Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 24, 2011

Human Rights Watch: Impose Sanctions on Syria

President Obama took his time responding to the latest bloodbath in Syria. Yesterday he finally issued a strong condemnation, but as Max noted, he’s still given no indication that the U.S. will take any action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

It’s reached the point where even Human Rights Watch (HRW) is getting fed up with the president’s inaction. The organization released a statement today, urging the Obama administration and the EU to start imposing further sanctions.

“After Friday’s carnage, it is no longer enough to condemn the violence,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Faced with the Syrian authorities’ ‘shoot to kill’ strategy, the international community needs to impose sanctions on those ordering the shooting of protesters.”

HRW is calling for a travel ban on Syrian officials, a freeze on their foreign assets and a UN investigation. Others have been making these same recommendations for weeks, without any luck. But maybe the fact that this is now coming from a group like HRW—which has influence on the left—will finally push the president to take action.

President Obama took his time responding to the latest bloodbath in Syria. Yesterday he finally issued a strong condemnation, but as Max noted, he’s still given no indication that the U.S. will take any action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

It’s reached the point where even Human Rights Watch (HRW) is getting fed up with the president’s inaction. The organization released a statement today, urging the Obama administration and the EU to start imposing further sanctions.

“After Friday’s carnage, it is no longer enough to condemn the violence,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Faced with the Syrian authorities’ ‘shoot to kill’ strategy, the international community needs to impose sanctions on those ordering the shooting of protesters.”

HRW is calling for a travel ban on Syrian officials, a freeze on their foreign assets and a UN investigation. Others have been making these same recommendations for weeks, without any luck. But maybe the fact that this is now coming from a group like HRW—which has influence on the left—will finally push the president to take action.

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How Dearborn Turned Terry Jones into a Free Speech Martyr

Terry Jones’s planned protest outside a Dearborn mosque might have gone forward without much notice, except for the fact that Michigan prosecutors tried to stop it. In the process, they ended up turning a bigoted fool with a paltry following into a First Amendment crusader.

A jury determined yesterday that the anti-Islam protest was likely to incite violence and breach the peace. Jones was ordered to submit a $1 “peace bond,” and was jailed when he refused to pay it. In other words, he was locked up for a non-crime that he hadn’t even committed yet. And not only has the ruling generated sympathy for Jones, but it’s also likely to give him a public platform to preach his massage. As the Washington Post reported:

Jones said he is returning to Dearborn on Friday, and will hold a demonstration at 5 p.m. outside Dearborn City Hall. He said he wants to stay within the confines of the law. Jones said the issue has shifted from “radical Islam” to a battle to [protect] the First Amendment. “We’re getting support from all around America,” Jones said.

Imagine if Dearborn had just let Jones and his 10 followers wave around some protest signs for a couple of hours. The whole thing would have been over by now. Now it looks as if we’re all condemned to sit through another long round of media coverage, with Jones filing a lawsuit against the county.

But there may still be a positive outcome from this episode, if it ends up prompting a serious national conversation about free speech and Islam. Canada and European countries have been struggling with this for years, and it’s probably about time for us to confront the issue as well.

Terry Jones’s planned protest outside a Dearborn mosque might have gone forward without much notice, except for the fact that Michigan prosecutors tried to stop it. In the process, they ended up turning a bigoted fool with a paltry following into a First Amendment crusader.

A jury determined yesterday that the anti-Islam protest was likely to incite violence and breach the peace. Jones was ordered to submit a $1 “peace bond,” and was jailed when he refused to pay it. In other words, he was locked up for a non-crime that he hadn’t even committed yet. And not only has the ruling generated sympathy for Jones, but it’s also likely to give him a public platform to preach his massage. As the Washington Post reported:

Jones said he is returning to Dearborn on Friday, and will hold a demonstration at 5 p.m. outside Dearborn City Hall. He said he wants to stay within the confines of the law. Jones said the issue has shifted from “radical Islam” to a battle to [protect] the First Amendment. “We’re getting support from all around America,” Jones said.

Imagine if Dearborn had just let Jones and his 10 followers wave around some protest signs for a couple of hours. The whole thing would have been over by now. Now it looks as if we’re all condemned to sit through another long round of media coverage, with Jones filing a lawsuit against the county.

But there may still be a positive outcome from this episode, if it ends up prompting a serious national conversation about free speech and Islam. Canada and European countries have been struggling with this for years, and it’s probably about time for us to confront the issue as well.

