Commentary Magazine


Posts For: August 22, 2011

Meet the Legal Wonks Who Brought Down the Flotilla

At a radical left-wing coffee shop in Washington, D.C. last month, Code Pink founder and “Freedom Flotilla II” passenger Medea Benjamin woefully recounted the moment she realized her boat, the Audacity of Hope, wouldn’t be legally permitted to leave a port in Greece to sail to Gaza.

“There was something called a ‘complaint’ that was put against our boat,” Benjamin explained to a crowd of anti-Israel activists stuffed into the back room of the restaurant. “Well, it didn’t take long for somebody to uncover that the person, or entity, that lodged the complaint was none other than this right-wing Israeli law center based in Tel Aviv, that knew nothing about our boat and certainly had no interest in the passengers’ safety.”

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At a radical left-wing coffee shop in Washington, D.C. last month, Code Pink founder and “Freedom Flotilla II” passenger Medea Benjamin woefully recounted the moment she realized her boat, the Audacity of Hope, wouldn’t be legally permitted to leave a port in Greece to sail to Gaza.

“There was something called a ‘complaint’ that was put against our boat,” Benjamin explained to a crowd of anti-Israel activists stuffed into the back room of the restaurant. “Well, it didn’t take long for somebody to uncover that the person, or entity, that lodged the complaint was none other than this right-wing Israeli law center based in Tel Aviv, that knew nothing about our boat and certainly had no interest in the passengers’ safety.”

The “right-wing” law center that caused Benjamin so much grief is Shurat HaDin – the Israeli group that single-handedly took down the “Freedom Flotilla II” simply by filing creative lawsuits. In total, nine out of the 10 boats in the flotilla never touched Israeli waters, largely due to Shurat HaDin’s work.

Led by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and her husband Avi Leitner, the legal center is pioneering a new strategy of Israeli-self defense: Pro-Israel Lawfare.

“There is a way of fighting back, we just have to start thinking like Jews again,” Avi Leitner told me during the Leitners’ recent visit to D.C. “And remember, the Jews invented lawfare, the Jews invented law. So you don’t sit on your hands.”

The first step the legal center took against the flotilla was to target private companies that may have been assisting it. “We thought, what do boats need in order to sail?” Darshan-Leitner told me. “And we realized that all boats must have insurance.” Shurat HaDin began by contacting the major maritime insurance agencies, and informing them they might be criminally liable for “aiding and abetting” a terrorist organization if they provided insurance.

The response was very positive: some of the companies even said they were aware of the legal consequences, and had already made the decision not to work with the flotilla.

Shortly after, Shurat HaDin was contacted by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, which offered its assistance. “They said we had to do anything, anything possible to stop the flotilla,” said Darshan-Leitner. “They asked if there was anything they could do. We said, ‘you tell us, what else do ships need?’”

The prime minister’s office said the boats would require satellite communication service to access GPS, contact the port, and – most importantly – to facilitate media coverage. Shurat HaDin immediately sent a letter to the major satellite provider for the area, warning it of the legal consequences if it worked with the flotilla.

Next, Shurat HaDin lawyers discovered American flotilla activists were potentially in violation of the Neutrality Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens from taking part in a hostile act against an allied country. “So we approached the Attorney General of the United States to fix it. And we also got Gov. Rick Perry to write a letter to Eric Holder,” said Darshan-Leitner.

It may seem a little weird that the governor of Texas would be one of the first people Darshan-Leitner approached to help with the plan. But she explained that Perry was enthusiastically on-board with the cause ever since he met her on a trip to Israel.

“I once spoke at a mission that Perry took part in, in Israel,” she said. “And he approached me and said, ‘I love what you do. It’s amazing what you do. If you ever need help combating Israel’s enemies, I’m here to assist.’”

So with Attorney General Holder on notice – and a Neutrality Act lawsuit filed in New York federal court – Shurat HaDin turned its attention toward Greece. The group discovered the country had a Neutrality Act similar to the one in the U.S., and it prohibited boats from leaving Greece to sail to illegal ports, including Gaza.

Shurat HaDin notified the Greek minister of civil protection about the flotilla, and he immediately blocked the ships from leaving Greece.

“The second thing he did was order the port authorities in Greece to raid the boats and to find what’s wrong with each and every boat – to be very, very particular,” said Darshan-Leitner, clearly amused. “And at that point, an additional six or seven boats were grounded. Because they found a lot of [problems] there.”

This was around the time Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin and her fellow flotilla activists finally caught on to the scheme. But by that point, there wasn’t much they could do.

“When the activists found that [the Audacity of Hope ship was] grounded, they came and they did a press conference, blaming us: ‘How dare this lawfare organization use lawfare against our boat,’” said Darshan-Leitner, laughing.

It’s certainly an ironic scenario. For years, Israel has struggled to combat the left’s delegitimization tactics. But Israel’s public relations strategy has tended to fall short, coming off as overly-defensive and reactionary. And some of its recent attempts to crack down on delegitimization – like the latest anti-boycott law – have done more to damage Israel’s public image than improve it.

Which is why Shurat HaDin’s tactics are so refreshing. There’s something immensely satisfying in outthinking and outmaneuvering the enemy. Stuxnet, Entebbe, Operation Eichmann – these all inspire awe in part because they illustrate the cleverness and ingenuity of the Israelis.

Blocking the Gaza flotilla doesn’t exactly measure up to those historic events. But it’s still a story that should make Israel supporters cheer.

“It evens the playing field. You can either sit there and moan about it, or you can actually try to do something about it,” said Leitner. “There is a way to fight back, there is a way to get good media, and there is a way to get the world to respect you.”

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Turkey Commits War Crimes in Iraq: Where’s Goldstone?

In recent weeks, there has been an uptick in Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) attacks in Turkey, and, if Turkish press reports are to be believed, several dozen Turks have lost their lives. Turkey has responded by increasing its attacks on neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan, where Turkish authorities say the PKK enjoys safe-haven.

