Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 27, 2011

RE: Hillary to Syrian Rebels, Drop Dead

As Alana noted, this morning Hillary Clinton said of  Bashar al-Assad, “There is a different leader in Syria now, many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” The generous interpretation is that the secretary of state is grasping for pretexts to explain why Libya but not Syria. Elsewhere she insisted that the U.S. would not act to remove Assad unless it had the backing of an international coalition, a Security Council resolution, a call by the Arab League, and “a condemnation that was universal” – a set of circumstances that has never coalesced in the history of the world, and won’t this time. Russia and China won’t stomach another attack on an arms client, the Arab League isn’t going to countenance a U.S.-led war on a fourth Muslim state, and a universal condemnation wasn’t even achieved before the attack on Libya. So Clinton’s raising the bar pretty high.

That’s domestically useful, since the Obama administration needs to move away from the perception that the president may get the U.S. entangled in any further military operations. Liberals are getting awfully nervous about our newest round of Middle East adventurism, and the relatively small coalition with which the president went to war isn’t reassuring them. The left spent eight years insisting you’d have to be an idiot or a neocon to rush into war unilaterally, and Obama went to war in a week with a crumbling coalition smaller than the Iraq MNF, so there is some tension. Clinton’s recitation of the multilateralist catechism — coalitions, UN backing, Arab imprimatur — is partly meant to assuage leftist fears.

It’s also useful internationally, because the U.S. isn’t going to go to war to unseat Assad. Might as well not raise expectations.

But if she’s already set impossible conditions for intervention, why take the next step and describe Assad as a reformer? It can’t be to draw a distinction between him and Qaddafi, since Qaddafi was hailed as a reformer until he went back to killing people, which is what’s happening with Assad. It can’t be because Assad is sparing Americans during the crackdown and we don’t want to needlessly antagonize him, since the Syrian regime is detaining Americans.

It can’t be because State actually thinks that’s true, can it? Because between killing scores of civilians, murdering and arresting children, and generally refusing to loosen his grip on power, it doesn’t seem true.

Maybe she was actually talking about a “different leader,” after all — one who isn’t Assad, and who actually is a reformer.

As Alana noted, this morning Hillary Clinton said of  Bashar al-Assad, “There is a different leader in Syria now, many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” The generous interpretation is that the secretary of state is grasping for pretexts to explain why Libya but not Syria. Elsewhere she insisted that the U.S. would not act to remove Assad unless it had the backing of an international coalition, a Security Council resolution, a call by the Arab League, and “a condemnation that was universal” – a set of circumstances that has never coalesced in the history of the world, and won’t this time. Russia and China won’t stomach another attack on an arms client, the Arab League isn’t going to countenance a U.S.-led war on a fourth Muslim state, and a universal condemnation wasn’t even achieved before the attack on Libya. So Clinton’s raising the bar pretty high.

That’s domestically useful, since the Obama administration needs to move away from the perception that the president may get the U.S. entangled in any further military operations. Liberals are getting awfully nervous about our newest round of Middle East adventurism, and the relatively small coalition with which the president went to war isn’t reassuring them. The left spent eight years insisting you’d have to be an idiot or a neocon to rush into war unilaterally, and Obama went to war in a week with a crumbling coalition smaller than the Iraq MNF, so there is some tension. Clinton’s recitation of the multilateralist catechism — coalitions, UN backing, Arab imprimatur — is partly meant to assuage leftist fears.

It’s also useful internationally, because the U.S. isn’t going to go to war to unseat Assad. Might as well not raise expectations.

But if she’s already set impossible conditions for intervention, why take the next step and describe Assad as a reformer? It can’t be to draw a distinction between him and Qaddafi, since Qaddafi was hailed as a reformer until he went back to killing people, which is what’s happening with Assad. It can’t be because Assad is sparing Americans during the crackdown and we don’t want to needlessly antagonize him, since the Syrian regime is detaining Americans.

It can’t be because State actually thinks that’s true, can it? Because between killing scores of civilians, murdering and arresting children, and generally refusing to loosen his grip on power, it doesn’t seem true.

Maybe she was actually talking about a “different leader,” after all — one who isn’t Assad, and who actually is a reformer.

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European Left Applying Libya Precedent to Israel, Calling for Military Action

This could not have been more predictable:

The junior partner in the Norwegian government, the Socialist Left Party of Kristin Halvorsen, (Sosialistisk Venstreparti), plans to vote on a measure calling for military action against Israel if it decides to act against the Hamas in Gaza… Here is the less than lucid reasoning behind the motion: The credibility of the world community in its confrontation with the Gadafi regime is undermined when there is no reaction against other states in the region who commit injustices against civil population. The greater world community must therefore also react against Israeli air attacks on the Gaza strip.

Admittedly Norway might be a special case. The country’s level of institutionalized anti-Israel hostility is pathological. Norway is where the Israelis are being evicted from their embassy because there are too many security threats against their building. Those security threats are incited in part by Norwegian authorities who fund anti-Israel hatefests, whether in the form of Israel-hating all-star academic seminars or via blood-soaked exhibits that line up dead Palestinian babies with Nazi-style IDF helmets. The Israelis are trying to relocate elsewhere, but no one is willing to rent land to the country’s favorite Two Minute Hate target. So it’s unclear what’s going to happen.