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Murder at Tomb Illustrates the Future of Jewish Holy Sites in a Palestinian State

Today’s attack on Jewish worshippers at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus needs to be understood as something more significant than just another unfortunate instance of violence between Jews and Arabs. It is nothing less than a warning of what will happen once Palestinians achieve full sovereignty, as the Obama administration appears to be demanding, over all of the West Bank.

The incident occurred when a group of religious Jews, members of the Breslov hasidic sect visited the Jewish holy site this morning unaccompanied by Israeli soldiers. The tomb is located in the city of Nablus, a place that is completely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Twice a month Israel coordinates a visit by those Israelis who wish to pray there but religious Jews believe, not without reason, that restricting Jewish worship at the site in this manner is wrong and often attempt to go on their own. But rather than merely accommodate the presence of a few Jews in an Arab city, the Palestinian Authority police attacked the group that arrived today, killing one and wounding two others.

That this crime was committed by a member of the Palestinian Authority’s own security forces — which have been trained and vouched for by the PA’s foreign donors such as the United States — is telling. Rather than keep the peace and root out the terrorists who are a threat to the safety of both Jews and Arabs, the PA police have yet again proven themselves to be a group that is willing to commit acts of terrorism themselves. There is, after all, a precedent for the PA police to act in this manner around Joseph’s Tomb. In 1996, six Israeli soldiers were killed during a Palestinian attack on the site. Four years later at the start of the second intifada in September 2000, PA policemen stormed the holy site that was at that time the home of a yeshiva. An Israeli soldier was killed in the assault after which a Palestinian mob sacked the Tomb, demolishing it and desecrating holy books and Torah scrolls.

Since then, the Tomb has been partially restored but Palestinian Authority leaders have continued to deny Judaism’s connection to the site in spite of the obviously Jewish nature of this historical site (for example, the Tomb is oriented north to south which is inconsistent with Muslim tombs that are located north of Mecca).

While foreign observers routinely refer to the PA and its security forces as being committed to peace, this incident illustrates the problem that Israel faces. With the PA itself continuing to allow its media to foment hatred of Jews and Israelis, it is little surprise that their policeman use the weapons they have been given to commit acts of violence rather than prevent them. The Jewish man who was murdered today happened to be the nephew of Limor Livnat, a minister in Israel’s current government. At his funeral she spoke the truth when she said that “He was murdered simply because he was Jewish.”

But his death is a tragedy that should remind us that future atrocities await Israel if the PA is allowed to become fully sovereign. It should be remembered that if the Obama administration has its way and Israel is forced to retreat to the 1949 armistice lines, even more Jewish holy places would be placed under their control. The PA’s clear policy is to deny the Jewish nature of virtually every sacred place in the country including the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem. Those who believe that the PA can be trusted to guarantee free access and the right to worship in those areas where their police have unfettered control are kidding themselves. After all, although the West Bank is routinely referred to as being under Israeli occupation, today’s incident in Nablus highlights the fact that the PA police can murder Jews with impunity there with Israel being reduced to merely complaining about the crime after the fact.

Those who advocate the creation of more such no-go zones are setting Israel up not for a future of peace but one in which the Jewish heritage of the land will be erased and where blood will be spilled with impunity.

Today’s attack on Jewish worshippers at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus needs to be understood as something more significant than just another unfortunate instance of violence between Jews and Arabs. It is nothing less than a warning of what will happen once Palestinians achieve full sovereignty, as the Obama administration appears to be demanding, over all of the West Bank.

The incident occurred when a group of religious Jews, members of the Breslov hasidic sect visited the Jewish holy site this morning unaccompanied by Israeli soldiers. The tomb is located in the city of Nablus, a place that is completely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Twice a month Israel coordinates a visit by those Israelis who wish to pray there but religious Jews believe, not without reason, that restricting Jewish worship at the site in this manner is wrong and often attempt to go on their own. But rather than merely accommodate the presence of a few Jews in an Arab city, the Palestinian Authority police attacked the group that arrived today, killing one and wounding two others.

That this crime was committed by a member of the Palestinian Authority’s own security forces — which have been trained and vouched for by the PA’s foreign donors such as the United States — is telling. Rather than keep the peace and root out the terrorists who are a threat to the safety of both Jews and Arabs, the PA police have yet again proven themselves to be a group that is willing to commit acts of terrorism themselves. There is, after all, a precedent for the PA police to act in this manner around Joseph’s Tomb. In 1996, six Israeli soldiers were killed during a Palestinian attack on the site. Four years later at the start of the second intifada in September 2000, PA policemen stormed the holy site that was at that time the home of a yeshiva. An Israeli soldier was killed in the assault after which a Palestinian mob sacked the Tomb, demolishing it and desecrating holy books and Torah scrolls.

