Commentary Magazine


Posts For: May 20, 2012

Today in Jerusalem, Israel

Today is the 45th Jerusalem Day in Jerusalem, Israel – the annual commemoration on the 28th of Iyar, the anniversary of the Six-Day War on the Hebrew calendar, when Israel liberated the eastern part of the city from Jordanian occupation. It is also worth recalling a little history on this day.

After the defeat of Turkey in World War I, President Wilson received a 1919 report from two American commissioners to the Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey. The commissioners wrote that they “doubted whether the Jews could possibly seem to either Christians or Moslems proper guardians of the holy places”:

The places which are most sacred to Christians — those having to do with Jesus — and which are also sacred to Moslems, are not only not sacred to Jews, but abhorrent to them … [T]he Moslems, just because the sacred places of all three religions are sacred to them have made very naturally much more satisfactory custodians of the holy places than the Jews could be.

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Today is the 45th Jerusalem Day in Jerusalem, Israel – the annual commemoration on the 28th of Iyar, the anniversary of the Six-Day War on the Hebrew calendar, when Israel liberated the eastern part of the city from Jordanian occupation. It is also worth recalling a little history on this day.

After the defeat of Turkey in World War I, President Wilson received a 1919 report from two American commissioners to the Inter-Allied Commission on Mandates in Turkey. The commissioners wrote that they “doubted whether the Jews could possibly seem to either Christians or Moslems proper guardians of the holy places”:

The places which are most sacred to Christians — those having to do with Jesus — and which are also sacred to Moslems, are not only not sacred to Jews, but abhorrent to them … [T]he Moslems, just because the sacred places of all three religions are sacred to them have made very naturally much more satisfactory custodians of the holy places than the Jews could be.

Wilson ignored the report, and the subsequent Mandate for Palestine issued by the League of Nations and backed by the United States recognized the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and the “grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

Since 1948, when the State of Israel was re-established, we have had the opportunity to see who has been a “satisfactory custodian” of the holy places, and who was not. When the British Mandate expired in 1948, Jordan illegally occupied the Old City of Jerusalem and proceeded immediately to destroy or desecrate the Jewish presence within it. In the 45 years since the Six-Day War, Israel has protected the holy sites of all three major religions.

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has produced a four-minute video that demonstrates the re-division of Jerusalem is technically impossible, is both unnecessary and dangerous, and is opposed by a majority of the city’s residents — both Jews and Arabs. The city has grown dramatically and changed during the nearly half-century since the Six-Day War, and nearly half a million Arabs and Jews (270,000 Arabs and 200,000 Jews) now live in the mosaic of neighborhoods called “East Jerusalem,” intermingled not only in terms of populations and neighborhoods, but vital infrastructures.

This might also be a good day to read Anne Lieberman’s “Six Days Remembered,” her compelling day-by-day summary of the Arab movements in May and June 1967 to prepare to extinguish the 19-year-old Jewish state, which resulted instead in the re-unification of Israel’s capital. Its eternal, undivided capital.

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Obama Abandons the “Good War”

Throughout President Bush’s second term, the chief foreign policy mantra of the Democratic Party was to claim the United States was wrong not to concentrate its energy on winning the war in Afghanistan. That was the “good war” as opposed to the war supposedly entered on the basis of lies and which couldn’t be won. The surge President Bush ordered in 2007 undermined the talking point about Iraq being unwinnable, but the idea that Afghanistan was being shorted was heard a great deal in 2008 as Barack Obama was elected president. Once in the White House, the new president was forced to come to a decision about what to do in Afghanistan, and by the summer, he made good on his promise to fight the good war there. But along with his pledge to start a surge that could defeat the Taliban was a provision that critics at the time warned could undo all the good that could come of the new plan.

With the president set to announce at the G8 meetings in Chicago the complete end of American combat operations in 2013 whether or not Afghan forces are prepared to step into the breach, a front-page feature in today’s New York Times provides a helpful explanation of the decision. The piece, adapted from a new book by Times reporter David E. Sanger, makes it clear the administration never had fully backed the surge. Indeed, despite his “good war” rhetoric, Obama clearly never believed in the mission there to rid the country of the Taliban and was looking to back out of his commitment from the moment he made it. Having failed to go “all in” for the surge by not providing as many troops in the beginning as the military asked, the president then did not give the generals the opportunity to persuade him to slow down a planned withdrawal that only served to signal the enemy all they had to do was to hold on until the Americans left.

