Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 6, 2011

Does the Real Violence in Syria Start Now?

For months, Bashar Assad has maintained his grip on power in Syria by using brutal force whenever necessary to disrupt protests against his dictatorial rule. Hundreds of dissidents have been killed but the regime has been able to keep order in the main cities of Damascus and Aleppo. The West has been treating this ally of Iran very differently than the dictators of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Assad also may think his strategy of attempting to distract the world from his own depredations with exhibitions such as the staged assault on Israel’s borders to commemorate the anniversary of the Six Day War is working.

But Assad did not count on the protestors having this much staying power or that his forces might actually encounter resistance in some places. Last weekend, reports say the army was forced to call in helicopter gunships to mow down demonstrators in the northern town of  Jisr al-Shughour. But the news today that approximately 120 police and security personnel were killed in fighting there is a sign of two things.

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For months, Bashar Assad has maintained his grip on power in Syria by using brutal force whenever necessary to disrupt protests against his dictatorial rule. Hundreds of dissidents have been killed but the regime has been able to keep order in the main cities of Damascus and Aleppo. The West has been treating this ally of Iran very differently than the dictators of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Assad also may think his strategy of attempting to distract the world from his own depredations with exhibitions such as the staged assault on Israel’s borders to commemorate the anniversary of the Six Day War is working.

But Assad did not count on the protestors having this much staying power or that his forces might actually encounter resistance in some places. Last weekend, reports say the army was forced to call in helicopter gunships to mow down demonstrators in the northern town of  Jisr al-Shughour. But the news today that approximately 120 police and security personnel were killed in fighting there is a sign of two things.

One is that resistance to the regime may be growing rather than receding as Assad had hoped.

The other is that the blood shed in Syria by the regime so far may be only the prelude to a general massacre of dissidents that will rival the slaughter of at least 10,000 at Hama in 1982 committed by Assad’s father Hafez.

It bears repeating that the situation in Syria is nothing like that of the other countries where the Arab Spring protests have met with some success. The entire government is connected to the Assad clan and the minority Alawite sect. Thus, there is very little chance that the armed forces will restrain the regime or even topple it. Ties of blood and complicity in decades of crimes bind all those connected to the power structure. And unlike some other tyrannies, the leaders of Syria have clearly not lost their taste for spilling blood if that’s what it takes to suppress dissent.

We don’t know exactly what happened today and we can’t be sure of the state of the opposition. But we do know that the Assad clan will do anything to hold onto power in Syria. The full measure of the regime’s capacity for atrocity may not yet be felt. The Obama administration has downplayed the truth about Syria up until now even as it has pledged not to stand by while innocents are slaughtered. As much as Assad may feel his opponents are testing him, the situation in Syria is also a test of Obama’s seriousness about human rights and his support for freedom in the Islamic world.

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Bachmann Campaign is Getting Serious

Rep. Michele Bachmann has tapped veteran strategist Ed Rollins to run her presidential campaign, the latest sign that she could be a formidable contender in the Iowa primary once she actually enters the race. Rollins orchestrated Mike Huckabee’s breakout Iowa victory in 2008, and also managed President Ronald Reagan’s 49-state sweep in 1984.

But Rollins is also known for managing the failed campaigns of non-traditional candidates (like Ross Perot and Michael Huffington), so in a way the choice accentuates Bachmann’s position as the “outsider” in the race. The Red State’s Erick Erickson, however, sees the pick as a bold move that will bolster the congresswoman’s chances of success in the early primaries:

I’m already hearing from people on the ground in Iowa that Bachmann has the potential to make huge waves there. Given what Huck did in 2008 and Rollins’ knowledge of the lay of the land, it could turn Michele Bachmann into a serious contender for evangelicals and transition her from just being seen as a tea party candidate.

Bachmann’s appeal is that she has both Tea Party credibility and Washington experience. The problem is that her reputation as a polarizing firebrand would probably make it difficult for her to prevail in a general election. The latest Rasmussen poll, which found that just 20 percent of voters say she’s qualified to be president, underscores this. But putting aside her chances of winning the presidency, Bachmann’s choice of Rollins shows that she’s at least serious about winning in Iowa.

Rep. Michele Bachmann has tapped veteran strategist Ed Rollins to run her presidential campaign, the latest sign that she could be a formidable contender in the Iowa primary once she actually enters the race. Rollins orchestrated Mike Huckabee’s breakout Iowa victory in 2008, and also managed President Ronald Reagan’s 49-state sweep in 1984.

But Rollins is also known for managing the failed campaigns of non-traditional candidates (like Ross Perot and Michael Huffington), so in a way the choice accentuates Bachmann’s position as the “outsider” in the race. The Red State’s Erick Erickson, however, sees the pick as a bold move that will bolster the congresswoman’s chances of success in the early primaries:

I’m already hearing from people on the ground in Iowa that Bachmann has the potential to make huge waves there. Given what Huck did in 2008 and Rollins’ knowledge of the lay of the land, it could turn Michele Bachmann into a serious contender for evangelicals and transition her from just being seen as a tea party candidate.

Bachmann’s appeal is that she has both Tea Party credibility and Washington experience. The problem is that her reputation as a polarizing firebrand would probably make it difficult for her to prevail in a general election. The latest Rasmussen poll, which found that just 20 percent of voters say she’s qualified to be president, underscores this. But putting aside her chances of winning the presidency, Bachmann’s choice of Rollins shows that she’s at least serious about winning in Iowa.

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Pelosi’s Thinking About Chris Lee Too

Dana Bash of CNN just tweeted that two sources told her that Anthony Weiner made it clear to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that he wouldn’t resign. That is apparently what led both the former speaker and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel to call for a House Ethics investigation into Weiner’s behavior.

Give some credit to the Democratic leadership on this. They know that if Weiner stays on in the House, as he clearly intends to, the party’s loose attitude about ethics will be draped around their necks in the next year and a half. That is especially true since House Speaker John Boehner dealt so expeditiously with the Republican’s similar problem with former New York Congressman Chris Lee. While Weiner can claim, as he did at his embarrassing presser this afternoon, that his misbehavior did not violate his oath of office, his fellow Democrats may feel that his week of lying and abuse of the press compromised them as much as it did him.

It’s not clear what a House Ethics Committee investigation will accomplish in the Weiner case though if he sexted any underage women, Weiner will have more to worry about than a possible censure from his colleagues. Pelosi’s announcement may just be the beginning of a Democratic campaign of pressure to force Weiner to resign.

Dana Bash of CNN just tweeted that two sources told her that Anthony Weiner made it clear to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that he wouldn’t resign. That is apparently what led both the former speaker and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel to call for a House Ethics investigation into Weiner’s behavior.

Give some credit to the Democratic leadership on this. They know that if Weiner stays on in the House, as he clearly intends to, the party’s loose attitude about ethics will be draped around their necks in the next year and a half. That is especially true since House Speaker John Boehner dealt so expeditiously with the Republican’s similar problem with former New York Congressman Chris Lee. While Weiner can claim, as he did at his embarrassing presser this afternoon, that his misbehavior did not violate his oath of office, his fellow Democrats may feel that his week of lying and abuse of the press compromised them as much as it did him.

It’s not clear what a House Ethics Committee investigation will accomplish in the Weiner case though if he sexted any underage women, Weiner will have more to worry about than a possible censure from his colleagues. Pelosi’s announcement may just be the beginning of a Democratic campaign of pressure to force Weiner to resign.

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Iran Can Produce Enough for a Bomb “Any Time It Wishes”

It turns out that Iranian Minister of Mines and Industries Ali-Akbar Mehrabian wasn’t bluffing when he boasted last month that the West’s sanctions regime is a bust. Rising oil prices have devastated what little leverage the U.S. ever had to enforce oil sanctions, a point that the Iranians have taken to crowing about publicly. With no hope of changing Tehran’s cost-benefit calculus for pursuing nuclear weapons, the only question left was whether Western export restrictions would stop the mullahs and the IRGC from getting the technology they need.

A new study, published today by RAND Corporation researcher Gregory S. Jones and based on the IAEA may 24 report, answers that question in the negative. For years Iranian stooge and IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei used the agency as a fig leaf to cover up Iranian nuclearization and undermine the Western case for action. Now that Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano is running the agency, the true extent of Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons is becoming evident.

