Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 2011

Barzani’s Forces Shoot 12-Year-Old. What Lessons Are Leaders Drawing?

That’s what’s happening in Iraqi Kurdistan right now. Here is a YouTube video (graphic) of KDP forces in Chamchamal firing into a crowd, reportedly killing a 12-year-old boy. The United States is going to lose all credibility in Iraqi Kurdistan if it does not demand an explanation from regional leader Masud Barzani, as well as from Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in Washington. Iraqi Kurdistan may call itself a democracy, but Masud Barzani should realize that what is depicted here is not what democracies do; it is what Muammar Qaddafi does.

The issue is not just Kurdistan; regional leaders are drawing lessons about accountability from the revolutions. Some, like the King of Jordan, are trying to speed up reform. Others, like Qaddafi, are cracking down harder. It is now apparent that some moderate leaders, like Barzani, have concluded not that they should embrace reform but rather that they should crack down without mercy. If this is not the lesson Obama wants the moderate rulers in the Middle East to draw, he has to speak up now and not, as in Libya, wait until the body count is in the thousands.

That’s what’s happening in Iraqi Kurdistan right now. Here is a YouTube video (graphic) of KDP forces in Chamchamal firing into a crowd, reportedly killing a 12-year-old boy. The United States is going to lose all credibility in Iraqi Kurdistan if it does not demand an explanation from regional leader Masud Barzani, as well as from Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in Washington. Iraqi Kurdistan may call itself a democracy, but Masud Barzani should realize that what is depicted here is not what democracies do; it is what Muammar Qaddafi does.

The issue is not just Kurdistan; regional leaders are drawing lessons about accountability from the revolutions. Some, like the King of Jordan, are trying to speed up reform. Others, like Qaddafi, are cracking down harder. It is now apparent that some moderate leaders, like Barzani, have concluded not that they should embrace reform but rather that they should crack down without mercy. If this is not the lesson Obama wants the moderate rulers in the Middle East to draw, he has to speak up now and not, as in Libya, wait until the body count is in the thousands.

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The Guardian Aligned Itself with the Autocrats on Israel

This headline in the Guardian commentary section may have caused some to do a double-take this morning: “Our absurd obsession with Israel is laid bare.” Sadly, it wasn’t the title of a long-overdue introspective editorial by the Guardian staff. But it was something almost as good — an excellent column by Nick Cohen about how the Israel-centric view of the Middle East has been discredited by recent events. And there was really no better place for it to be published than in the Guardian’s exceedingly anti-Israel Comment-is-free section.

The Guardian’s predilection for over-the-top anti-Israel commentary has been well-documented. It’s editorial board has taken views similar to Hamas’s on the peace process, it has published letters applauding terrorism against Israelis, and it recently printed a highly offensive cartoon of President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew.

And while Guardian editors may equate their anti-Israel views with anti-imperialism, Cohen points out in his column that the demonization of Israel has actually helped keep the autocratic leaders of the Muslim world in power:

Far from being a cause of the revolution, antagonism to Israel everywhere served the interests of oppressors. Europeans have no right to be surprised. Of all people, we ought to know from our experience of Nazism that antisemitism is a conspiracy theory about power, rather than a standard racist hatred of poor immigrants. Fascistic regimes reached for it when they sought to deny their own people liberty. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forgery the far-right wing of the decaying tsarist regime issued in 1903 to convince Russians they should continue to obey the tsar’s every command, denounces human rights and democracy as facades behind which the secret Jewish rulers of the world manipulated gullible gentiles.

The Guardian has been one of the loudest and most reliable mouthpieces of anti-Israel propaganda in the media. Perhaps Cohen’s column will finally cause readers to pause and consider who is actually benefiting from the paper’s editorial slant.