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Throughout President Bush’s second term, the chief foreign policy mantra of the Democratic Party was to claim the United States was wrong not to concentrate its energy on winning the war in Afghanistan. That was the “good war” as opposed to the war supposedly entered on the basis of lies and which couldn’t be won. The surge President Bush ordered in 2007 undermined the talking point about Iraq being unwinnable, but the idea that Afghanistan was being shorted was heard a great deal in 2008 as Barack Obama was elected president. Once in the White House, the new president was forced to come to a decision about what to do in Afghanistan, and by the summer, he made good on his promise to fight the good war there. But along with his pledge to start a surge that could defeat the Taliban was a provision that critics at the time warned could undo all the good that could come of the new plan.

With the president set to announce at the G8 meetings in Chicago the complete end of American combat operations in 2013 whether or not Afghan forces are prepared to step into the breach, a front-page feature in today’s New York Times provides a helpful explanation of the decision. The piece, adapted from a new book by Times reporter David E. Sanger, makes it clear the administration never had fully backed the surge. Indeed, despite his “good war” rhetoric, Obama clearly never believed in the mission there to rid the country of the Taliban and was looking to back out of his commitment from the moment he made it. Having failed to go “all in” for the surge by not providing as many troops in the beginning as the military asked, the president then did not give the generals the opportunity to persuade him to slow down a planned withdrawal that only served to signal the enemy all they had to do was to hold on until the Americans left.

As Sanger writes:

By early 2011, Mr. Obama had seen enough. He told his staff to arrange a speedy, orderly exit from Afghanistan. This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.

The key decisions had essentially been made already when Gen. David H. Petraeus, in his last months as commander in Afghanistan, arrived in Washington with a set of options for the president that called for a slow withdrawal of surge troops. He wanted to keep as many troops as possible in Afghanistan through the next fighting season, with a steep drop to follow. Mr. Obama concluded that the Pentagon had not internalized that the goal was not to defeat the Taliban. He said he “believed that we had a more limited set of objectives that could be accomplished by bringing the military out at a faster clip,” an aide reported.

Given the difficulties in fighting in Afghanistan for more than a decade and the enormous shortcomings of our local allies, especially President Hamid Karzai, fatigue with the war is understandable. But in light of the revelations about the president’s decision-making process, it is now apparent that the administration lacked the one thing any country needs in war: a commitment to victory. Without it, the Afghan surge was just a blip on the radar screen and, unlike the Iraqi insurgents who knew President Bush meant business during the U.S. surge in that war, the Taliban were right to discount the possibility that President Obama was just as tough-minded. Even at the outset of the new surge it’s clear now  the president saw it as merely a bloody prelude to a withdrawal with, as Sanger notes, no provision for what would happen if the Taliban start their own surge after the Americans leave.

The administration gives itself credit for having rethought strategy and concentrated instead on the real “good war” — fighting al-Qaeda in Pakistan. But if, as Sanger reports, the administration had concluded that there had never been a coherent U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the same is certainly true of American objectives in Pakistan. In truth, the U.S. has no strategy in Pakistan other than to keep attacking terrorists in the tribal areas with drones, a tactic that is deadly but has no chance of ridding the area of trouble or maintaining Pakistan as an ally in the war against the Islamists. The only thing that recommends this plan is that it requires few American troops and allows the president to adopt the “lead from behind” posture with which he is so comfortable.

President Obama’s 2009 decision to stay the course in Afghanistan and use a surge to fight the Taliban was the sort of responsible action that gave the lie to his detractors’ assertion that he had little understanding of the strategic imperatives of fighting the country’s Islamist foes. But, as we now know, the applause he earned then was largely undeserved. His only real goal was to bug out of Afghanistan but to do so without having lost the country before he ran for re-election in 2012.

The result is a plan that is a disaster in the making which will create a mess that will be all too apparent in the years to come. That’s something he’s willing to live with if he is re-elected. Whether it is one that can be reversed by his successor, either in 2013 or 2017, remains to be seen.

