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Posts For: August 21, 2011

Preserve and Publicize the Libyan Archives

If the news headlines are true and Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s days—if not hours—are numbered, then let’s hope the Obama administration will lead from in front and take measures to help the transitional Libyan government protect, preserve, and hopefully publish documents from Qaddafi’s archives.

Saddam’s documents provided a treasure trove of information about academics, journalists, and international diplomats long on the take from Saddam’s regime but, alas, too few were published. What was exposed through the oil-for-food was a tantalizing window into international corruption.

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If the news headlines are true and Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s days—if not hours—are numbered, then let’s hope the Obama administration will lead from in front and take measures to help the transitional Libyan government protect, preserve, and hopefully publish documents from Qaddafi’s archives.

Saddam’s documents provided a treasure trove of information about academics, journalists, and international diplomats long on the take from Saddam’s regime but, alas, too few were published. What was exposed through the oil-for-food was a tantalizing window into international corruption.

Qaddafi’s archives should tell tales as important. What was Billy Carter really doing in Tripoli? What did Louis Farrakhan tell Qaddafi behind closed doors?  Did Qaddafi truly abandon terrorism after 2003? What was the real role of British diplomats in the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi? Let’s hope Obama’s promise of transparency trumps his desire to lead from behind.

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A Few Caveats About Qaddafi and Libya

Muammar Qaddafi’s rule, which began nearly 42 years ago, appears to be in its death throes. Rebels have entered Tripoli, and if news accounts are to be believed, the regime’s defenders are collapsing faster than anyone expected. The “ring of steel” Qaddafi had supposedly erected around his capital proved as formidable as all the defenses Saddam Hussein had boasted would keep Baghdad safe from an American-led invasion in 2003. This is hardly surprising: Regimes like Qaddafi’s or Saddam’s depend on fear to survive. They have little love or loyalty to call upon. Once the veil of fear protecting the regime is pierced–once it appears its enemies are ascendant–dictators like Qaddafi and Saddam discover how few real friends they actually have.

But while the end of Qaddafi’s rule–if that is in fact what we are seeing here, and we should always keep in mind initial reports are fragmentary and often wrong–is to be welcomed with open arms, a couple of caveats should be kept in mind.

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Muammar Qaddafi’s rule, which began nearly 42 years ago, appears to be in its death throes. Rebels have entered Tripoli, and if news accounts are to be believed, the regime’s defenders are collapsing faster than anyone expected. The “ring of steel” Qaddafi had supposedly erected around his capital proved as formidable as all the defenses Saddam Hussein had boasted would keep Baghdad safe from an American-led invasion in 2003. This is hardly surprising: Regimes like Qaddafi’s or Saddam’s depend on fear to survive. They have little love or loyalty to call upon. Once the veil of fear protecting the regime is pierced–once it appears its enemies are ascendant–dictators like Qaddafi and Saddam discover how few real friends they actually have.

But while the end of Qaddafi’s rule–if that is in fact what we are seeing here, and we should always keep in mind initial reports are fragmentary and often wrong–is to be welcomed with open arms, a couple of caveats should be kept in mind.

In the first place, Qaddafi might have fallen months sooner if President Obama had acted sooner and devoted more resources to the NATO  campaign. The fact the fighting has stretched on for more than six months has raised the cost of reconstruction and deepened already existing fissures in Libyan society. That raises the danger it will be hard to stabilize post-Qaddafi Libya.

This brings us to our second caveat: that, while Qaddafi’s fall is a big step forward, it is not the end of the journey. If Libya is to arrive at the destination we would all like to see–if it is to emerge as a liberal, Western-style democracy–much hard work lies ahead. As I have been arguing for awhile, it is vitally important NATO be ready to help stabilize the situation, to prevent Qaddafi’s supporters from mounting an insurgency, to keep potent weapons from slipping out of governmental control–in short to ensure Libya does not suffer the fate of Iraq or Afghanistan, which descended into chaos after the collapse of their regimes. That will probably require the deployment of a stabilization force to work with the Transitional National Council and buttress its shaky authority.

With those caveats in mind, I think it is nevertheless fitting to extend tentative congratulations to the people of Libya–and to their defenders in the West. In particular to Prime Minister David Cameron, President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Obama: the three driving forces behind the NATO effort to prevent Qaddafi from preserving his regime by slaughtering his own people. As noted before, I wish they had done more, faster, but the fact they acted at all–in the face of considerable criticism–is to their credit, and to the credit of the countries they lead.

In Libya, at least, the international community made clear it will take forceful action when the basic norms of civilization are traduced. Thus, Libya joins other cases–from Bosnia and Kosovo to Iraq–which show international law does occasionally mean something, that sometimes there is a price to be paid for the most inhumane conduct.

