Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 25, 2011

More Deaths in Iraqi Kurdistan

Protests have escalated not only in Libya but also in Iraqi Kurdistan, having entered their eighth day, with deaths reported in Kalar and Chamchamal. The protests started when an official from regional leader Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) fired into a crowd in Sulaimani, killing a 14-year-old boy. Fadhil Mirani, the man who the independent news agency Lvin said ordered the shooting, is a Kurd who reportedly has either permanent residence in the United States or citizenship; a prominent American general several years ago reportedly endorsed his application as a personal favor.

Kurdish youth are protesting the regional leadership’s corruption and nepotism. While the Kurdish government has promised yet again to take action against corruption, the parliament has instead only passed laws to restrict the media and demonstrations. This creates an untenable situation as Barzani cracks down on illegal demonstrations but refuses permission for legal protests. Religious figures in Sulaimani today issued a fatwa declaring the illegality of police forces’ firing on demonstrators.

While international attention remains on Libya, the fires in Iraqi Kurdistan will not soon ebb for two reasons: First, the Kurdish government has repeatedly promised but failed to investigate outrages. There has been no resolution to the investigation of the 2005 murder of an opposition candidate by a KDP mob, nor has there been any punishment for the kidnap and murder of a journalist by the security force run by Masrour Barzani, Masud’s son. Second, with deaths in at least four cities so far, people demand revenge.

Once again, as in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the Obama administration’s silence has consequences. If the White House will not stand up for the most pro-American people in the Islamic world, then Kurds might rightly ask if they would not be better off looking elsewhere for support, to Iran for example.

Protests have escalated not only in Libya but also in Iraqi Kurdistan, having entered their eighth day, with deaths reported in Kalar and Chamchamal. The protests started when an official from regional leader Masud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) fired into a crowd in Sulaimani, killing a 14-year-old boy. Fadhil Mirani, the man who the independent news agency Lvin said ordered the shooting, is a Kurd who reportedly has either permanent residence in the United States or citizenship; a prominent American general several years ago reportedly endorsed his application as a personal favor.

Kurdish youth are protesting the regional leadership’s corruption and nepotism. While the Kurdish government has promised yet again to take action against corruption, the parliament has instead only passed laws to restrict the media and demonstrations. This creates an untenable situation as Barzani cracks down on illegal demonstrations but refuses permission for legal protests. Religious figures in Sulaimani today issued a fatwa declaring the illegality of police forces’ firing on demonstrators.

While international attention remains on Libya, the fires in Iraqi Kurdistan will not soon ebb for two reasons: First, the Kurdish government has repeatedly promised but failed to investigate outrages. There has been no resolution to the investigation of the 2005 murder of an opposition candidate by a KDP mob, nor has there been any punishment for the kidnap and murder of a journalist by the security force run by Masrour Barzani, Masud’s son. Second, with deaths in at least four cities so far, people demand revenge.

Once again, as in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the Obama administration’s silence has consequences. If the White House will not stand up for the most pro-American people in the Islamic world, then Kurds might rightly ask if they would not be better off looking elsewhere for support, to Iran for example.

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State-Written Sermons at Libya Mosques Fuel Protests

Thousands of anti-Qaddafi protesters have spilled out onto the streets of Tripoli today, their anger apparently fueled by the simpering, pro-Qaddafi state-written sermons at the Libyan mosques:

Violence flared up even before the Friday sermons were over, according to a source in Tripoli.

“People are rushing out of mosques even before Friday prayers are finished because the state-written sermons were not acceptable, and made them even more angry,” the source said.

The sermons reportedly called on the prayer-goers to respect Qaddafi and cautioned them against joining the mass protests.

“As the Prophet said, if you dislike your ruler or his behaviour, you should not raise your sword against him, but be patient, for those who disobey the rulers will die as infidels,” warned one sermon that was aired on state television, according to Al Jazeera.

While these sermons may have been meant to dissuade people from protesting, they appear to have had the exact opposite effect. The uprising seems to be growing more vehement in Libya, even as Qaddafi vowed this afternoon that his bloody crackdown would continue.

“We can defeat any aggression if necessary and arm the people,” Qaddafi said, in a speech on Friday. “We will defeat any foreign aggression. Dance … sing and get ready … this is the spirit.”

How much longer will he be able to hold out? The military strength may still be on his side, but the fervor and intensity of the Libyan people is not abating.

Thousands of anti-Qaddafi protesters have spilled out onto the streets of Tripoli today, their anger apparently fueled by the simpering, pro-Qaddafi state-written sermons at the Libyan mosques:

Violence flared up even before the Friday sermons were over, according to a source in Tripoli.

“People are rushing out of mosques even before Friday prayers are finished because the state-written sermons were not acceptable, and made them even more angry,” the source said.

The sermons reportedly called on the prayer-goers to respect Qaddafi and cautioned them against joining the mass protests.

“As the Prophet said, if you dislike your ruler or his behaviour, you should not raise your sword against him, but be patient, for those who disobey the rulers will die as infidels,” warned one sermon that was aired on state television, according to Al Jazeera.

While these sermons may have been meant to dissuade people from protesting, they appear to have had the exact opposite effect. The uprising seems to be growing more vehement in Libya, even as Qaddafi vowed this afternoon that his bloody crackdown would continue.

“We can defeat any aggression if necessary and arm the people,” Qaddafi said, in a speech on Friday. “We will defeat any foreign aggression. Dance … sing and get ready … this is the spirit.”

How much longer will he be able to hold out? The military strength may still be on his side, but the fervor and intensity of the Libyan people is not abating.

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Right-to-Work Laws Should Not Be Confused with the Fight Against Public-Sector Unions

Some conservatives were upset at Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels for opposing the right-to-work bill that was proposed by the Republican legislature in his state. He was asked about this — and offered a response.

After highlighting in one paragraph the 2011 legislative agenda, Daniels wrote:

I suggested studying it for a year and developing the issue for next year.  No one had campaigned on it; it was a big issue that hit the public cold.  I was concerned that it would provide the pretext for radical action by our Democratic minority that would jeopardize the entire agenda above, with zero chance of passing RTW itself.  And that is exactly what has happened.

We’re not giving up on the agenda we ran on, but this mistake presents a significant obstacle.  RTW never had a chance this year and now the task is to make sure that it doesn’t take a host of good government changes down with it.

That seems entirely reasonable to me. Chief executives and lawmakers should, as a general rule, try to implement what they ran on. There are exceptions to this, of course; but in this instance, it applies. Adding RTW into the mix would actually set back the cause of conservative governance.

Beyond that, the case for right-to-work laws for the private sector is not as strong as the case against public-sector unions, though some conservatives seem to be conflating the two issues. Governor Daniels, of course, took away all the public-sector workers’ collective-bargaining rights through an executive order not long after he took office. So he’s done much more to fight the public unions than even what Governor Walker is proposing to do.

Some conservatives were upset at Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels for opposing the right-to-work bill that was proposed by the Republican legislature in his state. He was asked about this — and offered a response.

After highlighting in one paragraph the 2011 legislative agenda, Daniels wrote:

I suggested studying it for a year and developing the issue for next year.  No one had campaigned on it; it was a big issue that hit the public cold.  I was concerned that it would provide the pretext for radical action by our Democratic minority that would jeopardize the entire agenda above, with zero chance of passing RTW itself.  And that is exactly what has happened.

