Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 29, 2011

Media Changes and Media Matters

At Slate, Dave Weigel analyzes the changing focus of Media Matters, which he says is a response to attacks from conservative groups:

Conservatives had always claimed that Media Matters was an attack-dog group, not an accuracy group—so it became an attack group. Conservatives claimed that the group was funded by George Soros when it wasn’t, so in October 2010 it accepted $1 million from Soros, who asked that Media Matters “hold Fox News accountable.” Slowly, Media Matters became what the right claimed it had always been. It was like watching Bruce Banner get picked on until his eyes turned green and he started smashing things.

Maybe. Read More

At Slate, Dave Weigel analyzes the changing focus of Media Matters, which he says is a response to attacks from conservative groups:

Conservatives had always claimed that Media Matters was an attack-dog group, not an accuracy group—so it became an attack group. Conservatives claimed that the group was funded by George Soros when it wasn’t, so in October 2010 it accepted $1 million from Soros, who asked that Media Matters “hold Fox News accountable.” Slowly, Media Matters became what the right claimed it had always been. It was like watching Bruce Banner get picked on until his eyes turned green and he started smashing things.

Maybe. But the majority of the blame can’t fall on conservatives. The changing media environment has made many of the old media watchdog tactics irrelevant. These organizations were created to point out bias or misinformation on the networks and in major newspapers, but now it’s the outrageous comments from left-wing (or right-wing) opinion shows that get the most attention.

Peddling in outrage is what Media Matters has done best – most of its coverage is devoted to catching right-wing pundits and radio hosts saying the sort of things that get liberals incensed. And what’s that anger necessarily channeled toward? Not toward writing a letter to Rush Limbaugh’s producer, or asking Glenn Beck to issue a correction, or lobbying Fox News to provide more balance to its nightly line-up. These things would all be pretty pointless anyway, and liberals can already get news coverage more to their liking from MSNBC or the Huffington Post.

The anger is channeled toward getting Beck fired or taking down Fox News. Because even though Media Matters readers don’t watch these shows, others still do – and that’s unacceptable.

Not to mention, announcing “guerilla warfare” and commercial “sabotage” against Fox News is the kind of thing that pulls in donors. And opposition research – at least if it dredges up anything of interest – leads to the sort of stories that pull in the web traffic. So while the Media Matters campaign against Fox is far from noble, it’s not a surprise that it’s going in that direction.

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What Do You Mean by Democracy?

For those who still remember Roger Cohen’s shilling for the despicable anti-Semitic Iranian regime in early 2009, his current stand as a champion of democracy in the Islamic world still chafes. But ever since the crackdown in Tehran after the stolen presidential election that year, he has been a consistent critic of the tyrannical regimes that dominate the Middle East. However his animus toward Israel — the conceit behind his original dishonest claim that the Ahmadinejad government was actually benign — still informs his writing.

Hence although his ringing manifesto “Arabs Will Be Free” in today’s New York Times was ostensibly about the cause of freedom in the Arab world that he says won’t be denied, it paired a call for the end of the Assad regime in Syria as well as other autocracies with support for Hezbollah. What, you may ask, does the Iranian-supported Lebanese terrorist movement have to do with the Arab Spring? Isn’t Hezbollah the main ally of two of the most repressive regimes in the region: Iran and Syria? Read More

For those who still remember Roger Cohen’s shilling for the despicable anti-Semitic Iranian regime in early 2009, his current stand as a champion of democracy in the Islamic world still chafes. But ever since the crackdown in Tehran after the stolen presidential election that year, he has been a consistent critic of the tyrannical regimes that dominate the Middle East. However his animus toward Israel — the conceit behind his original dishonest claim that the Ahmadinejad government was actually benign — still informs his writing.

Hence although his ringing manifesto “Arabs Will Be Free” in today’s New York Times was ostensibly about the cause of freedom in the Arab world that he says won’t be denied, it paired a call for the end of the Assad regime in Syria as well as other autocracies with support for Hezbollah. What, you may ask, does the Iranian-supported Lebanese terrorist movement have to do with the Arab Spring? Isn’t Hezbollah the main ally of two of the most repressive regimes in the region: Iran and Syria?

As far as Cohen is concerned, we need to forget about that salient fact as well as the way Hezbollah has co-opted Lebanon and turned its south into a military base bristling with missiles pointed at Israel. That’s because he considers Lebanon to be one of the three democracies in the region, along with Turkey and Israel. That is an absurd assertion but not the only astounding thing in his column.

Lebanon may have elections and a parliament but the idea that the Lebanese government is anything like a functioning democracy is pretty silly. Its government is, even when it is functioning properly, divided strictly along sectarian lines. The parties there are not competing for votes on the basis of ideas but on that of ethnic and religious identity as well as their respective military power. Hence, Hezbollah’s current strength. But that’s okay with Cohen, who takes comfort in that fact that this hasn’t led to war. At least not yet.