This headline in the Guardian commentary section may have caused some to do a double-take this morning: “Our absurd obsession with Israel is laid bare.” Sadly, it wasn’t the title of a long-overdue introspective editorial by the Guardian staff. But it was something almost as good — an excellent column by Nick Cohen about how the Israel-centric view of the Middle East has been discredited by recent events. And there was really no better place for it to be published than in the Guardian’s exceedingly anti-Israel Comment-is-free section.

The Guardian’s predilection for over-the-top anti-Israel commentary has been well-documented. It’s editorial board has taken views similar to Hamas’s on the peace process, it has published letters applauding terrorism against Israelis, and it recently printed a highly offensive cartoon of President Mahmoud Abbas dressed up like an Orthodox Jew.

And while Guardian editors may equate their anti-Israel views with anti-imperialism, Cohen points out in his column that the demonization of Israel has actually helped keep the autocratic leaders of the Muslim world in power:

Far from being a cause of the revolution, antagonism to Israel everywhere served the interests of oppressors. Europeans have no right to be surprised. Of all people, we ought to know from our experience of Nazism that antisemitism is a conspiracy theory about power, rather than a standard racist hatred of poor immigrants. Fascistic regimes reached for it when they sought to deny their own people liberty. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the forgery the far-right wing of the decaying tsarist regime issued in 1903 to convince Russians they should continue to obey the tsar’s every command, denounces human rights and democracy as facades behind which the secret Jewish rulers of the world manipulated gullible gentiles.

The Guardian has been one of the loudest and most reliable mouthpieces of anti-Israel propaganda in the media. Perhaps Cohen’s column will finally cause readers to pause and consider who is actually benefiting from the paper’s editorial slant.

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Blowing the Statistics

Charles Blow in his New York Times column yesterday decried the fact that the United States ranks last among 33 developed countries in infant mortality. His solution — prepare to be shocked — is to reverse Republican proposed budget cuts for various government programs that deal with premature-birth and neonatal care. The column, which seems to be a reworked press release from the March of Dimes, contrasts Republican opposition to abortion with that party’s apparent indifference to newborn life, as evidenced by the budget cuts.

But how bad are the statistics really? That’s a good question that would take a lot of statistical horsepower to answer, if it’s even possible to do in a world where many countries quietly cook the books to make themselves look better. But had Mr. Blow dug deep in his research for the column — by, say, clicking on Infant Mortality in Wikipedia — he would have found that, while there is a standard definition of infant mortality from the World Health Organization (voluntary muscle contraction, a heart beat, or attempts to breathe spontaneously), many countries play fast and loose with it. The old Soviet Union, for instance, did not count as live births very premature babies who failed to survive for seven full days. France, the Netherlands, and other European countries don’t count as live births babies who weigh less than 500 grams or had less than 22 weeks of gestation. They are, instead, counted as stillbirths. Japan and Hong Kong, it seems, count babies that are almost a year old when they die as having lived a year and, thus, not an infant mortality.

So perhaps at least part of the reason for the low ranking of the United States with regard to infant mortality is that, in this country, we actually try to save premature and low-birth-weight babies rather than just chalk them up to stillbirths to make our numbers look good.

Charles Blow in his New York Times column yesterday decried the fact that the United States ranks last among 33 developed countries in infant mortality. His solution — prepare to be shocked — is to reverse Republican proposed budget cuts for various government programs that deal with premature-birth and neonatal care. The column, which seems to be a reworked press release from the March of Dimes, contrasts Republican opposition to abortion with that party’s apparent indifference to newborn life, as evidenced by the budget cuts.

But how bad are the statistics really? That’s a good question that would take a lot of statistical horsepower to answer, if it’s even possible to do in a world where many countries quietly cook the books to make themselves look better. But had Mr. Blow dug deep in his research for the column — by, say, clicking on Infant Mortality in Wikipedia — he would have found that, while there is a standard definition of infant mortality from the World Health Organization (voluntary muscle contraction, a heart beat, or attempts to breathe spontaneously), many countries play fast and loose with it. The old Soviet Union, for instance, did not count as live births very premature babies who failed to survive for seven full days. France, the Netherlands, and other European countries don’t count as live births babies who weigh less than 500 grams or had less than 22 weeks of gestation. They are, instead, counted as stillbirths. Japan and Hong Kong, it seems, count babies that are almost a year old when they die as having lived a year and, thus, not an infant mortality.