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It turns out that Iranian Minister of Mines and Industries Ali-Akbar Mehrabian wasn’t bluffing when he boasted last month that the West’s sanctions regime is a bust. Rising oil prices have devastated what little leverage the U.S. ever had to enforce oil sanctions, a point that the Iranians have taken to crowing about publicly. With no hope of changing Tehran’s cost-benefit calculus for pursuing nuclear weapons, the only question left was whether Western export restrictions would stop the mullahs and the IRGC from getting the technology they need.

A new study, published today by RAND Corporation researcher Gregory S. Jones and based on the IAEA may 24 report, answers that question in the negative. For years Iranian stooge and IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei used the agency as a fig leaf to cover up Iranian nuclearization and undermine the Western case for action. Now that Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano is running the agency, the true extent of Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons is becoming evident.

Based on IAEA data, Jones concludes that—surprise!—the Iranians are not only developing nuclear weapons, but they’ve been doing it for so long that any option short of military occupation is doomed to fail. They’ve actually accelerated their uranium enrichment 17 percent over the last few months, demonstrating that either they’ve shrugged off Stuxnet or the virus’s effects were always overblown. The regime is moving forward on building or upgrading their three known enrichment facilities—two at Natanz and one at Qom—and would need only two weeks to create enough HEU out of their legally-enriched uranium stockpiles to make a nuclear weapon.

The full report is here [PDF]. It’s filled with scenarios for clandestine enrichment pathways that Iran could be pursuing right now with zero Western knowledge, but those are secondary. Just based on Iran’s known stockpiles and facilities, Jones concludes that “Iran continues to make increasingly rapid progress towards acquiring the ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons completely unimpeded by any Western counteraction. . . . Iran can now produce a weapon’s worth (20 kilograms) of HEU any time it wishes.”

The White House seems to be approaching Iran like they’re approaching the Fatah/Hamas merger, which is not dissimilar to how they approach entire swaths of the world. Having advocated engagement in the most obnoxious ways imaginable – like you’d have to be a neocon idiot not to realize that those were the policies what the US should be pursuing – they’re now left hoping against hope that they won’t have to deal with the consequences of their naivete. With the Fatah/Hamas merger they’re just keeping their fingers crossed that it will fall apart.

With Iran the White House might be watching for the Green Revolution to finally overthrow the regime, even though that would only target the mullahs and not the IRGC. Since the commitment to nuclearization extends down to the military – and, frankly, across the Iranian political hierarchy and to the reformers – a revolution won’t do much to stop Tehran’s drive for nukes. Even the White House’s hope-against-hope best case scenario, then, wouldn’t avert a nuclear crisis in Central Asia, with a wildly unstable nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East to follow immediately afterward.

In other recent Iran military news, Tehran has shared ballistic missile technology with North Korea, declared that the Gulf “belongs to Iran,” threatened to hit ships as far away as the Indian Ocean, sent deadly rockets to the Taliban, boasted about aiding Hezbollah while threatening to cut off all Middle East oil, armed IRGC units with a new indigenous ballistic missile, and of course insisted that Israel has to be wiped out to secure peace. Strange, they don’t seem to be amenable to engagement.

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What Did Weiner Think When Chris Lee Was Ridden Out of Town On a Rail?

Last week when I wrote that, I could “Say With Certitude that Weiner is Starting to Remind Me of Chris Lee,” I had no idea what awaited us. As Alana wrote earlier today, Andrew Breitbart’s release of new Weiner photos means that there is clearly no difference between the behavior of Chris Lee, the Republican from Western New York who was forced to resign his Congressional seat earlier this year and the case of the charming Anthony Weiner.

Now that Weiner has admitted what he did and said he’s not resigning, it’s up to the leaders of his party to determine whether he will be forced out in the same manner as Lee. Right now he may be thinking that just as Charlie Rangel and Barney Frank survived scandals and kept their seats, he may do the same.While the House Republican caucus has in recent years wielded the axe without mercy against their members who have been shown to misbehave, Democrats have taken a more lenient stance toward theirs.

Rangel’s corruption scandal led to censure and the loss of his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee but he continues as the congressman from Harlem. Frank’s former partner was found to have run a gay prostitution ring out of their apartment, but no one on his side of the aisle thought he should leave office. He also intervened to get a government job for another of his lovers and that story was largely ignored. Of course the classic non-resignation story was Gerry Studds, the Massachusetts congressman who had sex with a 17-year-old male House intern. He was reelected six times after that offense.

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Last week when I wrote that, I could “Say With Certitude that Weiner is Starting to Remind Me of Chris Lee,” I had no idea what awaited us. As Alana wrote earlier today, Andrew Breitbart’s release of new Weiner photos means that there is clearly no difference between the behavior of Chris Lee, the Republican from Western New York who was forced to resign his Congressional seat earlier this year and the case of the charming Anthony Weiner.

Now that Weiner has admitted what he did and said he’s not resigning, it’s up to the leaders of his party to determine whether he will be forced out in the same manner as Lee. Right now he may be thinking that just as Charlie Rangel and Barney Frank survived scandals and kept their seats, he may do the same.While the House Republican caucus has in recent years wielded the axe without mercy against their members who have been shown to misbehave, Democrats have taken a more lenient stance toward theirs.

Rangel’s corruption scandal led to censure and the loss of his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee but he continues as the congressman from Harlem. Frank’s former partner was found to have run a gay prostitution ring out of their apartment, but no one on his side of the aisle thought he should leave office. He also intervened to get a government job for another of his lovers and that story was largely ignored. Of course the classic non-resignation story was Gerry Studds, the Massachusetts congressman who had sex with a 17-year-old male House intern. He was reelected six times after that offense.

Twenty-three years after Studds defied the country by refusing to resign, Florida Republican Mark Foley was accused of sending sexually explicit texts to male interns. He was forced to resign by the GOP. Chris Lee, who sent a stripped-to-the-waist photo himself to a woman while trolling the Internet for adulterous sex was also quickly shown the door by Republican leaders. The one real exception to this rule was David Vitter who not only kept his Louisiana Senate seat after his involvement in a prostitution ring was revealed in 2007, but was re-elected in 2010. But the standards for officials of that state have always been a little different from those of the rest of the country.

The most recent exception to the rule of Democrats skating was New York Governor Elliot Spitzer who resigned after his involvement with prostitutes was revealed. But given that he is now a regular smirking presence on CNN rather than stuck in Albany, perhaps most of the country would have been happier off had he stayed in office.

Some believe the reason why most Democrats stay and Republicans leave during sexual scandals is that the GOP tends to campaign on morals and that misbehavior brands them as hypocrites. Which is something that most Americans, or at least most Democrats, seem to think is worse than a libertine. The willingness of so many to give Bill Clinton a pass for seducing an intern in the Oval Office lends some credence to the idea that many Democratic voters don’t expect their leaders to behave.

But I can’t help wondering now what Weiner was thinking when Chris Lee was ridden out of town on a rail? Knowing that he had done much the same thing himself, was he scared? Did he feel compassion? Or did this arrogant bully think that the same rules wouldn’t apply to him? If so, the question now for Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, is whether or not he was right?

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All the More Reason to Extend the U.S.-Iraq Agreement

Five U.S. soldiers who were training Iraqi police officers died today when a rocket slammed into their compound in Baghdad. This was the worst single-day loss of life for U.S. forces in Iraq in the last two years.

I don’t know who was responsible, but I can guess. Rockets are a signature weapon of Shiite terrorists funded and trained by Iran’s Quds Force and loosely aligned with Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdist movement. (Car bomb attacks, by contrast, are a signature of Sunni terrorists.) The Iranian-backed forces have been fairly quiet for a couple of years now, but they appear to be picking up the pace of attacks in a bid to stymie any attempt to extend the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the end of this year.

There has been renewed interest expressed both by Prime Minister Maliki and by Obama administration officials in signing a new Status of Forces agreement that would keep a reduced number of troops—perhaps 10,000 to 20,000—to support Iraqi security personnel and act as a de-facto peacekeeping force. This development is most unwelcome to Iran, which did everything it could to prevent the original Status of Forces Agreement from being signed in 2008. Hence these attacks, and likely more such in the coming days—all of it intended to demonstrate to the American public that it is too dangerous to keep troops in Iraq.