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Islamists Threaten Insurgency Should Secularists Win Egypt Election

Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while still mayor of Istanbul, famously quipped, “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” Alas, as Martin Kramer has so often warned, it appears that Egypt Islamists are taking the same tact. On May 19, Islamic Jihad Organization member Shaykh Usamah Qasim took to the pages of Al-Misri al-Yawm to warn that Islamists would not tolerate a victory by any of the non-Islamist candidates. According to a translation provided by the Open Source Center:

…The victory of former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq or former Arab League chief Amr Musa in the coming presidential elections would lead some Islamic and non-Islamic groups to respond with “armed action.” “Thus, the fate of any of them who reaches the presidency will be like that of former President Anwar al-Sadat, who was assassinated,” Qasim said.

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Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while still mayor of Istanbul, famously quipped, “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you come to your stop, you get off.” Alas, as Martin Kramer has so often warned, it appears that Egypt Islamists are taking the same tact. On May 19, Islamic Jihad Organization member Shaykh Usamah Qasim took to the pages of Al-Misri al-Yawm to warn that Islamists would not tolerate a victory by any of the non-Islamist candidates. According to a translation provided by the Open Source Center:

…The victory of former prime minister Ahmad Shafiq or former Arab League chief Amr Musa in the coming presidential elections would lead some Islamic and non-Islamic groups to respond with “armed action.” “Thus, the fate of any of them who reaches the presidency will be like that of former President Anwar al-Sadat, who was assassinated,” Qasim said.

One-in-three Middle Eastern Arabs live in Egypt. Unfortunately, it looks like the Nile may once again flow with blood.

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What Motivates Iran’s Nuclear Program?

As Western diplomats prepare to sit down with their Iranian counterparts in Baghdad, wishful thinking and a desire to reach a deal regardless of its contents appears increasingly to shape American strategic thinking. It is fair, however, to ask what shapes Iranian strategic thinking. Here, Iran’s Supreme Leader, his inner circle, and former Iranian negotiators provide important clues.

Take Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranian government says their goal is energy generation, while Western officials believe the regime wants nuclear weapons capability. (The Obama administration’s argument parsing the difference between nuclear weapons capability and nuclear weapons possession misses the point, as only about a week of hard labor separates the two, and the U.S. does not have the intelligence assets to determine whether Iranian authorities have taken the final leap until it will be too late).

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As Western diplomats prepare to sit down with their Iranian counterparts in Baghdad, wishful thinking and a desire to reach a deal regardless of its contents appears increasingly to shape American strategic thinking. It is fair, however, to ask what shapes Iranian strategic thinking. Here, Iran’s Supreme Leader, his inner circle, and former Iranian negotiators provide important clues.

Take Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranian government says their goal is energy generation, while Western officials believe the regime wants nuclear weapons capability. (The Obama administration’s argument parsing the difference between nuclear weapons capability and nuclear weapons possession misses the point, as only about a week of hard labor separates the two, and the U.S. does not have the intelligence assets to determine whether Iranian authorities have taken the final leap until it will be too late).

Despite debate about Supreme Leader Khamenei’s fatwa, various Iranian officials have suggested their goal is to acquire nuclear weapons and perhaps use them:

  • On December 14, 2001, Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani –often described as a pragmatist in Western circles, declared, “The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while the same against the Islamic world would only cause damage. Such a scenario is not inconceivable.”
  • Iran Emrooz quoted Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, secretary-general of Iranian Hezbollah, as saying on February 14, 2005, “We are able to produce atomic bombs and we will do that. We shouldn’t be afraid of anyone. The U.S. is not more than a barking dog.”
  • On May 29, 2005, Hojjat ol-Islam Gholamreza Hasani, the Supreme Leader’s personal representative to the province of West Azerbaijan, declared possession of nuclear weapons to be one of Iran’s top goals. “An atom bomb . . . must be produced as well,” he said.”That is because the Qur’an has told Muslims to ‘get strong and amass all the forces at your disposal to be strong.'” Hasani may be widely reviled by Iranians, but he is nevertheless the Supreme Leader’s direct appointee and charged with carrying his messages.
  • On February 19, 2006, Rooz, an Iranian website close to the Islamic Republic’s reformist camp, quoted Mohsen Gharavian, a Qom theologian close to Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, one of the regime’s leading ayatollahs, as saying it was only “natural” for the Islamic Republic to possess nuclear weapons.

