Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 21, 2011

Obama’s Mania for the “Peace Process”

Boy, did President Obama screw up! He gave two-thirds of a great address on Thursday, abandoning his pinched, Realpolitik orientation and promising to put the United States on the side of democrats in the Middle East. It was a ringing call that should have received wide attention, but didn’t. Why not? Because of the final third of his speech, which contained the now-infamous call for a future Israeli-Palestinian peace to be “based on the 1967 lines.”

The president went on to add a caveat to this statement, adding that there would be “mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” He also tossed some other rhetorical concessions Israel’s way, for example decrying “antagonism toward Israel,” warning that  “efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure,” and telling “Palestinian leaders” that they “will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.” He even eschewed his previous call for an Israeli settlement freeze.

None of it mattered. All of the headlines were about Obama becoming the first U.S. president to declare that the 1967 borders—meaning the 1949 cease-fire lines—should be the basis of any peace treaty.

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Boy, did President Obama screw up! He gave two-thirds of a great address on Thursday, abandoning his pinched, Realpolitik orientation and promising to put the United States on the side of democrats in the Middle East. It was a ringing call that should have received wide attention, but didn’t. Why not? Because of the final third of his speech, which contained the now-infamous call for a future Israeli-Palestinian peace to be “based on the 1967 lines.”

The president went on to add a caveat to this statement, adding that there would be “mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” He also tossed some other rhetorical concessions Israel’s way, for example decrying “antagonism toward Israel,” warning that  “efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure,” and telling “Palestinian leaders” that they “will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.” He even eschewed his previous call for an Israeli settlement freeze.

None of it mattered. All of the headlines were about Obama becoming the first U.S. president to declare that the 1967 borders—meaning the 1949 cease-fire lines—should be the basis of any peace treaty.

This is a gratuitous insult to our closest ally in the region and an unearned gift to the Palestinians at a time when they are eschewing talks with Israel. It is all the more puzzling because the entire focus of the region has been on the Arab Spring—not on Israel and Palestine. The only people who want to put the focus back on Israel are dictators like Bashar al-Assad who want to deflect popular anger among their own people. Why is Obama playing their game at the same time that he rightly denounces human-rights abuses by Assad, Qaddafi, and their ilk?

And why is he insisting on putting the focus back on the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” at a time when prospects for a settlement have never been bleaker because of Fatah’s willingness to form a unity government with the genocidal terrorists of Hamas? Obama even agrees with Prime Minister Netanyahu, at least in public, that Israel cannot negotiate with Hamas until that group renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist—conditions that are likely to be met around the time that cows start jumping over the moon. So, why, then did Obama upend his own pro-democracy speech with a totally unnecessary and counterproductive foray back into the thickets of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking?

I don’t know, but can only conclude that this is a mania that he came into office with, and no amount of hard experience can disabuse him of it.

I commented a few days ago on Obama’s ability to learn from his early blunders on many issues. The fact that he is now taking a harder line with Iran and Syria, while embracing the pro-democracy forces in the region, is evidence of his maturation in office. But when it comes to Israel, Obama just can’t seem to escape his ideological straightjacket. He still seems to believe that an Israeli-Palestinian accord is not only of overarching importance but also something that can be accomplished during his term of office. Many presidents going back to the days of Richard Nixon have fallen prey to the same illusion. In Bill Clinton’s case he was still trying to squeeze out a deal even as his last minutes in office ran out.

I had figured that Obama was smarter than that—that he might have learned from experience. Apparently not.

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Taking the War on Terror to a New Level

While I certainly have been sympathetic to the Kurdish plight over the years, I have also consistently condemned the Kurdistan Workers Party (better known by their Kurdish acronym, the PKK) for their terrorist activity. I may not be a fan of the current Turkish government, which is increasingly dictatorial, anti-free speech, quite corrupt, and abuses religion for political purposes, but terrorism is never justified.

The United States has consistently helped Turkey in its fight against terrorism. Frank Ricciardone, U.S. ambassador to Turkey, estimates that U.S. assistance to Turkey’s anti-terror fight costs American tax payers about $1 million per day, well over a quarter billion dollars each year.