The danger is real but is outweighed by the danger of pulling out all 50,000 U.S. troops at the end of the year. If the U.S. did that, the possibility of Iraq’s slipping back into civil war would significantly go up. The ability of Iran and its proxies to extend their influence would definitely go up. It is imperative that responsible leaders in both the U.S. and Iraq not give the extremists what they want. These attacks are all the more reason to extend the security agreement in order to build on the substantial progress that has been made since the 2007-2008 surge.

There is a chance to make Iraq a democratic exemplar for the entire Arab world. Don’t blow it now, not when so much progress has been made and so many have sacrificed so much.

Five U.S. soldiers who were training Iraqi police officers died today when a rocket slammed into their compound in Baghdad. This was the worst single-day loss of life for U.S. forces in Iraq in the last two years.

I don’t know who was responsible, but I can guess. Rockets are a signature weapon of Shiite terrorists funded and trained by Iran’s Quds Force and loosely aligned with Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdist movement. (Car bomb attacks, by contrast, are a signature of Sunni terrorists.) The Iranian-backed forces have been fairly quiet for a couple of years now, but they appear to be picking up the pace of attacks in a bid to stymie any attempt to extend the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the end of this year.

There has been renewed interest expressed both by Prime Minister Maliki and by Obama administration officials in signing a new Status of Forces agreement that would keep a reduced number of troops—perhaps 10,000 to 20,000—to support Iraqi security personnel and act as a de-facto peacekeeping force. This development is most unwelcome to Iran, which did everything it could to prevent the original Status of Forces Agreement from being signed in 2008. Hence these attacks, and likely more such in the coming days—all of it intended to demonstrate to the American public that it is too dangerous to keep troops in Iraq.

The danger is real but is outweighed by the danger of pulling out all 50,000 U.S. troops at the end of the year. If the U.S. did that, the possibility of Iraq’s slipping back into civil war would significantly go up. The ability of Iran and its proxies to extend their influence would definitely go up. It is imperative that responsible leaders in both the U.S. and Iraq not give the extremists what they want. These attacks are all the more reason to extend the security agreement in order to build on the substantial progress that has been made since the 2007-2008 surge.

There is a chance to make Iraq a democratic exemplar for the entire Arab world. Don’t blow it now, not when so much progress has been made and so many have sacrificed so much.

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Literally, Figuratively, Bad Analogies, Demagoguery, Whatever

Last week I pointed out how Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, despite belonging to the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society at the University of Florida and earning an M.A. there, confused the terms figuratively and literally, as in the American economy was “literally about to go over a cliff” just before Barack Obama became president. Now, thanks to Thomas Lifson of The American Thinker, the list of her solecisms can be extended. Wasserman Schultz told Roland Martin, “[N]ow you have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws.”

She later retracted part of her statement, telling Politico:

Jim Crow was the wrong analogy to use. But I don’t regret calling attention to the efforts in a number of states with Republican dominated legislatures, including Florida, to restrict access to the ballot box for all kinds of voters, but particularly young voters, African Americans and Hispanic Americans.

She did not retract her mangling of the language, however. This is literally quite stupid of Wasserman Schultz, and she should stop this habit before she becomes (figuratively) the butt of political jokes.

Last week I pointed out how Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, despite belonging to the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society at the University of Florida and earning an M.A. there, confused the terms figuratively and literally, as in the American economy was “literally about to go over a cliff” just before Barack Obama became president. Now, thanks to Thomas Lifson of The American Thinker, the list of her solecisms can be extended. Wasserman Schultz told Roland Martin, “[N]ow you have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws.”

She later retracted part of her statement, telling Politico:

Jim Crow was the wrong analogy to use. But I don’t regret calling attention to the efforts in a number of states with Republican dominated legislatures, including Florida, to restrict access to the ballot box for all kinds of voters, but particularly young voters, African Americans and Hispanic Americans.

She did not retract her mangling of the language, however. This is literally quite stupid of Wasserman Schultz, and she should stop this habit before she becomes (figuratively) the butt of political jokes.

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Using the Times to Give Hope to the Enemy

President Obama has generally done the right thing on Afghanistan. Most notably, he sent major reinforcements twice, first in early 2009 (17,000 troops) and then in late 2009 (30,000 more), thereby doubling the U.S. troop commitment. But each decision was only taken after considerable agonizing and only announced with numerous caveats and restrictions, the most famous of which was his pledge to begin withdrawing surge troops in July 2011.

Nor did Obama follow up by stumping the country to build support for the war effort. He has been notably hands-off about the whole war, refusing to engage in the kind of regular video teleconferences that President Bush regularly conducted with President Karzai (and Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq). Thus Obama has inadvertently given encouragement to our enemies, raising their hopes that they can wait us out. He has also given a green light for opponents of his policy within his own administration—whose ranks include Vice President Joe Biden, Gen. James Cartwright (vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), and Lt. Gen. Doug Lute (the NSC’s Afghanistan policy coordinator)–to continue fighting a rearguard action to undermine and terminate the surge.

It is in this light that we should understand the New York Times headline this morning: “Steeper Pullout is Raised as Option for Afghanistan.” The article reports that:

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President Obama has generally done the right thing on Afghanistan. Most notably, he sent major reinforcements twice, first in early 2009 (17,000 troops) and then in late 2009 (30,000 more), thereby doubling the U.S. troop commitment. But each decision was only taken after considerable agonizing and only announced with numerous caveats and restrictions, the most famous of which was his pledge to begin withdrawing surge troops in July 2011.

Nor did Obama follow up by stumping the country to build support for the war effort. He has been notably hands-off about the whole war, refusing to engage in the kind of regular video teleconferences that President Bush regularly conducted with President Karzai (and Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq). Thus Obama has inadvertently given encouragement to our enemies, raising their hopes that they can wait us out. He has also given a green light for opponents of his policy within his own administration—whose ranks include Vice President Joe Biden, Gen. James Cartwright (vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), and Lt. Gen. Doug Lute (the NSC’s Afghanistan policy coordinator)–to continue fighting a rearguard action to undermine and terminate the surge.

It is in this light that we should understand the New York Times headline this morning: “Steeper Pullout is Raised as Option for Afghanistan.” The article reports that:

President Obama’s national security team is contemplating troop reductions in Afghanistan that would be steeper than those discussed even a few weeks ago, with some officials arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden, which they called new “strategic considerations.”

I suspect it is more likely to say that “some members of President Obama’s national security team”—for names, see above—“are using the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden as excuses to resurrect the anti-surge arguments that had been previously considered and rejected by the president.”

Excuses? Isn’t that a little harsh?

Not really.

As I have argued before, the cost of the war effort ($100 billion a year) is trivial when weighed against a national debt and a national economy of about $14 trillion. Especially  considering that even opponents of the surge don’t propose to pull all U.S. troops out so they would save only part of the total expenditure.

Nor, as I have also argued before, is the death of Bin Laden a reason to leave Afghanistan since, whatever the fate of Al Qaeda, allied groups such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network remain a powerful threat. Our premature departure would plunge Afghanistan into a civil war whose only conceivable beneficiaries would be such extremist groups.

Perhaps this outcome would be compelled anyway if we were losing on the ground, but we’re not. The troops under General Petraeus’s command have made excellent progress in securing the key southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. The Taliban remain a threat but they have been pushed out of many of their strongholds. Meanwhile Afghan Security Forces are growing larger and more capable thanks to a training program directed by the indefatigable Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell.

Progress is palpable—but also tenuous. Withdrawing too many troops this summer is sure to sabotage the brave work currently being done by 100,000 U.S. troops and 40,000 allies. Even using the front page of the New York Times to signal that this is what might happen undermines the war effort and gives hope to the enemy.

President Obama needs to have the gumption to give his surge a fair chance to succeed—and the moxie to squelch its opponents within his administration whose leaks damage one of his signature policies.

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Circumcision Foes Cross the Line into Anti-Semitism

As we noted in the June issue of COMMENTARY, those who have been agitating for a ban on male circumcisions in California appeare to be motivated more by bizarre theories about male sexuality and specious comparisons to cliterodectomies than traditional anti-Semitism. But as the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Friday, the “intactivists” (as the anti-circumcision forces style themselves) have now crossed over the line between advocacy and hate.

Matthew Hess, the author of the anti-circumcision referendum that will be on the San Francisco ballot this fall (not to be confused with the Brookings Institute fellow), has written an on-line comic book called Foreskin Man. It depicts the antics of an Aryan-looking hero whose goal is to thwart the efforts to a sinister ritual circumciser named Monster Mohel, who is both depicted in a manner that can only be described as traditional anti-Semitism. The Mohel is a glowering Orthodox Jew about whom Hess writes, “Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-day-old infant boy.”