No less important are the admissions by various Iranian officials that the purpose of negotiations was to divert Western attention while the Iranian regime accelerated its nuclear program:

  • On June 14, 2008, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, former President Muhammad Khatami’s spokesman, debated advisers to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ramezanzadeh counseled Ahmadinejad to accept the Khatami approach: “We should prove to the entire world that we want power plants for electricity. Afterwards, we can proceed with other activities,” Mr. Ramezanzadeh said. The purpose of dialogue, he argued further, was not to compromise, but to build confidence and avoid sanctions. “We had an overt policy, which was one of negotiation and confidence building, and a covert policy, which was continuation of the activities,” he said.
  • This past October, Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s nuclear negotiator between 2003-2005, also acknowledged Iran’s insincerity: “We did not decide the nuclear goals of the country; they were decided by the regime. When I was trusted with the responsibility of the nuclear team, two goals became our priorities: The first goal was to safeguard the national security, and the second goal was to support and help the nuclear achievements… When I was entrusted with this portfolio, we had no production in Isfahan. We couldn’t produce UF4 or UF6. Had Natanz been filled with centrifuges, we did not have the material which needed to be injected. There was a small amount of UF6 which we had previously procured from certain countries and this was what we had at our disposal. But the Isfahan facilities had to be completed before it could remake yellow cake to UF4 and UF6. We used the opportunity [provided by talks] to do so and completed the Isfahan facilities… In Arak we continued our efforts and achieved heavy water… The reason for inviting the three European foreign ministers to Tehran and for the Saadabad negotiations was to make Europe oppose the United States so that the issue was not submitted to the Security Council.”

More telling has been the Supreme Leader’s comments on rapprochement with the United States. While diplomats and journalists cheered Obama’s offer to outstretch his hand if the Islamic Republic unclenched its fist, few bothered to cover the Supreme Leader’s response, delivered on the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran:

“This new president of America said beautiful things. He sent us messages constantly, both orally and written: ‘Come and let us turn the page, come and create a new situation, come and let us cooperate in solving the problems of the world.’ It reached this degree! We said that we should not be prejudiced, that we will look at their deeds. They said we want change. We said, well, let us see the change. On March 21, when I delivered a speech in Mashhad, I said that if there is an iron fist under the velvet glove and you extend a hand towards us we will not extend our hand… [Reformists] can’t roll out the red carpet for the United States in our country. They should know this. The Iranian nation resists.”

Just last month, Rafsanjani asked why, if the Islamic Republic had relations with Moscow and Beijing, relations with Washington should be out of the question. Hardliners surrounding the Supreme Leader pounced. Alef, a site close to the Supreme Leader and managed by his supporters, published an interview with Abbas Salimi-Namin, director of the Office for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies, in which he dismissed any notion of relations with the United States and suggested that Ayatollah Khomeini—the regime’s founding father—forbade them.

Only useful idiots would prioritize a deal over its substance. The Iranian regime reads poll numbers as much as any American inside-the-beltway politico. They understand that Obama will be much less likely to quibble over Iranian nuclear aims than would Governor Mitt Romney. No deal will change the overall trajectory of Iranian nuclear aims, however. The regime has already made those too clear, not only in terms of rhetoric but also in terms of action.

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YIVO Conference on “Jews and the Left”

Last week, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research held a remarkable conference on “Jews and the Left,” convening an international group of scholars — largely from the left — to deliver formal papers on the subject. The conference has been covered by Tablet Magazine (Adam Kirsch), The Forward (Eitan Kensky), Newsday (Cathy Young) and American Thinker (me).

As Eitan Kensky wrote, “one of the most intriguing aspects of the conference was the extent to which the participants who self-identify with the left agreed with the view that it had indeed betrayed the Jewish state.” Adam Kirsch noted that “speaker after speaker agreed that the embrace of Communism by many Jews was a moral disaster” from a historical standpoint.