We’re not giving up on the agenda we ran on, but this mistake presents a significant obstacle.  RTW never had a chance this year and now the task is to make sure that it doesn’t take a host of good government changes down with it.

That seems entirely reasonable to me. Chief executives and lawmakers should, as a general rule, try to implement what they ran on. There are exceptions to this, of course; but in this instance, it applies. Adding RTW into the mix would actually set back the cause of conservative governance.

Beyond that, the case for right-to-work laws for the private sector is not as strong as the case against public-sector unions, though some conservatives seem to be conflating the two issues. Governor Daniels, of course, took away all the public-sector workers’ collective-bargaining rights through an executive order not long after he took office. So he’s done much more to fight the public unions than even what Governor Walker is proposing to do.

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Is the American Bar Association Combating Anti-Sharia Measures?

The American Bar Association executive council has considered organizing an effort to combat attempts by states to ban Sharia law, according to CNS News:

Included in the text of the ABA’s “International Policies 2010” is a section which organizes a “task force” to review anti-Sharia legislation that has been introduced in 14 states – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

The report reads:

“The goal of the task force is to have a Report and Recommendation against such legislation as well as an informal set of ‘talking points’ that local opponents of these initiatives could use to make their case in each of these states.”

But when contacted, the ABA denied that it was involved in any such efforts. “The American Bar Association has taken no action in support of, or in opposition to, judges considering Islamic law or Sharia,” the group said in a statement.

Measures to prevent judges from considering Sharia and international law in their rulings have been introduced in several states. Supporters say that they are taking pre-emptive action to ensure that Islamic law doesn’t take hold in the U.S., which seems to be a well-intentioned, though perhaps unrealistic, concern.

Muslim-American groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations have helped agitate the situation by fighting these measures, claiming that they’re unconstitutional and Islamophobic. Some proponents of the Sharia ban say this is evidence that these Muslim groups eventually want to import Islamic law into the U.S.

This seems like a fight the ABA would want to distance itself from quickly, which may explain its statement. On the one hand, the idea that Sharia law poses an imminent threat to the U.S. legal system is a tad far-fetched, to say the least.  On the other hand, it’s likely that any argument the ABA makes could be interpreted as a defense of Sharia law. And does the ABA really want to put itself in that position?

The American Bar Association executive council has considered organizing an effort to combat attempts by states to ban Sharia law, according to CNS News:

Included in the text of the ABA’s “International Policies 2010” is a section which organizes a “task force” to review anti-Sharia legislation that has been introduced in 14 states – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

The report reads:

“The goal of the task force is to have a Report and Recommendation against such legislation as well as an informal set of ‘talking points’ that local opponents of these initiatives could use to make their case in each of these states.”

But when contacted, the ABA denied that it was involved in any such efforts. “The American Bar Association has taken no action in support of, or in opposition to, judges considering Islamic law or Sharia,” the group said in a statement.

Measures to prevent judges from considering Sharia and international law in their rulings have been introduced in several states. Supporters say that they are taking pre-emptive action to ensure that Islamic law doesn’t take hold in the U.S., which seems to be a well-intentioned, though perhaps unrealistic, concern.

Muslim-American groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations have helped agitate the situation by fighting these measures, claiming that they’re unconstitutional and Islamophobic. Some proponents of the Sharia ban say this is evidence that these Muslim groups eventually want to import Islamic law into the U.S.

This seems like a fight the ABA would want to distance itself from quickly, which may explain its statement. On the one hand, the idea that Sharia law poses an imminent threat to the U.S. legal system is a tad far-fetched, to say the least.  On the other hand, it’s likely that any argument the ABA makes could be interpreted as a defense of Sharia law. And does the ABA really want to put itself in that position?

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Message to Qaddafi: ‘The Time for Compromises Has Passed’

My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams has a compelling op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today that highlights the difficulties and trade-offs of democracy promotion.

Abrams served in the Bush administration when it made a deal with Muammar Qaddafi in 2003. In exchange for Qaddafi’s giving up his weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism, we lifted sanctions and re-opened full relations with Libya. As a result of this deal, we essentially gave up regime change and sold out Qaddafi’s internal opponents. But Abrams writes that it was the right thing to do — and I agree (which is why I refrained from criticizing the deal at the time).

As he argues: “Had we reneged—taken Libya’s weaponry but then started a campaign against Gadhafi’s rule—he’d have re-armed fast and gone back to terrorism. It’s also not clear what more strenuous and public efforts to promote change in Libya would have achieved. It’s not as if one could reason with Gadhafi.”

Like Abrams, I share a belief that we need to do more to promote democracy in the Middle East. But I do not believe that it can be or should be our only goal. There are times when we have to make difficult trade-offs, such as the one in Libya, to achieve crucial strategic goals even if they come at some cost to our principles. But the time for such compromises has passed in Libya. Qaddafi has lost all remaining legitimacy. It is now well past time for the U.S. to stand with the people of Libya against their bloodthirsty, megalomaniacal dictator. We must make clear to him that the days when he could strike a deal with the West are over. All that we are willing to negotiate now are the terms of his departure from power.

President Obama’s failure to deliver that message is both shameful and puzzling.

My Council on Foreign Relations colleague Elliott Abrams has a compelling op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today that highlights the difficulties and trade-offs of democracy promotion.

Abrams served in the Bush administration when it made a deal with Muammar Qaddafi in 2003. In exchange for Qaddafi’s giving up his weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism, we lifted sanctions and re-opened full relations with Libya. As a result of this deal, we essentially gave up regime change and sold out Qaddafi’s internal opponents. But Abrams writes that it was the right thing to do — and I agree (which is why I refrained from criticizing the deal at the time).

As he argues: “Had we reneged—taken Libya’s weaponry but then started a campaign against Gadhafi’s rule—he’d have re-armed fast and gone back to terrorism. It’s also not clear what more strenuous and public efforts to promote change in Libya would have achieved. It’s not as if one could reason with Gadhafi.”

Like Abrams, I share a belief that we need to do more to promote democracy in the Middle East. But I do not believe that it can be or should be our only goal. There are times when we have to make difficult trade-offs, such as the one in Libya, to achieve crucial strategic goals even if they come at some cost to our principles. But the time for such compromises has passed in Libya. Qaddafi has lost all remaining legitimacy. It is now well past time for the U.S. to stand with the people of Libya against their bloodthirsty, megalomaniacal dictator. We must make clear to him that the days when he could strike a deal with the West are over. All that we are willing to negotiate now are the terms of his departure from power.

President Obama’s failure to deliver that message is both shameful and puzzling.

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Is It Time to Intervene in Libya?

