Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 6, 2011

Stopped on START

One of my colleagues, Trey Hicks (who despite freelance foreign-policy reporter Barbara Slavin’s ace fact-checking skills works not at the Hudson Institute but at the American Enterprise Institute), draws my attention to this article in Defense News:

MOSCOW — Russia announced Feb. 26 that it intended to fulfill its contract to supply Syria with cruise missiles despite the turmoil shaking the Arab world and Israel’s furious condemnation of the deal. “The contract is in the implementation stage,” news agencies quoted Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as saying. Russia initially agreed to send a large shipment of anti-ship Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria in 2007 under the terms of a controversial deal that was only disclosed by Serdyukov in September 2010. The revelation infuriated Israel and the United States and there had been speculation that Russia would decide to tear up the contract amid the current turmoil plaguing North Africa and the Middle East.

The Obama administration spent months courting Russia, seeking a reset in relations. It allowed Russia to run rings around the United States in the new START negotiations, and it sought to fast-track the START Treaty through Congress before senators could adequately study the devil in the details. It made START its marquis foreign-policy achievement, something akin to bragging about being valedictorian of a summer-school class. Now, there is nothing wrong with disarmament deals, but they are only worth the paper on which they are written if an adversary is sincere. The Russian sale to Syria is not a violation of START, but it is a sign that Obama’s reset of relations took us back to the era of Carter rather than to that of Reagan.

Vladimir Putin seeks not mutual understanding but rather advantage. He looks at treaties as an asymmetric strategy in which he can weaken opponents by seizing upon their own naïveté. Unfortunately, it looks like Obama was his perfect victim.

One of my colleagues, Trey Hicks (who despite freelance foreign-policy reporter Barbara Slavin’s ace fact-checking skills works not at the Hudson Institute but at the American Enterprise Institute), draws my attention to this article in Defense News:

MOSCOW — Russia announced Feb. 26 that it intended to fulfill its contract to supply Syria with cruise missiles despite the turmoil shaking the Arab world and Israel’s furious condemnation of the deal. “The contract is in the implementation stage,” news agencies quoted Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov as saying. Russia initially agreed to send a large shipment of anti-ship Yakhont cruise missiles to Syria in 2007 under the terms of a controversial deal that was only disclosed by Serdyukov in September 2010. The revelation infuriated Israel and the United States and there had been speculation that Russia would decide to tear up the contract amid the current turmoil plaguing North Africa and the Middle East.

The Obama administration spent months courting Russia, seeking a reset in relations. It allowed Russia to run rings around the United States in the new START negotiations, and it sought to fast-track the START Treaty through Congress before senators could adequately study the devil in the details. It made START its marquis foreign-policy achievement, something akin to bragging about being valedictorian of a summer-school class. Now, there is nothing wrong with disarmament deals, but they are only worth the paper on which they are written if an adversary is sincere. The Russian sale to Syria is not a violation of START, but it is a sign that Obama’s reset of relations took us back to the era of Carter rather than to that of Reagan.

Vladimir Putin seeks not mutual understanding but rather advantage. He looks at treaties as an asymmetric strategy in which he can weaken opponents by seizing upon their own naïveté. Unfortunately, it looks like Obama was his perfect victim.

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The Rep. King Hearings and Sharia Hysteria

This week, the House Homeland Security Committee will begin its hearings on homegrown radicalization, which looks like it will be a sober analysis of one of the most serious national-security threats facing the U.S. Obviously it’s important that hyperbole on either side of the issue doesn’t overshadow the focus of the inquiry. And that’s why two competing rallies being held in New York today are disconcerting.

The first is an anti–Peter King protest entitled “Today, I am a Muslim, Too,” which is being led by the Cordoba Initiative’s Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Al Sharpton, and music mogul Russell Simmons. This rally is being billed as a protest of “a unified stance against a rising Islamophobia caused by anxiety, misinformation, and ignorance.”

“Despite best efforts to engage and integrate into American society, certain leaders nonetheless, continue to see Muslims outside of the American family portrait,” claims Daisy Khan, Rauf’s wife and the organizer of the protest. “Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.) for example, will hold congressional hearings addressing ‘The Radicalization of Muslim communities in America,’ with testimony solely focusing on the communities of Muslim community.”

Clearly critics of the hearing can’t oppose an investigation into homegrown radicalization on its face, so they instead have to paint it as “Islamophobic” and smear King as a bigot.

But the “Today, I am a Muslim, Too” rally is only part of the problem. It has unsurprisingly sparked a counter-protest, the theme of which is, of course, “No, Imam, Today I am Not a Muslim, Too.” The organizers of the pro-King rally say they are protesting the “false accusations of ‘bigotry’” against those who are “voicing concern about radicalization in American Muslim communities and the threat of Shariah law to the Constitution.”