So perhaps at least part of the reason for the low ranking of the United States with regard to infant mortality is that, in this country, we actually try to save premature and low-birth-weight babies rather than just chalk them up to stillbirths to make our numbers look good.

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Obama Is Following, Not Leading, the World on Libya

As Michael Rubin has noted, on Saturday, President Obama finally said what the rest of the world realized days ago: Muammar Qaddafi needs to go. But instead of making this clear in a public statement, he said it over the phone to Angela Merkel.

The way this situation was handled was typical Obama. The uprisings across the Muslim world — which appeared to have caught him off-guard — have elicited slow and stumbling responses from him and his administration since they began. He equivocated on Cairo, and now he’s equivocating on Tripoli.

Instead of demanding that Qaddafi needed to go during his address to the nation on Thursday, Obama waited until the last minute, when he was finally forced to utter this obvious truth during his phone call with Merkel. The White House then immediately rushed to get the word out to reporters about Obama’s “bold” statement about the Libyan leader.

Of course, the president still refused to mention Qaddafi by name, even over the phone. And worse, he wasn’t leading the calls against Qaddafi. Merkel, like many other world leaders, had already bluntly spoken out against the Libyan regime. Obama, by making his statement to her over the phone, appeared to merely be running to catch up.

As Michael Rubin has noted, on Saturday, President Obama finally said what the rest of the world realized days ago: Muammar Qaddafi needs to go. But instead of making this clear in a public statement, he said it over the phone to Angela Merkel.

The way this situation was handled was typical Obama. The uprisings across the Muslim world — which appeared to have caught him off-guard — have elicited slow and stumbling responses from him and his administration since they began. He equivocated on Cairo, and now he’s equivocating on Tripoli.

Instead of demanding that Qaddafi needed to go during his address to the nation on Thursday, Obama waited until the last minute, when he was finally forced to utter this obvious truth during his phone call with Merkel. The White House then immediately rushed to get the word out to reporters about Obama’s “bold” statement about the Libyan leader.

Of course, the president still refused to mention Qaddafi by name, even over the phone. And worse, he wasn’t leading the calls against Qaddafi. Merkel, like many other world leaders, had already bluntly spoken out against the Libyan regime. Obama, by making his statement to her over the phone, appeared to merely be running to catch up.

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What’s Qaddafi Smoking?

Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi has always been bizarre, but in recent years he has looked positively unhealthy. There have been credible rumors for some time that Qaddafi abuses narcotics. It’s an open secret that many Middle Eastern figures have had drug problems. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was reportedly long addicted to opium but stopped cold turkey upon Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. (Opium was once legal in Iran and was grandfathered out, and so was available in many pharmacies through the 1970s.)

Rumors have also circulated about opium use by Khomeini’s grandson Hassan, and about King Abdullah II of Jordan dabbling in some harder drugs, at least during his school years and perhaps into his rule. In the mid-1990s, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime sponsored films satirizing Muslim Brotherhood behavior, often showing the Islamists dabbling in hard liquor and drugs behind closed doors. Iraqis nicknamed Muqatda al-Sadr’s militia the Jaysh al-Warda (Army of the Rose) because of the rose-colored amphetamines they took before going into battle.

When wealth is limitless and the thrills of power are gone, it is not only possible but probable that some dictators will dabble in drugs. It’s all well and good to give foreign leaders benefit of the doubt. Sitting in the Denver airport lounge, I’m watching journalists insist that Qaddafi may be weird but that he didn’t strike them as insane. What too many journalists don’t consider, though, is that Qaddafi’s sanity might be linked to his sobriety. Alas, that sobriety may not be 24/7.

Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi has always been bizarre, but in recent years he has looked positively unhealthy. There have been credible rumors for some time that Qaddafi abuses narcotics. It’s an open secret that many Middle Eastern figures have had drug problems. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was reportedly long addicted to opium but stopped cold turkey upon Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. (Opium was once legal in Iran and was grandfathered out, and so was available in many pharmacies through the 1970s.)

Rumors have also circulated about opium use by Khomeini’s grandson Hassan, and about King Abdullah II of Jordan dabbling in some harder drugs, at least during his school years and perhaps into his rule. In the mid-1990s, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime sponsored films satirizing Muslim Brotherhood behavior, often showing the Islamists dabbling in hard liquor and drugs behind closed doors. Iraqis nicknamed Muqatda al-Sadr’s militia the Jaysh al-Warda (Army of the Rose) because of the rose-colored amphetamines they took before going into battle.

When wealth is limitless and the thrills of power are gone, it is not only possible but probable that some dictators will dabble in drugs. It’s all well and good to give foreign leaders benefit of the doubt. Sitting in the Denver airport lounge, I’m watching journalists insist that Qaddafi may be weird but that he didn’t strike them as insane. What too many journalists don’t consider, though, is that Qaddafi’s sanity might be linked to his sobriety. Alas, that sobriety may not be 24/7.

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Preparing for All Eventualities Demands More Than Just Cuts to the Military

News coverage of Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s speech at West Point — his last to cadets while in office, he said — gives a misleading picture of what he said. Typical is the New York Times article, which begins:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

Read as a stand-alone quote, this could easily be taken to mean that Gates wants to get out of the counterinsurgency and nation-building business and go back to practicing tank-on-tank battles against a mirror-image foe. That is precisely what some army traditionalists would prefer, but it’s not what the defense chief was suggesting. While he acknowledged that the “need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there,” in the future, he argued, the army must “confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements — whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere.”

Instead of suggesting that the Army go heavy and conventional, he said: “The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counterterrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response, or stability or security force assistance missions.” It was in the very next sentence that he uttered the much-quoted line about not fighting major land wars, which could just as easily be taken as an admonition against a Gulf War or a Korean War as against the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Read More

News coverage of Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s speech at West Point — his last to cadets while in office, he said — gives a misleading picture of what he said. Typical is the New York Times article, which begins:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.

“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

Read as a stand-alone quote, this could easily be taken to mean that Gates wants to get out of the counterinsurgency and nation-building business and go back to practicing tank-on-tank battles against a mirror-image foe. That is precisely what some army traditionalists would prefer, but it’s not what the defense chief was suggesting. While he acknowledged that the “need for heavy armor and firepower to survive, close with, and destroy the enemy will always be there,” in the future, he argued, the army must “confront the reality that the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements — whether in Asia, the Persian Gulf, or elsewhere.”

Instead of suggesting that the Army go heavy and conventional, he said: “The strategic rationale for swift-moving expeditionary forces, be they Army or Marines, airborne infantry or special operations, is self-evident given the likelihood of counterterrorism, rapid reaction, disaster response, or stability or security force assistance missions.” It was in the very next sentence that he uttered the much-quoted line about not fighting major land wars, which could just as easily be taken as an admonition against a Gulf War or a Korean War as against the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, we have heard such warnings before (including from the 1987 movie The Princess Bride!), and nevertheless we continue to get embroiled in such wars by events beyond our control. Who could have predicted on September 10, 2001, that we would shortly be sending troops to Afghanistan? Who can predict where they will have to go next? As Gates himself admitted: “When it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more — we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged.”

Given that reality, we have to have an Army capable of dealing with all sorts of scenarios — from major land wars to humanitarian-assistance missions and everything in between. Gates offered many good suggestions for improving the quality of our forces, including enhancing language and cultural training and modifying a one-size-fits-all personnel system that drives too many of the most talented performers out of the system. (For more on the need to address these issues, see my 2005 Foreign Affairs article “The Struggle to Transform the Military.”)