While Hess tells the Chronicle that he is “pro-human rights,” it is no exaggeration or a false analogy to say that his work is reminiscent of the sort of thing that came out of Nazi Germany. His purpose is to portray traditional Jews as villains who seek to mutilate innocent children.

Though circumcision has been performed for a variety of reasons, including those of health that may or may not be valid, the act of circumcision is the originating act of the Jewish people; it defines the covenant between Abraham and the One God. While Americans are free to choose it for their infants or not, the attempt to ban the practice in San Francisco is a clear act of religious bias and blatantly unconstitutional. It should also be said that this measure is uniting Jews and Muslims, whose beliefs also call for male circumcision.

But as Foreskin Man shows, advocates of a ban are not merely irrational, they also seem to be motivated as much by religious prejudice as they are by anything else.

As we noted in the June issue of COMMENTARY, those who have been agitating for a ban on male circumcisions in California appeare to be motivated more by bizarre theories about male sexuality and specious comparisons to cliterodectomies than traditional anti-Semitism. But as the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Friday, the “intactivists” (as the anti-circumcision forces style themselves) have now crossed over the line between advocacy and hate.

Matthew Hess, the author of the anti-circumcision referendum that will be on the San Francisco ballot this fall (not to be confused with the Brookings Institute fellow), has written an on-line comic book called Foreskin Man. It depicts the antics of an Aryan-looking hero whose goal is to thwart the efforts to a sinister ritual circumciser named Monster Mohel, who is both depicted in a manner that can only be described as traditional anti-Semitism. The Mohel is a glowering Orthodox Jew about whom Hess writes, “Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-day-old infant boy.”

While Hess tells the Chronicle that he is “pro-human rights,” it is no exaggeration or a false analogy to say that his work is reminiscent of the sort of thing that came out of Nazi Germany. His purpose is to portray traditional Jews as villains who seek to mutilate innocent children.

Though circumcision has been performed for a variety of reasons, including those of health that may or may not be valid, the act of circumcision is the originating act of the Jewish people; it defines the covenant between Abraham and the One God. While Americans are free to choose it for their infants or not, the attempt to ban the practice in San Francisco is a clear act of religious bias and blatantly unconstitutional. It should also be said that this measure is uniting Jews and Muslims, whose beliefs also call for male circumcision.

But as Foreskin Man shows, advocates of a ban are not merely irrational, they also seem to be motivated as much by religious prejudice as they are by anything else.

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The Pieces Are in Place for a Landslide

William Galston is not only an excellent political theorist; he’s also an intelligent and sober political analyst. So his words about the fierce political winds President Obama is facing, quoted by the Washington Post, are worth heeding:

“The prospect of economic growth getting up to a point and unemployment getting down to a point that is comfortable for an incumbent are declining by the month, and are now not very high at all,” said William Galston, a policy adviser in the Clinton White House and a veteran of Democratic presidential campaigns. He added, “I hope there’s someone on the inner circle with the standing and the guts to tell the president that, if things continue the way they’re going, despite everything he’s done, he’s going to be in trouble.”

With chronic unemployment worse than the Great Depression, saying that Obama is “going to be in trouble” may understate things just a bit.

So much of what happens in 2012 depends on the trajectory of economic events and the GOP nominee. But I persist in my belief that if next summer things are roughly where they are now, the president will not only be quite beatable; the pieces would be in place for a huge, even landslide, defeat for Obama.

William Galston is not only an excellent political theorist; he’s also an intelligent and sober political analyst. So his words about the fierce political winds President Obama is facing, quoted by the Washington Post, are worth heeding:

“The prospect of economic growth getting up to a point and unemployment getting down to a point that is comfortable for an incumbent are declining by the month, and are now not very high at all,” said William Galston, a policy adviser in the Clinton White House and a veteran of Democratic presidential campaigns. He added, “I hope there’s someone on the inner circle with the standing and the guts to tell the president that, if things continue the way they’re going, despite everything he’s done, he’s going to be in trouble.”

With chronic unemployment worse than the Great Depression, saying that Obama is “going to be in trouble” may understate things just a bit.

So much of what happens in 2012 depends on the trajectory of economic events and the GOP nominee. But I persist in my belief that if next summer things are roughly where they are now, the president will not only be quite beatable; the pieces would be in place for a huge, even landslide, defeat for Obama.

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Exactly The Wrong Time To Cut Military Spending

Secretary of Defense Gates is warning that the Obama administration’s military spending cuts will “hollow out” the military. Congressman Allen West is calling for more military spending. They both fear the same thing: that politicians will raid the peace dividend between global wars and leave the military without the resources that it needs to respond to crises. That’s exactly what happened after WWI, WWII, and the post-Vietnam Cold War, and it’s what’s happening again now.

Strangely for a President who decided on a Tuesday to go to war in Libya on a Friday, President Obama and his progressive chorus have gone all-in on military cuts as a way of heading off the entitlement crisis. The cuts would occur as the Navy, Air Force, and Marines are pivoting to the Pacific in response to China’s ascendancy and the PLAN’s carrier-killing ballistic missiles. The situation seems ripe for the kind of imperial overstretch that Obama used to rail against before he found out he could use U.S. troops to promote a humanitarian Responsibility to Protect agenda.

The “it wouldn’t be that bad” argument for military cuts is that Pentagon expenditures come mainly from waste. That’s the line the President has been pushing for years, but after dozens of terminated systems it’s beginning to ring a little hollow. The stronger argument is that spending cuts actually make the military better. They force analysts to think harder and smarter about what kind of threats America is actually likely to face in the future. That’s fine in theory but in practice, when forced to choose, long-term military strategists often choose badly.

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Secretary of Defense Gates is warning that the Obama administration’s military spending cuts will “hollow out” the military. Congressman Allen West is calling for more military spending. They both fear the same thing: that politicians will raid the peace dividend between global wars and leave the military without the resources that it needs to respond to crises. That’s exactly what happened after WWI, WWII, and the post-Vietnam Cold War, and it’s what’s happening again now.

Strangely for a President who decided on a Tuesday to go to war in Libya on a Friday, President Obama and his progressive chorus have gone all-in on military cuts as a way of heading off the entitlement crisis. The cuts would occur as the Navy, Air Force, and Marines are pivoting to the Pacific in response to China’s ascendancy and the PLAN’s carrier-killing ballistic missiles. The situation seems ripe for the kind of imperial overstretch that Obama used to rail against before he found out he could use U.S. troops to promote a humanitarian Responsibility to Protect agenda.

The “it wouldn’t be that bad” argument for military cuts is that Pentagon expenditures come mainly from waste. That’s the line the President has been pushing for years, but after dozens of terminated systems it’s beginning to ring a little hollow. The stronger argument is that spending cuts actually make the military better. They force analysts to think harder and smarter about what kind of threats America is actually likely to face in the future. That’s fine in theory but in practice, when forced to choose, long-term military strategists often choose badly.

The military is not immune from the same sociological and communication dynamics that plague any large organization. Bureaucratic inertia takes hold and—when it does get disrupted—it gets disrupted mostly by fashionable trends. Again to quote Gates, “our record of predicting where we will use military force since Vietnam is perfect—we have never once gotten it right. There isn’t a single instance… where we knew and planned for such a conflict six months in advance.” Contentions’s J. E. Dyer has written about that little quirk of U.S. military planning at length, and her post on planners’ almost willful disregard for amphibious landing vehicles is more or less mandatory reading.

RMA during the 1990’s was no less faddish than the current emphasis on network-centric warfare, now being pushed by people who don’t quite understand network methods but like the 21st century ethos and social scientific gloss. That fad is already giving way to talk of “cyberwarfare F-16s,” often by people who have trouble opening Outlook on their phones and use 1234 as their passwords. Eli Lake’s report from last week (about the Pentagon’s over reliance on drone data and the problems of “analysts . . . overwhelmed by the volume of data”) is an early warning that we’re moving in the direction of unreflexive technological reliance.

So given the choice between providing the military with fewer rather than more resources, the security argument is that analysts will be forced to productively prioritize. It’d be nice if that’s how things worked, but they don’t. In a deliberative environment where arguments mattered, pro-military cuts liberals would have to come up with something else.