Since then, the Tomb has been partially restored but Palestinian Authority leaders have continued to deny Judaism’s connection to the site in spite of the obviously Jewish nature of this historical site (for example, the Tomb is oriented north to south which is inconsistent with Muslim tombs that are located north of Mecca).

While foreign observers routinely refer to the PA and its security forces as being committed to peace, this incident illustrates the problem that Israel faces. With the PA itself continuing to allow its media to foment hatred of Jews and Israelis, it is little surprise that their policeman use the weapons they have been given to commit acts of violence rather than prevent them. The Jewish man who was murdered today happened to be the nephew of Limor Livnat, a minister in Israel’s current government. At his funeral she spoke the truth when she said that “He was murdered simply because he was Jewish.”

But his death is a tragedy that should remind us that future atrocities await Israel if the PA is allowed to become fully sovereign. It should be remembered that if the Obama administration has its way and Israel is forced to retreat to the 1949 armistice lines, even more Jewish holy places would be placed under their control. The PA’s clear policy is to deny the Jewish nature of virtually every sacred place in the country including the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem. Those who believe that the PA can be trusted to guarantee free access and the right to worship in those areas where their police have unfettered control are kidding themselves. After all, although the West Bank is routinely referred to as being under Israeli occupation, today’s incident in Nablus highlights the fact that the PA police can murder Jews with impunity there with Israel being reduced to merely complaining about the crime after the fact.

Those who advocate the creation of more such no-go zones are setting Israel up not for a future of peace but one in which the Jewish heritage of the land will be erased and where blood will be spilled with impunity.

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The White House and Guantanamo

Today the Washington Post published a lengthy investigation into administration’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay, and its findings won’t be a surprise to anyone who was skeptical of Obama’s vow to shutter the detention center.

Obama’s plan ran into the predictable obstacles. From a practical standpoint, many Guantanamo detainees simply couldn’t be prosecuted because much of the evidence against them couldn’t be introduced at trial. There were also the exorbitant security costs of trying high-profile detainees in civilian courts. And then there was the growing political opposition in congress.

According to the Post, the White House never really put up a fight:

The one theme that repeatedly emerged in interviews was a belief that the White House never pressed hard enough on what was supposed to be a signature goal. Although the closure of Guantanamo Bay was announced in an executive order, which Obama signed on Jan. 22, 2009, the fanfare never translated into the kind of political push necessary to sustain the policy. “Vulnerable senators weren’t going out on a limb and risk being Willie Hortonized on Gitmo when the White House, with the most to lose, wasn’t even twisting arms,” said a senior Democratic aide whose boss was one of 50 Democrats to vote in 2009 against funding to close Guantanamo.

There are two possible conclusions that can be drawn from this. The first is that Obama never really believed his own overblown rhetoric about Gitmo being a major national security threat. If that’s the case, it explains why he never really pushed to close the facility. The second is that he does believe the detention center is a huge risk, but decided that his own political future (and the future of his party) was more important.

Both scenarios indicate enormous political cowardice and a disregard for the American people. Obama’s reelection campaign will soon be out in full force, and he’ll probably be making a lot of new promises—but it’s work remembering the ones he didn’t keep, and maybe never intended to.

Today the Washington Post published a lengthy investigation into administration’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay, and its findings won’t be a surprise to anyone who was skeptical of Obama’s vow to shutter the detention center.

Obama’s plan ran into the predictable obstacles. From a practical standpoint, many Guantanamo detainees simply couldn’t be prosecuted because much of the evidence against them couldn’t be introduced at trial. There were also the exorbitant security costs of trying high-profile detainees in civilian courts. And then there was the growing political opposition in congress.

According to the Post, the White House never really put up a fight:

The one theme that repeatedly emerged in interviews was a belief that the White House never pressed hard enough on what was supposed to be a signature goal. Although the closure of Guantanamo Bay was announced in an executive order, which Obama signed on Jan. 22, 2009, the fanfare never translated into the kind of political push necessary to sustain the policy. “Vulnerable senators weren’t going out on a limb and risk being Willie Hortonized on Gitmo when the White House, with the most to lose, wasn’t even twisting arms,” said a senior Democratic aide whose boss was one of 50 Democrats to vote in 2009 against funding to close Guantanamo.

There are two possible conclusions that can be drawn from this. The first is that Obama never really believed his own overblown rhetoric about Gitmo being a major national security threat. If that’s the case, it explains why he never really pushed to close the facility. The second is that he does believe the detention center is a huge risk, but decided that his own political future (and the future of his party) was more important.