He did not, however, explain how the Army can keep its full range of capabilities if it loses tens of thousands of soldiers in the future — as envisioned by the administration’s defense plans. That is a glaring omission, and it is an issue that Gates’s successors will have to struggle with, unless by some miracle the administration’s irresponsible cuts in force size are blocked in Congress.

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Libya’s Not Just About Libya

President Obama finally said that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi must go. At least the leader of the free world beat the Grand Duke of Liechtenstein to that conclusion, even if not other Western leaders. It’s important that the White House did not see the uprising in Libya as just about Libya, however. Despite Stephen M. Walt’s useful idiocy, Qaddafi’s regime is the most brutal and dictatorial in the Middle East. After North Korea, it competes with Turkmenistan for the second-most-autocratic regime on earth.

Qaddafi’s exile or death will be the last nail in the coffin of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Egyptians thought, “If Tunisians can do it, why not us.” When Mubarak fled, Libyans concluded that it was their turn. If people power can topple Qaddafi, not even the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will be able to contain the rage of the Iranian people. And if the Islamic Republic collapses, then suddenly the threats from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad will decline as their state support evaporates.

The Iranians often say that Washington plays checkers while Tehran plays chess. It’s time for us to get into the game and checkmate Ayatollah Khamenei.

President Obama finally said that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi must go. At least the leader of the free world beat the Grand Duke of Liechtenstein to that conclusion, even if not other Western leaders. It’s important that the White House did not see the uprising in Libya as just about Libya, however. Despite Stephen M. Walt’s useful idiocy, Qaddafi’s regime is the most brutal and dictatorial in the Middle East. After North Korea, it competes with Turkmenistan for the second-most-autocratic regime on earth.

Qaddafi’s exile or death will be the last nail in the coffin of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Egyptians thought, “If Tunisians can do it, why not us.” When Mubarak fled, Libyans concluded that it was their turn. If people power can topple Qaddafi, not even the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will be able to contain the rage of the Iranian people. And if the Islamic Republic collapses, then suddenly the threats from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad will decline as their state support evaporates.

The Iranians often say that Washington plays checkers while Tehran plays chess. It’s time for us to get into the game and checkmate Ayatollah Khamenei.

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Rolling Stone Hit Job Misses Its Military Mark

Remember Michael Hastings? He is the Rolling Stone writer who brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal by disclosing all sorts of undiplomatic comments allegedly made by the general’s staff during the course of a drinking session they believed to be off the record but that he chose, nevertheless, to write about anyway. Having brought down McChrystal — one of the most respected generals in the army — Hastings then set his sights on McChrystal’s successor, the even better-respected David Petraeus. Alas for Hastings and Rolling Stone, his hit job on Petraeus, snidely titled “King David’s War,” has attracted no attention, in large part because Petraeus wisely refused to grant any face time to the unscrupulous hack.

Hastings has now set his sights on the scalp of another outstanding and dedicated officer — Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, who commands the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, in which capacity he has been doing a terrific job of expanding and improving the Afghan National Security Forces. What has Caldwell done to earn Hastings’s ire? The lead of his newest article, “Another Runaway General,” breathlessly announces, “The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in ‘psychological operations’ to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned — and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.”