At Foreign Policy, Hussein Ibish lays out an argument for U.S. military intervention in Libya and makes several good points. The humanitarian crisis is reaching a point where the U.S. and other world leaders may no longer be able to stand idly by. Thousands have already been slaughtered, and the death toll is rising by the hour. While military intervention poses risks, Ibish writes that U.S. inaction could be even more of a strategic blunder:

But U.S. policymakers must not only consider the risks of intervention — they, and the rest of the international community, also need to contemplate the grave risks of doing nothing. The United States and its allies are now forced to deal with an emerging new order in the Middle East; it is squarely in their interest to place themselves on the side of popular demands for reform, democratization, and the removal of unaccountable leaders who have held power for decades. It’s not too late for the United States to be perceived as a positive force for change rather than a guardian of the old regional order, but standing idle while Libya burns would send the wrong message to the people of the region. Forging a broad international consensus for strong actions on Libya would be the wisest political and strategic course for the United States.

Ibish writes that symbolic actions — sanctions and so forth — are “long overdue.” He advises that a no-fly zone be put in place immediately to prevent the use of warplanes, while noting the shortfalls of this policy as well. But if a no-fly zone fails to stymie the massacre of the Libyan people (as is likely at this point), then the next logical step may be NATO intervention on the ground.

So while it is undeniable that there are risks in such actions – and it’s still arguable whether that’s the best move for the U.S. to take – it also appears that giving military assistance to the Libyan people could also be in the best strategic and humanitarian interests of the U.S. Of course, Obama’s careful attempts to distance himself from what he sees as the imperialist foreign policy of the previous administration also makes it less likely that he will give military action its due consideration.

And, as Leon Wieseltier points out at the New Republic, we are already seeing an intervention by foreign forces in Libya, now that Muammar Qaddafi has called in outside militias to help him fight the battle against his own people. Wieseltier asks, “Is Qaddafi to be allowed outside help and the people of Libya denied it?” A good question — and one that we will probably be answered in the coming days.

At Foreign Policy, Hussein Ibish lays out an argument for U.S. military intervention in Libya and makes several good points. The humanitarian crisis is reaching a point where the U.S. and other world leaders may no longer be able to stand idly by. Thousands have already been slaughtered, and the death toll is rising by the hour. While military intervention poses risks, Ibish writes that U.S. inaction could be even more of a strategic blunder:

But U.S. policymakers must not only consider the risks of intervention — they, and the rest of the international community, also need to contemplate the grave risks of doing nothing. The United States and its allies are now forced to deal with an emerging new order in the Middle East; it is squarely in their interest to place themselves on the side of popular demands for reform, democratization, and the removal of unaccountable leaders who have held power for decades. It’s not too late for the United States to be perceived as a positive force for change rather than a guardian of the old regional order, but standing idle while Libya burns would send the wrong message to the people of the region. Forging a broad international consensus for strong actions on Libya would be the wisest political and strategic course for the United States.

Ibish writes that symbolic actions — sanctions and so forth — are “long overdue.” He advises that a no-fly zone be put in place immediately to prevent the use of warplanes, while noting the shortfalls of this policy as well. But if a no-fly zone fails to stymie the massacre of the Libyan people (as is likely at this point), then the next logical step may be NATO intervention on the ground.

So while it is undeniable that there are risks in such actions – and it’s still arguable whether that’s the best move for the U.S. to take – it also appears that giving military assistance to the Libyan people could also be in the best strategic and humanitarian interests of the U.S. Of course, Obama’s careful attempts to distance himself from what he sees as the imperialist foreign policy of the previous administration also makes it less likely that he will give military action its due consideration.

And, as Leon Wieseltier points out at the New Republic, we are already seeing an intervention by foreign forces in Libya, now that Muammar Qaddafi has called in outside militias to help him fight the battle against his own people. Wieseltier asks, “Is Qaddafi to be allowed outside help and the people of Libya denied it?” A good question — and one that we will probably be answered in the coming days.

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COMMENTARY Job Opening: Online Editor

We are looking for an online editor with responsibility for copy-editing and managing our blog, as well as helping to promote our work in social media. The right person for the job would have experience as a copy editor, a high level of political literacy, the ability to interact well with other editors and bloggers, and would share Commentary’s worldview. This full-time position job must be done in our New York offices, so please do not apply if you wish to telecommute. You may send resume, cover letter, and any writing samples you may have to commentaryjob-at-gmail.com.

We are looking for an online editor with responsibility for copy-editing and managing our blog, as well as helping to promote our work in social media. The right person for the job would have experience as a copy editor, a high level of political literacy, the ability to interact well with other editors and bloggers, and would share Commentary’s worldview. This full-time position job must be done in our New York offices, so please do not apply if you wish to telecommute. You may send resume, cover letter, and any writing samples you may have to commentaryjob-at-gmail.com.

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U.S. Financial Support Should Be Given to Moderates in Burgeoning Mideast Democracies

In my previously posted item, I argued that it would be impossible to delay elections indefinitely in the Arab world. Better, I argued, that we should shape the outcome of those elections by supporting the moderates. There is ample precedent for such action: witness the CIA’s covert funding of centrist parties in Italy and Japan after World War II to prevent Communists from winning elections.

However, the Carnegie Endowment’s Tom Carothers — a well-respected expert on democratization — argues in a Washington Post op-ed that this is a “notably bad proposal.” He writes:

A perennial tension in supporting democracy abroad is maintaining a clear line between bolstering key democratic principles – such as political openness and fair competition – and trying to shape particular electoral outcomes. When we begin to choose favorites from a field of political competitors and seek to give them a boost, we step over this line. Not only do such efforts at engineering electoral outcomes undercut our credibility, they also usually backfire against the very people we are trying to help. Witness the futility of the efforts of U.S. diplomats in Iraq to throw U.S. weight behind certain candidates or parties during the various elections since 2005.

I am not aware of the efforts he is referring to in Iraq. Perhaps some covert program took place that I know nothing about. But my distinct impression, based on numerous trips to Iraq, was that, in fact, we had no such program in place. My understanding is that Condoleezza Rice had reached the same conclusion as Carothers: that it would be counterproductive to try to pick winners and losers in the Iraqi political system. Instead, she decided, we should support fair voting and let the chips fall where they may. That approach hasn’t worked out so well: Shiite radicals such as the Sadrists and the Islamic Supreme Council for Iraq have ample funding from the Iranians, and Sunni radicals have ample funding from the Saudis, while pro-American liberals like Mithal al-Alusi are left with virtually no money to run a campaign. That, to me, is a counterproductive state of affairs. If our enemies and rivals are going to throw around massive amounts of money to affect the outcome of an election, why should we adopt a holier-than-thou posture? Read More

In my previously posted item, I argued that it would be impossible to delay elections indefinitely in the Arab world. Better, I argued, that we should shape the outcome of those elections by supporting the moderates. There is ample precedent for such action: witness the CIA’s covert funding of centrist parties in Italy and Japan after World War II to prevent Communists from winning elections.

However, the Carnegie Endowment’s Tom Carothers — a well-respected expert on democratization — argues in a Washington Post op-ed that this is a “notably bad proposal.” He writes:

A perennial tension in supporting democracy abroad is maintaining a clear line between bolstering key democratic principles – such as political openness and fair competition – and trying to shape particular electoral outcomes. When we begin to choose favorites from a field of political competitors and seek to give them a boost, we step over this line. Not only do such efforts at engineering electoral outcomes undercut our credibility, they also usually backfire against the very people we are trying to help. Witness the futility of the efforts of U.S. diplomats in Iraq to throw U.S. weight behind certain candidates or parties during the various elections since 2005.

