After days of silence, the president of the United States took to the microphone and, in a statement of almost unbelievable pointlessness, said as little as he could. He condemned the violence, said he was sending Hillary Clinton to Europe, said he had instructed his team to look at all options, and said that the “most basic aspiration” of people was (and here he quoted a Libyan) “to be able to live like human beings.” Crises either elevate leaders or make them look shrunken and unequal to the task history has assigned them. I think there’s little question which of these two categories describes Barack Obama right now. QUICK UPDATE: Obama used curious phrasing by telling the Libyan murderers that “the entire world is watching.” This is an adaptation of the chant used at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago by demonstrators who were tussling with Chicago cops (“the whole world is watching”). The difference is that the evil Libyan regime doesn’t care that the entire world is watching, and it’s astounding the president doesn’t know that.
Posts For: February 23, 2011
The conceit behind former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum’s bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination is that he combines impeccable right-wing credentials on social issues such as abortion with a credible foreign-policy resume. But the problem for Santorum is his inability to stay on message and not run off at the mouth at every opportunity. His loose lips helped sink his attempt to win a third term in the Senate in 2006, and they aren’t doing much to breathe life into his long-shot presidential hopes either.
The latest example of Santorum’s inability to control his utterances was a statement he made in South Carolina on Tuesday during which he rose to the defense of the Crusades, the long series of military campaigns on the part of European Christians to seize control of the territory that is now the State of Israel during the Middle Ages. According to Politico, Santorum said that the negative view of the Crusades that predominates these days is the result of efforts by “the American left who hates Christendom.”
“The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical,” Santorum said in Spartanburg on Tuesday. “And that is what the perception is by the American left who hates Christendom.”
While it may be true that many leftists hate Christianity, just as they despise Judaism and the State of Israel, Santorum is on very shaky ground when he attempts to paint the Crusaders as the good guys defending Western civilization. While his claim that the Crusades were not a case of European aggression is debatable — since the Muslims who occupied the Holy Land and the surrounding region at that time were themselves the descendants of invaders who had thrown out the Byzantine Christians who had succeeded the Romans who committed genocide in throwing out the Jews — any effort to portray the Crusaders in a positive light is contrary to historical truth. Read More
I wholeheartedly agree with Max that the American reaction to the murder of four Americans on the high seas is a disgrace. As I listened to Mrs. Clinton’s mealy-mouthed statement last night, I thought to myself, “What would Ronald Reagan have done?” I doubt he would have called on the international community to sit around a table and chew the ends of their pencils while they discussed matters. Rather, I imagine he would have instructed the Navy to do at least what Max suggests, if not hang a few of the pirates on the spot and perhaps, as Michael Rubin suggested, send a few predator missiles into the pirate palaces that have arisen in Puntland, thanks to the pirates’ ill-gotten gains. Up the cost of doing business until it becomes unprofitable and people will stop doing that business. It works every time.
We have certainly come a long, long way from “Pedicaris alive or Raisuli dead.” That incident was made into a marvelous movie (although one without any regard for historical accuracy — it has Mrs. Pedicaris being kidnapped, not her husband, for one thing). Called The Wind and the Lion, starring Sean Connery and Candice Bergen, it’s well worth seeing again.
I think it’s time to put in a good word for gunboat diplomacy.
With Americans now being evacuated from Libya on a chartered ferry, we can presumably expect to hear from President Obama soon on the topic of Qaddafi and his atrocities against his people. That, at least, is what Hillary Clinton seemed to suggest yesterday. The president was maintaining his silence because Americans were in a vulnerable position in Qaddafi’s territory.
There’s always an excuse. It usually sounds plausible, if you don’t examine it too closely. But I’m not the only one to whom it occurred that there is a remedy for imperiled Americans, and it involves the U.S. armed forces performing one of their core missions. A non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) is one of the most basic things the military does, and there is nothing militaristic or even unusual about expecting to see signs of it.