Norway also has a long tradition of trying to shield genocidal partisans from Israeli retaliation. In 1992 Norwegian UNIFIL troops smuggled Lebanese terrorists away from the IDF, one of many stunts before and after that caused the Israelis to distrust their participation in the international force. The country is also an incubator for creative anti-Israel lawfare, as happened when the Red Cross floated the idea of prosecuting dual Israeli-Norwegian citizens for war crimes. So it’s no surprise that Oslo would be at the forefront of trying to apply the Libya Responsibility-to-Protect precedent to Israel.

But with due deference to Norway’s status as a particularly toxic cesspool of anti-Israel incitement, the idea won’t stay in Oslo. Ambassador Rice and President Obama have succeeded in linking the use of national force with a particularly flexible interpretation of international humanitarianism. Contemporary international humanitarianism, in turn, is a pretext seething activists and government officials use to obsess over Israel. With every juridical tool imaginable already being turned against the Jewish state, it’s inevitable that this newer and more expansive precedent will soon become very popular.

This could not have been more predictable:

The junior partner in the Norwegian government, the Socialist Left Party of Kristin Halvorsen, (Sosialistisk Venstreparti), plans to vote on a measure calling for military action against Israel if it decides to act against the Hamas in Gaza… Here is the less than lucid reasoning behind the motion: The credibility of the world community in its confrontation with the Gadafi regime is undermined when there is no reaction against other states in the region who commit injustices against civil population. The greater world community must therefore also react against Israeli air attacks on the Gaza strip.

Admittedly Norway might be a special case. The country’s level of institutionalized anti-Israel hostility is pathological. Norway is where the Israelis are being evicted from their embassy because there are too many security threats against their building. Those security threats are incited in part by Norwegian authorities who fund anti-Israel hatefests, whether in the form of Israel-hating all-star academic seminars or via blood-soaked exhibits that line up dead Palestinian babies with Nazi-style IDF helmets. The Israelis are trying to relocate elsewhere, but no one is willing to rent land to the country’s favorite Two Minute Hate target. So it’s unclear what’s going to happen.

Norway also has a long tradition of trying to shield genocidal partisans from Israeli retaliation. In 1992 Norwegian UNIFIL troops smuggled Lebanese terrorists away from the IDF, one of many stunts before and after that caused the Israelis to distrust their participation in the international force. The country is also an incubator for creative anti-Israel lawfare, as happened when the Red Cross floated the idea of prosecuting dual Israeli-Norwegian citizens for war crimes. So it’s no surprise that Oslo would be at the forefront of trying to apply the Libya Responsibility-to-Protect precedent to Israel.

But with due deference to Norway’s status as a particularly toxic cesspool of anti-Israel incitement, the idea won’t stay in Oslo. Ambassador Rice and President Obama have succeeded in linking the use of national force with a particularly flexible interpretation of international humanitarianism. Contemporary international humanitarianism, in turn, is a pretext seething activists and government officials use to obsess over Israel. With every juridical tool imaginable already being turned against the Jewish state, it’s inevitable that this newer and more expansive precedent will soon become very popular.

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Why Not Assassinate Qaddafi?

President Obama told lawmakers in a closed session last Friday that the United States won’t kill Qaddafi. Those who embrace the institutions of international justice might applaud, but the reticence of Western officials to consider targeted assassination in their quiver of policy options is misguided. Israel, of course, has utilized targeted assassination: Taking out a terrorist mastermind by predator or bomb obviates the need to send in a massive force and therefore minimizes collateral damage.

A few years ago, in the context of Hezbollah’s war with Israel, I penned a piece re-examining the issue of assassination in American policy. The fact is that in many circumstances assassination is not illegal under international law. The moratorium on assassination is more a matter of choice. Certainly, fear that assassinating foreign leaders might open a Pandora’s Box of retribution is valid, although rogue leaders will try to assassinate Americans anyway. Still, targeted assassinations are not a policy to be embarked upon lightly or for any reason but to prevent (further) war.

When foreign leaders are, like Qaddafi, unelected and unstable dictators and military commanders, they are valid targets. Qaddafi certainly does not deserve immunity which is what, in effect, Obama now promises him. When terrorist leaders spark conflict, they should be held personally accountable. Qaddafi may be willing to fight to the last conscript, but he may be less enthusiastic about risking his own skin.

There is also the question of deterrence. While it’s conventional wisdom in certain circles that Israel lost the 2006 war, I quibble: By trusting in the international community, Israel lost the peace and allowed Hezbollah to rearm. This past fall, however, when I was in Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon and southern Beirut, locals were talking about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon. Ahmadinejad was his bombastic self, but what Lebanese were gossiping about was that Hassan Nasrallah did not take the stage with his patron. Whereas before 2006, the Hezbollah secretary-general appeared in public often, post-2006 he is simply too scared. It’s time to make Qaddafi fear for his life as well. By doing so, we might avoid far greater bloodshed both in Libya now and down the road. The point is not aggression, but deterring war and ultimately saving lives.

President Obama told lawmakers in a closed session last Friday that the United States won’t kill Qaddafi. Those who embrace the institutions of international justice might applaud, but the reticence of Western officials to consider targeted assassination in their quiver of policy options is misguided. Israel, of course, has utilized targeted assassination: Taking out a terrorist mastermind by predator or bomb obviates the need to send in a massive force and therefore minimizes collateral damage.

A few years ago, in the context of Hezbollah’s war with Israel, I penned a piece re-examining the issue of assassination in American policy. The fact is that in many circumstances assassination is not illegal under international law. The moratorium on assassination is more a matter of choice. Certainly, fear that assassinating foreign leaders might open a Pandora’s Box of retribution is valid, although rogue leaders will try to assassinate Americans anyway. Still, targeted assassinations are not a policy to be embarked upon lightly or for any reason but to prevent (further) war.

