Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 11, 2012

Running Out of Excuses on Iran

President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he will never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. But given that his various attempts at engagement, diplomacy and now sanctions show no signs of working, it is inevitable that speculation about his willingness to use force persists. However, that is the one thing Washington has never seemed willing to contemplate. Though even the president will occasionally say that no options are being left off the table, the administration has been doing its best to argue that military strikes would only give the West a temporary respite. But, as Lee Smith writes in Tablet, the claim that strikes on Iran wouldn’t effectively end the threat tell us more about the president’s unwillingness to use force than it does about its effect on Iran.

This premise that Iran’s nuclear program is basically invulnerable to military attack is wrong. Though its targets are spread out and many have been hardened to render air strikes less deadly, the notion that a concentrated campaign couldn’t take them out underestimates American air power. Moreover, the notion that the Iranians would have the personnel, the resources and the will to start from scratch again overestimates their capabilities. The difficulties that are cited as insuperable obstacles to an attack have been inflated out of proportion to the actual problem, because the administration has no interest in undertaking the mission.

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President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he will never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. But given that his various attempts at engagement, diplomacy and now sanctions show no signs of working, it is inevitable that speculation about his willingness to use force persists. However, that is the one thing Washington has never seemed willing to contemplate. Though even the president will occasionally say that no options are being left off the table, the administration has been doing its best to argue that military strikes would only give the West a temporary respite. But, as Lee Smith writes in Tablet, the claim that strikes on Iran wouldn’t effectively end the threat tell us more about the president’s unwillingness to use force than it does about its effect on Iran.

This premise that Iran’s nuclear program is basically invulnerable to military attack is wrong. Though its targets are spread out and many have been hardened to render air strikes less deadly, the notion that a concentrated campaign couldn’t take them out underestimates American air power. Moreover, the notion that the Iranians would have the personnel, the resources and the will to start from scratch again overestimates their capabilities. The difficulties that are cited as insuperable obstacles to an attack have been inflated out of proportion to the actual problem, because the administration has no interest in undertaking the mission.

As Smith writes, if the United States were to knock out Iran’s air defenses, its missile program as well as the nuclear plants, it would present the regime with an impossible dilemma because the cash-starved government barely has the resources to maintain its infrastructure, let alone rebuild it.

Smith quoted one credulous Israeli who expressed faith in the Obama administration’s willingness to go to the mat with Iran despite everything it has done and said that would incline a more sober observer to conclude it has no intention of making good on its promises. Indeed, as Retired General Jack Keane (the former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army) said to Smith:

I don’t believe this administration has any intention, ever, of attacking Iran. I don’t believe it, the Israelis don’t believe it, and the Iranians don’t believe it.

Keane is right. The whole thrust of American diplomacy has tended to reinforce Iran’s belief that President Obama is a paper tiger who will never challenge them. That explains their arrogant refusal to play in the P5+1 talks where they could, if they wanted it, accept a weak deal that would probably enable them to eventually go nuclear because of the probability that the West hasn’t the will to enforce such an accord.

So long as the United States is committed to diplomacy, the odds are Israel will not act on its own. The “window of diplomacy” that the president has touted is all but closed, but it is likely that it will limp along at least until the November election. After that, should the president be re-elected, belief in his willingness to act on Iran, even as a last resort, rests on pure faith that is undermined every day by the signals emanating from the administration.

 

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Symbolic Repeal Puts Dems on the Record

Five Democrats broke with their party to support the bill to repeal ObamaCare, which is just two more than in 2011. House Republicans supported it unanimously, Fox News reports:

House lawmakers voted Wednesday to repeal the federal health care overhaul — the latest in a long line of anti-”ObamaCare” votes, but the first since the Supreme Court upheld the law and defined one of its key provisions as a “tax.”

The House has voted more than 30 times to scrap, defund or undercut the law since Obama signed it in March 2010. As with those bills, the repeal bill approved Wednesday on a 244-185 vote faces certain demise in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But Republicans were looking to get lawmakers back on record on the law in the wake of the high court ruling last month. The ruling upheld most the law as constitutional, but in doing so determined that the controversial penalty on those who do not buy insurance technically qualifies as a “tax” and not a “penalty” as the administration had claimed. That definition fueled GOP criticism of the law, and put some Democrats in a politically tricky position.

The bill won’t actually go anywhere — Harry Reid would block a Senate vote on it, not that it would have a chance of passing there anyway. As a completely gratuitous precaution President Obama has also vowed to veto the bill if it miraculously ends up on his desk.

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Five Democrats broke with their party to support the bill to repeal ObamaCare, which is just two more than in 2011. House Republicans supported it unanimously, Fox News reports:

House lawmakers voted Wednesday to repeal the federal health care overhaul — the latest in a long line of anti-”ObamaCare” votes, but the first since the Supreme Court upheld the law and defined one of its key provisions as a “tax.”