Let us hope that is a message Bashar al-Assad, among others, receives–and that he will be next in the ever-growing queue of deposed dictators in the Middle East.

 

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Four Ways for Bachmann to Stay Competitive

One week after her triumph in the Ames straw poll, Michele Bachmann isn’t feeling much love from the political media. The entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry has dominated the news and taken some of the steam out of any momentum her Iowa win might have given her. That’s a problem for a candidate who hasn’t the financial resources of either Perry or Mitt Romney, the third member of the GOP’s first-tier troika. She is still viewed by many Republicans as an outlier on policy and unelectable, and there’s little question party leaders are hoping she will fade before the Iowa caucuses where she is favored and disappear quickly after them.

But as formidable as Perry appears to be, it’s way too early to write Bachmann off as some have already done. Here are four ways for Bachmann to stay competitive and keep herself in the conversation. She needs to get personal, get serious, get better staff work and get lucky.

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One week after her triumph in the Ames straw poll, Michele Bachmann isn’t feeling much love from the political media. The entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry has dominated the news and taken some of the steam out of any momentum her Iowa win might have given her. That’s a problem for a candidate who hasn’t the financial resources of either Perry or Mitt Romney, the third member of the GOP’s first-tier troika. She is still viewed by many Republicans as an outlier on policy and unelectable, and there’s little question party leaders are hoping she will fade before the Iowa caucuses where she is favored and disappear quickly after them.

But as formidable as Perry appears to be, it’s way too early to write Bachmann off as some have already done. Here are four ways for Bachmann to stay competitive and keep herself in the conversation. She needs to get personal, get serious, get better staff work and get lucky.

Get Personal

Michele Bachmann’s greatest asset is herself. The only reason she was catapulted from obscurity to the big time was because she has the ability to connect with voters. Her personal story and the way she relates it to her ironclad convictions is a powerful tool. Though many wise heads may rightly say her unwillingness to compromise on issues like the debt ceiling is a defect in a leader, it gives her credibility with voters looking for something other than the usual politician. But what she must do in the next four months is to capitalize on these talents rather than merely scurrying about the early primary states. Bachmann must concentrate on making the retail political culture of Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina pay off.  A campaign strategy that contrasts her politics of conviction with the inevitable compromises career politicians like Perry must make can keep her relevant.

Get Serious

Bachmann’s main problem is not just that her resume is thinner in many respects than that of her two main rivals, it is that her debt ceiling absolutism is seen as more the act of a gadfly than a president. Even as she sticks to her guns on the issues, Bachmann also has to start enunciating positions that will enable voters to imagine her as president. In the coming months, Bachmann has to talk about more than saying no to more spending. She also has to give some serious foreign policy and economic speeches that will make it clear she has some idea of how she will govern other than merely saying she thinks Obama is a disaster. Doing so won’t convince policy wonks who don’t like her anyway, and it’s true giving such speeches didn’t save Tim Pawlenty’s candidacy, but she can only add to her credibility by trying.

Get Better

One of the least reported aspects of Bachmann’s Iowa victory was the fact it was in spite of, rather than because of the quality of her staff work. Unlike the other major candidates, Bachmann didn’t spend the last few years preparing to run, and it shows. The amateur feel of much of the advance work and her fundraising efforts has hampered her candidacy. And for a candidate whose main strength lies in her ability to mobilize the grassroots of her party along with Tea Partiers and religious conservatives, her Internet presence is very ordinary. Bachmann ought to be cleaning up digitally on the right in much the same way Obama did on the left in 2008, but it isn’t happening. If Bachmann doesn’t get better staff work and an improved web presence, she is doomed to early defeat. If she does, Perry is in for the fight of his life.

Get Lucky

Other than a suicidal gaffe by one of the candidates, the wildcard in the race is the possibility a late entry or two will scramble the current alignment. While I still believe this is highly unlikely, such a development could either make or break Bachmann’s campaign. But that depends on who the late entry will be.

If Sarah Palin stops teasing her fans and actually runs for president, there’s little doubt it would be disastrous for Bachmann, because the former Alaska governor primarily appeals to the same voters. I don’t think it will happen, but if it does, Palin will almost certainly crash and burn. But she’ll take Bachmann with her.

On the other hand, if one of the trio of conservative messiahs — Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie — should enter the race, it is Perry and Romney who will be hurt. Again, I don’t think this is going to happen. But if it does, I doubt Bachmann’s conservative base of Tea Partiers and evangelicals will swoon for any of those three. Some Perry and many Romney supporters will flee them in pursuit of who they believe will be a more electable candidate. That could help Bachmann win Iowa and enable her to go on as the conservative alternative to the more mainstream GOP candidates. That isn’t necessarily a path to the nomination, but it is one that would allow her to go far deeper into the primary season.