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Administration’s Bug Out Lobby Spins the Times

Although both President Obama and outgoing Secretary of Defense Gates have been giving the country the impression that America is going to hang on in Afghanistan, those pushing for a precipitate pullout are not only not giving up, they are stepping up their campaign as a front page article in today’s New York Times makes clear.

The Times piece is based around quotations and analyses from anonymous “officials” who are clearly unhappy with the prospect of only a very gradual drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Last year’s surge has been a success at least to the extent of pushing the Taliban back, but the anti-war lobby inside the administration is doing its best to spin the war as untenable and too costly. According to the Times, the sides are drawn up. Vice President Biden is pushing for a quick exit, while Secretary of State Clinton and army commanders on the ground are arguing for only small cuts in deployments.

As is well known, Biden worked hard in 2009 to persuade President Obama not to recommit American power in Afghanistan. At that time, Obama promised to begin a pullback in the summer of 2011, but as many predicted at the time, such a decision would only encourage the Taliban to hold out until Americans and other NATO forces left.

Biden seems to be in sync with a majority of House Democrats who recently voted in favor of a precipitate withdrawal. Anti-war sentiment runs deep in the party and many activists are unhappy with the president for his decision not to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Though some are speaking as if the death of Osama bin laden can be used as an excuse for pulling out of the region, that is exactly the formula for both a revival of the terrorist group and its Islamist allies.

Obama seems to be under a great deal of political pressure to wind down the war but he is in no danger of a serious primary challenge from a left-wing Democrat. While the war is a long, hard slog and no one likes Afghan President Karzai as a partner, a fast pullout is the surest path to disaster in that country, something that the president would like to avoid in 2012. Although House Democrats and their allies inside the administration would like to put Afghanistan in their rear-view mirror, staying the course there is the best policy to aid Obama’s reelection as well as the national security interests of the nation.

Although both President Obama and outgoing Secretary of Defense Gates have been giving the country the impression that America is going to hang on in Afghanistan, those pushing for a precipitate pullout are not only not giving up, they are stepping up their campaign as a front page article in today’s New York Times makes clear.

The Times piece is based around quotations and analyses from anonymous “officials” who are clearly unhappy with the prospect of only a very gradual drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Last year’s surge has been a success at least to the extent of pushing the Taliban back, but the anti-war lobby inside the administration is doing its best to spin the war as untenable and too costly. According to the Times, the sides are drawn up. Vice President Biden is pushing for a quick exit, while Secretary of State Clinton and army commanders on the ground are arguing for only small cuts in deployments.

As is well known, Biden worked hard in 2009 to persuade President Obama not to recommit American power in Afghanistan. At that time, Obama promised to begin a pullback in the summer of 2011, but as many predicted at the time, such a decision would only encourage the Taliban to hold out until Americans and other NATO forces left.

Biden seems to be in sync with a majority of House Democrats who recently voted in favor of a precipitate withdrawal. Anti-war sentiment runs deep in the party and many activists are unhappy with the president for his decision not to abandon Afghanistan to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Though some are speaking as if the death of Osama bin laden can be used as an excuse for pulling out of the region, that is exactly the formula for both a revival of the terrorist group and its Islamist allies.

Obama seems to be under a great deal of political pressure to wind down the war but he is in no danger of a serious primary challenge from a left-wing Democrat. While the war is a long, hard slog and no one likes Afghan President Karzai as a partner, a fast pullout is the surest path to disaster in that country, something that the president would like to avoid in 2012. Although House Democrats and their allies inside the administration would like to put Afghanistan in their rear-view mirror, staying the course there is the best policy to aid Obama’s reelection as well as the national security interests of the nation.

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Woman Steps Forward with More Weiner Photos

Now it’s starting to make sense why Rep. Anthony Weiner was so reluctant to disown the lewd photo sent from his Twitter account. Another woman has stepped forward with more intimate pictures reportedly sent to her by the congressman, which Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism website is slowly trickling out today.

Unlike the picture that set off the firestorm, these leave little doubt that they were taken by the congressman. One shows Weiner mugging for the camera holding a piece of paper that says “me,” with an arrow pointing at his face. “The woman has indicated that Rep. Weiner allegedly sent the photograph after she asked him to confirm that he was taking photographs contemporaneously, in conjunction with their apparent online communications,” Breitbart writes. The second photo shows the congressman in a t-shirt lounging on a couch with two cats.

Weiner can still try to dismiss these as friendly photos he sent to a fan, but it sounds as if the other pictures Big Journalism is releasing later today will be increasingly devastating. “We will be updating BigGovernment.com and BigJournalism.com throughout the day with photographs, timelines, and other clarifying details,” Breitbart writes. “However, we will not be releasing all of the material because some of it is of an extreme, graphic nature.”

When you add this to The Daily’s scoop that the initial incriminating Tweet was sent from the same Twitter application as the congressman’s other Tweets that night, the “hacker” explanation is starting to seem increasingly implausible. If Breitbart’s cache is as bad as it sounds, the congressman’s problems are far from over.

Now it’s starting to make sense why Rep. Anthony Weiner was so reluctant to disown the lewd photo sent from his Twitter account. Another woman has stepped forward with more intimate pictures reportedly sent to her by the congressman, which Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism website is slowly trickling out today.

Unlike the picture that set off the firestorm, these leave little doubt that they were taken by the congressman. One shows Weiner mugging for the camera holding a piece of paper that says “me,” with an arrow pointing at his face. “The woman has indicated that Rep. Weiner allegedly sent the photograph after she asked him to confirm that he was taking photographs contemporaneously, in conjunction with their apparent online communications,” Breitbart writes. The second photo shows the congressman in a t-shirt lounging on a couch with two cats.

Weiner can still try to dismiss these as friendly photos he sent to a fan, but it sounds as if the other pictures Big Journalism is releasing later today will be increasingly devastating. “We will be updating BigGovernment.com and BigJournalism.com throughout the day with photographs, timelines, and other clarifying details,” Breitbart writes. “However, we will not be releasing all of the material because some of it is of an extreme, graphic nature.”

When you add this to The Daily’s scoop that the initial incriminating Tweet was sent from the same Twitter application as the congressman’s other Tweets that night, the “hacker” explanation is starting to seem increasingly implausible. If Breitbart’s cache is as bad as it sounds, the congressman’s problems are far from over.

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Santorum and the Better Part of Valor

The high point of some baseball teams’ season is opening day. Even basement dwellers with no chance of winning the pennant start the year tied for first place. That’s pretty much the case for Rick Santorum, who officially declared his candidacy for the presidency this morning. Like the perennial cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates for whom he loyally roots, Santorum is entitled (for today at least) to the pretense that he is as likely to be elected president as any of the other Republican contenders. As the first votes are several months away, he can hold on to those dreams until then. As long as he doesn’t run out of money.

Although he is mainly known for his socially conservative views and his willingness to share those opinions in a manner that hasn’t always served his political interests, Santorum sees his candidacy as being just as much about foreign policy as anything else. As he rightly pointed out to the New York Times today, he has spent most of his time since his 2006 defeat for reelection to the U.S. Senate talking about the danger of Islamist extremism and Iran, not gay marriage. But his main problem is convincing Republicans to forget about 2006 when a lackluster opponent defeated him in a landslide. That year he went from being one of the most influential members of the Senate to something of a punchline, although even that dispiriting result did nothing to dampen his presidential ambition.

After an astonishing upset victory over Democrat Harris Wofford in 1994, Santorum spent his first term in the Senate paying close attention to home and easily won reelection in 2000. But that caused him to lower his guard as he spent much of the next six years spouting off on abortion and gays. Since his new approach played better in the South and the West rather than at home, he was clearly laying the groundwork for a future national candidacy. But he never seriously considered giving up his seat, especially since he was rising in the leadership of the GOP caucus.

Santorum now says that had he not run for reelection, no one would be asking how a man can have a credible chance of being elected president if he lost his own state by 17 points just a few years ago. He complains that Mitt Romney would probably have been beaten had he run for reelection as governor of Massachusetts in 2006. Both assertions may be true, but the problem is that Santorum ran and Romney didn’t, leaving the former looking like a laughingstock and the latter like a statesman. In that case, discretion truly was the better part of valor.