Americans are getting out of Libya now, however, and anyone who posited the need for an NEO is likely to hear a chorus of explanations that things were apparently under control all along and that Obama must have known that no force deployments were necessary. It would come off as mean-spirited, I imagine, to point out that Obama’s tactical silence — if that’s what it is — would therefore seem to have been prompted by an exaggerated fear. Read More
The Palestinians have had a hard time dealing with the U.S.’s veto of the anti-Israel resolution at the UN. Lashing out at the Obama administration in press releases hasn’t helped their cause. Throwing temper tantrums in the streets hasn’t gotten a response. So now the Palestinians have decided to target the United States economy — by launching a U.S. boycott.
According to Fatah, the boycott won’t end until President Obama decides to support the resolution and apologizes for vetoing it:
The local councils said that they would boycott American US aid groups and the US Consulate-General in Jerusalem.
Hatem Abdel Kader, a senior Fatah official and former PA Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, told The Jerusalem Post that he has called on Hamas and other Palestinian factions to join the anti-US boycott.
Abdel Kader said that the protests would continue until the US Administration changes its position regarding the Palestinians. He also demanded that Obama publicly apologize to the Palestinians for voting against the anti-settlement resolution.
The Palestinians are so serious about this that they said they’re even prepared to stop accepting U.S. financial aid, which makes up a significant portion of their economy.
“PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced that he would be prepared to give up US aid that is dependent on political conditions,” reported the Jerusalem Post. “He said that in 2010, the US gave the PA $223 million in financial aid to cover its deficit of $1.145 billion.”
So the Palestinians’ boycott plan is to refuse to accept the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that the U.S. government gives them each year? In other words, the money that used to go into their economy will now be staying in ours? Great idea, Fatah — it sounds like Obama will break down in no time.
From the Falls Church News-Press, which is Helen Thomas’s new employer, comes an interesting bit of gossip. In an otherwise mundane column, the paper’s editor, Nicholas F. Benton, reports on the “handful” of Thomas’s friends and supporters who reached out to her during her controversy last summer — and apparently, one of these supporters, oddly enough, was former president Jimmy Carter:
[Rosie] O’Donnell sent Thomas, now age 90, flowers in sympathy for the highly upsetting incident and, along with President Jimmy Carter, was one of only a handful of her longtime colleagues and friends to reach out to her.
If true, this is certainly fitting. Both Thomas and Carter have been accused of anti-Semitism for their statements about Israel, although Carter hasn’t gone as far as to say that the Jews should “go back to Germany.” Could the former president have contacted Thomas to commiserate about his own experiences?
Benton told me over the phone that Thomas told him about Carter’s outreach herself, though she didn’t give him details about what the former president said to her. “The context was in the context of what transpired,” said Benton, referring to Thomas’s unceremonious retirement from Hearst.
So while Carter’s outreach could have been as innocuous as a generic sympathy note, it’s still amusing to think of Thomas and the former president trading war stories about how they both got taken down by the Jewish lobby.
This is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reaction to the murder of four Americans by Somali pirates:
“This deplorable act by the pirates that stalk vessels in the waters off of Somalia firmly underscores the need for the international community to act more decisively together,” she said. “We’ve got to have a more effective approach to maintaining security on the seas, in the ocean lanes that are so essential to commerce and travel.”
Any time you hear a diplomat or leader talking about getting the “international community to act more decisively together,” you can tell she’s not interested in doing anything serious. And lack of seriousness has certainly characterized U.S. reaction to Somali pirates under both the Bush and Obama administrations. We have sent our Navy to patrol the chaotic waters off Somalia but with such restrictive rules of engagement that apparently they can react only once a ship has actually been hijacked, and then use force only if Navy personnel or the hostages are directly threatened by the pirates. The result is that there is no effective deterrence to the predations of these ruthless outlaws of the seas, who have turned piracy into big business and are closely linked to the Islamist movement trying to take over Somalia.