Well, today, Turkey took matters into its own hands–imagine, it didn’t place its own defense in the hands of the United Nations!  It bombed northern Iraq and killed seven Kurdish civilians. Given the Turkish reaction to Israeli strikes on Gaza in the wake of Hamas attacks and the fact the Turkish prime minister surely would not want to be such a blatant hypocrite, let me be the first to call for the United Nations to launch an independent probe of Turkish war crimes against the population of neighboring Iraq and what appears to be its deliberate targeting of civilians. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, where are you? Human Rights Watch? Richard Goldstone? Samantha Power?

In recent weeks, there has been an uptick in Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) attacks in Turkey, and, if Turkish press reports are to be believed, several dozen Turks have lost their lives. Turkey has responded by increasing its attacks on neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan, where Turkish authorities say the PKK enjoys safe-haven.

Well, today, Turkey took matters into its own hands–imagine, it didn’t place its own defense in the hands of the United Nations!  It bombed northern Iraq and killed seven Kurdish civilians. Given the Turkish reaction to Israeli strikes on Gaza in the wake of Hamas attacks and the fact the Turkish prime minister surely would not want to be such a blatant hypocrite, let me be the first to call for the United Nations to launch an independent probe of Turkish war crimes against the population of neighboring Iraq and what appears to be its deliberate targeting of civilians. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, where are you? Human Rights Watch? Richard Goldstone? Samantha Power?

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Huntsman: The Man Without a Party

Jon Huntsman entered the Republican presidential race claiming to be the champion of the party’s moderate-conservative wing. But, despite the applause of some elite figures like George Will and flattering press coverage from liberal media such as the New York Times and, more recently, Vogue, the main focus of Huntsman’s campaign has been his animus for virtually everyone else in his party.

The former Utah governor and Obama administration ambassador to China has been reluctant to criticize the Democratic incumbent too harshly, but it has been readily apparent the people he really doesn’t like are his GOP rivals. Huntsman’s alienation from the rest of his party was apparent at the Iowa debate earlier this month when he looked uncomfortable and had trouble making any points other than attacks on the other candidates. His man-without-a-party routine continued over the weekend when he appeared on ABC’s “This Week” program aiming his fire at other Republicans.

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Jon Huntsman entered the Republican presidential race claiming to be the champion of the party’s moderate-conservative wing. But, despite the applause of some elite figures like George Will and flattering press coverage from liberal media such as the New York Times and, more recently, Vogue, the main focus of Huntsman’s campaign has been his animus for virtually everyone else in his party.

The former Utah governor and Obama administration ambassador to China has been reluctant to criticize the Democratic incumbent too harshly, but it has been readily apparent the people he really doesn’t like are his GOP rivals. Huntsman’s alienation from the rest of his party was apparent at the Iowa debate earlier this month when he looked uncomfortable and had trouble making any points other than attacks on the other candidates. His man-without-a-party routine continued over the weekend when he appeared on ABC’s “This Week” program aiming his fire at other Republicans.

Huntsman claimed the other Republicans in the race are “unelectable.” Only time will tell whether he is right about them, but it’s hard to understand why a man whose only electoral experience is in winning the governorship of a small ultra-Republican state can claim to be better equipped at winning elections than rivals who have won races in ultra-blue Massachusetts (Romney) and Minnesota (Bachmann) and in Texas (Perry), the second most populous state in the union.

Huntsman’s supposed strategy is to concentrate on New Hampshire, a state where independents and Democrats may vote in the GOP primary. It’s far from clear that anyone, even a candidate who won a lot of those non-Republican votes, can possibly take that state from Romney. But even if we assume Huntsman could somehow overcome his miniscule poll ratings, farcically disorganized campaign and utter lack of a connection to any Republican constituency to produce a respectable finish in the Granite State, that still doesn’t explain how he can possibly hope to win anywhere else or make a dent in a nominating race that obligates candidates to garner some support from their own party’s rank and file. Nor does it make sense to think a man can ridicule his own party, as Huntsman did on “This Week” with his comments about evolution and global warming and hope to gain sympathy from anyone but Democrats. In fact, that is the only constituency he seems to be scoring points with these days. As Politico noted yesterday, Huntsman’s comments on “This Week” were circulated by the Democratic National Committee.

Huntsman was once thought of as someone with a big future in the GOP, and he might well have survived his controversial decision to serve as Obama’s envoy to China had he waited longer before running for national office or chosen not to concentrate his fire on fellow Republicans. But though he will continue to travel the country spending his father’s money on a pointless campaign, it must now be understood that Huntsman not only has no chance of being the Republican nominee in 2012 or any other year but just as little prospect of ever serving in the administration of any of his rivals. Indeed, the only possibility of future employment in the government for him at this point is in a second Obama administration. That is, if the president wants him back.

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Turkey Raises the Ante on Flotilla Standoff

Turkey and Israel still remain at loggerheads over efforts to settle their dispute about the deaths of Turkish nationals who were killed while resisting the takeover of their Gaza-bound ship last year. The sticking point is Israel’s justified refusal to apologize for the Mavi Marmara incident that was caused by Turkey’s attempt to bolster the Hamas regime in Gaza. But rather than backing off on their ill-considered support for breaking the blockade of the terrorist enclave, the Turks appear to be doubling down on their anti-Israel invective.

The Jerusalem Post noted today the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported on Sunday that in an effort to bludgeon Israel into submission, the Turkish government is contemplating completely cutting its political and economic ties with Jerusalem. Even worse, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considering a trip of his own to Gaza. But whether or not the Turks are bluffing— and the betting here is they are — Israel is still well-advised to avoid any further concessions to Ankara.

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Turkey and Israel still remain at loggerheads over efforts to settle their dispute about the deaths of Turkish nationals who were killed while resisting the takeover of their Gaza-bound ship last year. The sticking point is Israel’s justified refusal to apologize for the Mavi Marmara incident that was caused by Turkey’s attempt to bolster the Hamas regime in Gaza. But rather than backing off on their ill-considered support for breaking the blockade of the terrorist enclave, the Turks appear to be doubling down on their anti-Israel invective.