Cohen believes that the West must “talk” to Hezbollah and in order to justify this stand, he compares the Shiite extremist group to Shas, Israel’s Sephardic religious party. While I agree that the power that Shas has in Israel’s truly democratic system is troubling, there is no comparison between the two. Shas may be a corrupt and cynical organization with no interest in anything but accruing patronage, but it is not a terrorist movement. Its leaders have been both thieves and fools, but they have murdered no one. Their ethnic appeal is based in a desire for representation, and not as a military organization.

He goes on to broaden the analogy with Hezbollah to Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. All are, he says, problems, like Shas. But these are very different problems. Turkey’s ruling Islamic party is moving that formerly secular and Western-oriented country in the wrong direction but, unlike the Brotherhood in Egypt and Hezbollah, it actually has adapted itself to democracy and is peaceful — even if worrisome.

The trouble with Cohen’s advocacy for democracy is that he is incapable of drawing the one meaningful distinction between groups bent on Islamist domination such as the Brotherhood and Hezbollah and a genuinely democratic though deeply flawed party like Shas. If the Arab spring winds up bringing parties such as these Islamist groups to power then the result will be the same kind of democracy that Cohen once lauded in Iran.

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“Selective Indignation”

There was nothing particularly wrong about Sen. Dick Durbin holding a hearing today on anti-Muslim bigotry. It’s just that nobody at the hearing was able to give a particularly compelling reason for it.

Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera testified about “a growing menace” of “rising” bigotry against Muslim Americans. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez spoke of the “steady stream of violence” against the Islamic community. The hearing was heavy on anecdotes and light on statistics.

There’s no denying that there have been contemptible attacks against Muslims in this country. But the idea that the number of incidents are “increasing” simply hasn’t been supported by federal hate crime reports. Since the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes immediately after 9/11, the number of these crimes has actually decreased.

Further, the most recent FBI statistics – which reported that 70 percent of hate crimes are committed against Jews, compared to 9 percent against Muslims – also had some confused about the point of the hearing. “I’m a bit perplexed by the focus,” said Sen. Jon Kyl. “The point is, all bigotry is to be condemned…Selective indignation is not helpful.”

But the fact that the vast majority of hate crimes are committed against Jews seemed to be lost on others at the hearing.“The headwinds of intolerance these [Muslim] communities face today are no different from the bigotry confronted by groups throughout our history — by Catholics, by Jews,” said Perez. “With each new wave of intolerance, our nation has responded – passing new civil rights laws, striking down old laws that sanctioned discrimination, and eventually recognizing the value of diverse communities and embracing those previously shunned.”

Or if all else fails, the nation forgets about it. Perez may believe that discrimination against Jews has been banished by laws and diversity and embracement, but the statistics tell a different story.

There was nothing particularly wrong about Sen. Dick Durbin holding a hearing today on anti-Muslim bigotry. It’s just that nobody at the hearing was able to give a particularly compelling reason for it.

Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera testified about “a growing menace” of “rising” bigotry against Muslim Americans. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez spoke of the “steady stream of violence” against the Islamic community. The hearing was heavy on anecdotes and light on statistics.

There’s no denying that there have been contemptible attacks against Muslims in this country. But the idea that the number of incidents are “increasing” simply hasn’t been supported by federal hate crime reports. Since the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes immediately after 9/11, the number of these crimes has actually decreased.

Further, the most recent FBI statistics – which reported that 70 percent of hate crimes are committed against Jews, compared to 9 percent against Muslims – also had some confused about the point of the hearing. “I’m a bit perplexed by the focus,” said Sen. Jon Kyl. “The point is, all bigotry is to be condemned…Selective indignation is not helpful.”

But the fact that the vast majority of hate crimes are committed against Jews seemed to be lost on others at the hearing.“The headwinds of intolerance these [Muslim] communities face today are no different from the bigotry confronted by groups throughout our history — by Catholics, by Jews,” said Perez. “With each new wave of intolerance, our nation has responded – passing new civil rights laws, striking down old laws that sanctioned discrimination, and eventually recognizing the value of diverse communities and embracing those previously shunned.”

Or if all else fails, the nation forgets about it. Perez may believe that discrimination against Jews has been banished by laws and diversity and embracement, but the statistics tell a different story.