Both scenarios indicate enormous political cowardice and a disregard for the American people. Obama’s reelection campaign will soon be out in full force, and he’ll probably be making a lot of new promises—but it’s work remembering the ones he didn’t keep, and maybe never intended to.

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Follow McCain’s Advice, or Let the War Drag On

The fact that Libyan rebels have managed to drive Qaddafi’s forces out of the major town of Misrata, which is much closer to Tripoli than to Benghazi, shows that their cause is far from hopeless. They displayed considerable valor and dedication—as well as skill at guerrilla tactics—in driving the army out.

Now there is all the more reason to do more to help them prevail. What more? It is hard to better the list produced by Sen. John McCain during his recent, courageous visit to Benghazi:

First, I would encourage every nation, especially the United States, to recognize the Transitional National Council as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people. . . . Second, governments that have frozen assets of the Qaddafi regime should release some of that money to the Transitional National Council so that they can sustain, improve, and expand their capacity to govern justly. . . . Third, we need to urgently step up the NATO air campaign to protect Libyan civilians, especially in Misurata. We desperately need more close air-support and precision strike assets—such as A-10s and AC-130s. . . . Finally, responsible nations need to provide the military forces of the Transitional National Council with every appropriate means of assistance to enable them to create conditions on the ground that increase the pressure on Qaddafi to leave power. That includes command and control support, battlefield intelligence, training, and weapons.

If President Obama were to implement the measures that McCain is calling for, we would have a good chance of breaking the stalemate and toppling Qaddafi. If he doesn’t, then odds are that the war will drag on, notwithstanding the recent rebel success, leaving Qaddafi free to continue terrorizing his own people.

The fact that Libyan rebels have managed to drive Qaddafi’s forces out of the major town of Misrata, which is much closer to Tripoli than to Benghazi, shows that their cause is far from hopeless. They displayed considerable valor and dedication—as well as skill at guerrilla tactics—in driving the army out.

Now there is all the more reason to do more to help them prevail. What more? It is hard to better the list produced by Sen. John McCain during his recent, courageous visit to Benghazi:

First, I would encourage every nation, especially the United States, to recognize the Transitional National Council as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people. . . . Second, governments that have frozen assets of the Qaddafi regime should release some of that money to the Transitional National Council so that they can sustain, improve, and expand their capacity to govern justly. . . . Third, we need to urgently step up the NATO air campaign to protect Libyan civilians, especially in Misurata. We desperately need more close air-support and precision strike assets—such as A-10s and AC-130s. . . . Finally, responsible nations need to provide the military forces of the Transitional National Council with every appropriate means of assistance to enable them to create conditions on the ground that increase the pressure on Qaddafi to leave power. That includes command and control support, battlefield intelligence, training, and weapons.

If President Obama were to implement the measures that McCain is calling for, we would have a good chance of breaking the stalemate and toppling Qaddafi. If he doesn’t, then odds are that the war will drag on, notwithstanding the recent rebel success, leaving Qaddafi free to continue terrorizing his own people.

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“All the Assad Posters Are Gone”

I just got off the phone with a contact who drove from Syria to Jordan—a frightening trip, he said, as he got pulled out at a checkpoint by masked security officers and barely talked his way out of a far worse situation. The road to Jordan and all the small towns along the way are normally dotted with smiling portraits of Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria. Every single mural has been taken down or defaced, my contact said. What’s going on now in Syria appears to be full-scale rebellion.

Tragically, it is a rebellion in a vacuum. If the media catalyzed revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, Bashar al-Assad is determined to ensure they fail to do the same in Syria. In the last few days, journalists from BBC, Reuters, and elsewhere have been arrested and expelled. It seems that Assad is preparing to do something he prefers the world not see. Something tells me what he plans to do will not justify Secretary of State Clinton’s description of him as a reformer.

I just got off the phone with a contact who drove from Syria to Jordan—a frightening trip, he said, as he got pulled out at a checkpoint by masked security officers and barely talked his way out of a far worse situation. The road to Jordan and all the small towns along the way are normally dotted with smiling portraits of Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria. Every single mural has been taken down or defaced, my contact said. What’s going on now in Syria appears to be full-scale rebellion.

Tragically, it is a rebellion in a vacuum. If the media catalyzed revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, Bashar al-Assad is determined to ensure they fail to do the same in Syria. In the last few days, journalists from BBC, Reuters, and elsewhere have been arrested and expelled. It seems that Assad is preparing to do something he prefers the world not see. Something tells me what he plans to do will not justify Secretary of State Clinton’s description of him as a reformer.