The House has voted more than 30 times to scrap, defund or undercut the law since Obama signed it in March 2010. As with those bills, the repeal bill approved Wednesday on a 244-185 vote faces certain demise in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But Republicans were looking to get lawmakers back on record on the law in the wake of the high court ruling last month. The ruling upheld most the law as constitutional, but in doing so determined that the controversial penalty on those who do not buy insurance technically qualifies as a “tax” and not a “penalty” as the administration had claimed. That definition fueled GOP criticism of the law, and put some Democrats in a politically tricky position.

The bill won’t actually go anywhere — Harry Reid would block a Senate vote on it, not that it would have a chance of passing there anyway. As a completely gratuitous precaution President Obama has also vowed to veto the bill if it miraculously ends up on his desk.

But 185 Democrats are now on the record supporting Obamacare, even after the SCOTUS decision and the classification of the mandate as a “tax.” This will be powerful ammunition for Republican congressional candidates leading up to Election Day. Considering the consistent majority public opposition to Obamacare, It’s surprising that just two Democrats switched sides since the 2011 vote. Maybe even vulnerable Dems figured they already did the damage by supporting Obamacare in the first place — what’s one more vote in favor?

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Why Some Hope Obama Will Pay Their Bills

On the face of it, it’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder about the intelligence of the American people. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, thousands of Americans think President Obama has initiated a program to help them pay their bills and have used bogus routing numbers in vain attempts to make mortgage payments or to resolve overdue utility bills. Call it an urban legend or a myth, but no matter what label you slap on it is a sad commentary on our times that so many would fall for an obvious scam, especially because those spreading the rumor are telling their dupes to use their Social Security numbers to access the supposed presidential bounty. Clearly, some criminals are making a profit from that data and rather than receiving a gift from the White House, those who fall for this story may be subject to identify theft.

Why is the scam working? The easiest answer is the one supplied by P.T. Barnum in his famous quote: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The famed entrepreneur would get no argument from me about that.

But the willingness to believe that Barack Obama was spreading wealth like some fairy tale king speaks to something deeper in the psyche of our political culture, or at least the subset of it that bought into the “hope and change” mantra that elevated him to the White House in 2008. This is, after all, the president who promised to personally turn back the rising oceans when he accepted the nomination of his party four years ago. The messianic expectations he sought to inspire in his supporters were bound to lead to disappointment. That is what has happened as the country sinks deeper into economic distress for which he doesn’t even pretend to have an answer as he seeks another term. But deep in the hearts of some of those who bought into the magical politics he embodied is the wish that the president will save them from the consequences of his failed policies and make it all right.

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On the face of it, it’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder about the intelligence of the American people. As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, thousands of Americans think President Obama has initiated a program to help them pay their bills and have used bogus routing numbers in vain attempts to make mortgage payments or to resolve overdue utility bills. Call it an urban legend or a myth, but no matter what label you slap on it is a sad commentary on our times that so many would fall for an obvious scam, especially because those spreading the rumor are telling their dupes to use their Social Security numbers to access the supposed presidential bounty. Clearly, some criminals are making a profit from that data and rather than receiving a gift from the White House, those who fall for this story may be subject to identify theft.

Why is the scam working? The easiest answer is the one supplied by P.T. Barnum in his famous quote: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The famed entrepreneur would get no argument from me about that.

But the willingness to believe that Barack Obama was spreading wealth like some fairy tale king speaks to something deeper in the psyche of our political culture, or at least the subset of it that bought into the “hope and change” mantra that elevated him to the White House in 2008. This is, after all, the president who promised to personally turn back the rising oceans when he accepted the nomination of his party four years ago. The messianic expectations he sought to inspire in his supporters were bound to lead to disappointment. That is what has happened as the country sinks deeper into economic distress for which he doesn’t even pretend to have an answer as he seeks another term. But deep in the hearts of some of those who bought into the magical politics he embodied is the wish that the president will save them from the consequences of his failed policies and make it all right.

Faith in the scam may also be the inevitable result of the class warfare themes that is the heart of the president’s campaign. Though the president isn’t promising to pay their bills, his baiting of Mitt Romney and harping on taxing the rich — a premise that has nothing to do with cutting the deficit and which will discourage the investment that is vital to the hope of a recovery — does give his re-election effort a faux Robin Hood feel that has reinforced the willingness of some poor souls to think he will bail them out of their personal difficulties.

President Obama isn’t directly to blame for the success of this scam. The criminals who cooked it up and the fools who believe it are responsible for their actions, not him. But the president’s own scams — the godlike claims made for his leadership skills and the class warfare arguments that cynically feed resentment while doing nothing to create the wealth our economy needs — are bad enough. But it is no accident that the myth of an “Obama program” to help the needy has attached itself to him. It is a tribute to the mythical status he has attained in the American imagination as well as to the success of the mendacious political rhetoric he has embraced.

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NAACP Hurts Itself by Booing Romney

TPM has the videos of Mitt Romney getting booed (multiple times!) during his speech to the NAACP today. The Fix speculates that Romney’s “combative tone” did him in with the crowd:

By contrast, Romney criticized Obama for running a negative campaign, said the president could not bring economic recovery, and said he would eliminate “non-essential, expensive” programs like “Obamacare.”