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Replacing Principles with Coalitions

In his speech last night President Obama – after laying out in detail the “brutal repression” of the Qaddafi regime — said, “Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”

This remains the core defect with Obama’s approach to Libya. The president cares more about means than he does about ends, more about the process (keeping the coalition from splintering) than removing Qaddafi from power. The danger, of course, is that Qaddafi may not be dislodged by non-military means. In that case, what then? Do we continue to act as a shield for the rebels while denying them the sword? Do we allow a stalemate to continue ad infinitum? Is it a greater moral and geopolitical achievement if Qaddafi remains in power than if we aid rebels in order to topple him from power? The answer, I think, is clearly no. But to use military means to put an end to Qaddafi’s reign of terror would exceed the mandate of the coalition, and that is a red line Obama is unwilling to cross. Read More

In his speech last night President Obama – after laying out in detail the “brutal repression” of the Qaddafi regime — said, “Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”

This remains the core defect with Obama’s approach to Libya. The president cares more about means than he does about ends, more about the process (keeping the coalition from splintering) than removing Qaddafi from power. The danger, of course, is that Qaddafi may not be dislodged by non-military means. In that case, what then? Do we continue to act as a shield for the rebels while denying them the sword? Do we allow a stalemate to continue ad infinitum? Is it a greater moral and geopolitical achievement if Qaddafi remains in power than if we aid rebels in order to topple him from power? The answer, I think, is clearly no. But to use military means to put an end to Qaddafi’s reign of terror would exceed the mandate of the coalition, and that is a red line Obama is unwilling to cross.

To understand the animating principle of Obama’s approach, here’s a thought experiment: Would Obama have stopped the massacre of Benghazi if he didn’t have the approval of the UN and other international organizations? The answer is almost certainly no, since Obama was following rather than leading others. The imperative to act in Libya came not from Obama but from others. For the first time in history, the French, the UN, and the Arab League demonstrated greater moral clarity than did the United States. They paved the way for acting; if they had not, the slaughter of Benghazi would have commenced.

If I’m correct, then President Obama’s humanitarian concerns were subordinate to multilateralism. If the two are coincident, fine; there are certainly advantages to assembling a coalition as large as, say, the one the United States did against Saddam Hussein. The danger, though, is if a damaging predicate is established. For example, if large-scale humanitarian harm is done by inaction, and inaction is the result of the inability of the “international community” to agree on a course of action, then Obama seems inclined to make the moral good secondary to honoring the wishes of an institution, the United Nations, whose Human Rights Council has included Libya.

I understand, by the way, the benefits (optical and otherwise) of winning UN approval for war — so long as the support for the UN is a means rather than an end. After all, countless just wars have been fought and countless innocent lives have been saved without the blessing of the United Nations. The danger for the president is that the coalition is determining the mission rather than the mission determining the coalition. That is where we are in Libya, with the coalition mandate declaring Qaddafi to be off-limits. Libya and the world would be better off with Qaddafi out of power, Obama insists, but the UN mandate supersedes everything else.

That is dangerous moral ground to be on. It may be that Qaddafi is removed from power by non-military means. But if not, it is hard to see how Operation Odyssey Dawn can be judged a success. Qaddafi, having remained in power after the president of the United States declared he “must go,” would likely emerge more dangerous and predatory than before. America’s reputation will certainly be damaged. And the principle Obama has embraced in Libya – the UN primus inter pares – may well injure the nation he was elected to lead.

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Inappropriate?

One of stranger moments of Sen. Dick Durbin’s hearing on “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims,” came today when Sen. Jon Kyl’s began questioning Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, about whether she would condemn death threats against other minorities – and Khera seemed to try to filibuster out of answering the question:

Kyl: I wonder if you’ve made any public pronouncement or statement condemning those religious leaders who’ve employed violent or hateful rhetoric or promoted hateful views of other’s religious groups. Have you done that or has your website done that?

Khera: Well let me, maybe by way of background, just clarify…

Kyl: As a former staffer you know that my time is very limited. I don’t have a lot for background. I have three quick questions here, have you done that? Read More

One of stranger moments of Sen. Dick Durbin’s hearing on “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims,” came today when Sen. Jon Kyl’s began questioning Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, about whether she would condemn death threats against other minorities – and Khera seemed to try to filibuster out of answering the question:

Kyl: I wonder if you’ve made any public pronouncement or statement condemning those religious leaders who’ve employed violent or hateful rhetoric or promoted hateful views of other’s religious groups. Have you done that or has your website done that?

Khera: Well let me, maybe by way of background, just clarify…

Kyl: As a former staffer you know that my time is very limited. I don’t have a lot for background. I have three quick questions here, have you done that?

Khera: Well let me just clarify Sen. Kyl, my organization’s work is focused on protecting and upholding our constitutional values.

Kyl: So you haven’t condemned the hateful speech of those who have criticized others in the way that I mentioned then.

Khera: I guess I would have to know more specifically which particular case you’re talking about.