Turns out there is a lot less here than meets the eye. As the Washington Times notes in an eye-opening editorial, Hastings’s entire hit job seems to be based largely on a single source — a disgruntled lieutenant colonel named Michael Holmes who was assigned to head an Information Operations cell working for Caldwell. But according to the Washington Times, Caldwell decided he didn’t need an Information Operations (i.e., propaganda) function and assigned those officers to do other staff work. This included preparing background papers on visiting congressional staff members — the sort of innocuous work that in Hastings’s feverish imagination was transformed into a scandal. He writes: “Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background.” Gasp — a note taker not disclosing his background. What a scandal. Read More

Remember Michael Hastings? He is the Rolling Stone writer who brought down Gen. Stanley McChrystal by disclosing all sorts of undiplomatic comments allegedly made by the general’s staff during the course of a drinking session they believed to be off the record but that he chose, nevertheless, to write about anyway. Having brought down McChrystal — one of the most respected generals in the army — Hastings then set his sights on McChrystal’s successor, the even better-respected David Petraeus. Alas for Hastings and Rolling Stone, his hit job on Petraeus, snidely titled “King David’s War,” has attracted no attention, in large part because Petraeus wisely refused to grant any face time to the unscrupulous hack.

Hastings has now set his sights on the scalp of another outstanding and dedicated officer — Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell, who commands the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, in which capacity he has been doing a terrific job of expanding and improving the Afghan National Security Forces. What has Caldwell done to earn Hastings’s ire? The lead of his newest article, “Another Runaway General,” breathlessly announces, “The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in ‘psychological operations’ to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned — and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.”

Turns out there is a lot less here than meets the eye. As the Washington Times notes in an eye-opening editorial, Hastings’s entire hit job seems to be based largely on a single source — a disgruntled lieutenant colonel named Michael Holmes who was assigned to head an Information Operations cell working for Caldwell. But according to the Washington Times, Caldwell decided he didn’t need an Information Operations (i.e., propaganda) function and assigned those officers to do other staff work. This included preparing background papers on visiting congressional staff members — the sort of innocuous work that in Hastings’s feverish imagination was transformed into a scandal. He writes: “Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background.” Gasp — a note taker not disclosing his background. What a scandal.

It would indeed be considered improper if Caldwell were using information-operations techniques to influence the home front, but there is no indication that he did anything of the sort. In any case, it is not always easy to distinguish “public affairs” (permitted) from “information operations” (prohibited for domestic audiences). Just because Lt. Col. Holmes has a background in information operations does not mean that every function he carried out was IO-related. In fact, according to the Washington Times, he was aggrieved precisely because he was not being employed in his specialty. (Although the New York Times reports that the Department of Defense has no record that he was even officially qualified in psychological operations.)

Holmes was reprimanded for failing to carry out a lawful order from Caldwell — and also for various other missteps. According to Hastings himself, “The [army] investigator accuses Holmes of going off base in civilian clothes without permission, improperly using his position to start a private business, consuming alcohol, using Facebook too much, and having an ‘inappropriate’ relationship with one of his subordinates, Maj. Laural Levine.” Hastings treats all this as a big joke, but anyone familiar with military decorum in a theater of war will recognize that these are all breaches of discipline — potentially serious ones in some cases. According to Hastings, Holmes believes “he was being targeted for questioning the legality of waging an IO campaign against U.S. visitor,” but if there is any evidence to back up that charge it is not presented in the article. In fact, the Washington Times reports that Holmes filed a complaint against Caldwell with the inspector general’s office, but that it was dismissed. He was left embittered and ready to start spilling to Hastings, who acted as his amanuensis.

General Petraeus has no choice but to open an investigation of the incident. But even on a worst-case reading of Hastings’s article, there is not much scandal there — unless it’s considered a scandal for a general to want to have some standard background information about important visitors. The story does not throw a negative light on Lt. Gen. Caldwell. It does, however, reveal the venomous, anti-military agenda of Hastings and his employers at Rolling Stone. Apparently, they will stop at nothing — leave no distinguished reputation untarnished — in their bid to sell magazines.

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Israel Moves to Limit Google Street View Risks

My friend Dr. Andre Oboler has an exhaustive article up on the Jerusalem Post site about the potential risks and benefits of Google Street View coming to Israel. The service, as most people know, allows you to take “virtual tours” up and down streets mapped by Google Maps (and Google Maps itself goes way beyond public streets, into zoos, amusement parks, and so on).