I am not aware of the efforts he is referring to in Iraq. Perhaps some covert program took place that I know nothing about. But my distinct impression, based on numerous trips to Iraq, was that, in fact, we had no such program in place. My understanding is that Condoleezza Rice had reached the same conclusion as Carothers: that it would be counterproductive to try to pick winners and losers in the Iraqi political system. Instead, she decided, we should support fair voting and let the chips fall where they may. That approach hasn’t worked out so well: Shiite radicals such as the Sadrists and the Islamic Supreme Council for Iraq have ample funding from the Iranians, and Sunni radicals have ample funding from the Saudis, while pro-American liberals like Mithal al-Alusi are left with virtually no money to run a campaign. That, to me, is a counterproductive state of affairs. If our enemies and rivals are going to throw around massive amounts of money to affect the outcome of an election, why should we adopt a holier-than-thou posture?

I am by no means suggesting cutting off Islamist parties from all contact with American-funded initiatives in democratic education of the kind that Carothers describes. But that should not prevent us from extending other funds to help the most moderate parties. I am agnostic as to how this should be done: whether openly through the National Democratic Institute and its Republican and Democratic offshoots, or covertly through the CIA. Perhaps we can do both. Or we can take other steps to help moderate politicos indirectly, perhaps acting through allies whose support would be less explosive if discovered.

I am fully aware of the potential of the pitfalls of this course of action. If U.S. funding is revealed, it would be an embarrassment that would harm the very candidates we aim to help. But if we do nothing, there is a virtual guarantee that the electoral playing field will be tilted in favor of anti-American radicals. That is the greatest risk of all.

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Only Revelation in Times Profile of Christie Is the Cluelessness of His Union Foes

The loyal liberal readers of the New York Times Magazine will open this Sunday’s issue no doubt hoping for an article that will cut New Jersey Governor Chris Christie down a peg or two. But what they will get instead is a fairly admiring portrait of a savvy political operator who has become a major political force not just in his home state but nationally as well. The piece, by Times political reporter Matt Bai, has no unflattering revelations about the governor, who comes across here just as he does elsewhere: as a no-nonsense tough guy who won’t be intimidated into kicking the deficit can down the road in order to avoid confrontations with powerful public-sector unions.

Instead, the only original insight this lengthy piece does provide is about Christie’s enemies at the unions, particularly the teachers’ unions who have been his main antagonists: they are utterly clueless. Bai gives a sympathetic hearing to union officials Barbara Keshishian and Vincent Giordano and makes it clear that he agrees with their defense of the exorbitant contracts the teachers have received and that are bankrupting New Jersey, just as other government-worker pacts are sinking many of the other 49 states. Their solution to the problem created by contracts that the state can’t afford is to simply raise taxes, and Bai seems to think this traditional liberal patent nostrum is a good idea.

But when Keshishian attempts to explain why the public is buying Christie’s approach and disdaining the unions, even Bai has to admit that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The union boss says people listen to Christie because he’s the governor, but as Bai points out: “It doesn’t seem especially likely that Christie is breaking through because he is a politician and therefore people take to heart his every word. What the union’s leadership seems not to have considered is that public sentiment around budgets and public employees has shifted in a fundamental way.”

As Bai notes, the unions’ “self involvement” and refusal to compromise has played into Christie’s hands. The governor is spot-on when he tells the Times that the unions’ inability to view the issue from the point of view of the public good is a testament to their sense of entitlement.

Jersey’s teachers, like the Wisconsin public-sector unions embroiled in a battle with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, think they can turn the argument into one of Republican fat cats trying to oppress working stiffs. But a majority of the voters have come see it the other way around, with thuggish union leaders attempting to hold taxpayers hostage to their demands. While Bai closes his piece with the thought that Christie’s brashness — which he characterizes as “boorishness” — will eventually lose its appeal, it is far more likely that, with such opponents, Christie’s act will not only not wear out but also grow in appeal.

The loyal liberal readers of the New York Times Magazine will open this Sunday’s issue no doubt hoping for an article that will cut New Jersey Governor Chris Christie down a peg or two. But what they will get instead is a fairly admiring portrait of a savvy political operator who has become a major political force not just in his home state but nationally as well. The piece, by Times political reporter Matt Bai, has no unflattering revelations about the governor, who comes across here just as he does elsewhere: as a no-nonsense tough guy who won’t be intimidated into kicking the deficit can down the road in order to avoid confrontations with powerful public-sector unions.

Instead, the only original insight this lengthy piece does provide is about Christie’s enemies at the unions, particularly the teachers’ unions who have been his main antagonists: they are utterly clueless. Bai gives a sympathetic hearing to union officials Barbara Keshishian and Vincent Giordano and makes it clear that he agrees with their defense of the exorbitant contracts the teachers have received and that are bankrupting New Jersey, just as other government-worker pacts are sinking many of the other 49 states. Their solution to the problem created by contracts that the state can’t afford is to simply raise taxes, and Bai seems to think this traditional liberal patent nostrum is a good idea.

But when Keshishian attempts to explain why the public is buying Christie’s approach and disdaining the unions, even Bai has to admit that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The union boss says people listen to Christie because he’s the governor, but as Bai points out: “It doesn’t seem especially likely that Christie is breaking through because he is a politician and therefore people take to heart his every word. What the union’s leadership seems not to have considered is that public sentiment around budgets and public employees has shifted in a fundamental way.”

As Bai notes, the unions’ “self involvement” and refusal to compromise has played into Christie’s hands. The governor is spot-on when he tells the Times that the unions’ inability to view the issue from the point of view of the public good is a testament to their sense of entitlement.

Jersey’s teachers, like the Wisconsin public-sector unions embroiled in a battle with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, think they can turn the argument into one of Republican fat cats trying to oppress working stiffs. But a majority of the voters have come see it the other way around, with thuggish union leaders attempting to hold taxpayers hostage to their demands. While Bai closes his piece with the thought that Christie’s brashness — which he characterizes as “boorishness” — will eventually lose its appeal, it is far more likely that, with such opponents, Christie’s act will not only not wear out but also grow in appeal.

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The Middle East Masses Will Not Stand for Anything Less Than Democracy

Bernard Lewis, the distinguished historian of the Middle East, offers some provocative reflections on the present turmoil in the region in this interview with David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post. In it, he expresses great skepticism about applying Western notions of democracy — and in particular of elections — to the Arab world, where it has “no history, no record whatever.” Lewis warns:

In the West, we tend to get excessively concerned with elections, regarding the holding of elections as the purest expression of democracy, as the climax of the process of democratization. Well, the second may be true – the climax of the process. But the process can be a long and difficult one. Consider, for example, that democracy was fairly new in Germany in the inter-war period and Hitler came to power in a free and fair election.

We, in the Western world particularly, tend to think of democracy in our own terms – that’s natural and normal – to mean periodic elections in our style. But I think it’s a great mistake to try and think of the Middle East in those terms and that can only lead to disastrous results, as you’ve already seen in various places. They are simply not ready for free and fair elections….

In genuinely fair and free elections, [the Muslim parties] are very likely to win and I think that would be a disaster. A much better course would be a gradual development of democracy, not through general elections, but rather through local self-governing institutions. For that, there is a real tradition in the region.