Kyl: Let me just ask you this. Would you today criticize threats of death or physical harm directed at writers or commentators who’ve criticized Islamic extremism? You would condemn that today, would you not?

Khera: I think we have, in our country, very cherished fidelity to the first amendment and that includes the freedom of speech –

Kyl: I’m not questioning whether people have the right to speak. The question is whether you would agree that that speech is helpful or hurtful, whether you would condemn it or be neutral about it.

Khera: Those who would threaten to kill somebody because of their political views, religious views – that’s inappropriate.

Inappropriate? For someone whose job is to combat religious discrimination, that seems like somewhat of an understatement. It contrasted with Khera’s passionate denunciation of discrimination against Muslims during her testimony, which she called “a growing menace to the safety and social fabric of our nation,” that is “so vile,” and “has real life and death consequences for Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian Americans and their families.”

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A ‘Flicker’ of Al Qaeda Among the Rebels

Reports of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Taliban fighters among the Libyan rebels continue to be worrisome:

Adm. James Stavridis, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told Congress that officials have seen “flickers” of possible al Qaeda and Hezbollah among the rebel forces, but at this point no evidence there are significant numbers within the group’s leadership.

Some political and media figures have been jumping-to-conclusions about the extent of al Qaeda’s involvement, which isn’t helpful. It’s too early to say whether it’s going to pose a significant problem.

But even if al Qaeda involvement is very small, it’s likely to play a role in whether or not we arm the rebels (which the U.S. still hasn’t ruled out). If the NATO forces do decide to supply the fighters with weapons, it might be necessary to have our military on the ground to make sure the ammunitions aren’t falling into the wrong hands. But since Barack Obama has been strongly opposed to sending in ground forces, this possibility may not even be on the table.

Reports of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Taliban fighters among the Libyan rebels continue to be worrisome:

Adm. James Stavridis, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, told Congress that officials have seen “flickers” of possible al Qaeda and Hezbollah among the rebel forces, but at this point no evidence there are significant numbers within the group’s leadership.

Some political and media figures have been jumping-to-conclusions about the extent of al Qaeda’s involvement, which isn’t helpful. It’s too early to say whether it’s going to pose a significant problem.

But even if al Qaeda involvement is very small, it’s likely to play a role in whether or not we arm the rebels (which the U.S. still hasn’t ruled out). If the NATO forces do decide to supply the fighters with weapons, it might be necessary to have our military on the ground to make sure the ammunitions aren’t falling into the wrong hands. But since Barack Obama has been strongly opposed to sending in ground forces, this possibility may not even be on the table.

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Durbin Revives Myth of Post 9-11 Backlash

There were good reasons to be skeptical of the reasons behind Senator Dick Durbin’s decision to hold hearings today that were supposedly intended to reinforce our right to freedom of religion. The proceedings were clearly intended as an answer to the House hearings conducted by Representative Peter King about the threat from Muslim extremism. The idea that there was something illegitimate about a probe that sought to examine the ideological foundations of the largest source of international and domestic terrorism was absurd. For as much as all Congressional hearings tend to be excuses for politicians to grandstand and rarely lead to anything productive, this was surely a topic that deserved attention.

But, as many of us feared, the rationale behind the criticism of King was not to do with his threatening anyone’s right of free expression or religion. He did nothing of the kind. Rather, it was that focusing on the real threat from Islamists and their fellow travelers distracts attention from another narrative that radical groups purporting to represent American Muslims have gone all out to sell to Americans: the myth that there has been a post 9/11 backlash against followers of Islam. Read More

There were good reasons to be skeptical of the reasons behind Senator Dick Durbin’s decision to hold hearings today that were supposedly intended to reinforce our right to freedom of religion. The proceedings were clearly intended as an answer to the House hearings conducted by Representative Peter King about the threat from Muslim extremism. The idea that there was something illegitimate about a probe that sought to examine the ideological foundations of the largest source of international and domestic terrorism was absurd. For as much as all Congressional hearings tend to be excuses for politicians to grandstand and rarely lead to anything productive, this was surely a topic that deserved attention.

But, as many of us feared, the rationale behind the criticism of King was not to do with his threatening anyone’s right of free expression or religion. He did nothing of the kind. Rather, it was that focusing on the real threat from Islamists and their fellow travelers distracts attention from another narrative that radical groups purporting to represent American Muslims have gone all out to sell to Americans: the myth that there has been a post 9/11 backlash against followers of Islam.

As I wrote in COMMENTARY last fall, the notion that Muslims have been subjected to a backlash of discrimination or violence since 9/11 is made of whole cloth. No such backlash took place. Thus it was discouraging to hear Durbin in his opening statement at his hearing speaking of this as if it were an unquestioned reality.  Rather than being, Durbin quoted Attorney General Eric Holder as saying, “the civil rights issue of our time,” it is a big lie and perhaps one of the greatest urban legends.