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Last week, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research held a remarkable conference on “Jews and the Left,” convening an international group of scholars — largely from the left — to deliver formal papers on the subject. The conference has been covered by Tablet Magazine (Adam Kirsch), The Forward (Eitan Kensky), Newsday (Cathy Young) and American Thinker (me).

As Eitan Kensky wrote, “one of the most intriguing aspects of the conference was the extent to which the participants who self-identify with the left agreed with the view that it had indeed betrayed the Jewish state.” Adam Kirsch noted that “speaker after speaker agreed that the embrace of Communism by many Jews was a moral disaster” from a historical standpoint.

But perhaps most striking was the number of speakers acknowledging the current moral disaster that infects a substantial part of the left. The paper presented by Norman Geras, professor emeritus of the University of Manchester and a man of the left – “Alibi Anti-Semitism” – concluded:

It is a moral scandal that some few decades after the unmeasurable catastrophe that overtook the Jewish people in Europe, these anti-Semitic themes and ruses are once again respectable; respectable not just down there with the thugs but pervasively also within polite society, and within the perimeters of a self-flattering liberal and left opinion. It is a bleak lesson to all but those unwilling to see…. We now know, as well, that should a new calamity ever befall the Jewish people, there will be, again, not only the direct architects and executants but also those who collaborate, who collude, who look away and find the words to go with doing so. Some of these, dismayingly, shamefully, will be of the left.

There is, of course, a difference between leftism and liberalism, and the reference to the “Left” in the title of the YIVO conference was to the former rather than the latter. But both reflect, in differing degrees, the historical phenomenon described by Norman Podhoretz in Why Are Jews Liberals? – the creation of a replacement religion based on the siren songs of utopianism and universalism. Michael Walzer’s keynote address acknowledged that the left had failed to appreciate the political achievements of traditional Jews – ones Ruth Wisse brilliantly explicated in Jews and Power.

When YIVO publishes the conference papers – which will be well worth reading – it will be worthwhile reading Podhoretz and Wisse at the same time.

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Turkey’s Creeping Islamization

While Western diplomats persist in calling Turkey a “model,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) continues to tweak relatively minor rules to change Turkish society fundamentally. He makes no secret of this. “Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise atheist generations? This may be your business and objective but not ours,” he declared last February.

Previously, the Turkish parliament tightened licensing on alcohol sales, and has increased taxes more than 700 percent on beer. The ban on alcohol advertisements forced Efes Pilsen, one of Turkey’s most popular basketball teams, to change its name.

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While Western diplomats persist in calling Turkey a “model,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) continues to tweak relatively minor rules to change Turkish society fundamentally. He makes no secret of this. “Do you expect the conservative democrat AK Party to raise atheist generations? This may be your business and objective but not ours,” he declared last February.

Previously, the Turkish parliament tightened licensing on alcohol sales, and has increased taxes more than 700 percent on beer. The ban on alcohol advertisements forced Efes Pilsen, one of Turkey’s most popular basketball teams, to change its name.

Now, the Turkish parliament is pushing along its crusade against alcohol to new levels. The Islamist-dominated parliament (the AKP holds 326 out of 550 seats) will reportedly change a labor law to enable employers to fire without severance any employer who shows up at work having drunk alcohol, as opposed to being drunk with alcohol. Accordingly, if a businessman consumes a single glass of wine or beer at a business lunch, he can be terminated immediately.

Speaking at an American Enterprise Institute conference in Gdansk, Poland, in August 2005, senior State Department official Daniel Fried once commented that Erdoğan’s AKP was simply the Islamic equivalent of a European Christian Democratic party. Alas, it increasingly appears that the State Department has sacrificed the ideal of a Western-oriented Turkey upon the altar of political correctness.

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Obama Wants to Keep Dancing With Iran

In just the latest of what has been a series of featured articles on U.S. policy on Iran all generated by leaks from “senior administration officials,” the New York Times led its front page yesterday with a piece outlining Washington’s nearly unbridled optimism about securing a nuclear deal on Iran. Using the Times as its mouthpiece, the Obama administration again sent a very loud signal about its naïveté about Iran’s determination to realize its nuclear ambitions, and its willingness to start making concessions to the ayatollahs in order to keep negotiations going throughout the rest of the year so as to avoid the necessity of taking action on the issue during the president’s re-election.