None of this free advice comes with a guarantee. It may well be the GOP electorate is too eager to beat Obama to try their luck with an ideological candidate who might turn out to be another Goldwater or McGovern-style landslide loser. But if Bachmann spends the next few months capitalizing on her strengths, minimizing her weaknesses and getting a little bit lucky, there’s no reason to believe she won’t still be in the thick of it in January.

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Israel Sends its Regrets. Where are Egypt’s?

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has issued a statement indicating Israel’s “regret” about the death of three Egyptian security officers who were apparently killed by Israeli forces returning the fire of terrorists escaping into Egypt. However, that was insufficient to satisfy the Egyptian government. Cairo said it was still intent on withdrawing its ambassador to Israel, and the military government there was also insulted by Barak’s comments about Egypt losing its grip on the Sinai after Palestinian terrorists used the peninsula as a base to launch the attacks on the Eilat region that took the lives of eight Israelis on Thursday.

But the world is still waiting for Egypt to express its own regrets about the fact its territory was used by terrorists. Its government seems a lot more concerned about trying to stop Israel from pursuing the Eilat murderers and those who sent them to kill than in policing its own border and keeping the peace. That is a fact members of the United States Congress should remember when they are next asked to approve of the next installment of $2 billion in aid to Egypt.

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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has issued a statement indicating Israel’s “regret” about the death of three Egyptian security officers who were apparently killed by Israeli forces returning the fire of terrorists escaping into Egypt. However, that was insufficient to satisfy the Egyptian government. Cairo said it was still intent on withdrawing its ambassador to Israel, and the military government there was also insulted by Barak’s comments about Egypt losing its grip on the Sinai after Palestinian terrorists used the peninsula as a base to launch the attacks on the Eilat region that took the lives of eight Israelis on Thursday.

But the world is still waiting for Egypt to express its own regrets about the fact its territory was used by terrorists. Its government seems a lot more concerned about trying to stop Israel from pursuing the Eilat murderers and those who sent them to kill than in policing its own border and keeping the peace. That is a fact members of the United States Congress should remember when they are next asked to approve of the next installment of $2 billion in aid to Egypt.

Israel is right to do what it can to lessen tensions with Egypt. The peace with Egypt has always been cold, but it is also a strategic asset and it must be nurtured even under the most trying of circumstances. The post-Mubarak government of that country is more vulnerable than ever to anti-Israel sentiments from the Arab street as well as pressure from the increasingly influential Muslim Brotherhood. But its willingness to countenance the use of its territory by Palestinian terrorists undermines the peace far more than any riposte by Israel.

Though Americans have been at pains to treat the current Egyptian government with kid gloves as it adjusts to life without the old dictator, it is nevertheless important for Washington to send an unequivocal warning to Cairo. Should Egypt continue to turn a blind eye to anti-Israel terror launched from the Sinai or to strengthen its ties with Hamas in Gaza, that should result in the loss of the vital U.S. aid that helps keep the military in control of the country.

The Obama administration has been characteristically indecisive in its attitude toward Egypt during the last several months. But it is absolutely essential the Obama administration make it clear to Cairo there will be severe consequences if it allows itself to be maneuvered into conflict with Israel. The regime fears if it is seen as attempting to keep the peace with Israel it will be perceived as following Mubarak’s legacy. But if it continues on the path of appeasement of the Muslim Brotherhood, the result will be a further breakdown in the regional balance of power.

The United States has a right and a duty to demand accountability from Egypt about its own failures in Thursday’s incident. If it does not do so, the administration will be helping to set in motion a series of events that could further damage American interests in the region.

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An Invulnerable Hamas is the Face of Palestinian Independence

In the immediate aftermath of the bloody terrorist attacks that took the lives of eight Israelis in the Eilat region, I wrote on Thursday the incident illustrated the pitfalls of allowing a Hamas terror state to be situated on Israel’s doorstep. The decision of the Hamas regime in Gaza to launch a barrage of approximately 100 missiles at southern Israel since then has made that danger all the more palpable. Though Jerusalem hopes it can avoid a further escalation (such as the commitment of ground troops), recent events call into question its ability to deter further attacks.