One of the most troubling aspects of the way this lie has been propagated is the willingness of politicians like Durbin to engage with radical groups who seek to distract America’s attention from genuine threats to our security. As Steven Emerson writes today on the website of his Investigative Project on Terrorism, Durbin has recently embraced the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization founded as a front group for supporters of the Hamas terrorist group. One of the witnesses he called, Farhana Khera, like CAIR, touts herself as a civil rights advocate, but her work has been focused on hampering FBI investigations of terror suspects in much the same way CAIR attempts to do.

The problem here is not just that Durbin is wrong about this mythical backlash but that he is providing a forum for groups that have used that myth for their own purposes. CAIR and other groups don’t want just to change the post-9/11 narrative from one of the effort to counter the threat from Islamism to a false tale of downtrodden Muslims suffering discrimination. Their goal is to hamper the FBI and to make it so fearful of charges of anti-Muslim bias as to make investigations of the radicalism fueling terror in some mosques impossible. If, with Durbin’s help, they succeed in this effort, the price America may pay for this false narrative will be heavy indeed.

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Department of Cognitive Dissonance

A great deal has already been said about President Obama’s Libya speech last night. He has been rightly praised for taking action (albeit belated), and it was about time that he gave Americans a clear rationale for that action. His attempt to launch such a war while claiming that the object of the fighting, Qaddafi’s removal, is something that America won’t pursue is both illogical and counter-productive. But Obama’s biggest problem, and that of many of his supporters, is that Libya is a war of choice and enunciating a doctrine for where and when the United States would engage in such a war inevitably invites comparison to America’s last war of choice in Iraq. And it was in drawing a clear distinction between Iraq and Libya that he was most passionate.

Obama’s identity as a national political figure is rooted in his opposition to the Iraq war. But as president, he has found himself not only finishing that successful fight but also intensifying the war in Afghanistan and now using force in Libya. Obama was right to do both of these things but he has spent so much time denying that his actions were in any way comparable to President Bush’s conduct that such comparisons are inevitable. While many Americans are eager to persuade themselves that what Obama is doing is radically different than what Bush did, it is obvious that these distinctions are more a matter of political posturing than anything else. Read More

A great deal has already been said about President Obama’s Libya speech last night. He has been rightly praised for taking action (albeit belated), and it was about time that he gave Americans a clear rationale for that action. His attempt to launch such a war while claiming that the object of the fighting, Qaddafi’s removal, is something that America won’t pursue is both illogical and counter-productive. But Obama’s biggest problem, and that of many of his supporters, is that Libya is a war of choice and enunciating a doctrine for where and when the United States would engage in such a war inevitably invites comparison to America’s last war of choice in Iraq. And it was in drawing a clear distinction between Iraq and Libya that he was most passionate.

Obama’s identity as a national political figure is rooted in his opposition to the Iraq war. But as president, he has found himself not only finishing that successful fight but also intensifying the war in Afghanistan and now using force in Libya. Obama was right to do both of these things but he has spent so much time denying that his actions were in any way comparable to President Bush’s conduct that such comparisons are inevitable. While many Americans are eager to persuade themselves that what Obama is doing is radically different than what Bush did, it is obvious that these distinctions are more a matter of political posturing than anything else.

One of Obama’s cheerleaders, Jim Arkedis attempted to articulate this Obama Doctrine today at Foreign Policy. But, like the president, Arkedis falls short. His piece claims that there is a “world of difference” between Obama’s “liberal interventionism” and Bush’s “neoconservativism.” What exactly are the differences?

Arkedis begins by claiming that liberal interventionists eschew pure power and see their adventures as a “holistic” enterprise that incorporates all aspects of power in which the use force is a last resort. But outside of the new age reference to holism, there is really no difference between the sort of “nation building” that Bush tried and what Arkedis proposes. He talks about the need for coalitions but fails to note that the coalition fighting against Qaddafi is smaller and even less diverse than Bush’s coalition of the willing. Arkedis talks about promoting democracy but says that neocons, who were widely despised for advocating that, don’t count because of Bush’s alleged torture policy and the fact that the weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq.

The great irony here is that the only reason Libya doesn’t currently have a WMD program is that in the wake of America’s successful deposition of Saddam Hussein, a newly fearful Qaddafi surrendered his program. Which means that Obama’s supposedly pure liberal intervention is only possible because of Bush’s supposedly illegitimate actions.