I sympathize with Lewis’s concerns about rushing willy-nilly into voting — something that has backfired most notably in the case of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections because it was running against the discredited and corrupt Fatah in a climate where moderates were not able to organize effectively. There is little doubt that the Bush administration made a tactical error in pushing for premature elections in the confidence — which looks foolish in retrospect — that the moderates would come out on top. That is an error we would do well to avoid repeating now. In Egypt, for example, moderate political figures have expressed concern that September is too soon to hold an election. They may well be right, and it may well make sense to postpone an election until next year, giving secular politicos more time to counter the Muslim Brotherhood’s existing organizational structure. Read More

Bernard Lewis, the distinguished historian of the Middle East, offers some provocative reflections on the present turmoil in the region in this interview with David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post. In it, he expresses great skepticism about applying Western notions of democracy — and in particular of elections — to the Arab world, where it has “no history, no record whatever.” Lewis warns:

In the West, we tend to get excessively concerned with elections, regarding the holding of elections as the purest expression of democracy, as the climax of the process of democratization. Well, the second may be true – the climax of the process. But the process can be a long and difficult one. Consider, for example, that democracy was fairly new in Germany in the inter-war period and Hitler came to power in a free and fair election.

We, in the Western world particularly, tend to think of democracy in our own terms – that’s natural and normal – to mean periodic elections in our style. But I think it’s a great mistake to try and think of the Middle East in those terms and that can only lead to disastrous results, as you’ve already seen in various places. They are simply not ready for free and fair elections….

In genuinely fair and free elections, [the Muslim parties] are very likely to win and I think that would be a disaster. A much better course would be a gradual development of democracy, not through general elections, but rather through local self-governing institutions. For that, there is a real tradition in the region.

I sympathize with Lewis’s concerns about rushing willy-nilly into voting — something that has backfired most notably in the case of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections because it was running against the discredited and corrupt Fatah in a climate where moderates were not able to organize effectively. There is little doubt that the Bush administration made a tactical error in pushing for premature elections in the confidence — which looks foolish in retrospect — that the moderates would come out on top. That is an error we would do well to avoid repeating now. In Egypt, for example, moderate political figures have expressed concern that September is too soon to hold an election. They may well be right, and it may well make sense to postpone an election until next year, giving secular politicos more time to counter the Muslim Brotherhood’s existing organizational structure.

But I believe Lewis is wrong to believe that elections can be postponed indefinitely or that the Muslim masses will be satisfied with “local self-governing institutions,” whatever that may mean. He is surely right that the Middle East has little history of democracy in action, but the same may be said of most regions of the world. Democracy, after all, is a fairly recent invention, which dates back only to the 18th century in a few countries, such as Britain and the United States. Even then, it was a fairly limited democracy: keep in mind that until the 20th century, most of the American population (women and African-Americans) was not allowed to vote. Complete democracy as we know it today has been around for less than a hundred years. And that’s in the United States. It has come much more recently to many other regions, such as Eastern Europe, Latin America, and portions of East Asia (e.g., Taiwan and South Korea) and Africa (e.g., South Africa and Botswana). By definition, all those places have scant tradition of democracy. Nevertheless, democracy is functioning around the world.

Indeed, democracy has become the global norm in governance. Even dictators pay lip service to the forms of democracy by holding sham elections in which they win 99.9 percent of the vote. Such “elections” may be a joke, but they are significant nevertheless; in centuries past, kings and emperors never felt any pressure to win a popular mandate, however fraudulent.

Given the way the world has changed, it seems the height of unrealism to imagine that a major region such as the Middle East — one where, as Professor Lewis notes, the people have  “greater awareness … thanks to modern media and modern communications, of the difference between their situation and the situation in other parts of the world” — can be kept indefinitely out of the club of democracies. The people will not stand for it, and as recent weeks have shown, their anger can be a potent thing. It is hopeless, I think, to imagine that the West can somehow tut-tut at the Arab masses and tell them they are not ready for elections yet. Ready or not, here they come.

Our best bet is not to resist the tides of history but to do what we can to channel them in a more constructive direction. That means providing greater support to liberal, secular democrats to balance out the greater organizational sway of radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. We provided this kind of covert aid with considerable success in countries such as France and Italy after World War II to prevent Communist parties from winning elections. We must do so again to keep the Brotherhood and its ilk out of power. That will not be easy to do, and it always has the potential to blow up in our faces. But it is a more pragmatic response than to try to delay indefinitely the demand for elections arising from every corner of the region Professor Lewis has studied so brilliantly for so many years.

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ACLU and CAIR Team Up to Try to Create Sanctuaries for Terrorists

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has had some setbacks recently in its ongoing efforts to position itself as the mainstream voice for American Muslims. But, as we reported previously, CAIR chapters have been urging their members not to cooperate with FBI terror investigations.

Now comes more evidence that the claims that the group is trying to help the authorities stop Islamist terror cells that operate under the cover of religion is bogus. CAIR has teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit that seeks to penalize the FBI for sending an undercover agent into California mosques. The ACLU and CAIR say their legal action is a response to the government’s unfairly singling out Muslims for questioning and investigation. The suit itself says that the undercover agent violated the civil rights of mosque members and subjected them to “indiscriminate surveillance” because of their religion.

But there is, of course, nothing “indiscriminate” about targeting a mosque, especially those whose imams and members are known for their radical Islamist beliefs, for a terror investigation. Where else, we might ask, would law-enforcement authorities go to find members of putative Islamist terror cells but in such mosques?

Again, rather than seeking to assist law enforcement in finding and arresting those Muslims who are supportive or even involved in terror, CAIR’s priority is to stop the investigations altogether by creating sanctuaries where no FBI agent or policeman could go except in uniform, rendering the task of preventing a terror attack before it happens next to impossible. Indeed, were this suit to succeed, it might have a chilling effect on future terrorism investigations, since all mosques, including the most radical, would become safe havens for Islamist terrorists and their fellow travelers. Though it still pretends to be mainstream, CAIR, a group that was founded as the political front for a Hamas fundraising operation, never seems to be able to stray very far from its terrorist roots.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has had some setbacks recently in its ongoing efforts to position itself as the mainstream voice for American Muslims. But, as we reported previously, CAIR chapters have been urging their members not to cooperate with FBI terror investigations.

Now comes more evidence that the claims that the group is trying to help the authorities stop Islamist terror cells that operate under the cover of religion is bogus. CAIR has teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit that seeks to penalize the FBI for sending an undercover agent into California mosques. The ACLU and CAIR say their legal action is a response to the government’s unfairly singling out Muslims for questioning and investigation. The suit itself says that the undercover agent violated the civil rights of mosque members and subjected them to “indiscriminate surveillance” because of their religion.

But there is, of course, nothing “indiscriminate” about targeting a mosque, especially those whose imams and members are known for their radical Islamist beliefs, for a terror investigation. Where else, we might ask, would law-enforcement authorities go to find members of putative Islamist terror cells but in such mosques?