That’s a good investment in the fight against terrorism, but there is no reason that the United States should assist Turkey if the Turkish government itself isn’t serious about countering terrorism. Terrorism isn’t just the PKK and it’s not just anti-Turkish. The lack of international consensus on the definition of terrorism undercuts the international fight against the phenomenon: Too many countries, Turkey at their forefront, want to make exceptions for terrorism. If the terrorism is directed against Israel—and, as many Turks will say, America as well—then it is somehow justified. That’s why prominent Erdogan advisers like Cuneyd Zapsu donated money to and assisted an Al Qaeda financier.

Perhaps it’s time for the Congress and the State Department to take the war on terrorism to a new level. It’s time to require any allies who wish American anti-terror support to publicly accept a common definition of terrorism. I have always defined it as “the deliberate targeting of civilians for political gain.” If Turkey wants the U.S. to contribute to the fight against the PKK, then the Turkish government should clearly define not only al-Qaeda, but also Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist entities. If Turkey is not willing to do so, then perhaps it’s time to let the Turks handle their problems on their own. Likewise, if Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or any other country want anti-terror support, let’s embrace that. But, for the sake of winning the war against terrorism, it’s time the United States also resumes its leadership role and rallies them around a definition of terrorism, the lack of which too often legitimizes terrorists and hampers democracy’s victory.

While I certainly have been sympathetic to the Kurdish plight over the years, I have also consistently condemned the Kurdistan Workers Party (better known by their Kurdish acronym, the PKK) for their terrorist activity. I may not be a fan of the current Turkish government, which is increasingly dictatorial, anti-free speech, quite corrupt, and abuses religion for political purposes, but terrorism is never justified.

The United States has consistently helped Turkey in its fight against terrorism. Frank Ricciardone, U.S. ambassador to Turkey, estimates that U.S. assistance to Turkey’s anti-terror fight costs American tax payers about $1 million per day, well over a quarter billion dollars each year.

That’s a good investment in the fight against terrorism, but there is no reason that the United States should assist Turkey if the Turkish government itself isn’t serious about countering terrorism. Terrorism isn’t just the PKK and it’s not just anti-Turkish. The lack of international consensus on the definition of terrorism undercuts the international fight against the phenomenon: Too many countries, Turkey at their forefront, want to make exceptions for terrorism. If the terrorism is directed against Israel—and, as many Turks will say, America as well—then it is somehow justified. That’s why prominent Erdogan advisers like Cuneyd Zapsu donated money to and assisted an Al Qaeda financier.

Perhaps it’s time for the Congress and the State Department to take the war on terrorism to a new level. It’s time to require any allies who wish American anti-terror support to publicly accept a common definition of terrorism. I have always defined it as “the deliberate targeting of civilians for political gain.” If Turkey wants the U.S. to contribute to the fight against the PKK, then the Turkish government should clearly define not only al-Qaeda, but also Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist entities. If Turkey is not willing to do so, then perhaps it’s time to let the Turks handle their problems on their own. Likewise, if Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or any other country want anti-terror support, let’s embrace that. But, for the sake of winning the war against terrorism, it’s time the United States also resumes its leadership role and rallies them around a definition of terrorism, the lack of which too often legitimizes terrorists and hampers democracy’s victory.

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What the Top Tier Can Learn from Herman Cain

The candidate for president who best stands the chance of earning the gadfly-with-breakout-potential trophy is Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza who went viral even in pre-YouTube days by confronting Bill Clinton at a health-care forum back in 1994. Cain did well with focus-group watchers after the first GOP debate in South Carolina. He formally announced his candidacy today. But the question now is not, Can Herman Cain win? He almost certainly can’t, and shouldn’t; he’s never held elective office and the presidency has not an entry-level position for anyone but Eisenhower, the victor of World War II.

The question is, What does his grassroots success so far mean for the other candidates?

I think the message is: Keep it simple, stupid. What Cain says is pretty basic. There’s too much regulation, taxes are too high, we need to take power back from the federal government, we need to get rid of Obamacare. Everybody else says variations of this, but the other candidates want to talk about the specifics of what they’ve done, the proposals they have, and the way they intend to fight. Maybe they’re overbriefing and overthinking themselves. Maybe what people want to hear right now are very simple and eloquent statements of the first principles that underlie the conservative argument against Obama rather than being dragged into the weeds on policy.