Santorum can curse his bad luck, but it’s more than that. Say what you will about the flip-flopping Romney: his political antennae have always worked just fine. Santorum’s are not so good. Santorum can rightly claim that he’s always stood by his principles but in order to be elected president, you’ve also got to have political judgment and a sense of the possible. Those are qualities that Santorum lacks. That’s why he is rightly considered a marginal member of the GOP field’s second tier with no shot at all of winning next year.

The high point of some baseball teams’ season is opening day. Even basement dwellers with no chance of winning the pennant start the year tied for first place. That’s pretty much the case for Rick Santorum, who officially declared his candidacy for the presidency this morning. Like the perennial cellar-dwelling Pittsburgh Pirates for whom he loyally roots, Santorum is entitled (for today at least) to the pretense that he is as likely to be elected president as any of the other Republican contenders. As the first votes are several months away, he can hold on to those dreams until then. As long as he doesn’t run out of money.

Although he is mainly known for his socially conservative views and his willingness to share those opinions in a manner that hasn’t always served his political interests, Santorum sees his candidacy as being just as much about foreign policy as anything else. As he rightly pointed out to the New York Times today, he has spent most of his time since his 2006 defeat for reelection to the U.S. Senate talking about the danger of Islamist extremism and Iran, not gay marriage. But his main problem is convincing Republicans to forget about 2006 when a lackluster opponent defeated him in a landslide. That year he went from being one of the most influential members of the Senate to something of a punchline, although even that dispiriting result did nothing to dampen his presidential ambition.

After an astonishing upset victory over Democrat Harris Wofford in 1994, Santorum spent his first term in the Senate paying close attention to home and easily won reelection in 2000. But that caused him to lower his guard as he spent much of the next six years spouting off on abortion and gays. Since his new approach played better in the South and the West rather than at home, he was clearly laying the groundwork for a future national candidacy. But he never seriously considered giving up his seat, especially since he was rising in the leadership of the GOP caucus.

Santorum now says that had he not run for reelection, no one would be asking how a man can have a credible chance of being elected president if he lost his own state by 17 points just a few years ago. He complains that Mitt Romney would probably have been beaten had he run for reelection as governor of Massachusetts in 2006. Both assertions may be true, but the problem is that Santorum ran and Romney didn’t, leaving the former looking like a laughingstock and the latter like a statesman. In that case, discretion truly was the better part of valor.

Santorum can curse his bad luck, but it’s more than that. Say what you will about the flip-flopping Romney: his political antennae have always worked just fine. Santorum’s are not so good. Santorum can rightly claim that he’s always stood by his principles but in order to be elected president, you’ve also got to have political judgment and a sense of the possible. Those are qualities that Santorum lacks. That’s why he is rightly considered a marginal member of the GOP field’s second tier with no shot at all of winning next year.

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Equivalence between Israeli Self-Defense and a Tyrant’s Crackdown

Yesterday was “Naska Day,” as Evelyn points out, the day on which the Syrians commemorate their failure to invade Israel by trying to invade Israel. Since we live in a media environment that’s fundamentally insane, partisans with press cards lined up to condemn the Israelis for defending their borders. The problem, of course, is that it’s hard to justify hysteria over Israel when Assad has killed over 1,000 Syrians in the last few months. Critics would point to the disproportionate obsession with the Jewish State and suggest that it had long ago reached pathological levels.

The criticism would apply doubly since the IDF was blaring warning announcements across the border and limiting itself to shots at rioters’ feet. Assad’s snipers and thugs, in contrast, are mowing down people in the streets. Just yesterday 35 protesters were killed in Jisr al-Shughour and Khan Sheikhoun, a number that by qualitative and quantitative measures exceeds what happened at the Golan border.

Quite the quandary. How can one justify focusing on the Israeli-Syrian border when objectively worse violence is taking place deeper inside Syria? This is a problem analogous to the one that anti-Israel journalists and human rights activists always face. They have to justify condemning Israeli operations despite how Palestinian atrocities (brainwashing children into becoming terrorists, targeting civilian centers with rockets, etc.) are much worse. In response, an entire cottage industry has taken root to manufacture moral and tactical equivalences between Israelis and Palestinians.

Not coincidentally, media outlets yesterday stumbled into the same trick.

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Yesterday was “Naska Day,” as Evelyn points out, the day on which the Syrians commemorate their failure to invade Israel by trying to invade Israel. Since we live in a media environment that’s fundamentally insane, partisans with press cards lined up to condemn the Israelis for defending their borders. The problem, of course, is that it’s hard to justify hysteria over Israel when Assad has killed over 1,000 Syrians in the last few months. Critics would point to the disproportionate obsession with the Jewish State and suggest that it had long ago reached pathological levels.

The criticism would apply doubly since the IDF was blaring warning announcements across the border and limiting itself to shots at rioters’ feet. Assad’s snipers and thugs, in contrast, are mowing down people in the streets. Just yesterday 35 protesters were killed in Jisr al-Shughour and Khan Sheikhoun, a number that by qualitative and quantitative measures exceeds what happened at the Golan border.

Quite the quandary. How can one justify focusing on the Israeli-Syrian border when objectively worse violence is taking place deeper inside Syria? This is a problem analogous to the one that anti-Israel journalists and human rights activists always face. They have to justify condemning Israeli operations despite how Palestinian atrocities (brainwashing children into becoming terrorists, targeting civilian centers with rockets, etc.) are much worse. In response, an entire cottage industry has taken root to manufacture moral and tactical equivalences between Israelis and Palestinians.

Not coincidentally, media outlets yesterday stumbled into the same trick.

Yahoo’s approach was obnoxious but not blatant. Recognizing the need at least to gesture in the general direction of Assad’s atrocities in northern Syria, they posted a story about the violence headlined “35 reported killed in crackdown in northern Syria.” To illustrate the post, however, they inserted pictures of the riot on the Golan with the caption “Demonstrators flee Israeli fired tear gas as they gather along Syria’s border with Israel.”

Some people might accuse the editors of intentionally trying to obscure the nature of the violence, and of drawing a straightforward equivalence between Assad’s brutal crackdown and Israel’s defense of its sovereignty. But it’s more likely a function of how there just aren’t many pictures coming out of the cities that Assad is leveling, while the regime helpfully opened up the Golan area to stringers and journalists. Since Yahoo’s editors needed something to illustrate Syrian violence, they reached for the only pictures that were available—which is exactly, of course, what the regime was counting on. Why media outlets would want to make themselves willing dupes for tyrants is a different question, but at least this wasn’t an issue of explicit equivocation.

Bloomberg’s editors and journalists don’t have that excuse. The outlet published breathless a breathless report with the headline “Syria, Israel Target Separate Protests in Middle East.” The lead was even worse:

Israeli forces fired on a crowd marking the anniversary of the 1967 Middle East War by trying to cross the border from Syria, which Israelis said was an effort by Syria’s regime to divert attention from its internal woes. Inside Syria, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed 25 protesters and a general strike took place for the second day yesterday in the Syrian city of Hama in mourning for dozens of people killed there last week, according to the Web site Syrian Observatory, which monitors the unrest.

Anti-Israel partisans really, really want an excuse to focus on Jerusalem’s self-defense rather than Damascus’s atrocities. But this approach is lazy, and even putting aside the obvious lack of professionalism, it’s tired.

Media outlets should really switch back to the theory that Israeli self-defense on Golan bolsters Assad by giving him a distraction. That’s a transparently poor argument—Syrians know that Assad is just using the Golan to create a distraction, so in theory they’re not going to be unwillingly distracted if they’re already committed to reform—but at least it’s an argument. These equivocation gambits are just strained.

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Did Assad Pay Rioters to Storm Israeli Border?

That’s the word from the leaders of the Syrian anti-regime movement, who say that the government paid Syrian farmers $1,000 each to rush the Israeli border on Sunday morning:

Information received cite the regime has paid hundreds of these farmers $1,000 each to show-up and $10,000 to their families should any of them succumb to Israeli fire. In Syria, an average salary is about $200 a month and to these impoverished farmers, such a one-time sum can keep them economically afloat for six months.

Note the heftier compensation for “martyrdom,” another acknowledgment that the regime thinks its citizens are worth more dead than alive. According to the JTA, 18 rioters attempting to cross the border were killed by the IDF, which should please the Syrian government.

