports that it teaches Human Rights Education at Sidwell Friends, where the Obamas send their daughters. Certainly, ideology played a role in their selection of Sidwell. “The choice makes sense at a philosophical level as well, because of how Quakers view the challenge of shaping children into socially responsible and spiritually aware adults,” Time explained.

Given the AFSC’s relationship with Sidwell, perhaps President Obama might ask the school and the AFSC to explain why enabling brutal dictatorships is consistent with the AFSC’s understanding of human rights, unless, of course, Obama also suffers from such moral blindness.

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