The Jerusalem Post noted today the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported on Sunday that in an effort to bludgeon Israel into submission, the Turkish government is contemplating completely cutting its political and economic ties with Jerusalem. Even worse, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considering a trip of his own to Gaza. But whether or not the Turks are bluffing— and the betting here is they are — Israel is still well-advised to avoid any further concessions to Ankara.

Though its relationship with Turkey is of great importance to Israel, going any further toward an apology for defending itself in this manner would be a mistake that would open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences both for the Netanyahu government and its successors. The Turks may think pressing Israel on this point in the weeks prior to the United Nations vote on Palestinian independence is a smart strategy, and there’s no doubt Jerusalem would love to put the controversy to rest.

But as tempting as it may be for Erdogan to play to his base by going to Gaza or cutting ties with Israel, he has to know there will also be consequences for Turkey. Identifying Turkey with the rogue terrorist regime in Gaza would undermine Turkish relations with the United States and even complicate ties with Western Europe. At a time when Turkey has to be worried about instability in Syria, perhaps Erdogan thinks he can wean Hamas away from Iranian influence because it reportedly cut back on its aid to Gaza due to Hamas’ lack of support for the Assad regime in Damascus. But does Turkey really want to become the principal sponsor of Hamasistan?

It is just as much in Turkey’s interest to put the Mavi Marmara mess to rest as it is in Israel’s. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon informed Israel Sunday he would again postpone the release of the report on the Mavi Marmara incident to give both sides more time to reach an agreement, which would effectively remove the need to publish it. No matter what Turkey threatens, Israel needn’t give in on the apology.

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The Return of Moral Fiction

This past weekend I was in Washington, D.C., to teach a seminar on “American Jewish Fiction and American Jewish Identity” to an a parliament of rabbinical students from the three major branches of American Judaism. Very quickly I was instructed in an important lesson. Literary discussions invariably crumble into a quarrel over first principles, because no one shares any these days. On one side was the postmodern resistance to what one student (a Brown grad) called “the tyranny of the author”; on the other side, an even stiffer resistance to any source of authority outside “Our sages, may their memory be blessed.” One side did not care what an American author had to say about any topic on which the Talmud might be consulted instead (“Who cares what [Cynthia] Ozick says about idolatry?” a young Orthodox Jew cried); the other side did not believe that authors really say anything at all.

To return home to Mark Athitakis’s dissent on Dana Spiotta’s new novel Stone Arabia was a relief, because Mark and I share the faith that great literature says things — things worth listening to — about the human experience. We also agree that Stone Arabia is a wonderful novel. Where we disagree is whether Spiotta’s book is a rock novel, although much more is at stake in our disagreement than the classification of one recent American novel.

Mark argues that Stone Arabia is not a rock novel, because Spiotta treats rock music as “more metaphor than reality, or at least as much metaphor as reality.” And he compares the book favorably to Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street, a 1973 novel that is sometimes nominated for the position of Great American Rock Novel. “Spiotta does a few things that could come from the DeLillo playbook,” Mark says, and though Stone Arabia is not “strictly a DeLillo-esque novel,” Spiotta is closely akin to DeLillo in her awareness of “how a subculture can be used metaphorically.”

The comparison to DeLillo cuts to the bone of our disagreement. I myself do not overesteem DeLillo’s fiction; in fact, as I told Mark, I think it stinks. “Pah!” Mark replied. So John Podhoretz brilliantly parodied DeLillo’s word-choked style: “He tergiversated. ‘Pah,’ he finally exhaled, as the teleological horror overtook him.”

But there’s an even better reason for not reading his books. Namely, DeLillo’s philosophy of literature. DeLillo prefers the metaphor to the reality of human life. He believes that literature is incapable of decoding the world, it cannot penetrate evil, it fails to light up the smallest inch of human conduct. Nowhere does the inadequacy of his thinking show up any better than in his 9/11 novel Falling Man, which isolates the events of that day from any other aspect of the American character beyond shock and disorientation.

Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia is not a “DeLillo-esque novel,” but its exact opposite. It does not “use” rock music as a “metaphor.” Nik Worth’s music is actual, it is beautiful, but it is also solipsistic. It is entirely self-referential. It is, to borrow one of T. S. Eliot’s favorite terms, self-moved. It is the perfection of a poem. It is, in short, a well wrought urn, removed from history and the fumblings and reversals of the moral life.

As Mark astutely observes, the central conflict in Stone Arabia is “the effect of Nik’s pursuit on his sister Denise . . . who’s left to manage Nik’s real life while he pursues his fake one, willfully neglecting the world nearly everybody else feels obligated to live in.” The novel understands the attractions of removing art from the world nearly everybody else feels obligated to live in. It is sympathetic to the impulse that leads a writer to protest that he is obligated only to metaphor and image, the play of language, the self-perfection of art. In an afterword, Spiotta reveals that the “inspiration” for Nik Worth was “a real-life person, my stepfather,” who is likewise engaged in a “self-documented chronicle of his life as a secret rock star,” and who is a “true artist.” Moreover, the last person thanked in her acknowledgments is Don DeLillo.

Nevertheless, Spiotta’s novel is a warm-hearted criticism of the thinking that would unfasten an art like rock music (or literature, for that matter) from the human society of will and failure. In its quiet way, Stone Arabia is an argument for fiction of moral purpose. Cynthia Ozick once said that, “with certain rapturous exceptions, literature is the moral life.” Dana Spiotta’s new book is reason to hope that American novelists might return to such a view, no matter how many readers may have been trained to want something less demanding.

This past weekend I was in Washington, D.C., to teach a seminar on “American Jewish Fiction and American Jewish Identity” to an a parliament of rabbinical students from the three major branches of American Judaism. Very quickly I was instructed in an important lesson. Literary discussions invariably crumble into a quarrel over first principles, because no one shares any these days. On one side was the postmodern resistance to what one student (a Brown grad) called “the tyranny of the author”; on the other side, an even stiffer resistance to any source of authority outside “Our sages, may their memory be blessed.” One side did not care what an American author had to say about any topic on which the Talmud might be consulted instead (“Who cares what [Cynthia] Ozick says about idolatry?” a young Orthodox Jew cried); the other side did not believe that authors really say anything at all.