If we are serious about this threat, all we need to do is to authorize the Navy to sink any suspected pirate vessels that are sighted unless they surrender immediately; and if they do surrender, to bring back the suspected pirates for trial in the U.S. even if they have not menaced a U.S.-flagged vessel. This does not require a major military commitment. All it requires is making more effective use of the force already in place and making use of legal authorities that have been in place for hundreds of years. Piracy, after all, is the original international crime.
Various arguments — excuses really — have been offered against this obvious course of action. We have been told, for example, that it will embolden the pirates to become more violent. But, lacking any effective check, they have already become violent — and they have grown as a threat over the years. It is well past time to act more “decisively” against this threat — but there is no sign that the Obama administration will do so. Until it does, the threat will continue to grow, inevitably leading to the deaths of more Americans and the capture of more ships.
Anne Applebaum has a thought-provoking column in the Washington Post comparing the revolutions now transpiring in the Arab world to the revolutions of 1848 — a comparison I have also noted. No historical analogy is perfect, but it is worth spinning this one out a bit to gain some perspective on the events of the moment. Jonathan Tobin has already commented on it; here’s my take.
One strand of 1848 was nationalism — the desire of Germans, Hungarians, Italians, and others to live in a nation-state instead of as part of a multi-national empire. That ideology, which has proved the most powerful in the world in the past two centuries, swept across the Middle East many decades ago. Its great champion was Gamal Abdel Nasser. He combined pan-Arab nationalism with socialist economics in a seductive if half-baked stewed. The appeal of Nasserism had waned by the late 1970s, when states that followed his prescriptions, including his own Egypt, had proved unable to deliver either prosperity or a military defeat of the Arabs’ hated foe — Israel.
The year 1979 saw the flowering of Islamism as a powerful political force across the region. That Islamist wave has still not crested, but it is now colliding with another powerful idea — democracy. It appears to me that the liberal, democratic impulses that swept Europe in 1848 have finally reached the Arab world in a decisive way. Clearly, that is the message being heard on the streets of Benghazi, Tunis, Cairo, and Manama: in all those places, protesters are demanding not the imposition of a theocracy or the dismantlement of West Bank settlements or the end of the U.S. presence in the region, but rather the creation of governments accountable to their own people.
Even many Islamists, such as Yusuf Qaradawi, the Egyptian cleric and Al Jazeera star who has spent decades in exile only to return a few days ago to preach to hundreds of thousands in Tahrir Square, speak publicly about the need for more democratic governance. Whether they mean it remains an open question, but they are certainly talking the talk — as opposed to other Islamists, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, who publicly warn against any government based on popular consent rather than the will of God. Read More
As a Democratic congressman urges union activists to “get out on the streets and get a little bloody,” and left-wing protesters brandish signs comparing Gov. Scott Walker to Hitler and Stalin, the Southern Poverty Law Center has released a new study about the increasing threat of right-wing extremist groups:
“Far-right extremists remain highly energized, even as politicians across the country co-opt many of the radical ideas and issues that are important to them,” said Mark Potok, editor of the Intelligence Report. “This success in having their voices heard in the political arena, where they have long occupied the fringe of conservative thought, might eventually take the wind out of their sails, but so far we’re not seeing any sign of that.”
The number of radical right groups in America — including hate groups, “Patriot” groups and nativist groups — increased in 2010 for the second year in a row, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The organization’s quarterly publication, “Intelligence Report,” said that the growth was “driven by resentment over the changing racial demographics of the country, frustration over the government’s handling of the economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and other demonizing propaganda aimed at various minorities.”
The problem isn’t that the media is reporting on this study. The problem is the double standard. While the left-wing radicalism at the Wisconsin protests has been largely ignored or minimized by mainstream journalists, this story on right-wing extremism is getting media attention.