Again, rather than seeking to assist law enforcement in finding and arresting those Muslims who are supportive or even involved in terror, CAIR’s priority is to stop the investigations altogether by creating sanctuaries where no FBI agent or policeman could go except in uniform, rendering the task of preventing a terror attack before it happens next to impossible. Indeed, were this suit to succeed, it might have a chilling effect on future terrorism investigations, since all mosques, including the most radical, would become safe havens for Islamist terrorists and their fellow travelers. Though it still pretends to be mainstream, CAIR, a group that was founded as the political front for a Hamas fundraising operation, never seems to be able to stray very far from its terrorist roots.

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The Case for ‘Vigorous Virtues’ and Self-Government

If we step back from the individual budget battles taking place in Washington and many of our states, one cannot help but sense that the task for conservatives isn’t simply to engage in a battle about the size of the deficit, unfunded liabilities, and federal debt held by the public. These things matter, of course. The case against profligacy and the dangers of insolvency is obviously important. And more than any time in recent history, these issues are resonating with the public.

But this is a moment in which, as David Brooks has said, the task before us is to (carefully) rewrite the social contract and provide a new way to think about how the government pays for social insurance. If conservatives hope to succeed, then, they will need to make their case not only on economic grounds but also in terms of human character. A friend of mine recently told me that all great public-policy inflection points have depended on making what are essentially moral arguments.

With that in mind, conservatives and GOP lawmakers might consider reading a 1992 book by the late philosopher Shirley Robin Letwin, The Anatomy of Thatcherism. Professor Letwin argued that Thatcherism promoted a moral agenda rather than an economic doctrine or a political theory in order to achieve a fundamental realignment in British politics. She used the term “vigorous virtues” to describe what Thatcherites aimed to cultivate in individual Britons and in the country as a whole. (The kind of citizens Thatcherites preferred were “upright, self-sufficient, energetic, adventurous, independent-minded, loyal to friends, and robust against enemies.”) For understanding Thatcherism, Letwin wrote, “the important point is that a view about character, about the characters of individuals, is at the heart of it.” It was not a theoretical construction so much as an effort to offer a concrete vision of how Britain should be — and at the core of it was a moral vision. Read More

If we step back from the individual budget battles taking place in Washington and many of our states, one cannot help but sense that the task for conservatives isn’t simply to engage in a battle about the size of the deficit, unfunded liabilities, and federal debt held by the public. These things matter, of course. The case against profligacy and the dangers of insolvency is obviously important. And more than any time in recent history, these issues are resonating with the public.

But this is a moment in which, as David Brooks has said, the task before us is to (carefully) rewrite the social contract and provide a new way to think about how the government pays for social insurance. If conservatives hope to succeed, then, they will need to make their case not only on economic grounds but also in terms of human character. A friend of mine recently told me that all great public-policy inflection points have depended on making what are essentially moral arguments.

With that in mind, conservatives and GOP lawmakers might consider reading a 1992 book by the late philosopher Shirley Robin Letwin, The Anatomy of Thatcherism. Professor Letwin argued that Thatcherism promoted a moral agenda rather than an economic doctrine or a political theory in order to achieve a fundamental realignment in British politics. She used the term “vigorous virtues” to describe what Thatcherites aimed to cultivate in individual Britons and in the country as a whole. (The kind of citizens Thatcherites preferred were “upright, self-sufficient, energetic, adventurous, independent-minded, loyal to friends, and robust against enemies.”) For understanding Thatcherism, Letwin wrote, “the important point is that a view about character, about the characters of individuals, is at the heart of it.” It was not a theoretical construction so much as an effort to offer a concrete vision of how Britain should be — and at the core of it was a moral vision.

“In place of a Conservative Party conceived as a party of consolidation, consensus and accumulation, a party which genuinely entertains a ‘ragbag of ideas’, Thatcherism is distinguished, as even its opponents have admitted, by direction, movement, and purpose,” according to Letwin.

How best to apply the insights of Letwin and Margaret Thatcher herself to this country and this moment may not be self-evident. But what is clear, I think, is that the task of modern American conservatism is to sketch out a vision of the kind of citizens we hope to produce: citizens who are self-sufficient, sovereign, discerning, and responsible. We need to promote policies that encourage success, enterprise, and human excellence. This is another way of saying that what conservatives should be championing is self-government.

If done in the right way — in a manner that is uplifting rather than preachy, affirming rather than scolding — it can help rally an anxious country to an admirable cause.

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Danny Ayalon on the Death of ‘Linkage’ and What It Means for Israel

As many commentators have pointed out, the uprisings across the Middle East have once and for all disproved the theory that most of the problems in the Muslim world are somehow related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the Washington Times yesterday, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Danny Ayalon, noted the fallacy of the “linkage” concept and outlines what this means for the peace process:

Precisely those who feel that a utopian Middle East will exist after Israeli and Palestinian leader sign their name on a piece of paper demonstrate a lack of understanding of the issues at stake and make it harder for the conflict to be resolved. …

Unfortunately, radical elements in our region will remain long after the ink on any agreement has dried. To fully grasp this, we just need to listen to the radical elements themselves. In 1996, al Qaeda rose to prominence with Osama bin Laden’s fatwa or “declaration of war.” The long, rambling fatwa stood at more than 11,000 words, railing against everything deemed unacceptable to his brand of militant Islam. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict barely appeared and was nothing more than a footnote to all the general grievances laid out by bin Laden.

Ayalon writes that, before signing a peace agreement, Israel “needs to know that it is permanent, stable and secure, and not subject to changing circumstances.”

This turns the linkage theory completely on its head. Instead of trying to solve the problems of the Muslim world through the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it now seems more likely that a peace agreement won’t be signed until the current grievances across the Middle East are resolved.

As many commentators have pointed out, the uprisings across the Middle East have once and for all disproved the theory that most of the problems in the Muslim world are somehow related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the Washington Times yesterday, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Danny Ayalon, noted the fallacy of the “linkage” concept and outlines what this means for the peace process:

Precisely those who feel that a utopian Middle East will exist after Israeli and Palestinian leader sign their name on a piece of paper demonstrate a lack of understanding of the issues at stake and make it harder for the conflict to be resolved. …

Unfortunately, radical elements in our region will remain long after the ink on any agreement has dried. To fully grasp this, we just need to listen to the radical elements themselves. In 1996, al Qaeda rose to prominence with Osama bin Laden’s fatwa or “declaration of war.” The long, rambling fatwa stood at more than 11,000 words, railing against everything deemed unacceptable to his brand of militant Islam. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict barely appeared and was nothing more than a footnote to all the general grievances laid out by bin Laden.

Ayalon writes that, before signing a peace agreement, Israel “needs to know that it is permanent, stable and secure, and not subject to changing circumstances.”

This turns the linkage theory completely on its head. Instead of trying to solve the problems of the Muslim world through the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it now seems more likely that a peace agreement won’t be signed until the current grievances across the Middle East are resolved.

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How Not to Win Arab Hearts and Minds

According to Fox News, Egypt’s young people grilled Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, asking her why the U.S. didn’t express support for the revolution sooner. “The attitude of the U.S. during the Egyptian revolution was to support the Egyptian regime first,” read one of the nearly 6,500 questions, videos, and audio files users submitted through the Egyptian social-media website Masrawy. “Then, when the revolution turned successful, the U.S. switched sides and supported the Egyptian youth. Why?”