Like Iraq, our decision to use force against Qaddafi is rooted in our humanitarian principles (Saddam Hussein, after all, murdered far more people than Qaddafi ever will) and our strategic interests. Almost against his own will, the president is doing the right thing in this intervention but it is churlish and downright dishonest of him to continue his Bush bashing. What comes through most clearly from both the president and his supporters is that they are suffering from a terrible case of cognitive dissonance about Iraq and Libya. Let’s hope the side effects of this malady don’t wind up creating problems that will make the much easier task of ridding Libya of its dictator into another Middle East quagmire.

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Syria: Bye-Bye Emergency Law?

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, following the same formulaic path as the recently-toppled dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, has fired his entire government. There are now hints that he may lift the country’s emergency law, which has been in place for nearly half a century.

But let’s look at what the removal of the law would actually mean. It’s a symbolic victory that could energize the Syrian protesters – but from a practical standpoint, it would probably mean very little. It’s simply another concession that Assad hopes will help him keep his grip on power.

Rescinding the law would reinstate “about 40 items in the constitution which were frozen because of it, like freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate,” Ayman Abdel-Nour, a Syrian activist living in Dubai, told Time magazine.

But, as the past week has shown, Syrians are already demonstrating and speaking freely. The problem is the government crackdowns on these protesters – which likely wouldn’t end with the lifting of the law. There is already a separate legislative decree shielding members of both the intelligence service and security forces from prosecution. So while abandoning the emergency law certainly isn’t a bad thing, it’s not going to be enough to save Assad from the justified wrath of his people.

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, following the same formulaic path as the recently-toppled dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, has fired his entire government. There are now hints that he may lift the country’s emergency law, which has been in place for nearly half a century.

But let’s look at what the removal of the law would actually mean. It’s a symbolic victory that could energize the Syrian protesters – but from a practical standpoint, it would probably mean very little. It’s simply another concession that Assad hopes will help him keep his grip on power.

Rescinding the law would reinstate “about 40 items in the constitution which were frozen because of it, like freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate,” Ayman Abdel-Nour, a Syrian activist living in Dubai, told Time magazine.

But, as the past week has shown, Syrians are already demonstrating and speaking freely. The problem is the government crackdowns on these protesters – which likely wouldn’t end with the lifting of the law. There is already a separate legislative decree shielding members of both the intelligence service and security forces from prosecution. So while abandoning the emergency law certainly isn’t a bad thing, it’s not going to be enough to save Assad from the justified wrath of his people.

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Is the U.S. Decreasing its Role in Libya?

Not exactly. In fact, according to the New York Times, we may be expanding our role, at least in terms of air power and intelligence gathering:

From the air, the United States is supplying much more firepower than any other country. The allies have fired nearly 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles since the campaign started on March 19, all but 7 from the United States. …

Besides taking part in the airstrikes, the American military is taking the lead role in gathering intelligence, intercepting Libyan radio transmissions, for instance, and using the information to orchestrate attacks against the Libyan forces on the ground. And over the weekend the Air Force quietly sent three of its most fearsome weapons to the operation.

As the AP points out, Barack Obama’s reassurance in his speech yesterday that NATO has taken over the mission from the U.S. doesn’t actually mean much in practice. “In transferring command and control to NATO, the U.S. is turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically,” AP reports. “In essence, the U.S. runs the show that is taking over running the show.” The U.S. will reportedly still be supplying much of the most-needed weaponry and military equipment, including attack and surveillance planes, intelligence equipment, and refueling tankers.

According to the AP, 22 percent of NATO’s budget is provided by the U.S. – which by far exceeds the contributions of any other country. And while the operations in Libya are being run by a Canadian general, he will answer to an American admiral. The American admiral will, in turn, answer to the supreme NATO commander, also an America. In other words, this will be a coalition-led war in name only – which is a good thing. Otherwise, the allied forces would have to settle for using less effective equipment, which would make the operation less likely to succeed. And we would also have to allow a foreign country to control our troops, which is unthinkable.

Not exactly. In fact, according to the New York Times, we may be expanding our role, at least in terms of air power and intelligence gathering:

From the air, the United States is supplying much more firepower than any other country. The allies have fired nearly 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles since the campaign started on March 19, all but 7 from the United States. …

Besides taking part in the airstrikes, the American military is taking the lead role in gathering intelligence, intercepting Libyan radio transmissions, for instance, and using the information to orchestrate attacks against the Libyan forces on the ground. And over the weekend the Air Force quietly sent three of its most fearsome weapons to the operation.

As the AP points out, Barack Obama’s reassurance in his speech yesterday that NATO has taken over the mission from the U.S. doesn’t actually mean much in practice. “In transferring command and control to NATO, the U.S. is turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically,” AP reports. “In essence, the U.S. runs the show that is taking over running the show.” The U.S. will reportedly still be supplying much of the most-needed weaponry and military equipment, including attack and surveillance planes, intelligence equipment, and refueling tankers.