In a report out today, the Media Research Center finds that none of the network news stations have even mentioned a word about the hostile rhetoric and protest signs at the Wisconsin rallies:
MRC analysts examined all 53 ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news stories, segments and anchor briefs on the Wisconsin protests from Thursday, February 17 (when they first drew major national coverage) through Monday, February 21. While eight of the 53 stories (15%) visually displayed one or more of the signs described above, none elicited a single remark from the network correspondents.
This will definitely be something to remember when the media starts warning about the “incivility” at the next major Tea Party rally.
Union workers and other left-wing activists continue to be in awe of their own courage at taking on Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin.
Yesterday, Think Progress reported that Gov. Walker was blocking Internet access to an “opposition” website that gave information on the protests — just like Hosni Mubarak did.
According to pro-labor protesters in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) may be taking a page from former Egyptian Dictator Hosni Mubarak and cutting off internet access to key protest organizers within the state Capitol building.
If you are in the Capitol attempting to access the internet from a free wifi connection labeled “guest,” you cannot access the site defendwisconsin.org. The site has been used to provide updates on what is happening, where you can volunteer, and where supplies and goods are needed to support protesters. Administrators of the website were notified on Monday that the page is being blocked. Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate says that the site was put on a blacklist typically used to filter out pornography sites so that protestors inside the Capitol could not access this key site.
The difference, of course, was that this website was only blocked on the free wifi at the Capitol building — and it was down for just half an hour while the Department of Administration approved it, as it does for all newly created websites.
“The Department of Administration blocks all new websites shortly after they are created, until they go through a software approval program that unblocks them,” Walker’s spokesperson said in a statement. “Within 30 minutes of being notified this website was blocked, DOA circumvented the software and immediately made the website accessible.”
An Internet crackdown like the one in Egypt? Talk about a stretch. These activists are really struggling to make this Mubarak comparison work.
If you want proof of just how central oil is to the world economy, take a look at the markets. When Tunisia and then Egypt exploded, the markets took it in stride. But Tunisia is a negligible oil producer (about 87,000 barrels a day), and Egypt, while a bigger producer (630,000 barrels), has a far larger economy that absorbs every drop. But Libya pumps 1,550,000 barrels a day and, with a small population and small economy, exports most of it.
So when Libya exploded, so did the oil markets, and then the stock market imploded. Oil spiked above $100 a barrel for the first time since the summer of 2008, and the Dow opened down a hundred points on Tuesday after a three-day holiday weekend and is now down 1.5 percent since Friday. (It would be down more than that if it weren’t for the fact that Chevron and Exxon are both in the Dow.)
Green energy might be the wave of the future, but right now, and for the foreseeable future, it is pie in the sky. The world, and the world economy, moves on oil.
Faleh Hassan Almaleki, an Iraqi immigrant who plowed down his 20-year-old daughter Noor with a car in Phoenix because he reportedly believed she had become too “Westernized,” was convicted of second-degree murder in her death on Tuesday.
The incident sparked one of the most high-profile honor-killing cases the U.S. has ever seen, and Almaleki’s conviction on second-degree-murder charges instead of first-degree murder was a surprise to many. Some even believe that the soft conviction will be a sign to Muslim immigrants that honor killings will be treated more leniently than other murders.
“It was already disappointing that the death penalty had to be off the table in this horrific case where Almaleki’s guilt was less at issue as was his intent,” said Dr. Zhudi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, in a statement. “But now to see anything shy of first degree murder is an appalling manifestation of political correctness gone amuck.”
Jasser said that the decision “sends the wrong message not only locally but across the world to those that believe it is all right for men to subjugate and control Muslim women. This jury missed an opportunity to send a very clear message that this behavior is not acceptable within the United States.”
Whether that message ends up hampering reform remains to be seen. Even with a second-degree-murder conviction, Almaleki is still facing up to 22 years in prison — not exactly a light sentence. But there’s no doubt that this case is being watched as a model for how honor killings are handled in the U.S. And taking the death penalty and life in prison off the table certainly doesn’t seem like justice was done in the case of Almaleki’s daughter Noor.