To return home to Mark Athitakis’s dissent on Dana Spiotta’s new novel Stone Arabia was a relief, because Mark and I share the faith that great literature says things — things worth listening to — about the human experience. We also agree that Stone Arabia is a wonderful novel. Where we disagree is whether Spiotta’s book is a rock novel, although much more is at stake in our disagreement than the classification of one recent American novel.

Mark argues that Stone Arabia is not a rock novel, because Spiotta treats rock music as “more metaphor than reality, or at least as much metaphor as reality.” And he compares the book favorably to Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street, a 1973 novel that is sometimes nominated for the position of Great American Rock Novel. “Spiotta does a few things that could come from the DeLillo playbook,” Mark says, and though Stone Arabia is not “strictly a DeLillo-esque novel,” Spiotta is closely akin to DeLillo in her awareness of “how a subculture can be used metaphorically.”

The comparison to DeLillo cuts to the bone of our disagreement. I myself do not overesteem DeLillo’s fiction; in fact, as I told Mark, I think it stinks. “Pah!” Mark replied. So John Podhoretz brilliantly parodied DeLillo’s word-choked style: “He tergiversated. ‘Pah,’ he finally exhaled, as the teleological horror overtook him.”

But there’s an even better reason for not reading his books. Namely, DeLillo’s philosophy of literature. DeLillo prefers the metaphor to the reality of human life. He believes that literature is incapable of decoding the world, it cannot penetrate evil, it fails to light up the smallest inch of human conduct. Nowhere does the inadequacy of his thinking show up any better than in his 9/11 novel Falling Man, which isolates the events of that day from any other aspect of the American character beyond shock and disorientation.

Dana Spiotta’s Stone Arabia is not a “DeLillo-esque novel,” but its exact opposite. It does not “use” rock music as a “metaphor.” Nik Worth’s music is actual, it is beautiful, but it is also solipsistic. It is entirely self-referential. It is, to borrow one of T. S. Eliot’s favorite terms, self-moved. It is the perfection of a poem. It is, in short, a well wrought urn, removed from history and the fumblings and reversals of the moral life.

As Mark astutely observes, the central conflict in Stone Arabia is “the effect of Nik’s pursuit on his sister Denise . . . who’s left to manage Nik’s real life while he pursues his fake one, willfully neglecting the world nearly everybody else feels obligated to live in.” The novel understands the attractions of removing art from the world nearly everybody else feels obligated to live in. It is sympathetic to the impulse that leads a writer to protest that he is obligated only to metaphor and image, the play of language, the self-perfection of art. In an afterword, Spiotta reveals that the “inspiration” for Nik Worth was “a real-life person, my stepfather,” who is likewise engaged in a “self-documented chronicle of his life as a secret rock star,” and who is a “true artist.” Moreover, the last person thanked in her acknowledgments is Don DeLillo.

Nevertheless, Spiotta’s novel is a warm-hearted criticism of the thinking that would unfasten an art like rock music (or literature, for that matter) from the human society of will and failure. In its quiet way, Stone Arabia is an argument for fiction of moral purpose. Cynthia Ozick once said that, “with certain rapturous exceptions, literature is the moral life.” Dana Spiotta’s new book is reason to hope that American novelists might return to such a view, no matter how many readers may have been trained to want something less demanding.

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Financial Holes Dug by Parliamentary Systems

Peter Wehner’s entry on Fareed Zakaria’s paean for parliamentary democracy rightfully defends America’s system of government. But one should add, even if America’s system of government were as hopeless as Zakaria described it, his remedy may be worse than the malady it tries to cure.

Consider this: Greece is a parliamentary system – the terribly efficient system of government Zakaria lionizes has produced one of the most dysfunctional economies in the Western world.

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Peter Wehner’s entry on Fareed Zakaria’s paean for parliamentary democracy rightfully defends America’s system of government. But one should add, even if America’s system of government were as hopeless as Zakaria described it, his remedy may be worse than the malady it tries to cure.

Consider this: Greece is a parliamentary system – the terribly efficient system of government Zakaria lionizes has produced one of the most dysfunctional economies in the Western world.

Italy is a parliamentary democracy that has been governed by a strong leader enjoying a strong majority in parliament for eight out of the last ten years. Yet, under Berlusconi’s leadership (though his opposition has a fair  share of responsibility) the country has been unable to pass the kind of structural reforms in the economy, tax system, public sector, education, welfare and pensions that could have avoided the near collapse of Italy’s economy in recent weeks.

Even after the dramatic ultimatum issued by the European Central Bank to Berlusconi on passing draconian economic measures to fix the system, the country’s leaders are squabbling pointlessly about how to push back so they do not lose the ECB support while keeping privileges intact and unions off the streets.

What to say of Belgium, another parliamentary system? It has been without a government for over 450 days, and counting. The country appears to work better without one – when public sector unions demand a raise and threaten a strike, it helps to be able to say the budget can’t be changed until a new executive is formed. But this is further evidence that parliamentarianism,  Zakaria’s latest recipe against Republicans, can also produce paralyzed governance.

Finally, the so-called PIIGS countries – Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain – that are the root-cause of the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis are all parliamentary democracies.

Whether they ultimately fix their problems (a big question mark), their gigantic financial holes were dug by parliamentary systems working the kind of marvels extolled by Zakaria’s four-minute pep talk.

Would the U.S. still enjoy a triple A rating with a parliamentary system? Certainly not with the parliamentary systems of most EU member states, whose economies are under pressure, whose political leaders lack the vision and courage to extricate their countries from trouble, and whose remedies, duly voted on by houses of parliament, are failing to stop the continent’s slide into recession.