The border clashes were clearly designed to distract the world from the Syrian regime’s increasing brutality. But they may also have been an attempt to frighten Israelis and Americans about the prospects of democratic reforms in Syria. Arab autocrats often fan the flames of Israel-hatred in their countries, and then claim that oppressive laws are necessary to keep their fanatical citizens in check.

That’s the word from the leaders of the Syrian anti-regime movement, who say that the government paid Syrian farmers $1,000 each to rush the Israeli border on Sunday morning:

Information received cite the regime has paid hundreds of these farmers $1,000 each to show-up and $10,000 to their families should any of them succumb to Israeli fire. In Syria, an average salary is about $200 a month and to these impoverished farmers, such a one-time sum can keep them economically afloat for six months.

Note the heftier compensation for “martyrdom,” another acknowledgment that the regime thinks its citizens are worth more dead than alive. According to the JTA, 18 rioters attempting to cross the border were killed by the IDF, which should please the Syrian government.

The border clashes were clearly designed to distract the world from the Syrian regime’s increasing brutality. But they may also have been an attempt to frighten Israelis and Americans about the prospects of democratic reforms in Syria. Arab autocrats often fan the flames of Israel-hatred in their countries, and then claim that oppressive laws are necessary to keep their fanatical citizens in check.

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Obama’s Nuanced Foreign Policy Comes Undone over Syria

The Assad regime in Syria has killed over 1,000 people in the last two months. Entire cities have been “shelled into submission.” Arrests are creeping toward 10,000. Journalists who have been imprisoned report savage and continuous beatings.

The regime has targeted teenagers, beaten and arrested dozens of Syrian and even American students, and at least 25 children have been tortured and murdered. Al-Jazeera journalist Dorothy Parvaz was held in a cell for three days with a weeping and hysterical teenage girl who had been plucked off the streets and held in isolation for over 10 days. Imprisoned women are subjected to random abuse by men without names, ranks, or uniforms. It’s lawless rule by thugs inside and outside the prisons.

And it’s not as if the Obama administration hasn’t gone all-in on its “Assad is a reformer let’s peel him away from Iran” engagement boondoggle. In April the State Department rushed to assure Damascus the U.S. wasn’t undermining the Syrian government. In May Secretary Clinton still insisted that the U.S. government was looking for reforms out of Syria. President Obama’s Winds of Change speech later that month held out the possibility that Assad could “lead the transition” in Syria, causing Democratic progressive Will Marshall no end of consternation.

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The Assad regime in Syria has killed over 1,000 people in the last two months. Entire cities have been “shelled into submission.” Arrests are creeping toward 10,000. Journalists who have been imprisoned report savage and continuous beatings.

The regime has targeted teenagers, beaten and arrested dozens of Syrian and even American students, and at least 25 children have been tortured and murdered. Al-Jazeera journalist Dorothy Parvaz was held in a cell for three days with a weeping and hysterical teenage girl who had been plucked off the streets and held in isolation for over 10 days. Imprisoned women are subjected to random abuse by men without names, ranks, or uniforms. It’s lawless rule by thugs inside and outside the prisons.

And it’s not as if the Obama administration hasn’t gone all-in on its “Assad is a reformer let’s peel him away from Iran” engagement boondoggle. In April the State Department rushed to assure Damascus the U.S. wasn’t undermining the Syrian government. In May Secretary Clinton still insisted that the U.S. government was looking for reforms out of Syria. President Obama’s Winds of Change speech later that month held out the possibility that Assad could “lead the transition” in Syria, causing Democratic progressive Will Marshall no end of consternation.

All of this was done against the backdrop of our rushed kinetic approach to Libya, a country which was also led by a man the foreign policy and human rights establishment had declared to be a reformer. Until it turned out he wasn’t. Where some might have glimpsed inconsistency, of course, Obama apologists gazed upon super-keen sophistication. The Los Angeles Times, showing no deference to the decent obligation of partisans to avoid self-caricature, even headlined one article as “Obama’s nuanced foreign policy evident in Libya vs. Syria.”

Now Obama administration officials, having gone out of their way to coddle Assad but slowly losing their patience, can’t understand why the international community won’t suddenly go hardline on Syria. Secretary Clinton is frustrated that “the international community is not as united as we are seeking to make it.” Russia and China in particular have been less than forthcoming in their willingness to pressure Damascus. A lot of that has to do with those nations following their objective interests, something that the Obama White House naively thought it could sweep away with the force of The One’s eloquence, and something that belongs in a separate post about smug and wide-eyed “reset” fantasies.

For the purposes of mobilizing international action against Syria, though, the mixed messages make the White House sound incoherent and incompetent. For two years the Obama administration invented one pseudo-sophisticated pretext for engagement after another. Outreach began even before the November 4 election—something that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough—when then-candidate Obama dispatched surrogates to Damascus in the context of so-called “track two” negotiations. Now the administration wants everyone to forget all their previous tangled “analysis,” but to accept their new anti-Assad declarations as writ. Rhetorically that seems like a less than straightforward task.

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Syria: “There Is No Place for Israel in Our Natural Future”

Hundreds of Palestinian residents of Syria tried to storm Israel’s border for the second time in three weeks yesterday to mark “Naksa Day,” the Arabic term for Israel’s 1967 victory over the Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian armies. The Syrian government’s interest in allowing them to reach the border, normally a closed military zone, is obvious. Bashar al-Assad hoped to distract attention from his ongoing massacre of pro-democracy protesters. But what were the Palestinians themselves trying to achieve?

To Western journalists and diplomats, the answer is equally obvious. The goal was to increase pressure on Israel to accede to a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines. But according to Dr. Sabri Saidam, a former Palestinian communications minister and self-described Internet guru, that isn’t what Palestinians themselves are saying.

Young Palestinians, he asserted in an interview with Haaretz last week, are more committed than ever before, but most of them “are not talking about the peace process or the Arab [peace] initiative or the 1967 borders.” So if they have no interest in the peace process or the 1967 borders, what exactly are they committed to?

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Hundreds of Palestinian residents of Syria tried to storm Israel’s border for the second time in three weeks yesterday to mark “Naksa Day,” the Arabic term for Israel’s 1967 victory over the Syrian, Jordanian, and Egyptian armies. The Syrian government’s interest in allowing them to reach the border, normally a closed military zone, is obvious. Bashar al-Assad hoped to distract attention from his ongoing massacre of pro-democracy protesters. But what were the Palestinians themselves trying to achieve?

To Western journalists and diplomats, the answer is equally obvious. The goal was to increase pressure on Israel to accede to a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines. But according to Dr. Sabri Saidam, a former Palestinian communications minister and self-described Internet guru, that isn’t what Palestinians themselves are saying.

Young Palestinians, he asserted in an interview with Haaretz last week, are more committed than ever before, but most of them “are not talking about the peace process or the Arab [peace] initiative or the 1967 borders.” So if they have no interest in the peace process or the 1967 borders, what exactly are they committed to?

Their commitment, Saidam enthusiastically declared, is epitomized by the young Syrian-Palestinian—one of hundreds who successfully breached Israel’s borders on May 15—who triumphantly made it all the way to Jaffa. In short, young Palestinians aren’t committed to a state in the 1967 lines; what they are seeking is a “return” to pre-1967 Israel—towns like Jaffa and Haifa and Safed. And as everyone knows, allowing 4.8 million Palestinians to “return” to pre-1967 Israel would spell the demise of the Jewish state.

That, of course, is also the official position of Israel’s Palestinian “peace partner,” as I detailed here. But even if you assume, as Western journalists and diplomats blithely do, that this is a mere bargaining chip which the Palestinian leadership plans to sacrifice for a state in the 1967 lines, how do they imagine any Palestinian leader will be able to do so when his public views “returning” to pre-1967 Israel not as a bargaining chip, but as the primary goal?

In a recent column on Naksa Day in the Syrian government newspaper Al-Baath, columnist Ahmad Hassan summarized the goal bluntly:

This is not the “Middle East conflict”; it is the Israeli-Arab conflict. It is not a border conflict . . . it is a struggle for survival. . . . Neither we nor the entire region has a natural future in the shadow of Israeli existence, and there is no place for Israel in our natural future or that of the region.

Indeed, this point is inherent in the very name “Naksa Day.” The word naksa means “setback.” And what goal was set back when the Arabs failed to defeat Israel in 1967, at a time when it controlled none of what are now termed the “occupied territories”? Clearly, the goal of eradicating pre-1967 Israel.