In his interview with Hugh Hewitt yesterday, former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked how much the desire to spread democracy in the Arab world was on President Bush’s mind before the Iraq war began versus how much of that was a “make good” when weapons of mass destruction weren’t found.
Rumsfeld responded by saying: “That’s hard to answer. I don’t recall the idea of bringing democracy to Iraq as being part of the discussions in the National Security Council during the period with a build-up towards the conflict with Iraq.” He went on to say, “It is, as you suggest, that those words tended to become more prominent after the war had — major combat operations had been completed, and the subject of WMD had not been found in the kinds of supplies that had been anticipated, although there were certainly people capable of that.” When pressed by Hewitt on whether he recalled his deputy Paul Wolfowitz making the democracy argument, Rumsfeld says, “I don’t, and I don’t recall the president doing it, or Secretary Powell.”
This argument is a somewhat gentler version of one often made by those on the left who say that the so-called Freedom Agenda was a postwar casus belli invoked to rationalize a conflict whose justification (WMDs) had crumbled.
I can’t testify to the NSC meetings Rumsfeld attended. But I do know that President Bush made several significant prewar speeches in which he articulated the Freedom Agenda, such as this one on February 27, 2003, where he said,
A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region. It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world — or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim — is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life. Human cultures can be vastly different. Yet the human heart desires the same good things, everywhere on Earth. In our desire to be safe from brutal and bullying oppression, human beings are the same. In our desire to care for our children and give them a better life, we are the same. For these fundamental reasons, freedom and democracy will always and everywhere have greater appeal than the slogans of hatred and the tactics of terror.
In fact, President Bush was talking about the Freedom Agenda as early as his January 29, 2002, State of the Union address, delivered months after the Afghanistan war had begun and more than a year before the Iraq war. He spoke about it during his June 1, 2002, commencement address at West Point. And he spoke about it during his June 24, 2002, Rose Garden speech, with Donald Rumsfeld standing by his side. Read More
The battle over the budgets in Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Jersey — and in the Budget Committee in Washington — give us an answer about who will emerge to run as the Republican candidate in 2012. It doesn’t matter what they’re saying now. The governors (and Paul Ryan) who have decided to engage fully in this fight are achieving exactly the kind of name recognition, stature, and appearance of conviction necessary to galvanize a voting base and reach out beyond partisan lines. The one who emerges will have to win his fight and show some results from it as well. And if he does, he will practically take the nomination by acclamation. Here’s my argument in the New York Post.
Today’s Notable & Quotable in the Wall Street Journal is by Brendan O’Neill, writing February 16 in the Australian on the striking absence of pro-Palestine placards among the protesters in Tahrir Square in Egypt – compared with the sea of placards reading “Free Palestine” and “End the Israeli occupation” in a pro-Egypt demonstration in London at the same time:
The speakers had trouble getting the audience excited about events in Egypt. … Yet every mention of the word Palestine induced a kind of Pavlovian excitability among the attendees. They cheered when the P-word was uttered, chanting: “Free, free Palestine!”
This reveals something important about the Palestine issue. … [It] has become less important for Arabs and of the utmost symbolic importance for Western radicals at exactly the same time.
The observation reminds me of the broader one liberal British journalist Nick Cohen made in What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way, his look at the massive failure of the left to support freedom in Iraq and the wider Arab world and its blaming the resurgence of fascism and anti-Semitism in the Middle East on Israel:
[The liberal-left] had to pretend that from the 1790s until the 1940s, fascistic ideas were deranged conspiracy theories … [used] to justify tyranny, censorship, the suppression of the rights of women and genocide. As soon as the Second World War ended and the state of Israel was established, however, the madness vanished, and fascistic ideas became rational responses to a colonial venture by refugees from Europe.