While King is certainly addressing the problem of radicalization, the hearings have absolutely nothing to do with the threat Sharia law poses to the Constitution, and absolutely everything to do with the threat of deadly terror attacks being planned and carried out on U.S. soil.

So if King’s supporters actually want to do him a favor, they’ll tone down the Sharia rhetoric when they’re defending him. There’s no doubt that King’s opponents are itching to tie him to the type of Sharia hysteria that greeted the “Ground Zero mosque” proposal last summer. It was a distraction from the real problems with the mosque, and it would be a shame if it overshadowed the King hearings as well.

This week, the House Homeland Security Committee will begin its hearings on homegrown radicalization, which looks like it will be a sober analysis of one of the most serious national-security threats facing the U.S. Obviously it’s important that hyperbole on either side of the issue doesn’t overshadow the focus of the inquiry. And that’s why two competing rallies being held in New York today are disconcerting.

The first is an anti–Peter King protest entitled “Today, I am a Muslim, Too,” which is being led by the Cordoba Initiative’s Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Al Sharpton, and music mogul Russell Simmons. This rally is being billed as a protest of “a unified stance against a rising Islamophobia caused by anxiety, misinformation, and ignorance.”

“Despite best efforts to engage and integrate into American society, certain leaders nonetheless, continue to see Muslims outside of the American family portrait,” claims Daisy Khan, Rauf’s wife and the organizer of the protest. “Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.) for example, will hold congressional hearings addressing ‘The Radicalization of Muslim communities in America,’ with testimony solely focusing on the communities of Muslim community.”

Clearly critics of the hearing can’t oppose an investigation into homegrown radicalization on its face, so they instead have to paint it as “Islamophobic” and smear King as a bigot.

But the “Today, I am a Muslim, Too” rally is only part of the problem. It has unsurprisingly sparked a counter-protest, the theme of which is, of course, “No, Imam, Today I am Not a Muslim, Too.” The organizers of the pro-King rally say they are protesting the “false accusations of ‘bigotry’” against those who are “voicing concern about radicalization in American Muslim communities and the threat of Shariah law to the Constitution.”

While King is certainly addressing the problem of radicalization, the hearings have absolutely nothing to do with the threat Sharia law poses to the Constitution, and absolutely everything to do with the threat of deadly terror attacks being planned and carried out on U.S. soil.

So if King’s supporters actually want to do him a favor, they’ll tone down the Sharia rhetoric when they’re defending him. There’s no doubt that King’s opponents are itching to tie him to the type of Sharia hysteria that greeted the “Ground Zero mosque” proposal last summer. It was a distraction from the real problems with the mosque, and it would be a shame if it overshadowed the King hearings as well.

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What Has Iran Been Shopping for in Norway?

The Danish paper Politiken is reporting, based on Norwegian intelligence, that the Islamic Republic of Iran has on several occasions tried to purchase materials in Norway that could be used in the production of weapons of mass destruction. Sometimes these reports turn out to be true; sometimes they turn out to be false. The Norwegians, however, have not historically been prone to exaggeration on these issues. The Danish report links to the Norwegian security-service report.

The Obama administration has little interest in revelations of Iranian cheating; they could undermine its push for diplomacy. Sometimes, though, reality gets in the way of policy. It’s ironic that, after years of bashing Bush for doing so, it is Obama who now turns a deaf ear to the Europeans.

The Danish paper Politiken is reporting, based on Norwegian intelligence, that the Islamic Republic of Iran has on several occasions tried to purchase materials in Norway that could be used in the production of weapons of mass destruction. Sometimes these reports turn out to be true; sometimes they turn out to be false. The Norwegians, however, have not historically been prone to exaggeration on these issues. The Danish report links to the Norwegian security-service report.

The Obama administration has little interest in revelations of Iranian cheating; they could undermine its push for diplomacy. Sometimes, though, reality gets in the way of policy. It’s ironic that, after years of bashing Bush for doing so, it is Obama who now turns a deaf ear to the Europeans.

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Syrian Pilots Shot Down in Libya?

The civil war in Libya has become essentially a tribal conflict, with Qaddafi’s Qadhadfa tribe versus everyone else. For example, Al-Jazeera is reporting that Qadhadfa officers have executed 20 officers from the Firjan tribe who had refused to fire on their fellow Libyans. As Qaddafi has lost the support of the Qadhadfas’ long-time allies, there have been increasingly frequent reports that he is turning to mercenaries to help put down the Libyan people.

Overnight, these reports have taken a new twist: Al Jazeera is reporting that free Libyan forces have downed two Syrian planes in Ras Lanuf, about 400 kilometers west of Benghazi. Unconfirmed reports had earlier suggested that the free Libyans had downed two Sukhoi SU-22s, which is what the Libyans train on in Syria.

If these reports are true, it is time for President Obama to bring home Robert Ford, his recess appointment as ambassador to Syria. Successful engagement requires sincerity of both partners. Obama may be sincere, but it is clear that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not. We do not need to cut off dialogue — we still have an embassy in Damascus and can pursue the daily requirements of diplomacy, whatever they may be, at a more junior level.