His only reference to the historic nature of Obama’s win was to say that “if someone had told us in the 1950s or 1960s that a black citizen would serve as the forty-fourth president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised.”

When the crowd started to boo, the candidate shot back combatively, ‘‘If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him. You take a look.”

Romney was booed for two things: promising to eliminate Obamacare and promising that his policies would make things better in the black community. He probably didn’t go into this speech expecting to win over the left-leaning NAACP, and the response didn’t seem to catch him off guard. Obamacare is unpopular with the majority of Americans, and the headlines on tonight’s news will now note that Romney promised to repeal it — the fact that he was booed for doing so doesn’t make a difference there.

The NAACP also didn’t do itself any favors by booing Romney’s earnest and unobjectionable promise to “make things better in the African American community.”

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TPM has the videos of Mitt Romney getting booed (multiple times!) during his speech to the NAACP today. The Fix speculates that Romney’s “combative tone” did him in with the crowd:

By contrast, Romney criticized Obama for running a negative campaign, said the president could not bring economic recovery, and said he would eliminate “non-essential, expensive” programs like “Obamacare.”

His only reference to the historic nature of Obama’s win was to say that “if someone had told us in the 1950s or 1960s that a black citizen would serve as the forty-fourth president, we would have been proud and many would have been surprised.”

When the crowd started to boo, the candidate shot back combatively, ‘‘If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him. You take a look.”

Romney was booed for two things: promising to eliminate Obamacare and promising that his policies would make things better in the black community. He probably didn’t go into this speech expecting to win over the left-leaning NAACP, and the response didn’t seem to catch him off guard. Obamacare is unpopular with the majority of Americans, and the headlines on tonight’s news will now note that Romney promised to repeal it — the fact that he was booed for doing so doesn’t make a difference there.

The NAACP also didn’t do itself any favors by booing Romney’s earnest and unobjectionable promise to “make things better in the African American community.”

African American leaders have long complained about Obama’s failure to address the unemployment problem in the black community, and criticized Obama for taking black support “for granted.” Well, why not, when Obama knows his political opponent will be automatically rejected by the NAACP and criticized by leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus? And why should future Republicans make an effort to address the NAACP — and support the organization’s political objectives — if they’re received with boos?

You can be sure Obama would start paying more attention to black unemployment if he thought Romney had a chance of cutting into his support. Judging from today, that’s not going to happen.

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What is Terrorism, Anyway?

Rich Richman and Jonathan Tobin are both correct to lambaste the Obama administration’s exclusion of Israel, first from the global counter terror forum in Turkey, and most recently from the most recent counter-terror forum in Spain. That Obama and Clinton would allow the exclusion of any democracy and victim of terrorism does a great deal to legitimize the very terrorism that the White House says it is against.

Still, any counter terrorism conference is a sham until diplomats and policymakers actually come to an agreement on what terrorism is. This past April, I gave an address to the Counter Terror Expo in London in which I tried to address the problem:

Terrorism is a tactic of choice for state sponsors and rogue groups when its ability to achieve political aims outweighs the costs. The lack of consensus over the definition of terrorism complicates the fight against terrorism. A 1988 study found 100 different definitions of terrorism used by professionals. More than two decades later, Alex P. Schmid, editor of Perspectives on Terrorism, compiled 250 definitions. In many ways, terrorism’s definition parallels U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1973 quip about pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it….”

The chance that diplomats will ever agree at a round table on a definition of terrorism is between zero and nil.

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Rich Richman and Jonathan Tobin are both correct to lambaste the Obama administration’s exclusion of Israel, first from the global counter terror forum in Turkey, and most recently from the most recent counter-terror forum in Spain. That Obama and Clinton would allow the exclusion of any democracy and victim of terrorism does a great deal to legitimize the very terrorism that the White House says it is against.

Still, any counter terrorism conference is a sham until diplomats and policymakers actually come to an agreement on what terrorism is. This past April, I gave an address to the Counter Terror Expo in London in which I tried to address the problem:

Terrorism is a tactic of choice for state sponsors and rogue groups when its ability to achieve political aims outweighs the costs. The lack of consensus over the definition of terrorism complicates the fight against terrorism. A 1988 study found 100 different definitions of terrorism used by professionals. More than two decades later, Alex P. Schmid, editor of Perspectives on Terrorism, compiled 250 definitions. In many ways, terrorism’s definition parallels U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1973 quip about pornography, “I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it….”

The chance that diplomats will ever agree at a round table on a definition of terrorism is between zero and nil.

Too many countries continue an a la carte approach, in which they condemn all terrorism except when conducted in pursuit of causes for which they agree. But, then again, there is no reason beyond the State Department’s peculiar culture that the goal of the United States should be to convene other parties and hash out a definition through discussion.