When foreign leaders are, like Qaddafi, unelected and unstable dictators and military commanders, they are valid targets. Qaddafi certainly does not deserve immunity which is what, in effect, Obama now promises him. When terrorist leaders spark conflict, they should be held personally accountable. Qaddafi may be willing to fight to the last conscript, but he may be less enthusiastic about risking his own skin.

There is also the question of deterrence. While it’s conventional wisdom in certain circles that Israel lost the 2006 war, I quibble: By trusting in the international community, Israel lost the peace and allowed Hezbollah to rearm. This past fall, however, when I was in Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon and southern Beirut, locals were talking about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon. Ahmadinejad was his bombastic self, but what Lebanese were gossiping about was that Hassan Nasrallah did not take the stage with his patron. Whereas before 2006, the Hezbollah secretary-general appeared in public often, post-2006 he is simply too scared. It’s time to make Qaddafi fear for his life as well. By doing so, we might avoid far greater bloodshed both in Libya now and down the road. The point is not aggression, but deterring war and ultimately saving lives.

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Hillary to Syrian Rebels: Drop Dead

Any Syrian rebels looking for a sign of support from the Obama administration got their hopes dashed pretty thoroughly by Hillary Clinton on the morning shows today. Not only has she essentially taken military intervention off the table, but she also referred to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer.”  “There is a different leader in Syria now, many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer,” she said.

Basically the State Department’s position is that Assad really isn’t that bad of a guy, and even if he was, the U.S. and the rest of the world don’t really care enough to intervene.

“If there were a coalition of the international community, if there was the passage of a Security Council resolution, if there were a call by the Arab League, if there was a condemnation that was universal, but that is not going to happen because I don’t think it is yet clear what will occur, what will unfold,” said Clinton, when asked if the U.S. would take military action in Syria.

Assad can rest easy knowing that he can continue to gun down peaceful protesters in the streets with impunity.

Any Syrian rebels looking for a sign of support from the Obama administration got their hopes dashed pretty thoroughly by Hillary Clinton on the morning shows today. Not only has she essentially taken military intervention off the table, but she also referred to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as a “reformer.”  “There is a different leader in Syria now, many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer,” she said.

Basically the State Department’s position is that Assad really isn’t that bad of a guy, and even if he was, the U.S. and the rest of the world don’t really care enough to intervene.

“If there were a coalition of the international community, if there was the passage of a Security Council resolution, if there were a call by the Arab League, if there was a condemnation that was universal, but that is not going to happen because I don’t think it is yet clear what will occur, what will unfold,” said Clinton, when asked if the U.S. would take military action in Syria.

Assad can rest easy knowing that he can continue to gun down peaceful protesters in the streets with impunity.

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Ibish Goes Postal About COMMENTARY

This past week, Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine wrote an article published by Foreign Policy in which he asserted a false moral equivalence between the terrorists of Hamas and Israel’s government, and more than hinted that he believed both were interested in fomenting a new war. He also lamented the prospect that this joint sanguinary exercise might derail the Arab Spring and somehow convince those hoping that Arab tyrannies might be replaced by democracies to forget about reforming their own countries. Here at Contentions, I pointed out that his thesis was preposterous. The belief that the Arabs were so simple as to be beguiled out of hoping for freedom by yet more violence perpetrated by Islamists infantilized them. His assertion of a moral equivalence by Hamas and Israel was not only false; his attempt to blame Israel for Hamas terrorism was part of a long tradition of anti-Zionist propaganda.

Ibish has now responded with a longwinded rant on his Ibishblog that, if anything, makes me think even less of him. Rather than merely attempt to point out the weaknesses of my critique of his piece, Ibish explodes in a 1,800-word temper tantrum (in response to my 600-word post) of name-calling and ad hominem vitriol aimed at both COMMENTARY and me. He concludes by asserting that I’ve called him an anti-Semite even though he admits I never actually wrote that. Read More

This past week, Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine wrote an article published by Foreign Policy in which he asserted a false moral equivalence between the terrorists of Hamas and Israel’s government, and more than hinted that he believed both were interested in fomenting a new war. He also lamented the prospect that this joint sanguinary exercise might derail the Arab Spring and somehow convince those hoping that Arab tyrannies might be replaced by democracies to forget about reforming their own countries. Here at Contentions, I pointed out that his thesis was preposterous. The belief that the Arabs were so simple as to be beguiled out of hoping for freedom by yet more violence perpetrated by Islamists infantilized them. His assertion of a moral equivalence by Hamas and Israel was not only false; his attempt to blame Israel for Hamas terrorism was part of a long tradition of anti-Zionist propaganda.

Ibish has now responded with a longwinded rant on his Ibishblog that, if anything, makes me think even less of him. Rather than merely attempt to point out the weaknesses of my critique of his piece, Ibish explodes in a 1,800-word temper tantrum (in response to my 600-word post) of name-calling and ad hominem vitriol aimed at both COMMENTARY and me. He concludes by asserting that I’ve called him an anti-Semite even though he admits I never actually wrote that.

One imagines that Ibish, who has lately tried to transform himself from an anti-Israel propagandist into someone whom Jews can regard as a moderate, and who has gone on the road with Jewish speakers, is appalled at being called out for his attack on Israel and worries that a close examination of his views will derail his image makeover. Perhaps he believes spewing hate toward COMMENTARY will bolster his image with the Jewish left. In particular, he may think that by claiming to be a victim of a false charge of anti-Semitism, he can inoculate himself from criticism.