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Terrorism’s Diplomatic Dividend

Will terrorist attacks on Israel in the past few days undermine Israel’s efforts to head off a United Nations vote on the Palestinians’ plans to get the world body to recognize their independence? That’s what one “senior diplomatic source” told Israel’s Army Radio today. As the Jerusalem Post reports, the source said the bloodshed and the subsequent unofficial cease-fire between Israel and Hamas means that “Hamas will be seen as leading the way for the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The bloody assaults on southern Israel have shown the world the true face of Palestinian nationalism. The terror attacks on Eilat and the subsequent missile barrage aimed at Ashkelon and Beersheba illustrated the nature of the Hamas regime that governs Gaza. That ought to worry Europeans and others contemplating a vote for the Palestinians’ UN ploy to avoid peace talks with Israel. But it also demonstrated one attribute of statehood the Palestinian Authority (which neglected to condemn the attacks on Israel) lacks in the West Bank: sovereignty.

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Will terrorist attacks on Israel in the past few days undermine Israel’s efforts to head off a United Nations vote on the Palestinians’ plans to get the world body to recognize their independence? That’s what one “senior diplomatic source” told Israel’s Army Radio today. As the Jerusalem Post reports, the source said the bloodshed and the subsequent unofficial cease-fire between Israel and Hamas means that “Hamas will be seen as leading the way for the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The bloody assaults on southern Israel have shown the world the true face of Palestinian nationalism. The terror attacks on Eilat and the subsequent missile barrage aimed at Ashkelon and Beersheba illustrated the nature of the Hamas regime that governs Gaza. That ought to worry Europeans and others contemplating a vote for the Palestinians’ UN ploy to avoid peace talks with Israel. But it also demonstrated one attribute of statehood the Palestinian Authority (which neglected to condemn the attacks on Israel) lacks in the West Bank: sovereignty.

When people speak of Palestinian independence it is usually associated with the hopes the PA will control the West Bank and even part of Jerusalem. But despite the fact few nations recognize the legitimacy of Hamas’ reign of terror in Gaza, there is no denying they control that territory and govern it. And Israel is complicit in the unofficial acceptance of this state of affairs.

Though the prime minister’s office denied today it had entered into any cease-fire after the weekend’s rocket barrage on southern Israeli cities, few doubt one was negotiated. Just as Hamas now feels secure Israel won’t seek to oust it by military means from its Gaza stronghold, Israel understands the cost in casualties and international opprobrium a full-scale counter-offensive would incur is probably too high. While a cease-fire serves both parties because it gives Israel a respite from the rocket fire and Hamas the opportunity to continue to strengthen its defenses, it is yet another confirmation of Gaza’s independence in all but name.

Palestinian sovereignty in Gaza is a fait accompli, and it is doubtful Israel will ever seek to reverse it. But for all of the fact it shows Palestinians do govern themselves — albeit badly because Hamas cannot and will not seek to improve the lot of Gazans as it pursues its terrorist agenda — the reality of this independent state is an even stronger argument against extending their sovereignty to the West Bank.

The PA is too afraid of Hamas to ever sign any peace agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. That’s why they are headed to the UN in yet another attempt to evade negotiations. But the reality of Palestinian independence in Gaza shows again that, despite the talk of state building and the high hopes of American peace processors about the future of the West Bank, Hamas’ endless war against Israel is the true face of Palestinian nationalism.

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Obama’s Poor Ratings in Pennsylvania

President Obama’s approval rating dropped to 35 percent approval among Pennsylvania’s registered voters, according to the most recent Muhlenberg College poll. This is a state Obama carried in 2008 by 10.4 percent (54.7 percent v. 44.3 percent for John McCain). It is hard to envision a scenario in which Obama can win the presidency without Pennsylvania. The Keystone State, in fact, has voted for the Democratic nominee in every election since 1992. But right now, in the summer of his third year in office, Obama is almost 20 points below the percentage he won in 2008. I wonder how long this will go on before Democrats understand the Obama Era may turn out to be among the most brutal the Democratic Party has ever experienced.

 

President Obama’s approval rating dropped to 35 percent approval among Pennsylvania’s registered voters, according to the most recent Muhlenberg College poll. This is a state Obama carried in 2008 by 10.4 percent (54.7 percent v. 44.3 percent for John McCain). It is hard to envision a scenario in which Obama can win the presidency without Pennsylvania. The Keystone State, in fact, has voted for the Democratic nominee in every election since 1992. But right now, in the summer of his third year in office, Obama is almost 20 points below the percentage he won in 2008. I wonder how long this will go on before Democrats understand the Obama Era may turn out to be among the most brutal the Democratic Party has ever experienced.

 

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Iran’s Centrifuges Head to the Bunker

In a further sign of Iran’s efforts to defend its nuclear program from the possibility of foreign attack, the regime announced today it is moving the devices that enrich uranium for nuclear fuel to an underground bunker near the holy city of Qom. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, moving centrifuges to Qom was a “further deviation” from several United Nations Security Council resolutions that called for Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities.

Coming as it does after Iran’s announcement in June it plans to triple its capacity to enrich uranium, the move of the centrifuges is an indication of Tehran’s determination to go ahead with its nuclear project. Though it claims the project is intended for peaceful uses, the IAEA has noted in recent months that Tehran has been working on construction of a triggering device whose only purpose would be to set off a nuclear weapon as well as upgrading the quality of their centrifuges and their enrichment capacity.

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In a further sign of Iran’s efforts to defend its nuclear program from the possibility of foreign attack, the regime announced today it is moving the devices that enrich uranium for nuclear fuel to an underground bunker near the holy city of Qom. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, moving centrifuges to Qom was a “further deviation” from several United Nations Security Council resolutions that called for Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities.

Coming as it does after Iran’s announcement in June it plans to triple its capacity to enrich uranium, the move of the centrifuges is an indication of Tehran’s determination to go ahead with its nuclear project. Though it claims the project is intended for peaceful uses, the IAEA has noted in recent months that Tehran has been working on construction of a triggering device whose only purpose would be to set off a nuclear weapon as well as upgrading the quality of their centrifuges and their enrichment capacity.