Secretary Clinton disputed that assessment. But in fact, early on the U.S. did cast its lot with Mubarak. On January 25, days after the demonstrations had begun, Clinton declared, “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” That happened not to be true. Vice President Biden denied that Mubarak was a dictator. That happened not to be true. And Frank Wisner, who was sent to Cairo by President Obama to meet with Mubarak, said that the Egyptian president “must stay in office” to guide his country through transitions in the coming months. That, too, happened not to be true.

Added to all this, of course, was the belief among the Egyptian people that President Obama himself was timid, weak, and late in supporting their cause. Yet almost inexplicably, Obama, having made this mistake with Egypt, seems intent on repeating it with Libya. As the Washington Post put it in its editorial, “By late Wednesday only one major Western leader had failed to speak up on Libya: Barack Obama.” It went on to ask, “Shouldn’t the president of the United States be the first to oppose the depravities of a tyrant such as Mr. Gaddafi? Apparently this one doesn’t think so.”

These are the kinds of actions that can leave searing impressions on people in foreign lands. Unlike other nations, the United States was founded on certain ideals. When it looks like we’re applying them selectively and cynically, it’s a problem. Now, I understand the difficulty when national interests seem to collide with moral convictions, as some argue was the case in Egypt (though I was in favor of an earlier and more active stance by Obama to take the part of the Egyptian demonstrators). But Libya is a case where a brutal, anti-American dictator is declaring war on his own people. Our moral and security interests are twinned. Yet the president still seems unable to find his voice, to say nothing of taking concrete steps that might mitigate the slaughter.

Everyone from the European Union to the Arab League to John Kerry has taken stronger stands against Muammar Qaddafi than has Mr. Obama. It is a shame, bordering on being a disgrace.

According to Fox News, Egypt’s young people grilled Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, asking her why the U.S. didn’t express support for the revolution sooner. “The attitude of the U.S. during the Egyptian revolution was to support the Egyptian regime first,” read one of the nearly 6,500 questions, videos, and audio files users submitted through the Egyptian social-media website Masrawy. “Then, when the revolution turned successful, the U.S. switched sides and supported the Egyptian youth. Why?”

Secretary Clinton disputed that assessment. But in fact, early on the U.S. did cast its lot with Mubarak. On January 25, days after the demonstrations had begun, Clinton declared, “Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.” That happened not to be true. Vice President Biden denied that Mubarak was a dictator. That happened not to be true. And Frank Wisner, who was sent to Cairo by President Obama to meet with Mubarak, said that the Egyptian president “must stay in office” to guide his country through transitions in the coming months. That, too, happened not to be true.

Added to all this, of course, was the belief among the Egyptian people that President Obama himself was timid, weak, and late in supporting their cause. Yet almost inexplicably, Obama, having made this mistake with Egypt, seems intent on repeating it with Libya. As the Washington Post put it in its editorial, “By late Wednesday only one major Western leader had failed to speak up on Libya: Barack Obama.” It went on to ask, “Shouldn’t the president of the United States be the first to oppose the depravities of a tyrant such as Mr. Gaddafi? Apparently this one doesn’t think so.”

These are the kinds of actions that can leave searing impressions on people in foreign lands. Unlike other nations, the United States was founded on certain ideals. When it looks like we’re applying them selectively and cynically, it’s a problem. Now, I understand the difficulty when national interests seem to collide with moral convictions, as some argue was the case in Egypt (though I was in favor of an earlier and more active stance by Obama to take the part of the Egyptian demonstrators). But Libya is a case where a brutal, anti-American dictator is declaring war on his own people. Our moral and security interests are twinned. Yet the president still seems unable to find his voice, to say nothing of taking concrete steps that might mitigate the slaughter.

Everyone from the European Union to the Arab League to John Kerry has taken stronger stands against Muammar Qaddafi than has Mr. Obama. It is a shame, bordering on being a disgrace.

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More UN Hypocrisy: The Feminist Angle

On February 22, Emine Erdogan, the wife of Turkey’s prime minister, was an honorary guest at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Whereas Turkey once had a female prime minister and women have occupied key posts in the past, Turkey today ranks near the bottom of countries for female representation. As the Turkish daily Hurriyet notes, Erdogan has appointed only two women to his cabinet of 26 ministers, and both to minor portfolios. There are no women among the 25 AKP-appointed undersecretaries, and only 3.5 percent of deputy undersecretaries are women. Of the ministries’ 254 regional directors, there is only one woman.

If the United Nations were serious about women’s rights, Erdogan is exactly the wrong guest. But then again, what can one expect from an organization that has allowed Libya to remain on the UN Human Rights Council even as the scale of its massacres become apparent.

On February 22, Emine Erdogan, the wife of Turkey’s prime minister, was an honorary guest at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Whereas Turkey once had a female prime minister and women have occupied key posts in the past, Turkey today ranks near the bottom of countries for female representation. As the Turkish daily Hurriyet notes, Erdogan has appointed only two women to his cabinet of 26 ministers, and both to minor portfolios. There are no women among the 25 AKP-appointed undersecretaries, and only 3.5 percent of deputy undersecretaries are women. Of the ministries’ 254 regional directors, there is only one woman.

If the United Nations were serious about women’s rights, Erdogan is exactly the wrong guest. But then again, what can one expect from an organization that has allowed Libya to remain on the UN Human Rights Council even as the scale of its massacres become apparent.

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Susan Rice Skips UN Meeting on Libya, Goes to Sustainability Conference Instead

Susan Rice was instrumental in pushing the Obama administration to join the UN Human Rights Council, insisting that engagement would allow the U.S. to “shape” the council’s policies and membership. That proved to be a somewhat inflated assessment when Libya was soon afterward — and quite easily — elected to the notorious Israel-bashing body. Rice subsequently declined to criticize the ascension of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, instead complimenting the election.

So it’s entirely appropriate that the ambassador was unable to attend the emergency UN Security Council meeting on the violence sweeping Libya, on account of a global-sustainability conference in South Africa that had greater purchase on her attention:

At great personal risk to himself and his family, Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Dabbashi, pushed the UN Security Council to take up the violence in his home country. … The dramatic event prompted the first UN meeting of the 15 member Security Council on the uprisings sweeping across the region since the beginning of Tunisia’s revolution. … The United States was represented by Foreign Service officer and Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo. … Rice, skipped the Libya meeting and instead flew to South Africa to attend a UN panel discussion on global sustainability.

It’s probably unfair to lay out the timeline this way, implying as it does that Rice’s absence was a Libya-specific thing. She misses lots of events that clash with her internationalist sensibilities and multilateral promises. The ambassador quite literally wasn’t in the room when Iran — a state that uses serial rape as a weapon against imprisoned dissidents — was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women committee. Presumably, someone didn’t like the optics of that debacle, coming as it did a few months after Rice insisted that the UN mission was spearheading Obama’s “change in the nature and tone of our relationships … [which] is yielding concrete and tangible benefits here at the United Nations.” Read More

Susan Rice was instrumental in pushing the Obama administration to join the UN Human Rights Council, insisting that engagement would allow the U.S. to “shape” the council’s policies and membership. That proved to be a somewhat inflated assessment when Libya was soon afterward — and quite easily — elected to the notorious Israel-bashing body. Rice subsequently declined to criticize the ascension of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, instead complimenting the election.