Could be a good lesson for Mitch Daniels if he gets in.

The candidate for president who best stands the chance of earning the gadfly-with-breakout-potential trophy is Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza who went viral even in pre-YouTube days by confronting Bill Clinton at a health-care forum back in 1994. Cain did well with focus-group watchers after the first GOP debate in South Carolina. He formally announced his candidacy today. But the question now is not, Can Herman Cain win? He almost certainly can’t, and shouldn’t; he’s never held elective office and the presidency has not an entry-level position for anyone but Eisenhower, the victor of World War II.

The question is, What does his grassroots success so far mean for the other candidates?

I think the message is: Keep it simple, stupid. What Cain says is pretty basic. There’s too much regulation, taxes are too high, we need to take power back from the federal government, we need to get rid of Obamacare. Everybody else says variations of this, but the other candidates want to talk about the specifics of what they’ve done, the proposals they have, and the way they intend to fight. Maybe they’re overbriefing and overthinking themselves. Maybe what people want to hear right now are very simple and eloquent statements of the first principles that underlie the conservative argument against Obama rather than being dragged into the weeds on policy.

Could be a good lesson for Mitch Daniels if he gets in.

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The CIA’s Selective Leak-Plugging

Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta has warned employees that anyone who leaks information about the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden might be prosecuted. They certainly should be. But what is consistently galling is how selective the CIA is when it prosecutes leaks.

Early in President George W. Bush’s second term, the American Prospect quoted former defense intelligence official W. Patrick Lang talking about how friends in the CIA had bragged about leaking information to embarrass the president.  “Of course they were leaking,” The American Prospect reported. “They told me about it at the time. They thought it was funny. They’d say things like, ‘This last thing that came out, surely people will pay attention to that. They won’t re-elect this man.’”

There’s two possibilities here: Either Lang was exaggerating in order to depict himself as a confidante of a community he had left years before, or he was telling the truth. Assuming he told the truth, then the quote added a security insult to injury: In the run-up to the Iraq war and perhaps for a time during it, Lang had worked as a registered foreign agent for a pro-Syrian Lebanese businessman and been paid in the upper range of five-figure consulting fees.  Yet, to the best of my knowledge, the CIA never bothered to investigate that leak. Certainly, the anti-Bush leaking did not hurt national security in the same way leaking details about the SEALs or the intelligence found in Bin Laden’s compound has, but it nevertheless soiled the CIA’s reputation, created a dangerous (and illegal) precedent of CIA involvement in American politics, and undercut trust in the organization which, to this day, it has failed to rebuild.

Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta has warned employees that anyone who leaks information about the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden might be prosecuted. They certainly should be. But what is consistently galling is how selective the CIA is when it prosecutes leaks.

Early in President George W. Bush’s second term, the American Prospect quoted former defense intelligence official W. Patrick Lang talking about how friends in the CIA had bragged about leaking information to embarrass the president.  “Of course they were leaking,” The American Prospect reported. “They told me about it at the time. They thought it was funny. They’d say things like, ‘This last thing that came out, surely people will pay attention to that. They won’t re-elect this man.’”

There’s two possibilities here: Either Lang was exaggerating in order to depict himself as a confidante of a community he had left years before, or he was telling the truth. Assuming he told the truth, then the quote added a security insult to injury: In the run-up to the Iraq war and perhaps for a time during it, Lang had worked as a registered foreign agent for a pro-Syrian Lebanese businessman and been paid in the upper range of five-figure consulting fees.  Yet, to the best of my knowledge, the CIA never bothered to investigate that leak. Certainly, the anti-Bush leaking did not hurt national security in the same way leaking details about the SEALs or the intelligence found in Bin Laden’s compound has, but it nevertheless soiled the CIA’s reputation, created a dangerous (and illegal) precedent of CIA involvement in American politics, and undercut trust in the organization which, to this day, it has failed to rebuild.

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