For the last year and a half after the collapse of its attempt to “engage” Iran, the Obama administration has sought to build an international coalition that would isolate and sanction Iran so as to convince it to abandon its nuclear ambitions. The meager results of this diplomatic offensive have been so poor, they did not convince the Iranians they have little to fear from either the United States or the United Nations. And they have used each effort to re-start talks on the nuclear question — such as the latest one put forward by Russia last week — to spin out negotiations indefinitely while they continue to expand their efforts and get closer to their goal of a weapon.

The Iranians are already counting on the reluctance of either the United States or Israel to initiate hostilities to protect them against the possibility of an attack. The move of the centrifuges will make the already daunting task of eliminating Iran’s nuclear program by force even more difficult.

The bottom line is despite President Obama’s promise he will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, Iran is proceeding directly toward that end with little sign America is prepared to act to prevent this from happening. The ayatollahs seem to have come to the conclusion Obama’s America is a paper tiger they need not worry about. Whether or not they are right, with each new development in this story, it appears we are getting closer to the moment when Iran will become the latest and among the most dangerous members of the nuclear club.

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A Ryan-Christie Presidential Pact?

Via Stephen Hayes’ latest will-he-or-won’t-he pieces, comes this delicious tidbit that’s sure to get hearts fluttering a bit faster in the fiscal conservative world. A Paul Ryan-Chris Christie presidential pact, ensuring that one of them will run if the debt crisis isn’t properly addressed by any of the current candidates? Yes, really:

Ryan and Christie spoke for nearly an hour about the presidential race, according to four sources briefed on the conversation. The two men shared a central concern: The Republican field is not addressing the debt crisis with anything beyond platitudes.

Although the two men have not been especially close personally, their conversation about the campaign was blunt, and they agreed on a central point: If these issues are to get the kind of attention they deserve, one of the two men will have to run. One source called it a de facto pact, but another described it as a more informal understanding. Christie told Ryan what he has (usually) told others: He does not want to run.

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Via Stephen Hayes’ latest will-he-or-won’t-he pieces, comes this delicious tidbit that’s sure to get hearts fluttering a bit faster in the fiscal conservative world. A Paul Ryan-Chris Christie presidential pact, ensuring that one of them will run if the debt crisis isn’t properly addressed by any of the current candidates? Yes, really:

Ryan and Christie spoke for nearly an hour about the presidential race, according to four sources briefed on the conversation. The two men shared a central concern: The Republican field is not addressing the debt crisis with anything beyond platitudes.

Although the two men have not been especially close personally, their conversation about the campaign was blunt, and they agreed on a central point: If these issues are to get the kind of attention they deserve, one of the two men will have to run. One source called it a de facto pact, but another described it as a more informal understanding. Christie told Ryan what he has (usually) told others: He does not want to run.

Not that a Christie bid wouldn’t be enthusiastically welcomed, but his recent health scare and New Jersey credit-rating downgrade could pose problems for him. Plus, if the point is to provoke a national discussion about the debt crisis, it’s fitting for the architect of the Republican budget plan to sit at the head of the table.

Until last week, it was easy to dismiss a lot of the speculation as wishful thinking. But Hayes’ reporting dispels those doubts, and the silence from Ryan’s team in response to these stories also speaks volumes. Bill Kristol, whose unrelenting optimism on the subject has been unmatched (and contagious), chalks up the chances of a Ryan bid to 50-50. But unlike the current candidates, Ryan hasn’t sought out a presidential run; he needs a push. Last week, it turned into a figurative shove from certain corners of the conservative sphere. But will it be enough?

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The Failures of Obama Cannot Be Laid at the Feet of Madison

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has weighed in on the matter of a presidential system of government v. parliamentary systems. Building on the arguments by Professor Juan Linz, Zakaria argues that a parlimentary system is more efficient because “”there is no contest for national legitimacy and power.” The kind of “squabbling” and “holding the country hostage” that is happening in this nation, Zakaria argues, doesn’t occur in Great Britain. Other nations are acting quickly and with foresight; America, on the other hand, is “paralyzed.” It appears that for him, the debt ceiling debate was the breaking point –an ugly spectacle that seems to have bothered Zakaria no end.

I have several thoughts in response to Zakaria, beginning with the inconvenient fact (for Zakaria) the debt ceiling debate had a resolution. The two parties did arrive at an agreement, and a default was avoided. The process may not have been pretty, but it worked. Remember, if Obama had had his way originally, there would have been a “clean” debt ceiling vote, meaning the debt ceiling would have been raised without spending cuts. It’s only because of the opposition by the GOP the debt ceiling debate included any spending cuts.

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CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has weighed in on the matter of a presidential system of government v. parliamentary systems. Building on the arguments by Professor Juan Linz, Zakaria argues that a parlimentary system is more efficient because “”there is no contest for national legitimacy and power.” The kind of “squabbling” and “holding the country hostage” that is happening in this nation, Zakaria argues, doesn’t occur in Great Britain. Other nations are acting quickly and with foresight; America, on the other hand, is “paralyzed.” It appears that for him, the debt ceiling debate was the breaking point –an ugly spectacle that seems to have bothered Zakaria no end.

I have several thoughts in response to Zakaria, beginning with the inconvenient fact (for Zakaria) the debt ceiling debate had a resolution. The two parties did arrive at an agreement, and a default was avoided. The process may not have been pretty, but it worked. Remember, if Obama had had his way originally, there would have been a “clean” debt ceiling vote, meaning the debt ceiling would have been raised without spending cuts. It’s only because of the opposition by the GOP the debt ceiling debate included any spending cuts.

Beyond that, for most of the Obama presidency we had what was essentially a parlimentary system. The president was able to get virtually everything he wanted passed into law, from the stimulus, to the Affordable Care Act, to the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, to his budgets, to much more. And look where that got us. The mid-term election of 2010 resulted in Republicans controlling one branch of the legislature, putting a check on Obama’s unprecedented spending binge and his injurious policies. That was all to the good.

There is also the fact the 20th century was rightly called the American Century — and during that run we had not a parlimentary system but  a presidential one. It did pretty well, and to pretend the challenges we face today dwarf the challenges we faced then is silly and historically ignorant.