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Syrian Protesters Shot Down while Shouting “We Are Peaceful”

A friend sent me a link to this clip on YouTube, which apparently shows Syrian security forces shooting down peaceful demonstrators. It takes a strong stomach to watch this—it is not for the faint of heart. The sights of protesters, some of them little more than children, awash in blood is beyond revolting. I admit that I stopped watching about halfway through when I saw images of a man with the lower half of his face shot away. Yes, this is horrible stuff: be warned. There is a big difference between seeing Hollywood special effects and seeing the real thing.

But it is worth seeing at least a few seconds to get a flavor of what is going on in Syria. What makes it truly wrenching is that all the way the people are shouting “Salmiyeh,” which, my friend tells me, is Arabic for “peaceful.” It’s a way of calling, “We are peaceful” or “We are unarmed.” But of course Bashar Assad’s goons don’t care about that. Imagine the kind of monsters who open fire on peaceful demonstrators.

Given that the U.S. launched a military intervention in Libya to prevent such slaughter from occurring in Benghazi, what, I wonder, will we do about these atrocities in Syria where more than a hundred people have been killed in this weekend alone? Again no one is advocating military intervention, but why aren’t we leading an international push to sanction the Assad regime, to freeze its assets, and to bring war crimes charges against its leaders? Why, at the very least, aren’t we recalling our ambassador from Damascus? How can President Obama champion the rights of Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans—and turn his back on the people of Syria who are in open revolt against one of the region’s most anti-American dictators? Perhaps if the president watches this video clip, he will be spurred into action.

A friend sent me a link to this clip on YouTube, which apparently shows Syrian security forces shooting down peaceful demonstrators. It takes a strong stomach to watch this—it is not for the faint of heart. The sights of protesters, some of them little more than children, awash in blood is beyond revolting. I admit that I stopped watching about halfway through when I saw images of a man with the lower half of his face shot away. Yes, this is horrible stuff: be warned. There is a big difference between seeing Hollywood special effects and seeing the real thing.

But it is worth seeing at least a few seconds to get a flavor of what is going on in Syria. What makes it truly wrenching is that all the way the people are shouting “Salmiyeh,” which, my friend tells me, is Arabic for “peaceful.” It’s a way of calling, “We are peaceful” or “We are unarmed.” But of course Bashar Assad’s goons don’t care about that. Imagine the kind of monsters who open fire on peaceful demonstrators.

Given that the U.S. launched a military intervention in Libya to prevent such slaughter from occurring in Benghazi, what, I wonder, will we do about these atrocities in Syria where more than a hundred people have been killed in this weekend alone? Again no one is advocating military intervention, but why aren’t we leading an international push to sanction the Assad regime, to freeze its assets, and to bring war crimes charges against its leaders? Why, at the very least, aren’t we recalling our ambassador from Damascus? How can President Obama champion the rights of Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans—and turn his back on the people of Syria who are in open revolt against one of the region’s most anti-American dictators? Perhaps if the president watches this video clip, he will be spurred into action.

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David Ignatius Should Hit the History Books (or at least Google)

The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius writes about the ongoing Kurdish protests against Kurdish President Masud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan boss (and Iraqi President) Jalal Talabani’s corruption and nepotism, and hits many of the same points that have been covered here.

But he also includes this howler: “The possibility that a Kurdish leader might seek help from Iraqi Arabs would have been unimaginable several years ago.” Perhaps Ignatius might want to remember just 15 years ago, when Masud Barzani, in order to preserve his power during the intra-Kurdish civil war, invited Saddam Hussein’s hated Republican Guards into Erbil to prop him up and expel Talabani.

Remember, this was just eight years after Saddam Hussein had been using chemical weapons against Barzani’s fellow Kurds. Barzani may embrace the rhetoric of Kurdish nationalism, but when push comes to shove, he showed 15 years ago that he’d rather work with a genocidal dictator than give up any personal power.

The Washington Post columnist David Ignatius writes about the ongoing Kurdish protests against Kurdish President Masud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan boss (and Iraqi President) Jalal Talabani’s corruption and nepotism, and hits many of the same points that have been covered here.

But he also includes this howler: “The possibility that a Kurdish leader might seek help from Iraqi Arabs would have been unimaginable several years ago.” Perhaps Ignatius might want to remember just 15 years ago, when Masud Barzani, in order to preserve his power during the intra-Kurdish civil war, invited Saddam Hussein’s hated Republican Guards into Erbil to prop him up and expel Talabani.

Remember, this was just eight years after Saddam Hussein had been using chemical weapons against Barzani’s fellow Kurds. Barzani may embrace the rhetoric of Kurdish nationalism, but when push comes to shove, he showed 15 years ago that he’d rather work with a genocidal dictator than give up any personal power.

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