According to the AP, 22 percent of NATO’s budget is provided by the U.S. – which by far exceeds the contributions of any other country. And while the operations in Libya are being run by a Canadian general, he will answer to an American admiral. The American admiral will, in turn, answer to the supreme NATO commander, also an America. In other words, this will be a coalition-led war in name only – which is a good thing. Otherwise, the allied forces would have to settle for using less effective equipment, which would make the operation less likely to succeed. And we would also have to allow a foreign country to control our troops, which is unthinkable.

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Should Muammar Qaddafi Join “The Elders”?

“The Elders” are a self-proclaimed group of self-proclaimed wise men and women, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Irish President Mary Robinson, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. While “The Elders” say they “offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity,” they are better known for espousing moral equivalence and legitimizing terrorists.

While “The Elders” have jumped on the bandwagon to demand that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi must step down, here’s a modest, tongue-in-cheek proposal: Why not invite him to join The Elders? After all, he’d fit right in. As the UN director for peacekeeping, Annan stepped aside to enable the Rwandan genocide to commence, so it’s debatable that conscience is a disqualifying factor. After rising to the secretary-generalship of the UN, Annan turned a blind eye to the oil-for-food program’s massive corruption—and, indeed, may have even participated in it, and so Qaddafi’s embezzlement shouldn’t be a disqualifying factor. Read More

“The Elders” are a self-proclaimed group of self-proclaimed wise men and women, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Irish President Mary Robinson, and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. While “The Elders” say they “offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity,” they are better known for espousing moral equivalence and legitimizing terrorists.

While “The Elders” have jumped on the bandwagon to demand that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi must step down, here’s a modest, tongue-in-cheek proposal: Why not invite him to join The Elders? After all, he’d fit right in. As the UN director for peacekeeping, Annan stepped aside to enable the Rwandan genocide to commence, so it’s debatable that conscience is a disqualifying factor. After rising to the secretary-generalship of the UN, Annan turned a blind eye to the oil-for-food program’s massive corruption—and, indeed, may have even participated in it, and so Qaddafi’s embezzlement shouldn’t be a disqualifying factor.

As for Mary Robinson, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, she oversaw a decision to condone suicide bombings as a legitimate means of resistance, so certainly Qaddafi’s own embrace of terrorism won’t be an impediment. As President of the European Union, she turned a blind eye toward terrorism finance, so no problems there, either. And the anti-Semitic rhetoric spewed at Robinson’s Durban Conference really made Qaddafi look like an amateur hatemonger, so maybe Robinson can help him form an NGO and offer him private lessons in more sophisticated engines of hate.

It’s been more than 30 years since Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy lobbied for Qaddafi’s regime, so certainly President Carter can swap fond remembrances of his late brother with Muammar. While Carter feigned embarrassment at his brother’s antics, secret State Department cables published by the Washington Post reported on August 1, 1980, tell a different story. “There has been no negative fallout from Billy Carter’s visit,” the State Department reported, “In fact, on the local scene we would rate it a very positive event which has opened some doors for this embassy.” Regardless, Carter has seldom met a dictator he couldn’t embrace, so Qaddafi should not worry about the former American president’s veto.

As for Desmond Tutu: He has demanded the United States apologize for unseating Saddam, whose slaughter of innocents makes Qaddafi look like an amateur, so he certainly shouldn’t object to the mad colonel. Perhaps together they can commiserate about the pernicious influence of world Jewry.

Of course, any group arrogant and self-righteous enough to appoint themselves “The Elders “should be laughed off the world stage. I guess that’s another reason why Qaddafi would fit right in.

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Time to Kill Libya’s Iraq-Era Foreign Fighters?

Six years ago the American intelligence community scrambled to determine if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s newly-elected president, had been among the radical students who had seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, ultimately holding 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. To me, the larger question was not whether Ahmadinejad was guilty but why, a quarter century later, the American intelligence community had not used its considerable resources to comb through myriad photographs and identify every single hostage-taker. It is astounding to realize that because the CIA is so inefficient, those Iranians who broke every diplomatic protocol, abused America’s representatives, and burned its flags might receive visas to visit Disneyland, or benefit from American taxpayer money to participate in State Department-sponsored trips to the United States.