What is really driving Zakaria’s commentary, I suspect, is what often happens when liberals are elected and fail: their supporters begin to lay blame on the American system of government. Jimmy Carter’s advisers did the same thing. It turned out the problem then, as now, wasn’t the American system of government; it was the American president. The failures of Obama cannot be laid at the feet of Madison. And if the public is wise, they will do to Obama in 2012 what they did to Carter in 1980.

 

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Don’t Flood Libya with Aid

It’s no secret that once Washington identifies problems, its knee-jerk solution is simply to throw money at problems: Poverty, education, health care, etc. And it’s no secret to the American people that throwing money at problems never works.

The same is true in foreign policy. Nowhere has this been truer than in post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the name of reconstruction and development, the Pentagon, State Department, and USAID flooded both Afghanistan and Iraq with money–spurring not progress, but massive corruption. Terrorism may make headlines, but corruption has a far more corrosive effect on society. Aid and assistance can actually do more harm than good.

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It’s no secret that once Washington identifies problems, its knee-jerk solution is simply to throw money at problems: Poverty, education, health care, etc. And it’s no secret to the American people that throwing money at problems never works.

The same is true in foreign policy. Nowhere has this been truer than in post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the name of reconstruction and development, the Pentagon, State Department, and USAID flooded both Afghanistan and Iraq with money–spurring not progress, but massive corruption. Terrorism may make headlines, but corruption has a far more corrosive effect on society. Aid and assistance can actually do more harm than good.

The State Department and USAID may want to prove their relevance, but they should also do what’s right: Send the diplomats back, but keep aid to a minimum. Libya is a rich country. Let it use its own resources, not waste ours at the expense not only of our own treasury, but also of any hope Libya will have to reconstruct smoothly.

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Libya’s Economic Potential

It would appear Libya is about to enter a new chapter of its history. As Max points out, the transition is unlikely to be easy and the emergence of a western-style democracy by no means a given. But, should such a thing come to pass, Libya’s economic potential is enormous.

Libya has the ninth largest oil reserves in the world and its production, before the revolt against Qaddafi began, was 1.6 million barrels a day. Its proximity to Europe and its low cost of production–only $1.00 a barrel in some fields–make it highly attractive for new exploration, and two-thirds of Libya has yet to be fully explored for oil.

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It would appear Libya is about to enter a new chapter of its history. As Max points out, the transition is unlikely to be easy and the emergence of a western-style democracy by no means a given. But, should such a thing come to pass, Libya’s economic potential is enormous.

Libya has the ninth largest oil reserves in the world and its production, before the revolt against Qaddafi began, was 1.6 million barrels a day. Its proximity to Europe and its low cost of production–only $1.00 a barrel in some fields–make it highly attractive for new exploration, and two-thirds of Libya has yet to be fully explored for oil.

Because Libya’s population is only 6.4 million, it can be a low-tax state, thanks to oil, and still build the infrastructure a modern economy needs. And the population is well-educated. Libya has the highest HDI (Human Development Index) in Africa, a UN metric that measures life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living. At 0.755, it is a little higher than Mexico’s. With political stability and the rule of law, it could easily develop modern light industries to supply European markets, as it already has the human capital needed to do so.

And its tourist potential is unparalleled. Libya is an easy flight from anywhere in western Europe. Its winter climate is mild and it has great beaches, some of the longest on the Mediterranean. The Sahara Desert, which covers much of the country, has prehistoric rock carvings and paintings and magnificent scenery (think David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia). It has some of the most impressive Roman ruins to be found anywhere in Leptis Magna, one of the great cities of the Roman Empire, and birth place of the Emperor Septimius Severus, who lavished the wealth of the empire upon it.

If Libya can develop a modern, reasonably democratic political system, it could quickly develop into a first-world country. That, of course, is a very big if indeed with the history of kleptocratic government in the Arab world. But South Korea did it in the late 20th century. South Korea was far poorer in 1960 than Libya is now and had been devastated by war in the previous decade. It, too, had been saddled with a miserable government. It had no oil to provide easy capital and needed to maintain a vast military establishment to defend against North Korea. But today, South Korea is a modern, prosperous state. Libya can be also–and soon.

 

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PA’s Response to Eilat Attack Facilitates Anti-Israel Terror

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Hamas-run Gaza provides a grim warning of what an independent Palestinian state might look like. But the picture presented by Israel’s alleged “peace partner,” the Palestinian Authority, isn’t a whole lot better, as its response to last Thursday’s cross-border raid near Eilat makes clear. That attack killed eight  Israelis and wounded 30 on sovereign, pre-1967 Israeli territory. Yet the PA’s response was to condemn not the assailants, but Israel.

On Saturday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas sought an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss “halting Israeli aggression” in Gaza. Not a word about halting the anti-Israeli aggression that sparked Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes. Indeed, the PA didn’t even acknowledge that aggression’s existence. Instead, as the Jerusalem Post  reported, “PA officials claimed that Israel was stepping up its attacks on the Gaza Strip in a bid to thwart the September statehood bid and avoid the internal economic and social crisis.”

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As Jonathan noted yesterday, Hamas-run Gaza provides a grim warning of what an independent Palestinian state might look like. But the picture presented by Israel’s alleged “peace partner,” the Palestinian Authority, isn’t a whole lot better, as its response to last Thursday’s cross-border raid near Eilat makes clear. That attack killed eight  Israelis and wounded 30 on sovereign, pre-1967 Israeli territory. Yet the PA’s response was to condemn not the assailants, but Israel.

On Saturday, PA President Mahmoud Abbas sought an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss “halting Israeli aggression” in Gaza. Not a word about halting the anti-Israeli aggression that sparked Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes. Indeed, the PA didn’t even acknowledge that aggression’s existence. Instead, as the Jerusalem Post  reported, “PA officials claimed that Israel was stepping up its attacks on the Gaza Strip in a bid to thwart the September statehood bid and avoid the internal economic and social crisis.”