The outline of the president’s plans to make the Iran nuclear threat go away is pretty clear. The West’s negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad later this month will start the process of backing away from the serious sanctions that were belatedly applied to the regime in the hope that the Iranians will consent to a deal that would, at least in principle, halt their refining of uranium that could make a bomb. If the Iranians agree, then that would lead to more frequent meetings during the summer that could culminate in an agreement. But rather than the harbinger of a successful diplomatic offensive, the administration’s decision to present the Iranians with a present in advance of the meeting will only confirm Tehran’s belief in the president’s weakness and give it even more confidence that the talks are the perfect venue to achieve all of their nuclear goals.

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In just the latest of what has been a series of featured articles on U.S. policy on Iran all generated by leaks from “senior administration officials,” the New York Times led its front page yesterday with a piece outlining Washington’s nearly unbridled optimism about securing a nuclear deal on Iran. Using the Times as its mouthpiece, the Obama administration again sent a very loud signal about its naïveté about Iran’s determination to realize its nuclear ambitions, and its willingness to start making concessions to the ayatollahs in order to keep negotiations going throughout the rest of the year so as to avoid the necessity of taking action on the issue during the president’s re-election.

The outline of the president’s plans to make the Iran nuclear threat go away is pretty clear. The West’s negotiators at the P5+1 talks in Baghdad later this month will start the process of backing away from the serious sanctions that were belatedly applied to the regime in the hope that the Iranians will consent to a deal that would, at least in principle, halt their refining of uranium that could make a bomb. If the Iranians agree, then that would lead to more frequent meetings during the summer that could culminate in an agreement. But rather than the harbinger of a successful diplomatic offensive, the administration’s decision to present the Iranians with a present in advance of the meeting will only confirm Tehran’s belief in the president’s weakness and give it even more confidence that the talks are the perfect venue to achieve all of their nuclear goals.

In theory, a deal that would remove the stockpile of weapons grade uranium and halt any more production would hamper Iran’s plans for a bomb. But any agreement that leaves those facilities intact, rather than having them dismantled and which would allow the production of more refined uranium, even if it is supposed to be not useful for a bomb, is the sort of framework the Iranians could use to bypass the restrictions. Moreover, any diplomatic process that can be dragged out for many months before it is put into effect will simply allow Iran more time to get closer to a bomb, and at the end of the process, it could, as it has done with previous Western-brokered deals for uranium shipment, simply opt out of the agreement.

The difference, the senior administration officials are telling us, is that the tough sanctions and plans for an oil embargo on Iran have finally brought them to their knees. In this optimistic view of events, recent statements from the Iranians that they have already beaten the West in the talks are just for domestic consumption and designed to make it easier for the regime to sell the concessions they will have to make to a public that views the nuclear program as an expression of nationalism.

But the problem with Iran’s boasting about its diplomatic victories is that their claims are largely correct. They have crossed every “red line” set out by the West — putting nuclear plants online, building heavy water facilities and refining uranium and doing so at grades that could produce weapons, and working on triggers and other devices that have only military applications — and gotten away with it. Any deal that will allow them to keep their nuclear facilities operating and which will scale back sanctions will be an enormous victory for the regime. Such a victory could, without all that much effort to deceive Western inspectors, allow them to continue working toward a nuclear weapon and greatly strengthen it at home.

Those are two things President Obama ought to be worried about but, as even his cheerleaders at the Times have noticed, he has other priorities:

For President Obama, the stakes are huge. A successful meeting could prolong the diplomatic dance with Tehran, delaying any possible military confrontation over the nuclear program until after the presidential election. It could also keep a lid on oil prices, which fell again this week in part because of the decrease in tensions. Lower gasoline prices would aid the economic recovery in the United States, and Mr. Obama’s electoral prospects.

But while prolonging “the diplomatic dance” will aid the president’s re-election prospects, it also very much plays into Tehran’s goals. So long as the talks go on, an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is out of the question. And though some administration officials have made noises about America’s contingency plans for an attack, it’s difficult to see why Iran would take such talk seriously so long as “senior administration officials” are promising them lollipops even before the Baghdad talks start. Once re-elected, the president will, as he has said in other contexts, have the “flexibility” to change his mind about some issues. Iran has little reason to believe they are in any danger as long as they can keep Washington dancing. And as the president and his foreign policy team have made clear, they have no intention of stopping.

