Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 3, 2012

Iran Throwing its Weight around Kabul

Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the Obama administration’s decision to throw in the towel on Iraq, and as Team Obama prepares to repeat its mistake in Afghanistan, Iranian authorities seek to make it two for two.

On June 1, Iran sponsored commemorations in Kabul to mark the 23rd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. From the accompanying BBC Persian photo essay and article, my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the shrewdest analyst of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington—highlighted two points. First, Mohammad Akbari, a Shi’a jihadi leader now in Afghanistan’s parliament, declared, “Religious beliefs have no borders. Those who say today that Khomeini belongs to Iran will next day relate Prophet of Muslims Muhammad to Saudi Arabia.” However, Majidyar notes, some Afghans protested the pro-Iranian festivities. “This is Kabul, not Tehran or Qom,” some declared. Other held signs which read, “Puppets: no more betrayal.” Meanwhile, Iranian officials have ramped up pressure on Afghan politicians to reject the Strategic Cooperation Agreement, reportedly offering $25 million in bribes.

Read More

Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the Obama administration’s decision to throw in the towel on Iraq, and as Team Obama prepares to repeat its mistake in Afghanistan, Iranian authorities seek to make it two for two.

On June 1, Iran sponsored commemorations in Kabul to mark the 23rd anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death. From the accompanying BBC Persian photo essay and article, my American Enterprise Institute colleague Ahmad Majidyar—hands down the shrewdest analyst of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington—highlighted two points. First, Mohammad Akbari, a Shi’a jihadi leader now in Afghanistan’s parliament, declared, “Religious beliefs have no borders. Those who say today that Khomeini belongs to Iran will next day relate Prophet of Muslims Muhammad to Saudi Arabia.” However, Majidyar notes, some Afghans protested the pro-Iranian festivities. “This is Kabul, not Tehran or Qom,” some declared. Other held signs which read, “Puppets: no more betrayal.” Meanwhile, Iranian officials have ramped up pressure on Afghan politicians to reject the Strategic Cooperation Agreement, reportedly offering $25 million in bribes.

Afghans, like Iraqis, do not naturally favor the Islamic Republic. Persian culture is one thing; Tehran’s politics and its official ideology quite another. However, as Iranian proxies not too subtlety point out, “you may like the Americans better, but we will always be your neighbor.” But, Afghans have also never lost a war; rather, they defect to the winning side. With the sense that, under Obama, the United States has no staying power, the Iranian government is making its push to fill the vacuum—or as much as they can fill before Pakistan pushes back. Until Obama signals that victory matters more than the American political timeline, the Iranians will have the strategic advantage.

Read Less

Turkey Lectures Arabs on Proper Dress

As the Obama administration and many Western officials persist in suggesting the Turkish experience might be a model for the Arab Middle East, it is worth considering whether the model about which American diplomats speak is the same one that Turkey’s Islamist prime minister considers.

After the AKP’s 2002 election victory, the party rightly focused on economics, and after the party’s second victory, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accelerated reforms to diminish the power of Turkey’s military. With the AKP victory in Turkey’s June 2011 general election, however, Erdoğan felt entrenched enough to implement his social agenda. Some of his agenda is bizarre: The prime minister, for example, now rants about the evil scourge of Caesarean sections. He has waged a war on beer. And now, the state-controlled media seeks to ensure that Lebanese pop singers dress more conservatively than they do back home. From Hürriyet Daily News:

Lebanese singer Jehan Barbur refused to attend a TRT show after she was asked to be careful about her clothes, daily Sabah reported.  The singer complained of the incident on her Twitter account, saying: “I was asked to be a guest on one of TRT’s channels. But I was asked to be careful about my clothes. Who do you think you are dominating…?” The agent also told reporters that a similar warning was made for guitarist Kemal Evrim Aslan’s vocalist. “They put a table cloth over her because her shoulders were showing,” the agent said.

Read More

As the Obama administration and many Western officials persist in suggesting the Turkish experience might be a model for the Arab Middle East, it is worth considering whether the model about which American diplomats speak is the same one that Turkey’s Islamist prime minister considers.

After the AKP’s 2002 election victory, the party rightly focused on economics, and after the party’s second victory, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accelerated reforms to diminish the power of Turkey’s military. With the AKP victory in Turkey’s June 2011 general election, however, Erdoğan felt entrenched enough to implement his social agenda. Some of his agenda is bizarre: The prime minister, for example, now rants about the evil scourge of Caesarean sections. He has waged a war on beer. And now, the state-controlled media seeks to ensure that Lebanese pop singers dress more conservatively than they do back home. From Hürriyet Daily News:

Lebanese singer Jehan Barbur refused to attend a TRT show after she was asked to be careful about her clothes, daily Sabah reported.  The singer complained of the incident on her Twitter account, saying: “I was asked to be a guest on one of TRT’s channels. But I was asked to be careful about my clothes. Who do you think you are dominating…?” The agent also told reporters that a similar warning was made for guitarist Kemal Evrim Aslan’s vocalist. “They put a table cloth over her because her shoulders were showing,” the agent said.