Alas, we might be in the midst of another intelligence failure. Byron York called my attention to the fact that among Libya’s rebels are many of the terrorists who infiltrated into Iraq to support terrorism against American forces participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. While at West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center, Brian Fishman (now at New America Foundation), penned the best analysis of the Sinjar documents, the foreign fighter records seized by American forces in 2007. He found that Libyans represented the second largest national foreign fighter component. Many blew themselves up, but others returned to Libya, in areas now controlled by the rebels. If President Obama truly wanted to disincentivize terrorism, he should task American Special Forces to track down these Libyan terrorists and kill them. If the CIA does not know the names and whereabouts of the Libyans who hunted Americans in Iraq, then heads should roll at Langley. Any terrorist who took up arms against America should not sleep well, ever again.

Six years ago the American intelligence community scrambled to determine if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s newly-elected president, had been among the radical students who had seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, ultimately holding 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. To me, the larger question was not whether Ahmadinejad was guilty but why, a quarter century later, the American intelligence community had not used its considerable resources to comb through myriad photographs and identify every single hostage-taker. It is astounding to realize that because the CIA is so inefficient, those Iranians who broke every diplomatic protocol, abused America’s representatives, and burned its flags might receive visas to visit Disneyland, or benefit from American taxpayer money to participate in State Department-sponsored trips to the United States.

Alas, we might be in the midst of another intelligence failure. Byron York called my attention to the fact that among Libya’s rebels are many of the terrorists who infiltrated into Iraq to support terrorism against American forces participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom. While at West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center, Brian Fishman (now at New America Foundation), penned the best analysis of the Sinjar documents, the foreign fighter records seized by American forces in 2007. He found that Libyans represented the second largest national foreign fighter component. Many blew themselves up, but others returned to Libya, in areas now controlled by the rebels. If President Obama truly wanted to disincentivize terrorism, he should task American Special Forces to track down these Libyan terrorists and kill them. If the CIA does not know the names and whereabouts of the Libyans who hunted Americans in Iraq, then heads should roll at Langley. Any terrorist who took up arms against America should not sleep well, ever again.

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How I Won the Kinetic Military Action

President Obama’s speech last night was fine as far as it went, which was not very far: Qaddafi was about to wipe out a lot of citizens, so we had to act fast; a lot of people told us we could do it, so we did it; we avoided a humanitarian crisis – mission accomplished; now others can take over.

But the crisis ten days ago was actually not a humanitarian crisis but a strategic one: you don’t declare Qaddafi “must go” (for violating the Obama Doctrine that leaders who wage war on their people lose legitimacy), declare that his violence is “unacceptable” — and then stand by doing nothing as he wipes out all opposition. It sends a very bad signal to other dictators and – much worse – makes other countries whose policies you have also declared “unacceptable” conclude you will eventually accept them too.

One wishes his speech had omitted his now familiar trademarks: (1) the false false-choice (some say we should do nothing; others say we should do everything; but I say …); (2) the prosaic let-me-be-clear moment; and (3) the relentless use of the vertical pronoun:

I am grateful … I made it clear … I said he needed to step down … I ordered … At my direction, America led an effort … I refused to let that happen … I authorized … And tonight I can report … I said … I am fully confident … I want to be clear … I refused to wait … I will never minimize … I am convinced … I, along with many other world leaders … I assigned our forces … I will never hesitate … As I have said before … etc.

The action – approved at the last possible moment, following a painful period of dithering, avoiding what would have been a foreign policy humiliation – was better than the speech, and deserves support. But the KMA has not yet been won, and will not be until regime change is achieved.

President Obama’s speech last night was fine as far as it went, which was not very far: Qaddafi was about to wipe out a lot of citizens, so we had to act fast; a lot of people told us we could do it, so we did it; we avoided a humanitarian crisis – mission accomplished; now others can take over.

But the crisis ten days ago was actually not a humanitarian crisis but a strategic one: you don’t declare Qaddafi “must go” (for violating the Obama Doctrine that leaders who wage war on their people lose legitimacy), declare that his violence is “unacceptable” — and then stand by doing nothing as he wipes out all opposition. It sends a very bad signal to other dictators and – much worse – makes other countries whose policies you have also declared “unacceptable” conclude you will eventually accept them too.

One wishes his speech had omitted his now familiar trademarks: (1) the false false-choice (some say we should do nothing; others say we should do everything; but I say …); (2) the prosaic let-me-be-clear moment; and (3) the relentless use of the vertical pronoun:

I am grateful … I made it clear … I said he needed to step down … I ordered … At my direction, America led an effort … I refused to let that happen … I authorized … And tonight I can report … I said … I am fully confident … I want to be clear … I refused to wait … I will never minimize … I am convinced … I, along with many other world leaders … I assigned our forces … I will never hesitate … As I have said before … etc.

The action – approved at the last possible moment, following a painful period of dithering, avoiding what would have been a foreign policy humiliation – was better than the speech, and deserves support. But the KMA has not yet been won, and will not be until regime change is achieved.

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