Many countries still seek U.S. counter-terrorism assistance. Take Turkey: It seeks U.S. help against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which it calls a terrorist group, yet it bends over backwards to legitimize and assist Hamas simply because Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agrees with Hamas’ platform and goals. Before the United States gives an iota of assistance to Turkey, it should force Turkey to enshrine in Turkish law a standard definition of terrorism, for example, that “terrorism is the deliberate targeting of civilians for political gain.” If Turkey acquiesces to such a definition, then it would have to stop treating Hamas as anything other than a terrorist group; if it does not, then perhaps Turkey is more a terror sponsor than a terror victim and so should be un-deserving of U.S. assistance.

The same holds true for any number of other states. If Pakistan wants anti-terror assistance, then first it should have to agree to a no-nonsense definition that gives no flexibility to the myriad terrorist groups that it now supports. Iran wants assistance against Jundullah and Baluch terrorists? Well, then, it must forever dispense with its “legitimate resistance” nonsense that it uses to justify the most violent terrorist campaigns.

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have tried to transform America into a global follower. It is time to once again become a global leader. If we do that one state at a time, then we can have far greater affect in the diplomatic fight against terrorism than any fleeting photo opportunity at an international conference will bring.

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Has Romney Made His Choice?

Mitt Romney showed guts today when he spoke to the NAACP and, as Roger Simon noted at Politico, neither groveled nor pandered to a hostile African-American audience. He may show even more nerve soon naming his running mate well in advance of the Republican National Convention. That’s the way Reuters is interpreting a comment made yesterday at an appearance in Colorado when the GOP candidate was asked whether he would name the person who will fill out his ticket before such announcements are normally made. Rather than shoot down the suggestion or not answer, Romney simply said he hadn’t decided.

The article says Romney and his advisers are considering moving up the pick in order to help raise even more money for their campaign war chest. The suggestion is also made that naming his vice presidential candidate will help distract the public from the scathing attacks the president and his surrogates are making on Romney’s wealth and business career. But if he does pick early — which is still merely speculation — the thinking here is that it will not be in order to gain some temporary advantage that would soon be dissipated. Rather, it would be because Romney had completed the systematic evaluation of his potential running mates and thought there was no point in prolonging the process. If the talk about moving up the announcement is real it is because Romney has made up his mind.

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Mitt Romney showed guts today when he spoke to the NAACP and, as Roger Simon noted at Politico, neither groveled nor pandered to a hostile African-American audience. He may show even more nerve soon naming his running mate well in advance of the Republican National Convention. That’s the way Reuters is interpreting a comment made yesterday at an appearance in Colorado when the GOP candidate was asked whether he would name the person who will fill out his ticket before such announcements are normally made. Rather than shoot down the suggestion or not answer, Romney simply said he hadn’t decided.

The article says Romney and his advisers are considering moving up the pick in order to help raise even more money for their campaign war chest. The suggestion is also made that naming his vice presidential candidate will help distract the public from the scathing attacks the president and his surrogates are making on Romney’s wealth and business career. But if he does pick early — which is still merely speculation — the thinking here is that it will not be in order to gain some temporary advantage that would soon be dissipated. Rather, it would be because Romney had completed the systematic evaluation of his potential running mates and thought there was no point in prolonging the process. If the talk about moving up the announcement is real it is because Romney has made up his mind.

Those who believe Romney is going to make a decision based on the ephemeral political advantages to be gained are forgetting that the Republican is the ultimate numbers-cruncher and specialized in mining the data exhaustively to make the right choice in business. He is probably conducting the veep search in the same manner he has made every other important business and political decision in his life, which makes the notion of moving up the pick merely in order to give him a couple of positive news cycles laughable. This is a man who is obsessed with long rather than short-term gains.

That is why it is likely that whoever he chooses will be someone he thinks can help him govern rather than someone who is, no matter how impressive, unlikely to be the difference in the fall election.

That is also why speculation on the identity of the choice is almost certainly worthless. Pundits who ponder the edges that people like Rob Portman, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie and Paul Ryan would provide the GOP ticket are probably not on Romney’s radar screen, as he is almost certainly viewing the question from a completely different frame of reference. Though most of the recent talk about the choice has centered on Portman, the only person who knows whether that is correct is Romney.

But whatever the outcome of the methodical process that Romney is pursuing on this question, it may be that once he has come up with his answer, the former business executive will probably not see much point in engaging in more public theater on the question. If so, then it is easy to imagine him just making his pick in a way that would allow him to get on to the substantive campaign work ahead with his ticket intact.

Whether that will help or hurt him, or as is most likely, have no effect at all on the outcome in November, is uncertain. But the guess here is that if he is thinking at all about naming his running mate in the upcoming weeks rather than waiting for the prelude to the convention, it will be because he has already made up his mind. As Romney showed today when he did not give an inch while speaking to the most hostile group possible to his candidacy, the Republican is going to stick to the plan he has set in his own head and won’t be asking the media for any help in narrowing down the field.

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Jewish Dems Oppose Attacks on Adelson

The National Jewish Democratic Council has called on Republicans to stop accepting donations from billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, after a former employee claimed Adelson’s casino in Macau encouraged prostitution (a charge Adelson denies). Needless to say, this is one of the most dumbfounding political moves the NJDC has made in awhile.