This is, obviously, an attempt to distract readers from the arguments at hand. What I did denounce, albeit without resorting to calling him any names, was the attempt to assert a false moral equivalence between the victims of terrorism and those who perpetrate it. Writing a day after a deadly terrorist bombing in Jerusalem and the launching of more missiles and mortars at southern Israel from Gaza, I pointed out that those who do so are blaming the victims. Even before Israel had a chance to react, Ibish was claiming that Israel’s possible counter measures that would seek to defend its people from such terror attacks would be a form of collusion with the terrorists and thus equally reprehensible. This is the same “cycle of violence” canard that Israel’s critics never tire of trotting out at every possible opportunity. For those who have led the charge against Israel over the decades there must be a certain comfort level in retracing their steps on such familiar ground. But to the rest of us, it is just another case of blaming the Jews for being in the way of Arab explosions.

As to his lengthy apologia for his own status as an advocate of carrying on both the struggle for Arab democracy and advocacy for Palestine, I can only wish him good luck with the former since, as is well known, COMMENTARY is an advocate of democracy promotion throughout the globe. Ibish’s inflated sense of his own importance, a major underlying theme of his rant, is of little interest to me and less to our readers. But Ibish’s intemperate riposte reinforces my conclusion about his views when he argues that Israel’s “occupation” is the true source of violence in the conflict rather than the twisted nature of Palestinian political culture. Even more incredibly, he claims that my assertion that both Fatah and Hamas have little interest in peace shows that I don’t know what I’m talking about because “the PLO has doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on achieving a negotiated two-state peace agreement with Israel.”

Perhaps in the Washington circles in which he comfortably travels, this is what passes for penetrating analysis but in less exalted spheres it is what we call hogwash.

The history of the PLO in the last 18 years can be told on one foot: Yasser Arafat used Israel’s offer of peace and grant of control of the West Bank and Gaza to establish a tyrannical and corrupt terrorist regime that clearly never had any intention of ending the conflict with Israel. He flatly refused Israel’s offer of a state in the West Bank and Gaza and part of Jerusalem in 2000 and 2001 and answered it with a terrorist war of attrition that killed over a thousand Jews and far more of his own people — and destroyed their economy. His feckless successor similarly refused an even more generous offer in 2008 and won’t come back to the peace table. Even Israel’s “right-wing” government has accepted a two-state solution and territorial withdrawals. But it is the Palestinians, whose political culture still glorifies violence above all, that don’t appear to want one. The Palestinian Authority is far more likely to make peace with the Islamist thugs of Hamas than it is with Israel. Those Arabs who blame Israel for this state of affairs aren’t being honest with themselves or anyone else.

Ibish can call me any name in the book, put down COMMENTARY as paranoid and tribal or whatever other insult he thinks will ingratiate him to left-wing Jews. But try as he might, Ibish and other apologists for the Palestinian leadership can’t evade these facts. His concerns about the political fate of the Arab world are justified. But if he wants to be considered a moderate by people who are actually paying attention to what he writes, he should leave Israel out of that discussion.

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Five Steps Obama Should Take Now in Syria

President Obama’s dithering response to both Egypt and Libya should be a model for exactly how not to respond to the escalating violence in Syria. There’s no guarantee that immediate U.S. action will forestall a major crackdown by Assad, but there are certain steps the Obama administration should be taking to help prevent that outcome.

In the Washington Post, Elliott Abrams recommends five of them:

  1. Robust vocal condemnation: And not just from the White House, says Abrams. “All those who were taken in by Assad” – such as Sen. John Kerry – “should be loudest in denouncing his bloody repression,” he advises.
  2. Ramp up the pressure on Assad at multilateral forums: Abrams names the UNSC, the UNHRC and the ICC as three possibilities. I’d also add that it might be helpful for the UNSC to expedite the Hariri tribunal, and add Assad to the prosecution list.
  3. Bring in the Arab League: “Libya was expelled; let’s demand that Syria be, too,” writes Abrams.
  4. Push for sanctions from the Europeans: Abrams notes, “U.S. sanctions against Syria are strong and probably cannot be increased effectively now, but the European Union has far more trade and investment.”
  5. Bring home Robert Ford: Abrams writes that the Obama administration “erred badly” by sending an ambassador to Syria. He argues that we should recall Ford and “unveil a hard-hitting political and human rights campaign against a bloody regime whose people want it gone.”

Great recommendations that should be put into action immediately, with the possible exception of recalling Ford. As long as he’s still over there, it might be worth it to try to gain some leverage.

At the Progressive Fix, Josh Block suggests that the Obama administration “should start by dispatching Ambassador Robert Ford to Daraa, where dozens were slaughtered in the streets this week…From Daraa, Ambassador Ford should call for a full UN Security Council investigation into what happened during the recent protests.” The U.S. can always pull him out later, and it might be better at the moment to have him there as an outspoken critic of the regime.

President Obama’s dithering response to both Egypt and Libya should be a model for exactly how not to respond to the escalating violence in Syria. There’s no guarantee that immediate U.S. action will forestall a major crackdown by Assad, but there are certain steps the Obama administration should be taking to help prevent that outcome.