Mohammed Subh, the PA envoy to the Arab League, for instance, charged that “Israel is preparing for war to distract attention from the Palestinian Authority’s plan for September [its bid for UN recognition as a state] … We were expecting Israel to intensify tensions in the region as we approached the September deadline.” Nimer Hammad, a senior adviser to Abbas, offered an alternative theory: “The Israeli government is trying, through this new aggression, to avoid internal pressure because of the demonstrations,” referring to the recent socioeconomic protests.

Not a single Palestinian official acknowledged the truth: that Israel was responding to a vicious cross-border attack. And about the attack itself, the PA hadn’t a word to say. This, as Israeli government officials told the Jerusalem Post, is a new low: Even Yasser Arafat would issue pro forma condemnations of terror attacks (albeit only in English); the “peace-seeking” Abbas dispensed even with this.

But that’s not so surprising, given that Abbas has continued Arafat’s tradition of inciting terror. Earlier this month, for instance, Palestinian Media Watch reported on a new Ramadan special, innocuously titled “The Best Mothers,” now airing on the PA’s government-run TV station. Already, it has featured the mothers of two terrorist “martyrs” – a bomb-maker and a female suicide bomber. In both cases, these “best mothers” lauded the terrorist activities that killed their offspring.

So here we have the face of Israel’s “peace partner”: It actively incites terror, refuses to condemn it, and seeks to prevent Israel from exercising its right of self-defense against it. In short, it facilitates terror in every way possible short of actively perpetrating it – or in other words, in every way possible while the Israel Defense Forces still maintain security control over its territory – and would likely ramp up its activities if the brake provided by the IDF’s presence were removed.

Abbas can get away with this because the world persists in seeing him as a “peace seeker” and ignores all evidence to the contrary. But it’s high time for Israel and its friends to stop cooperating with his charade.

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Recapture the Lockerbie Bomber

Just over two years ago, Scottish authorities released Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi after he had served 3,123 days, just over 11 days per victim he murdered. The Scottish move reportedly surprised the Obama administration.

On the day of his release, the White House press secretary issued a statement which read:

The United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi. Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Scotland on December 21, 1988. As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland. On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognize the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever.

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Just over two years ago, Scottish authorities released Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi after he had served 3,123 days, just over 11 days per victim he murdered. The Scottish move reportedly surprised the Obama administration.

On the day of his release, the White House press secretary issued a statement which read:

The United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi. Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Scotland on December 21, 1988. As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland. On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognize the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever.

Subsequent information showed that British officials facilitated Megrahi’s release in hope of receiving favor for British oil companies. Well, Megrahi is still alive, in a wheelchair but well enough to have been shown on Libyan television attending a pro-Qaddafi rally just last month. If Obama was sincere in his regret, perhaps the time is right to seize Megrahi and finally win justice for the American victims of Lockerbie.

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Bad Day for Libya Intervention Critics

Whatever the future might hold for Libya, today is obviously a very good day for the people of that long tortured North African country. With the Qaddafi government apparently defeated, Libyans have a chance to create a sane government and to end decades of oppression. They will have that chance in no small measure because France, Britain and the United States decided to act to help those fighting against the regime. While I have been among those who criticized the Obama administration’s belated decision to intervene and its “lead from behind” posture throughout the fighting, it must today be acknowledged that despite these mistakes, the goal of ousting the dictator was achieved. The president will get, and he will deserve, some of the credit for this accomplishment.

But even as we bestow this laurel upon Obama, it is time for those who bellowed the Libya intervention was a waste of American resources to similarly acknowledge they were not on the right side here. No doubt some of them will be speaking in the coming days about the uncertain future of the country and the possibility post-Qaddafi Libya will become Islamist or an irritant to American policy in the region. It’s true we don’t know much about the rebels, but does anyone really believe they will be as destructive as the man they toppled?

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Whatever the future might hold for Libya, today is obviously a very good day for the people of that long tortured North African country. With the Qaddafi government apparently defeated, Libyans have a chance to create a sane government and to end decades of oppression. They will have that chance in no small measure because France, Britain and the United States decided to act to help those fighting against the regime. While I have been among those who criticized the Obama administration’s belated decision to intervene and its “lead from behind” posture throughout the fighting, it must today be acknowledged that despite these mistakes, the goal of ousting the dictator was achieved. The president will get, and he will deserve, some of the credit for this accomplishment.

But even as we bestow this laurel upon Obama, it is time for those who bellowed the Libya intervention was a waste of American resources to similarly acknowledge they were not on the right side here. No doubt some of them will be speaking in the coming days about the uncertain future of the country and the possibility post-Qaddafi Libya will become Islamist or an irritant to American policy in the region. It’s true we don’t know much about the rebels, but does anyone really believe they will be as destructive as the man they toppled?

Qaddafi’s long record of support for terrorism garnered him responsibility for countless atrocities of which the Lockerbie bombing is just the most famous. Libya was the Mediterranean vacation spot for terrorists and thugs throughout his 40 years of misrule. Given the fact the new government will enter office owing a debt of gratitude to the West and in dire need of the Western aid that will be forthcoming, the idea they will cause much trouble in the foreseeable future seems unrealistic.

But as much as Western diplomats must be careful not to drop the ball in our dealings with the new government, this is a moment for those who claimed Qaddafi’s fate was none of our business to pipe down. The intervention in Libya was neither reckless nor ill-considered, and the outcome is likely to benefit U.S. interests as much as it does those of the people who have been liberated.

There are vast differences between the situation in Libya and those in other brutal and dangerous Middle Eastern dictatorships such as Syria and Iran. But the principle America has a right and a duty to intervene to topple governments that are a proven danger to both their own people and the rest of the world has once again been vindicated in Libya. The victory being celebrated in Tripoli does not constitute a license for endless war against dictators, but it ought to put both Syria’s Assad and the mullahs in Iran on notice there is no guarantee they won’t meet the same fate as Qaddafi. Those who would seek to exploit the natural reluctance of Americans to enter future conflicts in order to give them such a guarantee are having a bad day. When we hear their isolationist arguments in the future, let’s remember extending the reach of liberty is something very much in America’s best interests.

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