Adelson is one of the top pro-Israel philanthropists in the country; he’s given $50 million to Israel’s Holocaust museum Yad Vashem, and over $100 million to the Birthright Israel program; he’s also been a major contributor to AIPAC and sat on its executive committee. Does the NJDC recommend that Yad Vashem cut ties with its single largest donor? Does it suggest that Birthright Israel stop accepting his contribution checks? Does it demand that AIPAC quit associating with the billionaire?

Or is the “dirty money” directive simply aimed at Republican politicians?

Even Democrats have noted the NJDC’s double standard.

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The National Jewish Democratic Council has called on Republicans to stop accepting donations from billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, after a former employee claimed Adelson’s casino in Macau encouraged prostitution (a charge Adelson denies). Needless to say, this is one of the most dumbfounding political moves the NJDC has made in awhile.

Adelson is one of the top pro-Israel philanthropists in the country; he’s given $50 million to Israel’s Holocaust museum Yad Vashem, and over $100 million to the Birthright Israel program; he’s also been a major contributor to AIPAC and sat on its executive committee. Does the NJDC recommend that Yad Vashem cut ties with its single largest donor? Does it suggest that Birthright Israel stop accepting his contribution checks? Does it demand that AIPAC quit associating with the billionaire?

Or is the “dirty money” directive simply aimed at Republican politicians?

Even Democrats have noted the NJDC’s double standard.

Alan Dershowitz and the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman came out blasting the NJDC for its attacks on Adelson, according to JTA:

The National Jewish Democratic Council wants Republicans, including presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, to stop taking “dirty money” from Adelson because of allegations surrounding his lucrative casino properties in Macau, China.

The “dirty money” jibe, in turn, has seen the NJDC slammed with charges of “dirty politics,” and not just from Republicans. Prominent civil rights attorney Alan Dershowitz and the Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman also have called on the Jewish Democratic group to stand down.

If evidence actually emerges that Adelson supported prostitution at his Macau casino, then the NJDC would be within its rights to demand Republicans stop accepting his money. The Democratic Party clearly wants to demonize Adelson the way it’s done with the Kochs and Karl Rove. But by attacking Republicans for accepting money from Adelson, the NJDC is basically attacking the reputation of every philanthropic group Adelson currently supports. And that puts them on the wrong side of many pro-Israel Democrats.

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Chavez Not a Threat? Only to Obama

President Obama’s interview with a Spanish-language television station in the Miami market wouldn’t have drawn much attention if he had stuck to the normally sensitive question of Cuba on which he made it plain that better relations with the Communist regime would have to await progress on human rights there. Instead, the president drew fire for claiming that Hugo Chavez’s dictatorial government “has not had a serious national security impact on us.”

In response, Sen. Marco Rubio said this made it look as if the president “was living under a rock” not to have noticed that Chavez was not just destroying democracy in Venezuela but had turned the country into a base for international terror, a money laundering center for FARC narco-terrorists while also undermining U.S. sanctions on Syria. Rubio also mentioned that Chavez’s consul general in Miami was expelled on Obama’s watch for links to cyber attacks on the United States. But Rubio neglected to mention that Venezuela has become one of Iran’s leading trading partners and diplomatic allies and an obstacle to what the president has said is one of his key foreign policy objectives in stopping their nuclear program.

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President Obama’s interview with a Spanish-language television station in the Miami market wouldn’t have drawn much attention if he had stuck to the normally sensitive question of Cuba on which he made it plain that better relations with the Communist regime would have to await progress on human rights there. Instead, the president drew fire for claiming that Hugo Chavez’s dictatorial government “has not had a serious national security impact on us.”

In response, Sen. Marco Rubio said this made it look as if the president “was living under a rock” not to have noticed that Chavez was not just destroying democracy in Venezuela but had turned the country into a base for international terror, a money laundering center for FARC narco-terrorists while also undermining U.S. sanctions on Syria. Rubio also mentioned that Chavez’s consul general in Miami was expelled on Obama’s watch for links to cyber attacks on the United States. But Rubio neglected to mention that Venezuela has become one of Iran’s leading trading partners and diplomatic allies and an obstacle to what the president has said is one of his key foreign policy objectives in stopping their nuclear program.

If all that hasn’t “had a serious national security impact” on the United States, what is there Venezuela could do, short of start a shooting war, to ruffle the president’s feathers? This comment tells us all we need to know about this administration’s foreign policy and what we can expect in the next four years if the president is re-elected.

While the Venezuelans were merely trying to topple the pro-American government in Colombia, perhaps the global implications of Chavez’s regime could be downplayed. But his alliance with Iran changes all that.

The problem here is not just that the president is soft-peddling the most severe challenge to U.S. interests in the Western hemisphere since Fidel Castro was actively seeking to export communism to the rest of Latin America. It is that the president seems to genuinely think that the conversion of Venezuela into a safe haven for Islamist terrorists and its success in undermining the administration’s feckless attempts to isolate Iran is not a big deal.