Not all Arabs still want to turn the clock back to the days before Israel existed. But a great many do. And that’s precisely why Palestinians have said “no” to every offer of statehood since 1947.

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Scottish Anti-Israel Book Boycott Somehow Gets Dumber

The invaluable Comment Is Free Watch (CiF Watch) has been doing yoemen’s work opposing the Scottish boycotters, first covered here by Alana a few weeks ago. You’ll remember that the West Dunbartonshire council decided in 2009 to showcase their commitment to freedom by banning Israeli books from their public libraries.

The council was promptly upstaged in its quest for the vaunted “most reminiscent of Nazi tactics” ribbon by the Scottish city of Dundee, which announced its intention to brand Israeli products with “a special mark . . . to make them easily identifiable.” As of yet there has been no decision on whether the badge will be yellow, a star, or something totally innovative. Presumably they’ll just follow whatever the UK government recommended when it urged businesses to mark Israeli West Bank products. But while people wait for Dundee to come to a stylistic consensus, they’re focusing on the West Dunbartonshire council’s original creepy callback to genocidal Nazism.

When recently pushed to defend themselves, the formerly eager-to-swagger West Dunbartonshires suddenly insisted they weren’t banning Israeli books at all. They were merely banning books from Israel, which is different. Seriously. Thinking adults put their heads together, brainstormed the very best defense they could come invent, and that’s what they came up with:

Read More

The invaluable Comment Is Free Watch (CiF Watch) has been doing yoemen’s work opposing the Scottish boycotters, first covered here by Alana a few weeks ago. You’ll remember that the West Dunbartonshire council decided in 2009 to showcase their commitment to freedom by banning Israeli books from their public libraries.

The council was promptly upstaged in its quest for the vaunted “most reminiscent of Nazi tactics” ribbon by the Scottish city of Dundee, which announced its intention to brand Israeli products with “a special mark . . . to make them easily identifiable.” As of yet there has been no decision on whether the badge will be yellow, a star, or something totally innovative. Presumably they’ll just follow whatever the UK government recommended when it urged businesses to mark Israeli West Bank products. But while people wait for Dundee to come to a stylistic consensus, they’re focusing on the West Dunbartonshire council’s original creepy callback to genocidal Nazism.

When recently pushed to defend themselves, the formerly eager-to-swagger West Dunbartonshires suddenly insisted they weren’t banning Israeli books at all. They were merely banning books from Israel, which is different. Seriously. Thinking adults put their heads together, brainstormed the very best defense they could come invent, and that’s what they came up with:

West Dunbartonshire Council utterly refutes recent media claims that it has “launched a boycott on Israeli books.” The Council’s boycott does not in any way seek to censor or silence authors and commentators from Israel. The Council’s boycott only relates to goods “made or grown” in Israel. The vast majority of mainstream books by Israeli authors are published in the UK and are therefore not affected by this boycott. Only books that were printed in Israel and transported to the UK for distribution would be potentially boycotted.

Shorter version: “West Dunbartonshire Council clarifies boycott stance: we’re only banning the ‘Israeli’ books that are really Jewy!”

These aren’t serious people. They wallow in moral consensus while striking a pose of political courage, but only as long as there are zero practical consequences. They’re one step more pathetic than the self-declared activists who fantasize that their tweets and Facebook messages are acts of “solidarity” with Palestinian “freedom fighters.” At least social media terrorist apologists are taking a stand. The West Dunbartonshires won’t even admit that they’re targeting Israelis, when the whole point of their strutting resolution is to target Israelis. It’s a repeat of what happened at the University of Johannesburg, where the University embraced a BDS motion to cut academic ties with Ben-Gurion University and then—in the face of protests—hurriedly denied that they were engaging in anything like a “boycott.” These poseurs want their “resistance,” but only as long as it’s emptied of any resistance.

At least when Australia’s Marrickville Council tried to boycott Israel they promised to replace existing Israeli technology and forgo future purchases. They had to promptly drop the idea because they discovered it would cost millions of dollars to replace HP computers (opps!) but at least they were committed. “Stupid and repugnant,” according to Prime Minister Julia Gillard. But definitely committed.

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Countdown Resumes on Iranian Nukes

In a speech given to the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna today, Yukio Amano, the IAEA’s director stated that more evidence has been found that pointed to the existence of a military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. Amano has taken a tougher line on Iran than his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, who is currently running for president of Egypt. Last fall Amano spoke openly about Iranian work to develop a nuclear-armed missile. In recent weeks, the IAEA has revealed that Tehran has been working on, among other things, nuclear triggers and detonators that could only be related to the production of bombs.

The focus of today’s meeting seems to be on Iran’s ally Syria, which was building a nuclear reactor of its own until the site was destroyed in an Israeli raid in September 2007. But the BBC reports that any action against Damascus is unlikely because diplomats say more pressure on the Assad regime right now would be ill timed due to the unrest and violent repression going on in the country. Rather than push the Syrians at a moment when they are vulnerable, the international community will again take a pass on doing something about them.

Amano’s candor about Iranian nukes is a welcome change,since the ElBaradei’s main concern was preventing any concerted Western action against Tehran rather than restraining the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. But even this blunter talk from the IAEA has done nothing to soften Iran’s intransigence as their refusal to cooperate with the agency or to answer Amano’s queries illustrates. Far from convincing the Khameini regime to start backing away from its dreams of nuclear weapons, the last three years of international diplomacy on the issue seem to have convinced them that they can continue with impunity. All the West seems capable of doing about the issue is talk.

Nevertheless, Amano is to be commended for helping to push Iran’s nuclear program back into the news. The Obama administration as well as much of the mainstream media had been generally quiet about Iran for several months in large measure because the news about the Stuxnet computer virus had encouraged people to think that Iran’s program was crippled by the worm, thus relieving the West of its responsibility to act against a potentially genocidal nuclear threat. But it is now clear that whatever damage was done—and we still don’t know the extent of what Stuxnet achieved or even who launched it—Iran has weathered that crisis and is moving on to achieve its nuclear goals.

The countdown has clearly resumed toward the day when Iran will announce its nuclear capability, a development that could would, at the very least, change the balance of power in the Middle East for the worse. But the IAEA can only talk about the problem. It will be up to the United States and President Obama to do something about it.

In a speech given to the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna today, Yukio Amano, the IAEA’s director stated that more evidence has been found that pointed to the existence of a military dimension to Iran’s nuclear program. Amano has taken a tougher line on Iran than his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, who is currently running for president of Egypt. Last fall Amano spoke openly about Iranian work to develop a nuclear-armed missile. In recent weeks, the IAEA has revealed that Tehran has been working on, among other things, nuclear triggers and detonators that could only be related to the production of bombs.

The focus of today’s meeting seems to be on Iran’s ally Syria, which was building a nuclear reactor of its own until the site was destroyed in an Israeli raid in September 2007. But the BBC reports that any action against Damascus is unlikely because diplomats say more pressure on the Assad regime right now would be ill timed due to the unrest and violent repression going on in the country. Rather than push the Syrians at a moment when they are vulnerable, the international community will again take a pass on doing something about them.

Amano’s candor about Iranian nukes is a welcome change,since the ElBaradei’s main concern was preventing any concerted Western action against Tehran rather than restraining the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. But even this blunter talk from the IAEA has done nothing to soften Iran’s intransigence as their refusal to cooperate with the agency or to answer Amano’s queries illustrates. Far from convincing the Khameini regime to start backing away from its dreams of nuclear weapons, the last three years of international diplomacy on the issue seem to have convinced them that they can continue with impunity. All the West seems capable of doing about the issue is talk.

Nevertheless, Amano is to be commended for helping to push Iran’s nuclear program back into the news. The Obama administration as well as much of the mainstream media had been generally quiet about Iran for several months in large measure because the news about the Stuxnet computer virus had encouraged people to think that Iran’s program was crippled by the worm, thus relieving the West of its responsibility to act against a potentially genocidal nuclear threat. But it is now clear that whatever damage was done—and we still don’t know the extent of what Stuxnet achieved or even who launched it—Iran has weathered that crisis and is moving on to achieve its nuclear goals.

The countdown has clearly resumed toward the day when Iran will announce its nuclear capability, a development that could would, at the very least, change the balance of power in the Middle East for the worse. But the IAEA can only talk about the problem. It will be up to the United States and President Obama to do something about it.

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