In the Washington Post, Elliott Abrams recommends five of them:

  1. Robust vocal condemnation: And not just from the White House, says Abrams. “All those who were taken in by Assad” – such as Sen. John Kerry – “should be loudest in denouncing his bloody repression,” he advises.
  2. Ramp up the pressure on Assad at multilateral forums: Abrams names the UNSC, the UNHRC and the ICC as three possibilities. I’d also add that it might be helpful for the UNSC to expedite the Hariri tribunal, and add Assad to the prosecution list.
  3. Bring in the Arab League: “Libya was expelled; let’s demand that Syria be, too,” writes Abrams.
  4. Push for sanctions from the Europeans: Abrams notes, “U.S. sanctions against Syria are strong and probably cannot be increased effectively now, but the European Union has far more trade and investment.”
  5. Bring home Robert Ford: Abrams writes that the Obama administration “erred badly” by sending an ambassador to Syria. He argues that we should recall Ford and “unveil a hard-hitting political and human rights campaign against a bloody regime whose people want it gone.”

Great recommendations that should be put into action immediately, with the possible exception of recalling Ford. As long as he’s still over there, it might be worth it to try to gain some leverage.

At the Progressive Fix, Josh Block suggests that the Obama administration “should start by dispatching Ambassador Robert Ford to Daraa, where dozens were slaughtered in the streets this week…From Daraa, Ambassador Ford should call for a full UN Security Council investigation into what happened during the recent protests.” The U.S. can always pull him out later, and it might be better at the moment to have him there as an outspoken critic of the regime.

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Establishment Worry: Syrian Unrest Threatens Mythical Peace Process

Encouraged by the revolts taking place throughout the Arab world many Syrians have taken to the streets hoping to get rid of their own tyrants. Given the history of the Assad regime, it was hardly surprising that the government would crack down hard, killing dozens of protesters. But the reaction among our chattering classes to the latest evidence that the leadership of Bashar Assad was every bit as brutal as that of his father, Hafez, has been a little different from their response to events in Libya. To Washington’s foreign policy “realists” and the professional peace processers in the State Department and think tanks, the spread of the so-called Arab Spring to Damascus has provoked something akin to panic. As a “news analysis” published on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times that was peppered with anonymous quotes from administration officials put it: “the deepening chaos in Syria, in particular, could dash any remaining hopes for a Middle East peace agreement.”

The belief that a Syria run by one of the Assads would ever make peace with Israel was always a myth. Though the Syrian leadership was as corrupt and bloody as any on the planet, members of the Washington foreign policy establishment have always kept the late Hafez Assad and his son and successor Bashar close to their hearts. They dreamed that somehow the Syrians could be tempted to accept a trade of land for peace with Israel. Since, as today’s Times again states, Syria is key to a comprehensive regional peace, it was vital for the United States to keep trying to appease the Assads and to pressure Israel to do the same. Punctuated by only brief interludes of sanity, such as George W. Bush’s efforts to help Lebanon free itself of Syrian occupation, the impulse to think well of the Assads was part of Washington’s peace process obsession for decades. From President Jimmy Carter’s proclamation that Hafez Assad was a “moderate” to the Obama administration’s wooing of Bashar with envoys like George Mitchell and Senator John Kerry (who succeeded the recently defeated Arlen Specter in the role of Syria’s best friend in the Senate), the illusion of a Syrian desire for peace dominated our attitude towards the country. Read More

Encouraged by the revolts taking place throughout the Arab world many Syrians have taken to the streets hoping to get rid of their own tyrants. Given the history of the Assad regime, it was hardly surprising that the government would crack down hard, killing dozens of protesters. But the reaction among our chattering classes to the latest evidence that the leadership of Bashar Assad was every bit as brutal as that of his father, Hafez, has been a little different from their response to events in Libya. To Washington’s foreign policy “realists” and the professional peace processers in the State Department and think tanks, the spread of the so-called Arab Spring to Damascus has provoked something akin to panic. As a “news analysis” published on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times that was peppered with anonymous quotes from administration officials put it: “the deepening chaos in Syria, in particular, could dash any remaining hopes for a Middle East peace agreement.”

The belief that a Syria run by one of the Assads would ever make peace with Israel was always a myth. Though the Syrian leadership was as corrupt and bloody as any on the planet, members of the Washington foreign policy establishment have always kept the late Hafez Assad and his son and successor Bashar close to their hearts. They dreamed that somehow the Syrians could be tempted to accept a trade of land for peace with Israel. Since, as today’s Times again states, Syria is key to a comprehensive regional peace, it was vital for the United States to keep trying to appease the Assads and to pressure Israel to do the same. Punctuated by only brief interludes of sanity, such as George W. Bush’s efforts to help Lebanon free itself of Syrian occupation, the impulse to think well of the Assads was part of Washington’s peace process obsession for decades. From President Jimmy Carter’s proclamation that Hafez Assad was a “moderate” to the Obama administration’s wooing of Bashar with envoys like George Mitchell and Senator John Kerry (who succeeded the recently defeated Arlen Specter in the role of Syria’s best friend in the Senate), the illusion of a Syrian desire for peace dominated our attitude towards the country.

The fact that every such effort failed miserably never penetrated into the consciousness of the peace processers. It never seemed to occur to them that the Assads needed a foreign foe to distract their people from their own tyrannical leaders. The last thing Bashar Assad wanted or needs is peace with Israel — no matter what the Israelis were prepared to give him. Nor was there the least incentive for him to relax his renewed grip on Lebanon or to distance himself from his Iranian ally at a time when Tehran’s foes were in disarray. Though the Assads have always been a primary obstacle to peace, America’s foreign policy establishment worries that the violence in the streets there threatens a process that never had a chance of success.