The alliance between Iran and Venezuela is not a minor annoyance for U.S. security. If the president is truly serious about stopping Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons — a point on which informed observers can differ — then he needs to come to grips with the fact that Tehran presents a serious national security threat not just to U.S. interests but to the safety of Americans. Having a powerful, oil-rich ally in the heart of the Western Hemisphere gives the Iranians a way of fighting back against American-led sanctions. It also provides the ayatollahs with a way of launching a terrorist offensive not just in the Middle East but also in our own backyard.

This is the most severe sort of threat to American security. But not in President Obama’s eyes. If he is re-elected and gains the “flexibility” he desires to appease Russia and perhaps the Palestinians, Chavez may entertain hopes that he, too, will be treated even more gently in the second Obama administration.

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Why is Obama Protecting Human Rights Violators?

Yesterday, the Russian Duma ratified Russia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) entry. The Obama administration has supported Russia’s membership from the get-go, and therefore has put is clout behind repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Act, the substance of which the WTO would make illegal. Passed in 1974 at the height of the Cold War, Jackson-Vanik tied trade to the freedom of emigration. While it was targeted mostly toward the Soviet Union’s Jewish community, it provided a broader foundation for Cold War human rights advocacy.

To replace the Jackson-Vanik Act, a bipartisan array of senators supported The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved unanimously on June 26. Named after a Russian anti-corruption lawyer tortured and killed in prison after he uncovered a multimillion-embezzlement scheme, the Magnitsky Act sanctioned Russia’s worst human rights violators by denying them visas and freezing their assets held in the United States. At least, that was the way it was supposed to be. Committee chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) was for the Act before he was against it before he was for it again. Alas, somewhere in the flip-flopping—done at Obama administration behest so as not to antagonize Russia–Kerry got the Act watered down.

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Yesterday, the Russian Duma ratified Russia’s World Trade Organization (WTO) entry. The Obama administration has supported Russia’s membership from the get-go, and therefore has put is clout behind repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Act, the substance of which the WTO would make illegal. Passed in 1974 at the height of the Cold War, Jackson-Vanik tied trade to the freedom of emigration. While it was targeted mostly toward the Soviet Union’s Jewish community, it provided a broader foundation for Cold War human rights advocacy.

To replace the Jackson-Vanik Act, a bipartisan array of senators supported The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved unanimously on June 26. Named after a Russian anti-corruption lawyer tortured and killed in prison after he uncovered a multimillion-embezzlement scheme, the Magnitsky Act sanctioned Russia’s worst human rights violators by denying them visas and freezing their assets held in the United States. At least, that was the way it was supposed to be. Committee chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) was for the Act before he was against it before he was for it again. Alas, somewhere in the flip-flopping—done at Obama administration behest so as not to antagonize Russia–Kerry got the Act watered down.

Not only does it not single out Russia any longer, but it also gives the State Department discretion to keep the list of human rights violators secret. So much for naming and shaming. Now, for sanctions to occur, the targets of the sanctions must be known to banks and other agencies.  If the State Department, for diplomatic reasons, refuses to divulge the list of human rights violators, not only is there no shaming, but also there are also really no sanctions. Anna Borshchevska (full disclosure, my wife) explains.

It is ironic that the Obama administration prides itself on being the standard bearer of human rights protections, but it also has done more than any other administration to protect the guilty at the expense of the innocent.

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Why Palestinian Corruption Matters

In 2005, an extremely wealthy old friend of Yasir Arafat’s, Munib al-Masri, spoke about the missed opportunities he witnessed during Arafat’s time in power for an article in the Atlantic. Here is what he told the author of that piece, David Samuels:

With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, a few hundred million dollars. Yet since that helicopter ride, according to a new Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. has given the Palestinians about $4 billion. They didn’t build the state, as al-Masri hoped.

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In 2005, an extremely wealthy old friend of Yasir Arafat’s, Munib al-Masri, spoke about the missed opportunities he witnessed during Arafat’s time in power for an article in the Atlantic. Here is what he told the author of that piece, David Samuels:

With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.

It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, a few hundred million dollars. Yet since that helicopter ride, according to a new Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. has given the Palestinians about $4 billion. They didn’t build the state, as al-Masri hoped.

But as the report indicates, we had our own goals for the money:

• Combating, neutralizing, and preventing terrorism against Israel from the Islamist group Hamas and other militant organizations.

• Creating a virtuous cycle of stability and prosperity in the West Bank that inclines Palestinians toward peaceful coexistence with Israel and prepares them for self-governance.

• Meeting humanitarian needs and preventing further destabilization, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian security forces have made some strides, but most of the prevention of Hamas terrorism is due to the efforts of the various Israeli security forces. The other two goals are obviously total failures. And it’s not just our money going down the drain; according to the report, the Palestinians are “among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid.” So, the obvious question: Where does all the money go?