The mainstream media has reported these attacks and even the assaults on Eilat and Israel’s counter-attacks against the bases in Gaza from which the terrorists set forth as if they were just another episode in the so-called “cycle of violence” between Arabs and Jews. But these latest incidents bring into focus the futility of an American Middle East policy whose sole focus has been to pressure Israel to accommodate Palestinian ambitions. The Palestinian state that already exists in Gaza is a loaded gun pointed at Israel’s head every moment. Its leaders also seem to believe the price of another Israeli counter-offensive such as the one that took place in December 2008 is too fraught with danger — both in terms of the loss of Israeli life and the international opprobrium that it would incur no matter how careful its troops were in seeking to avoid civilian casualties — for Netanyahu to consider measures that might truly threaten them.

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In the immediate aftermath of the bloody terrorist attacks that took the lives of eight Israelis in the Eilat region, I wrote on Thursday the incident illustrated the pitfalls of allowing a Hamas terror state to be situated on Israel’s doorstep. The decision of the Hamas regime in Gaza to launch a barrage of approximately 100 missiles at southern Israel since then has made that danger all the more palpable. Though Jerusalem hopes it can avoid a further escalation (such as the commitment of ground troops), recent events call into question its ability to deter further attacks.

The mainstream media has reported these attacks and even the assaults on Eilat and Israel’s counter-attacks against the bases in Gaza from which the terrorists set forth as if they were just another episode in the so-called “cycle of violence” between Arabs and Jews. But these latest incidents bring into focus the futility of an American Middle East policy whose sole focus has been to pressure Israel to accommodate Palestinian ambitions. The Palestinian state that already exists in Gaza is a loaded gun pointed at Israel’s head every moment. Its leaders also seem to believe the price of another Israeli counter-offensive such as the one that took place in December 2008 is too fraught with danger — both in terms of the loss of Israeli life and the international opprobrium that it would incur no matter how careful its troops were in seeking to avoid civilian casualties — for Netanyahu to consider measures that might truly threaten them.

Israel can continue to try to use air strikes to hit the leadership of the groups behind the Thursday attacks as well as weapons factories and other military targets such as the tunnels through which military supplies are smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. But as devastating as these blows can be, they do not change the basic equation of the situation. Hamas is dug in inside Gaza and believes it can hit Israel with impunity. And it is counting on its international cheering section to treat any Israel counter-attack as if it were a war crime.

So long as Hamas can attack Israel any time it wants, it can effectively veto any chance of peace with Palestinian moderates should any turn up  who would actually be willing to sign a peace accord. The missiles from Gaza should also serve to remind both Israelis and the international community that Hamas’ deadly attacks are the true face of Palestinian independence. While the vast majority of Israelis would be glad to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank provided this meant the end of the conflict, Gaza provides a glimpse of what that state might well become. That is something no one in the Obama administration seems to want to think about as it continues to push for Israeli concessions. And it is also something UN member states should consider when they are asked to vote next month in favor of Palestinian independence without first forcing them to make peace with Israel.

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A Small Sign of Progress in Afghanistan

As is often the case, the most interesting point in this New York Times article about a Taliban attack on the British Council in Kabul was buried at the very end. After recounting this suicidal assault–which was dealt with almost entirely by Afghan security forces–the Times notes:

NATO officials, however, say that despite appearances, the Taliban’s promised uptick of violence in the warmer months has largely not emerged. Violence was still up in the first part of the year, according to Western military and intelligence officials. But since May overall insurgent activity has begun to decline from last year’s levels, even as improvised explosive device attacks have risen, taking a major toll on civilians.

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As is often the case, the most interesting point in this New York Times article about a Taliban attack on the British Council in Kabul was buried at the very end. After recounting this suicidal assault–which was dealt with almost entirely by Afghan security forces–the Times notes:

NATO officials, however, say that despite appearances, the Taliban’s promised uptick of violence in the warmer months has largely not emerged. Violence was still up in the first part of the year, according to Western military and intelligence officials. But since May overall insurgent activity has begun to decline from last year’s levels, even as improvised explosive device attacks have risen, taking a major toll on civilians.

This is hardly a sign the war is won–to put it mildly. But it is a small, tentative sign of progress–one that isn’t as sexy as news about occasional terrorist assaults in Kabul (a city that is generally pretty safe)–that may be more significant.


		

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A Tale of Two Plagiarism Cases

I was disappointed to learn earlier this year that Bahman Baktiari, head of the University of Utah’s Middle East Center, had been accused of plagiarism. The University of Utah believed the evidence conclusive and after an investigation, dismissed him. Baktiari was author of the well-regarded Parliamentary Politics in Revolutionary Iran, perhaps the best political history of immediate post-revolutionary Iran, and while I do not understand his subsequent academic dishonesty, the University of Utah honors itself by making such behavior have a consequence.