Indeed, instead of leading an international chorus demanding that Assad step down or contemplating a humanitarian intervention to prevent him from killing more of his people, the best Washington seems capable of with regard to Syria are mild calls for him to stop shooting his people and anonymous quotes lamenting the dictator’s loss of “credibility.”

But there is some hope. At least one veteran peace process advocate is pointing out the possible upside of events in Syria. Martin Indyk, the former American ambassador to Israel and usually the purveyor of the least helpful sort of conventional-wisdom thinking on the region noted to the Times that the end of the Assad regime was very much in America’s interests. Their demise would deprive Iran of a vital ally as well as open up the possibility for reform or at least less repression in Syria — “an unusual confluence of our values and interests.” He’s right, though it would be even more unusual for his fellow foreign policy gurus in the administration and out of it to recognize the truth of this statement.

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About the Libyan Rebel-Al Qaeda Question

There have been a slew of recent reports that some of the Libyan rebels have al Qaeda ties. This seems not only credible, but obvious. Eastern Libya is a known jihadist hot spot. Where Arab governments are repressive and abusive, Islamism and jihad will fill the space occupied by legitimate political opposition in pluralistic systems.

So, yes, some rebels undoubtedly have ties to al Qaeda. And, yes, it is frightening to think that in a slightly tortured mechanical reading of things, this puts us indirectly on the side of al Qaeda. But there is a more important, more legitimate, and more realistic way to view this. Does America want the rebels indebted to the United States for helping them topple Muammar Qaddafi or want them aligning with al Qaeda’s local representatives after we confirm the jihadist narrative that the U.S. does not care about Muslim freedom and only wants to maintain ties with oil-funded dictators?

The answer is obvious. The surest way to turn al Qaeda from a sideline detail to a major player is to abandon the rebels and deliver the country back into Qaddafi’s hands.  It’s become something of a punchline, but the “battle for hearts and minds” is still the most maddeningly important dynamic of the war on terror. That battle is not won by sitting back and letting al Qaeda make its best case to desperate Muslims. Lest we forget: for the two years that Barack Obama implemented his “who are we to judge dictators” policy, support for jihad went up among Muslims in the Middle East. We stay out of things at our own risk.

We can prevent a pro-jihad outcome in Libya, but we must be unapologetic about–and committed to–toppling the Qaddafi regime. As we scramble for an early exit al Qaeda will get stronger and Libyan rebels, like those who aided the downed American pilot last week, will be sure to put their trust elsewhere.

There have been a slew of recent reports that some of the Libyan rebels have al Qaeda ties. This seems not only credible, but obvious. Eastern Libya is a known jihadist hot spot. Where Arab governments are repressive and abusive, Islamism and jihad will fill the space occupied by legitimate political opposition in pluralistic systems.

So, yes, some rebels undoubtedly have ties to al Qaeda. And, yes, it is frightening to think that in a slightly tortured mechanical reading of things, this puts us indirectly on the side of al Qaeda. But there is a more important, more legitimate, and more realistic way to view this. Does America want the rebels indebted to the United States for helping them topple Muammar Qaddafi or want them aligning with al Qaeda’s local representatives after we confirm the jihadist narrative that the U.S. does not care about Muslim freedom and only wants to maintain ties with oil-funded dictators?

The answer is obvious. The surest way to turn al Qaeda from a sideline detail to a major player is to abandon the rebels and deliver the country back into Qaddafi’s hands.  It’s become something of a punchline, but the “battle for hearts and minds” is still the most maddeningly important dynamic of the war on terror. That battle is not won by sitting back and letting al Qaeda make its best case to desperate Muslims. Lest we forget: for the two years that Barack Obama implemented his “who are we to judge dictators” policy, support for jihad went up among Muslims in the Middle East. We stay out of things at our own risk.

We can prevent a pro-jihad outcome in Libya, but we must be unapologetic about–and committed to–toppling the Qaddafi regime. As we scramble for an early exit al Qaeda will get stronger and Libyan rebels, like those who aided the downed American pilot last week, will be sure to put their trust elsewhere.

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Libya: Is it Time to Send in Blackwater?

Qaddafi’s had his own mercenaries for a while, so is it time for the rebels to even things out and bring in some reinforcements from Blackwater? Over at Wired, Spencer Ackerman weighs in on what a mercenary mission in Libya might look like:

One would be military: they’d teach the rebels basic infantry tactics, like how to shoot and maneuver, and offer guidance on logistics and command. …

The other mission would be communication, requiring a two-person team. “Rebels always need better public relations,” the vet says. This wouldn’t just be training in how to shoot video or tweet effectively. They’d bring in satellite phones, mobile connectivity tools, “means to get it done [since] the power of witness is huge.”

There’s no doubt that there could be some benefits to the mercenary plan. For one, the rebels are sorely lacking in arms and military training. Our marines are already stretched, and the American people probably aren’t gunning for yet another ground-war. A group like Blackwater would not only provide the necessary training, but it could also serve as a watchdog on any weaponry provided to the anti-Qaddafi forces. There have been reports that al Qaeda has already seized some of the military supplies from the rebels and smuggled it to safehouses, and an infusion of vigilant security contractors could reduce the chances of this reoccurring. Combined, these assets would go a long way in helping to topple Qaddafi.