One answer is: Into the pockets of corrupt Palestinian leaders. That was the subject of a congressional hearing conducted by the House foreign affairs committee yesterday. Adam Kredo at the Washington Free Beacon has a good write-up of the testimony:

“Washington should simply acknowledge that there is a problem,” [Jonathan Schanzer] said. “The staff at the U.S. Consulate General in East Jerusalem reportedly knows that Palestinians believe their ruling elites are corrupt. But for reasons that are not entirely clear, the State Department has yet to issue a clear statement to address the issue, or what it intends to do about it.”

Elliott Abrams, a former national security adviser for George W. Bush, recounted the behind-the-scenes talks he had with Arab leaders who refused to support the P.A.’s corrupt institutions.

“I can tell you from my own experience, as an American official seeking financial assistance for the P.A. from Gulf Arab governments, that I was often told, ‘Why should we give them money when their officials will just steal it?” said Abrams, who noted that 82 percent of Palestinians believe their government is unethical. “Corruption is an insidious destroyer not only of Palestinian public finances but of faith in the entire political system.”

The extent of Abbas’ shady dealings has come to light in recent months, Schanzer revealed in his testimony.

Read the whole thing, including an earlier article from Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, detailing the degree to which Mahmoud Abbas’s corruption appears to extend to his sons.

The fact is, the Palestinians have absorbed enough–more than enough, actually–foreign aid to build the basic outlines, at the very least, of a functioning, accountable nation state. And while Arab states in the region don’t care much for their Palestinian brethren, even they are shocked and disturbed by the impression that the Palestinian leadership cares even less.

It’s doubtful American taxpayers would find this anything less than appalling—it’s their money. But the problem is deeper than that. Fatah has enabled Hamas’s rise over the years with its waste; its corruption bleeds it of public support, and its mismanaged funds prevent proper organization and security training, which makes a Hamas-Fatah civil war look about as evenly matched as a Globetrotters-Generals game.

So the corruption isn’t just about frustration, waste, and Palestinian poverty—though it is about those things too. It’s a legitimate security threat that is constantly undermining the peace process. In the age of the Arab Spring, there is simply no excuse to pretend this isn’t happening, or to make excuses for a government stealing from its citizens.

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What is the UN Secretary-General’s Job?

Several years ago, I took the opportunity to hear UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speak at a Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies graduation. The Secretary-General is not the most dynamic speaker and, if memory serves, his speech was basically pabulum, talking a great deal about meetings he had had; if there was a focus, it was probably on global warming. To be fair, while his predecessor Kofi Annan is a better public speaker, there is little substance to Annan’s speeches as well.

The problem with many of the UN Secretaries-General is that they have redefined their position to be that of the world’s diplomat, and have assumed a bully pulpit for which they have no right. When the UN was created, the purpose of the secretary-general, first and foremost, was to be the UN’s administrator. He was meant to make the organization’s bureaucracy function in a clear and efficient way.

By this standard, both Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan have been abject failures. Take the most recent scandal at the United Nations: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shipped hi-tech computers to Iran and North Korea in contravention of UN sanctions. That is a failure of administration at the highest level. In any normal organization, it would lead to the resignation not only of WIPO’s director, but also that of the UN administration, because it was the failure of the secretary-general’s oversight that allowed this transaction to occur.

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Several years ago, I took the opportunity to hear UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speak at a Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies graduation. The Secretary-General is not the most dynamic speaker and, if memory serves, his speech was basically pabulum, talking a great deal about meetings he had had; if there was a focus, it was probably on global warming. To be fair, while his predecessor Kofi Annan is a better public speaker, there is little substance to Annan’s speeches as well.

The problem with many of the UN Secretaries-General is that they have redefined their position to be that of the world’s diplomat, and have assumed a bully pulpit for which they have no right. When the UN was created, the purpose of the secretary-general, first and foremost, was to be the UN’s administrator. He was meant to make the organization’s bureaucracy function in a clear and efficient way.

By this standard, both Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan have been abject failures. Take the most recent scandal at the United Nations: The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shipped hi-tech computers to Iran and North Korea in contravention of UN sanctions. That is a failure of administration at the highest level. In any normal organization, it would lead to the resignation not only of WIPO’s director, but also that of the UN administration, because it was the failure of the secretary-general’s oversight that allowed this transaction to occur.

The same is true with Kofi Annan. There has seldom been a statesman who enjoys such a reputation as an elder statesman but whose record rests on failure. As director of the UN’s peacekeeping operation, Annan’s indecisiveness enabled the Rwanda genocide to develop and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands, a casualty count for which Annan has apologized. As director of peacekeeping operations, Annan also presided over the failure to protect the safe haven in Srebrenica in 1995, in which 7,000 men and boys were slaughtered by Serbian fighters. It was as secretary-general, however, where Annan truly failed. He ignored his primary responsibility as administrator-in-chief in order to traipse around the globe at donor expense, giving speeches and collecting laurels. By doing so, he presided over the worst corruption scandal to hit the United Nations, one for which he has never truly paid the price.