The Middle East may be more conservative than the West, but it is not monolithic. There is a huge difference between how people dress in the cafes of Beirut, Kuwait, and Erbil, than how they do in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Sana’a. It seems that Erdoğan embraces views of society derived more from Saudi culture than traditional Levantine or Mediterranean society. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks of Turkey as a model, she believes she is promoting a vision of moderation and tolerance. Alas, almost a decade into AKP rule, the Turkish model now symbolizes the opposite.

Read Less

Obama’s 1996 Scenario is Finished

Last year, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stood its ground on the debt ceiling standoff, President Obama’s strategy for 2012 became apparent. Throughout the torturous negotiations over entitlements, budgets, taxes and spending, the president issued statements about wanting a compromise, but these were a thin veil covering his obvious desire for a confrontation. Demanding new taxes that the House majority elected in 2010 had vowed never to accept, the administration more or less dared the GOP leadership to allow the country to default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

It was painfully obvious as the controversy lingered throughout the summer that President Obama was working from Bill Clinton’s 1995 playbook when he similarly bluffed a Republican Congress into shutting down the government over a budget standoff. Though Congress’s popularity plunged, the president was disappointed in his hopes that House Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to step into the Newt Gingrich clown suits he had prepared for them. Nevertheless, the White House still hoped that lingering disgust for Congress combined with an economic recovery would allow the president to win re-election in the same manner as Clinton did. But if there was any doubt about the inapplicability of the 1996 template, this year it was removed on Friday as another dismal jobs report more or less guaranteed that a summer recovery wasn’t in the cards. The bad economic news isn’t just a setback that will give the Democrats a few shaky news cycles. It is confirmation that the president’s re-election strategy has already failed.

Read More

Last year, as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stood its ground on the debt ceiling standoff, President Obama’s strategy for 2012 became apparent. Throughout the torturous negotiations over entitlements, budgets, taxes and spending, the president issued statements about wanting a compromise, but these were a thin veil covering his obvious desire for a confrontation. Demanding new taxes that the House majority elected in 2010 had vowed never to accept, the administration more or less dared the GOP leadership to allow the country to default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

It was painfully obvious as the controversy lingered throughout the summer that President Obama was working from Bill Clinton’s 1995 playbook when he similarly bluffed a Republican Congress into shutting down the government over a budget standoff. Though Congress’s popularity plunged, the president was disappointed in his hopes that House Speaker John Boehner or Majority Leader Eric Cantor refused to step into the Newt Gingrich clown suits he had prepared for them. Nevertheless, the White House still hoped that lingering disgust for Congress combined with an economic recovery would allow the president to win re-election in the same manner as Clinton did. But if there was any doubt about the inapplicability of the 1996 template, this year it was removed on Friday as another dismal jobs report more or less guaranteed that a summer recovery wasn’t in the cards. The bad economic news isn’t just a setback that will give the Democrats a few shaky news cycles. It is confirmation that the president’s re-election strategy has already failed.

This realization comes through in some of the accounts of the White House’s reaction to the bleak jobs report. Though the president was undaunted during his various campaign appearances and statements, even the usually pro-Obama coverage of the New York Times could not fail to note that the hopes of the president’s staff for a 1996 rerun have been crushed. Though the Democrats are still going all-out to demonize the congressional Republicans, blaming them or George W. Bush for the poor economy is a perilously weak re-election strategy for a man running on the slogan of “Forward.”

The Democratic counter-attack to the GOP carping about jobs is to accuse the opposition of rooting for a bad economy. But that is a talking point that will work just about as well for the Democrats as the Republican effort to claim critics of the Iraq war were cheering for America to lose. The problem here is that, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no viable options to change the situation other than to whine about Republicans not passing mini-stimulus bills he claims will jump-start the economy.

As the Times notes, in 1996 with the economy booming. the Republican Congress passed legislation that aided Clinton as well as bolstered their own reputation. Democrats will brand the GOP as obstructionists for not working with the president for the common good this year, but the big difference between the two situations is that Clinton co-opted Republican positions and moved to the center as he cruised to re-election. By contrast, President Obama has run to the left this year, making it impossible for the House to embrace his proposals even if they wanted to.

The president hoped to make the election a referendum on the GOP and on Mitt Romney’s fitness for the presidency. But with a failing U.S. economy and the prospect that an even worse tailspin in Europe will drag America’s finance down even further this year, that is looking like a losing bet. Nothing is worse for an incumbent than the appearance that he is not in control of events. The president’s helplessness on the economy — an issue that is his opponent’s one great strength — is scuttling his 1996 blueprint for victory in an election in which the odds appear to be starting to turn against him.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.