Not so the New York Times. John Hinderaker at the always excellent Powerlineblog highlights a seriously flawed story written by Eric Lichtblau. Not only did Lichtblau get almost every fact wrong, but he also appears to have allegedly plagiarized (an equally flawed) piece over at Think Progress. The New York Times may lament the decline in its readership across the political spectrum. Its willingness to place politics over ethics may explain why even many liberals recognize the Grey Lady is a shadow of its former self.

I was disappointed to learn earlier this year that Bahman Baktiari, head of the University of Utah’s Middle East Center, had been accused of plagiarism. The University of Utah believed the evidence conclusive and after an investigation, dismissed him. Baktiari was author of the well-regarded Parliamentary Politics in Revolutionary Iran, perhaps the best political history of immediate post-revolutionary Iran, and while I do not understand his subsequent academic dishonesty, the University of Utah honors itself by making such behavior have a consequence.

Not so the New York Times. John Hinderaker at the always excellent Powerlineblog highlights a seriously flawed story written by Eric Lichtblau. Not only did Lichtblau get almost every fact wrong, but he also appears to have allegedly plagiarized (an equally flawed) piece over at Think Progress. The New York Times may lament the decline in its readership across the political spectrum. Its willingness to place politics over ethics may explain why even many liberals recognize the Grey Lady is a shadow of its former self.

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Basketball Brawl Symbolized Growing U.S.-China Tensions

The Georgetown Hoyas came to Beijing for a “China-U.S. Basketball Friendship Match.” It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, the Hoyas’ game on Thursday against the Bayi Military Rockets–a professional team made up entirely of People’s Liberation Army soldiers–ended in a vicious, bench-clearing brawl.

The Washington Post notes that “an unidentified Bayi player pushed Georgetown’s Aaron Bowen through a partition to the ground before repeatedly punching the sophomore guard while sitting on his chest,” while “Georgetown senior center Henry Sims had a chair tossed at him by an unidentified person.” Check out this picture of a Chinese player stomping a defenseless American collegian lying on the floor. The Post also observes that “the game-ending fracas marked the second time that both benches emptied in a rugged contest marred by fouls, an inordinate number of which went against the Hoyas. By halftime, Bayi had 11 fouls while Georgetown had 28″–which suggests the Chinese referees were hardly impartial.

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The Georgetown Hoyas came to Beijing for a “China-U.S. Basketball Friendship Match.” It didn’t quite work out that way. Instead, the Hoyas’ game on Thursday against the Bayi Military Rockets–a professional team made up entirely of People’s Liberation Army soldiers–ended in a vicious, bench-clearing brawl.

The Washington Post notes that “an unidentified Bayi player pushed Georgetown’s Aaron Bowen through a partition to the ground before repeatedly punching the sophomore guard while sitting on his chest,” while “Georgetown senior center Henry Sims had a chair tossed at him by an unidentified person.” Check out this picture of a Chinese player stomping a defenseless American collegian lying on the floor. The Post also observes that “the game-ending fracas marked the second time that both benches emptied in a rugged contest marred by fouls, an inordinate number of which went against the Hoyas. By halftime, Bayi had 11 fouls while Georgetown had 28″–which suggests the Chinese referees were hardly impartial.

So the basketball match was symbolic but not in the way sponsors had intended. Instead of symbolizing U.S.-China friendship, it symbolized the growing tensions between the two countries occasioned by China’s increasingly assertive and brutal treatment of its own people as well as its neighbors. Suffice it to say no dictatorship encourages good sportsmanship, and China is no exception: Its government–in common with regimes from Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia–tends to see international athletic contests as a way to assert its superiority over competing countries and to tout the advantages of its own political system.

The vulnerability of a system like China’s is that while it does deliver some material goods, it is also deeply illegitimate because it is not founded on the consent of the governed. That lack of democratic accountability means office-holders tend to behave in ways that, when they become public, revolt the population and lead to calls for change. One of the biggest complaints the Chinese people have is about the corruption of their elites–and that, too, was revealed in another bit of unwitting symbolism.

Gary Locke, a Chinese-American former governor, is the incoming U.S. ambassador in Beijing. On his way to his new assignment, he stopped at a Starbucks in the Seattle airport with his son to buy some refreshments. A picture of Locke toting a backpack and paying for his own beverage subsequently appeared on the Internet–and caused a sensation in China where people have a hard time believing a senior official could do such mundane tasks for himself.

In China, where the imperial tradition remains strong, even junior bureaucrats are relieved of such petty annoyances by endless factotums who cater to them as if they were mandarins in the emperor’s court.

These two symbols–one of thuggishness, the other of humility–say much about the state of the two countries today and are worth keeping in mind for the future.

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