As a result of this rationalization of the irrational, a dirty little war in a patch of land smaller than Wales acquired huge explanatory power. Palestine became the justification for everything that was going wrong in the Middle East. …
Cohen went a crucial step further, accusing the left of appeasing totalitarian governments it was unwilling to confront, pretending Israel was the worst abuser of human rights in the world. He argued that history would judge the left harshly: Read More
Iraqi Kurdistan was once a shining example of democracy’s potential in Iraq, but today it is freedom’s bleeding ulcer. While ordinary Iraqis have seen their freedoms increase since Saddam Hussein’s fall, the trajectory is the reverse in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the ruling families have grown more abusive with time.
Until last week, the Kurds could still claim to be the safest, most secure region. No longer: last Thursday, gunmen attached to regional president Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) opened fire on demonstrators in Sulaimani celebrating the ouster of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia. Barzani’s reaction had precedent in Egypt: just as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak burned down the headquarters of opposition leader Ayman Nour, so too did Barzani then proceed to seize and set fire to offices of the opposition Goran Party. And just as Egyptian security targeted the press, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s Brownshirts attacked an independent television station to prevent television coverage of the atrocities. It was a stupid strategy; demonstrations continue, and with the deaths of protesters, have spread.
The senselessness Kurdish crackdown not only puts to rest the notion that Iraqi Kurdistan is a democracy but also should cause introspection about why so many Americans assume Barzani and Talabani are U.S. allies. Read More
The British writer Ian McEwan recently received the Jerusalem Prize from the State of Israel. He flew to Israel and chose to express his appreciation by using his one-day bully pulpit to condemn Israeli settlements and the Gaza blockade that attempts to keep Hamas barbarians from amassing sufficient arms to destroy Israel.
McEwan’s act of appalling bad manners was his no doubt self-congratulatory way of responding to demands from his progressive arty pals back in the UK, who’ve adopted hostility to the Jewish state as their newest pet cause and urged him to boycott the ceremony. Israel, one presumes, is expected to feel grateful to Mr. McEwan for deigning to show up.
Europeans beset by growing Muslim populations intent upon substituting Sharia for extant democratic systems have responded by identifying with the aggressor and have developed an obsession with the so-called settler issue. In one notable instance, the musician Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, traveled to the West Bank and attempted to conflate that band’s dirge “The Wall” with antipathy toward Israel’s security barrier. Missing from Waters’s analysis was the fact that construction of that wall has altered the rate of Jewish deaths from suicide bombings from more than 1,000 a year to zero.
Like most neurotic obsessions, preoccupation with “settlers” would benefit from some stepping back and aiming for context. What we’re really talking about is the right of Jews to live wherever they please. The concept of Judenfrei — moving Jews out of specific areas of Europe — was a bulwark of Nazi policy that rapidly devolved to the even more viciously racist notion of Judenrein, cleansing Jews from all of Europe. We all know where that led. One would think that Europeans whose overall record of saving Jews in the Holocaust is, to be charitable, less than heroic would shudder at reintroducing such a repellent principle into contemporary political thought. One would be wrong. Six decades after the Holocaust, here we go again.
A so-called progressive individual, when asked if Jews have a right to live in London, Paris, or Madrid, would most likely answer, “Of course.” (Even if in his so-called progressive but fundamentally anti-Semitic heart he wished those people would congregate in Brooklyn or simply disappear.) Ditto New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. Yeah, even Berkeley.
But when it comes to Jerusalem, a city that only the Jews have regarded as a capital and whose sacred Jewish sites Jordanian occupiers turned into a monumental latrine before their liberation in 1967, the rules somehow change. If self-determination is the alleged motive for all those voices raised shrilly, where are the demands that Jews be allowed to own property and reside in Kuwait, Dubai, Amman, and Damascus?
Ian McEwan makes his living telling stories. The story he chose to narrate in Jerusalem was ill-conceived, shallow, and predictably facile. Bit of a potboiler, that.