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Bill Keller, Political Hypocrite

How difficult it must be to be a liberal who has double standards to explain and hypocrisies to defend. Take Bill Keller of the New York Times. Last August the former executive editor of the Times wrote a piece in which he prodded his colleagues in journalism to ask candidates “tougher questions about faith.” If the Republican candidates didn’t answer Keller’s questions, “let’s keep on asking,” Keller said. “Because these are matters too important to take on faith.”

Of course, there was the inconvenient fact that the Times showed a notable lack of interest when it came to Barack Obama’s 20-year relationship with Jeremiah Wright, a minister whose views are racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American. And for those Times readers who might have forgotten – and given the paucity of coverage by the Times, who could blame them? — the Reverend Wright was referred to by Obama as his “spiritual mentor,” Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama, baptized their children, inspired the title of Obama’s first autobiography.

Yet in 2008, the Times found all of this singularly uninteresting. It looked the other way. Read More

How difficult it must be to be a liberal who has double standards to explain and hypocrisies to defend. Take Bill Keller of the New York Times. Last August the former executive editor of the Times wrote a piece in which he prodded his colleagues in journalism to ask candidates “tougher questions about faith.” If the Republican candidates didn’t answer Keller’s questions, “let’s keep on asking,” Keller said. “Because these are matters too important to take on faith.”

Of course, there was the inconvenient fact that the Times showed a notable lack of interest when it came to Barack Obama’s 20-year relationship with Jeremiah Wright, a minister whose views are racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-American. And for those Times readers who might have forgotten – and given the paucity of coverage by the Times, who could blame them? — the Reverend Wright was referred to by Obama as his “spiritual mentor,” Wright married Barack and Michelle Obama, baptized their children, inspired the title of Obama’s first autobiography.

Yet in 2008, the Times found all of this singularly uninteresting. It looked the other way.

When this was pointed out to Keller in the aftermath of his newfound interest in asking tough question about the faith of GOP candidates, Keller (via Twitter) admitted, “Yes, Dems should be asked about their faith (and influences) too. We were late to Rev. Wright in ’08, but we got there, and did it well.”

How convenient to admit this three years after the election. And in fact, the Times got there much later than they would have if John McCain had been a member of a church whose pastor was spouting white supremacist views from the pulpit – and once its reporters eventually got there, they actually didn’t do it so well.

In any event, Jeremiah Wright is once again in the news – this time because of a Times story that was clearly designed to keep a super PAC from injecting Wright into the 2012 race. (The detailed advertising plan that was obtained by the Times came through a person not connected to the proposal but “who was alarmed by its tone.”) I guess we’re back into the “asking tough questions about a political candidate’s faith is wrong and inappropriate” mode.

Once again, the New York Times is using its influence to discourage a close examination of the Obama-Wright relationship. And just to be sure the point wasn’t lost on us, a Times editorial, with the subtle title “Racial Politics, 2012-Style,” praises John McCain for refusing “to make this divisive tactic part of his campaign against Mr. Obama.” But, we’re told, “in a more coarsened political atmosphere, the rise of unlimited money has made it possible for a wealthy person to broadcast any attack while keeping a distance from it.” This is all part of a general effort by those on the right to “pollute the campaign.” And so forth and so on.

I can hardly wait for Bill Keller to show his objectivity and independent judgment by writing another long article on why it’s absolutely essential for journalists to ask tough questions about faith. And this time we can look forward to him and the Times exploring — with newly discovered depth, intensity, and a commitment to “afflict the powerful” – Barack Obama’s relationship with the Reverend Wright, the essential elements of black liberation theology, and a plausible explanation for how Obama could have spent 20 years in Wright’s church and held him up as a “spiritual mentor” without sharing, or at least being comfortable with, Wright’s noxious views and hate-filled sentiments. Because if such an article doesn’t appear, many of us will be tempted to draw the conclusion that Bill Keller is not much more than a political hypocrite dressed up as a Serious Journalist.

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