A potential downside: There are reports that some of the fighters joining the rebels have al Qaeda ties. If this is accurate, then giving these combatants military training and access to weapons could obviously cause problems down the road.

Qaddafi’s had his own mercenaries for a while, so is it time for the rebels to even things out and bring in some reinforcements from Blackwater? Over at Wired, Spencer Ackerman weighs in on what a mercenary mission in Libya might look like:

One would be military: they’d teach the rebels basic infantry tactics, like how to shoot and maneuver, and offer guidance on logistics and command. …

The other mission would be communication, requiring a two-person team. “Rebels always need better public relations,” the vet says. This wouldn’t just be training in how to shoot video or tweet effectively. They’d bring in satellite phones, mobile connectivity tools, “means to get it done [since] the power of witness is huge.”

There’s no doubt that there could be some benefits to the mercenary plan. For one, the rebels are sorely lacking in arms and military training. Our marines are already stretched, and the American people probably aren’t gunning for yet another ground-war. A group like Blackwater would not only provide the necessary training, but it could also serve as a watchdog on any weaponry provided to the anti-Qaddafi forces. There have been reports that al Qaeda has already seized some of the military supplies from the rebels and smuggled it to safehouses, and an infusion of vigilant security contractors could reduce the chances of this reoccurring. Combined, these assets would go a long way in helping to topple Qaddafi.

A potential downside: There are reports that some of the fighters joining the rebels have al Qaeda ties. If this is accurate, then giving these combatants military training and access to weapons could obviously cause problems down the road.

Read Less

The Flawed Assumption Undermining Obama’s Foreign Policy

Whether in Afghanistan (from where I write this post), Iraq, or Libya, there is a single, corrosive assumption underlying President Obama’s foreign policy: By threatening to abdicate leadership, the United States can force allies and regional partners to act responsibly.

Hence, the White House believes it can pressure Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to crackdown on corruption and focus on good governance if only it signals to Karzai that American support is finite, hence the 2014 deadline. Likewise, the White House believes that withdrawing from Iraq not only militarily but also in terms of post-withdrawal partnerships will force Iraqi politicians to cease squabbling and unite to build a brighter future. With regard to Libya, deferring American leadership will force the Arab League to step up to the plate.

Obama may see himself as an international president, but this core assumption rests upon myopic and ironic arrogance which assumes that American relations are essentially bilateral so that when America threatens to withdraw support, our partners will have no other countries to turn to.  Obama’s strategy team represents Washington navel-gazing at its worst. There are other players in the sandbox. After Obama announced America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Karzai simply shifted his embrace to Pakistan, and redoubled his efforts to court Iran and China.

When I was in Najaf, Iraq this past December, I met with three Grand Ayatollahs. They all had very different styles and personalities, but each made reference to the elder President Bush’s “abandonment” of the Shi‘ites during the 1991 uprising. That event drove Iraqi Shi‘ites into the embrace of Iran despite Iraqi resentment of Iran’s paternalism and their distrust of Khomeini’s clerical theories. Traditionally, the grand ayatollahs’ eldest sons act as their de facto political agents. Each of the ones I saw re-emphasized this point: Rather than empower Iraq, Obama’s policy was empowering Iran.

With regard to Libya, Obama’s refusal to lead has raised the price of victory: His refusal to recognize that war is as much psychological as military has convinced Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi that he can simply wait out international action. Creating space for NATO to squabble (a certainty with European countries that refuse to tie influence to military investment) simply empowers Russia, China, and the Arab League.

Our commander in chief will fail repeatedly until he recognizes that leadership and multilateral equality are mutually exclusive. When America vacates its leadership, responsible pro-Western forces do not fill the vacuum; without exception, our adversaries will.

Whether in Afghanistan (from where I write this post), Iraq, or Libya, there is a single, corrosive assumption underlying President Obama’s foreign policy: By threatening to abdicate leadership, the United States can force allies and regional partners to act responsibly.

Hence, the White House believes it can pressure Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to crackdown on corruption and focus on good governance if only it signals to Karzai that American support is finite, hence the 2014 deadline. Likewise, the White House believes that withdrawing from Iraq not only militarily but also in terms of post-withdrawal partnerships will force Iraqi politicians to cease squabbling and unite to build a brighter future. With regard to Libya, deferring American leadership will force the Arab League to step up to the plate.

Obama may see himself as an international president, but this core assumption rests upon myopic and ironic arrogance which assumes that American relations are essentially bilateral so that when America threatens to withdraw support, our partners will have no other countries to turn to.  Obama’s strategy team represents Washington navel-gazing at its worst. There are other players in the sandbox. After Obama announced America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Karzai simply shifted his embrace to Pakistan, and redoubled his efforts to court Iran and China.

When I was in Najaf, Iraq this past December, I met with three Grand Ayatollahs. They all had very different styles and personalities, but each made reference to the elder President Bush’s “abandonment” of the Shi‘ites during the 1991 uprising. That event drove Iraqi Shi‘ites into the embrace of Iran despite Iraqi resentment of Iran’s paternalism and their distrust of Khomeini’s clerical theories. Traditionally, the grand ayatollahs’ eldest sons act as their de facto political agents. Each of the ones I saw re-emphasized this point: Rather than empower Iraq, Obama’s policy was empowering Iran.

With regard to Libya, Obama’s refusal to lead has raised the price of victory: His refusal to recognize that war is as much psychological as military has convinced Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi that he can simply wait out international action. Creating space for NATO to squabble (a certainty with European countries that refuse to tie influence to military investment) simply empowers Russia, China, and the Arab League.