The problem, of course, is that terrorists and militias use services like Google Maps and Google Earth to maximize their carnage. The Mumbai terrorists very famously mapped out their attacks beforehand using Google services. Google Earth images of British military bases were found in the homes of Iraqi insurgents. And the Iranian proxies surrounding Israel have been bragging for years that they use Google Earth to set rocket targets.

On the other hand, it’s a losing battle to fight the spread of information, especially when Google gets involved. The deep controversy is about the advance of technology outpacing our legal and ethical coping mechanisms, but that’s not really important for this context. Suffice to say that new communication technologies are being developed and deployed almost recklessly, and certainly in the absence of mass public deliberation. India expressed concerns about Google Maps and Google Earth as early as 2005, those concerns were largely ignored, and then Mumbai happened. Israel is afraid that something similar will occur. Read More

My friend Dr. Andre Oboler has an exhaustive article up on the Jerusalem Post site about the potential risks and benefits of Google Street View coming to Israel. The service, as most people know, allows you to take “virtual tours” up and down streets mapped by Google Maps (and Google Maps itself goes way beyond public streets, into zoos, amusement parks, and so on).

The problem, of course, is that terrorists and militias use services like Google Maps and Google Earth to maximize their carnage. The Mumbai terrorists very famously mapped out their attacks beforehand using Google services. Google Earth images of British military bases were found in the homes of Iraqi insurgents. And the Iranian proxies surrounding Israel have been bragging for years that they use Google Earth to set rocket targets.

On the other hand, it’s a losing battle to fight the spread of information, especially when Google gets involved. The deep controversy is about the advance of technology outpacing our legal and ethical coping mechanisms, but that’s not really important for this context. Suffice to say that new communication technologies are being developed and deployed almost recklessly, and certainly in the absence of mass public deliberation. India expressed concerns about Google Maps and Google Earth as early as 2005, those concerns were largely ignored, and then Mumbai happened. Israel is afraid that something similar will occur.

But the Jewish state is small enough that at least some checks can potentially be enacted, and Israeli security services are calling for exactly that. Oboler suggests several obvious measures:

Any permission to proceed with Google Street View should be coupled with both specific and general obligations on Google; for example, an obligation to collect and use data only in a manner consistent with the public interest, and an obligation to respect the rights of individuals. Keeping the data in Israel is the only way to ensure the Israeli courts can order enforcement. … Israel also has a responsibility to act in the Interests of its people and of the Jewish people more generally. … Israel may also request further unrelated guarantees from Google, such as an undertaking to cooperate more fully with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the fight against Antisemitism.

This is a conversation that should be happening in the United States as well. Google and similar companies make billions by quite literally entering and mapping public spaces and then selling ads related to what they organize. They don’t really owe anyone anything if they’re only helping convey information, but new technologies do introduce new risks, and inevitably Google Maps will be exploited for a domestic terrorist attacks. It’s something that should be talked about more, and more explicitly and more publicly.

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How’s That Syria Engagement Going?

Syria both continues its covert nuclear program and refuses IAEA inspections. While President Bush pursued a policy of isolation of Syria, the Democrats made defiance of the Bush approach and outreach to Syria one of their key policies. Once President Obama entered office, he sought, through engagement, to flip Syria.

It didn’t work, it isn’t working, and it will never work. Perhaps it’s time for Obama to recognize that incentivizing rogue behavior always undercuts U.S. national security.

Syria both continues its covert nuclear program and refuses IAEA inspections. While President Bush pursued a policy of isolation of Syria, the Democrats made defiance of the Bush approach and outreach to Syria one of their key policies. Once President Obama entered office, he sought, through engagement, to flip Syria.

It didn’t work, it isn’t working, and it will never work. Perhaps it’s time for Obama to recognize that incentivizing rogue behavior always undercuts U.S. national security.

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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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