Many senators remain upset that Obama refused to address their concerns on Syria and dispatched Ford as a recess appointment. They gave Obama’s outreach to Syria three months. Rather than improve Assad’s behavior, however, engagement has only worsened it. This is true even if the rumors of Syrian participation are exaggerated.

If Obama refuses to bring Ford home, perhaps it is time for Congress to reassert itself and play hardball with the State Department’s budget.

The civil war in Libya has become essentially a tribal conflict, with Qaddafi’s Qadhadfa tribe versus everyone else. For example, Al-Jazeera is reporting that Qadhadfa officers have executed 20 officers from the Firjan tribe who had refused to fire on their fellow Libyans. As Qaddafi has lost the support of the Qadhadfas’ long-time allies, there have been increasingly frequent reports that he is turning to mercenaries to help put down the Libyan people.

Overnight, these reports have taken a new twist: Al Jazeera is reporting that free Libyan forces have downed two Syrian planes in Ras Lanuf, about 400 kilometers west of Benghazi. Unconfirmed reports had earlier suggested that the free Libyans had downed two Sukhoi SU-22s, which is what the Libyans train on in Syria.

If these reports are true, it is time for President Obama to bring home Robert Ford, his recess appointment as ambassador to Syria. Successful engagement requires sincerity of both partners. Obama may be sincere, but it is clear that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not. We do not need to cut off dialogue — we still have an embassy in Damascus and can pursue the daily requirements of diplomacy, whatever they may be, at a more junior level.

Many senators remain upset that Obama refused to address their concerns on Syria and dispatched Ford as a recess appointment. They gave Obama’s outreach to Syria three months. Rather than improve Assad’s behavior, however, engagement has only worsened it. This is true even if the rumors of Syrian participation are exaggerated.

If Obama refuses to bring Ford home, perhaps it is time for Congress to reassert itself and play hardball with the State Department’s budget.

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UN Teaming Up with NGOs to Host ‘Mini-Durban’ Conference This Week

Israel Apartheid Week is just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than with a UN-hosted anti-Israel conference featuring speakers from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Human Rights?

NGO Monitor has a summary of the event, which has been dubbed a “mini-Durban”:

At a time when citizens of Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Iran, Tunisia, Yemen, Gaza, and elsewhere are demanding freedom and rejecting attempts to blame problems on Israel, the UN will hold another International Meeting on the Question of Palestine on March 7-8 in Vienna. The timing of this event corresponds with “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW) activities, which are part of the broader BDS and Durban strategy of demonization. In Vienna, officials from numerous highly politicized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will take part in the UN-sponsored event, entitled “The Urgency of Addressing the Plight of Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israeli Prisons and Detention Facilities.”

Sessions at the conference include “Arrests and detentions of Palestinians by the occupying Power” and “Available legal mechanisms to ensure compliance with international law and responsibility of Third Party.” So basically it will be a lot of apartheid rhetoric and strategizing over how to use lawfare against Israeli politicians.

Many of the NGOs represented at the conference — including Human Rights Watch, which ignored Libya’s human-rights abuses for years while obsessing over Israel — are financed by the New Israel Fund and European governments. This is a perfect example of why the new Israeli NGO-transparency law is so important in combating delegitimization propaganda. The public has the right to know exactly how much money these groups are taking from foreign entities and whose interests they’re really representing.

Israel Apartheid Week is just around the corner, and what better way to celebrate than with a UN-hosted anti-Israel conference featuring speakers from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Human Rights?

NGO Monitor has a summary of the event, which has been dubbed a “mini-Durban”:

At a time when citizens of Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Iran, Tunisia, Yemen, Gaza, and elsewhere are demanding freedom and rejecting attempts to blame problems on Israel, the UN will hold another International Meeting on the Question of Palestine on March 7-8 in Vienna. The timing of this event corresponds with “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW) activities, which are part of the broader BDS and Durban strategy of demonization. In Vienna, officials from numerous highly politicized non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will take part in the UN-sponsored event, entitled “The Urgency of Addressing the Plight of Palestinian Political Prisoners in Israeli Prisons and Detention Facilities.”

Sessions at the conference include “Arrests and detentions of Palestinians by the occupying Power” and “Available legal mechanisms to ensure compliance with international law and responsibility of Third Party.” So basically it will be a lot of apartheid rhetoric and strategizing over how to use lawfare against Israeli politicians.

Many of the NGOs represented at the conference — including Human Rights Watch, which ignored Libya’s human-rights abuses for years while obsessing over Israel — are financed by the New Israel Fund and European governments. This is a perfect example of why the new Israeli NGO-transparency law is so important in combating delegitimization propaganda. The public has the right to know exactly how much money these groups are taking from foreign entities and whose interests they’re really representing.

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