So it’s entirely appropriate that the ambassador was unable to attend the emergency UN Security Council meeting on the violence sweeping Libya, on account of a global-sustainability conference in South Africa that had greater purchase on her attention:

At great personal risk to himself and his family, Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Dabbashi, pushed the UN Security Council to take up the violence in his home country. … The dramatic event prompted the first UN meeting of the 15 member Security Council on the uprisings sweeping across the region since the beginning of Tunisia’s revolution. … The United States was represented by Foreign Service officer and Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo. … Rice, skipped the Libya meeting and instead flew to South Africa to attend a UN panel discussion on global sustainability.

It’s probably unfair to lay out the timeline this way, implying as it does that Rice’s absence was a Libya-specific thing. She misses lots of events that clash with her internationalist sensibilities and multilateral promises. The ambassador quite literally wasn’t in the room when Iran — a state that uses serial rape as a weapon against imprisoned dissidents — was elected to the Commission on the Status of Women committee. Presumably, someone didn’t like the optics of that debacle, coming as it did a few months after Rice insisted that the UN mission was spearheading Obama’s “change in the nature and tone of our relationships … [which] is yielding concrete and tangible benefits here at the United Nations.”

No one doubts that Ambassador Rice has a busy schedule. With the GOP looking to curtail UN funding, and with the UN’s own $43 million in-house PR shop not making much headway, she has recently taken to touring the country to give lectures on how “Main Street America Needs the United Nations.” But with the White House under fire for “voting present” on Libya — see Rick Richman’s brutal analysis of Obama’s speech — is it really a good idea to alter the narrative to “not even showing up to vote present”?

Despite all her responsibilities, the ambassador found time last week to work tirelessly in crafting an anti-Israel statement that would bridge the differences between the Arab Group and the United States. Although — again, in fairness — there might not have been any conferences sketching the promise of transnational cooperation for her to attend. We all know what rare beasts those are, the international community being famously circumspect in its self-regard.

UPDATE: A reader e-mails in a gentle correction. Apparently, the $43 million turned over to the UN Dept of Information is just the U.S.’s biennial contribution. The department’s total biennial budget is $182 million, all of which goes toward de facto propaganda. The UN, it goes without saying, does not criticize itself.

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Through Foggy Bottom’s Looking Glass

Every month, the State Department publishes an in-house magazine that features a “Post of the Month.” A few years ago, I penned a tongue-in-cheek article entitled “Living in a Dream World,” lampooning the diplomatic culture portrayed in State Magazine. The Arab uprisings led me to revisit the magazine and the posts of the month in which we now witness rebellion.

Here’s what the State Department said about life in Cairo:

Members of the mission community often reflect on the vitality and spirit of one of the world’s most ancient and beautiful cities. “Every morning, as I walk into the sunny courtyard of the U.S. Embassy, a smiling Egyptian colleague wishes me a day full of jasmine flowers,” said Natasha Greer, who returned to Cairo to serve as an office management specialist after a decade away. “Whether you are an extrovert with a passion for exploration or an introvert looking for a peaceful spot to read a book, you will be able to find your perfect place in Cairo. The noise, pollution and crazy traffic will dissipate in the smiles of people who welcome you everywhere.” … A day at Embassy Cairo can involve professional development training, a visit to Arab League headquarters, a discussion with students in Arabic about the Middle East, a sampling of sugarcane juice produced by a recipient of a USAID micro-loan or even a night dancing to an embassy-sponsored musical group like the Latin hip-hop band Ozomatli.

Engaging Egyptian students could be a worthwhile endeavor, but not when the ambassador’s idea was to sing Mubarak’s praises. Read More

Every month, the State Department publishes an in-house magazine that features a “Post of the Month.” A few years ago, I penned a tongue-in-cheek article entitled “Living in a Dream World,” lampooning the diplomatic culture portrayed in State Magazine. The Arab uprisings led me to revisit the magazine and the posts of the month in which we now witness rebellion.

Here’s what the State Department said about life in Cairo:

Members of the mission community often reflect on the vitality and spirit of one of the world’s most ancient and beautiful cities. “Every morning, as I walk into the sunny courtyard of the U.S. Embassy, a smiling Egyptian colleague wishes me a day full of jasmine flowers,” said Natasha Greer, who returned to Cairo to serve as an office management specialist after a decade away. “Whether you are an extrovert with a passion for exploration or an introvert looking for a peaceful spot to read a book, you will be able to find your perfect place in Cairo. The noise, pollution and crazy traffic will dissipate in the smiles of people who welcome you everywhere.” … A day at Embassy Cairo can involve professional development training, a visit to Arab League headquarters, a discussion with students in Arabic about the Middle East, a sampling of sugarcane juice produced by a recipient of a USAID micro-loan or even a night dancing to an embassy-sponsored musical group like the Latin hip-hop band Ozomatli.

Engaging Egyptian students could be a worthwhile endeavor, but not when the ambassador’s idea was to sing Mubarak’s praises.

Tunis was also a featured post:

Many consider Tunisia the most socially advanced and developed country in the region. … Tunisia’s successful economic and social policies, coupled with its history as a force for moderate political dialogue in the region, make it a key U.S. partner. The U.S. Mission manages this bilateral relationship and works with the Tunisians to promote economic liberalization, democratization and human rights, peacekeeping and the Middle East peace process. … Tunisia is a country of contrasts with modern development competing with the architecture of the past and Roman ruins with the labyrinthine structures of the Arab souks. This fascinating country, with its turbulent ancient history, social and economic progress, and active engagement in the region and beyond, is standing on the brink of becoming a modern, First World nation.

And just a few months ago, Tripoli, Libya, was spotlighted.

Today, the Defense Attaché’s Office is cultivating a growing relationship with the Libyan military. Cooperative programs have included military leadership visits and exchanges, working-level discussions with U.S. Africa Command staff, familiarization trips to U.S. military facilities, International Military Education and Training programs, a U.S. Coast Guard ship visit and technical advising for Libya’s C-130 transport aircraft fleet. … It is not easy setting up a new mission, but Embassy Tripoli employees still find time for fun. In addition to bargaining for antiques in the souks of the old quarter, staffers usually head to the gorgeous beaches near Tripoli on weekends. Archaeological tourism is popular; Libya is home to some of the most impressive Phoenician, Greek and Roman ruins in the world. Desert tourism to Tuareg outposts in the South such as Ghat and Ubari offers Saharan lakes, pre-historic rock art and a glimpse of caravan routes that have changed little in hundreds of years. Recreation options include tennis courts, a stadium for jogging and walking and a “sand” golf course. Those needing a real break can quickly fly to Tunis, Malta and points further afield in Europe.

Perhaps the United States would be less prone to intelligence failures if the diplomats to whom we provide free housing, free education, and salaries that would make the private sector blush spent a bit less time playing tennis, listening to hip-hop, and hanging out on the gorgeous beaches near Tripoli and more time interacting with the masses. Secretary Gates might also want to reconsider those exchanges with Qaddafi’s stormtroopers.

It is time for Congress to make State Department funding conditional on Secretary Clinton’s holding a serious lessons-learned discussion and enunciating how she will change the culture of the Foreign Service to make it relevant in the 21st century.

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