Our commander in chief will fail repeatedly until he recognizes that leadership and multilateral equality are mutually exclusive. When America vacates its leadership, responsible pro-Western forces do not fill the vacuum; without exception, our adversaries will.

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The Return of Anarchism

The most noteworthy detail of the UK riots Omri mentions is the organized contingent of anarchists and their commitment to large-scale theatrical destruction. This follows last year’s dramatic uptick in anarchist attacks across Europe and in cyberspace.  It is a good time to mention that I wrote an article entitled  “The Return of Anarchism” in the March issue of COMMENTARY, as yesterday’s chaos seems to fit with my take on things. Yesterday’s Daily Mail reports, “Anarchists today broke away from one of the largest protests Britain has ever seen to bring chaos to the streets of London.” In “The Return of Anarchism,” I write:

The best way to think of today’s Euro-anarchists is as a small contingent of rioters who have broken away from the crowd and recognized that asking a failed statist system for more statism is nonsensical. Action aimed at bringing down a failed system at least has a certain logic to it, however dark and unrealistic. Anarchism is the only place for the left to go when statism fails.

In America, a lack of faith in government is a foundational political principle. In Europe, it amounts to a continent-wide identity crisis.  Expect even more nihilism from anarchists in the months ahead, as European governments enact the austerity measures they decided on last year.

The most noteworthy detail of the UK riots Omri mentions is the organized contingent of anarchists and their commitment to large-scale theatrical destruction. This follows last year’s dramatic uptick in anarchist attacks across Europe and in cyberspace.  It is a good time to mention that I wrote an article entitled  “The Return of Anarchism” in the March issue of COMMENTARY, as yesterday’s chaos seems to fit with my take on things. Yesterday’s Daily Mail reports, “Anarchists today broke away from one of the largest protests Britain has ever seen to bring chaos to the streets of London.” In “The Return of Anarchism,” I write:

The best way to think of today’s Euro-anarchists is as a small contingent of rioters who have broken away from the crowd and recognized that asking a failed statist system for more statism is nonsensical. Action aimed at bringing down a failed system at least has a certain logic to it, however dark and unrealistic. Anarchism is the only place for the left to go when statism fails.

In America, a lack of faith in government is a foundational political principle. In Europe, it amounts to a continent-wide identity crisis.  Expect even more nihilism from anarchists in the months ahead, as European governments enact the austerity measures they decided on last year.

Read Less

British Media Predictably Minimizes Violent Anti-Austerity Riots

This is becoming kind of a thing. The British government slashes benefits in a desperate attempt to move toward fiscal solvency. Then British citizens angrily take to the streets because they think that “stuff costs money” is a capitalist fiction invented to disturb their ataraxic post-national torpor. Riots break out and the UK’s cradle-to-grave welfare recipients try to wreck London, defacing and destroying landmarks and symbols of British life and democracy.

The last riot was over an increase in student tuition. Protesters wrecked Parliament Square, attacked the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and dropped a fire extinguisher from a seventh-floor rooftop onto officers standing below. Rather than hold the children responsible for their temper tantrums, bien pensant papers like the Guardian castigated London police for “criminalizing” the poor dears. Read More

This is becoming kind of a thing. The British government slashes benefits in a desperate attempt to move toward fiscal solvency. Then British citizens angrily take to the streets because they think that “stuff costs money” is a capitalist fiction invented to disturb their ataraxic post-national torpor. Riots break out and the UK’s cradle-to-grave welfare recipients try to wreck London, defacing and destroying landmarks and symbols of British life and democracy.

The last riot was over an increase in student tuition. Protesters wrecked Parliament Square, attacked the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and dropped a fire extinguisher from a seventh-floor rooftop onto officers standing below. Rather than hold the children responsible for their temper tantrums, bien pensant papers like the Guardian castigated London police for “criminalizing” the poor dears.

Somehow minimizing and excusing violent behavior failed to dissuade protesters from doing the same thing again, this time in response to public service cuts.

The BBC does want you to know, though, that the rioting was limited to “small groups.” The groups were large enough to attack dozens of landmarks, wreck even more shops, make a run at the Olympic clock, lay siege to the Ritz hotel with paint and smokebombs, and occupy a department store with thousands of activists. They were large enough to injure dozens of people and force hundreds of arrests. But let’s call them small, because that sounds better:

Labour leader Ed Miliband addressed crowds in Hyde Park and the main march organised by the Trades Union Congress passed off peacefully. But small groups attacked shops and banks with a stand-off in Piccadilly. There have been 214 arrests and 66 people injured, including 13 police. Ministers say the cuts are necessary to get the public finances in order.

Unions can’t decide whether to avail themselves of the BBC’s assist and distance themselves from the violence, or whether they want to own it. The Daily Mail got one of the UK’s most powerful union bosses boasting about the thuggish behavior, but the quote has since been removed from the write-up. Luckily the original article was saved:

Activists’ websites had shown how they organised a ‘huge explosion of class hatred and anger’, specifically targeting banks and shops on Oxford Street. Trade union leaders, who put on 600 coaches and nine trains to ferry protesters to the capital, insisted they only wanted a ‘safe, well-stewarded and family-friendly event’. But Len McCluskey, leader of the country’s biggest union, ramped up the rhetoric, saying anger towards cuts in public spending ‘needs to find a release’.

Translation: “That’s a nice city you’ve got there, it’d be a shame if anything happened to it.” And people say that international labor solidarity is dead.

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