The United Nations has an important role. Having a place to convene enemies and combatants is a valuable enabler of diplomacy. If the UN secretary-general is unable or incapable of managing UN affairs, however, then either it is time for the UN secretary-general to resign or it is time to shrink the UN and its myriad agencies back to a manageable size. Rather than sweep the WIPO scandal under the rug, perhaps it’s time to erase this notion of a world diplomat and instead return the secretary-general to his original purpose as an administrator and facilitator.

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Why is Romney Running for President?

That’s a question many conservatives — including Mitt Romney supporters — have likely asked themselves. Unfortunately, even when Romney has tried to answer this question directly, he’s often lacking in passion and authenticity. Here are some of his explanations, in his own words:

“I am running for President because I have the experience and the vision to lead us in a different direction.” – Romney to the NRA, April 2012.

“I am running for President because I have spent my life in the private sector.” – Romney in campaign ad, June 2011

“I am running for President because I have what it takes to turn America around.” – Romney in March 2012 fundraising letter

All are satisfactory, boilerplate, instantly forgettable answers. But where is Romney’s vision? What’s his driving motivation? In his NAACP speech this morning, he actually came close to an explanation that sounded, well, like an actual explanation as opposed to a throwaway campaign line:

“I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor. My campaign is about helping the people who need help. The course the President has set has not done that – and will not do that. My course will.”

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That’s a question many conservatives — including Mitt Romney supporters — have likely asked themselves. Unfortunately, even when Romney has tried to answer this question directly, he’s often lacking in passion and authenticity. Here are some of his explanations, in his own words:

“I am running for President because I have the experience and the vision to lead us in a different direction.” – Romney to the NRA, April 2012.

“I am running for President because I have spent my life in the private sector.” – Romney in campaign ad, June 2011

“I am running for President because I have what it takes to turn America around.” – Romney in March 2012 fundraising letter

All are satisfactory, boilerplate, instantly forgettable answers. But where is Romney’s vision? What’s his driving motivation? In his NAACP speech this morning, he actually came close to an explanation that sounded, well, like an actual explanation as opposed to a throwaway campaign line:

“I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor. My campaign is about helping the people who need help. The course the President has set has not done that – and will not do that. My course will.”

That message implies that Romney is embracing his wealth, embracing his business experience, embracing his success — everything that Democrats are trying to tear him down for. Not only is Romney proud of these things, but he also wants them to spread. He’s successful and he wants others to be successful too. He wants to help lift people out of poverty and help those who need assistance, and he’ll do it with conservative economic policies as opposed to government programs that keep poor people poor.

He still has the challenge of communicating to Americans exactly why Obama’s policies have failed and why his own policies would succeed. But this is a clearer and more authentic vision than he’s given in the past, and it’s one he can continue to build on.

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Reagan’s Capacity to Think and Act Anew

In a recent post, I praised the 19th-century journalist and essayist Walter Bagehot for his subtle mind and intellectual honesty. These qualities stand out because among the most difficult challenges in politics is not allowing truthful inquiry to become subordinate to one’s allegiance to a political cause, a political party, or a political ideology. It’s harder than we think, and rarer than we would wish, to find individuals who are open to a new set of facts, especially when they run counter to settled ways of thinking.

I thought about all this while recently watching an American Experience documentary on the life of Ronald Reagan. It covered a lot of ground, of course, but in the context of this discussion, one thing stood out: Reagan’s willingness to adjust his thinking in light of new circumstances. What I have in mind is Reagan’s attitude toward the Soviet Union.

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In a recent post, I praised the 19th-century journalist and essayist Walter Bagehot for his subtle mind and intellectual honesty. These qualities stand out because among the most difficult challenges in politics is not allowing truthful inquiry to become subordinate to one’s allegiance to a political cause, a political party, or a political ideology. It’s harder than we think, and rarer than we would wish, to find individuals who are open to a new set of facts, especially when they run counter to settled ways of thinking.

I thought about all this while recently watching an American Experience documentary on the life of Ronald Reagan. It covered a lot of ground, of course, but in the context of this discussion, one thing stood out: Reagan’s willingness to adjust his thinking in light of new circumstances. What I have in mind is Reagan’s attitude toward the Soviet Union.

Ronald Reagan is rightly considered one of the West’s most vocal and courageous critics of Soviet communism. Hatred for totalitarianism was, his biographer Edmund Morris said, among the very few hatreds Reagan ever held. In 1983, in a speech before the National Association of Evangelicals, Reagan referred to the U.S.S.R. as an “evil empire.” Such blunt language from an American president, even though true, caused outrage among the political class. Reagan, it was said, was a saber-rattler, needlessly provocative, reckless and even war-like. The vilification came in waves. But Reagan didn’t much care. He spoke the truth as it was — and in doing so, he inspired dissidents across the globe and re-moralized American foreign policy.

Fast-forward to May 1988, when Reagan toured the Soviet Union after having participated in several summits with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. When asked whether the Soviet Union was still an “evil empire,” Reagan said no, it wasn’t. “I was talking about another time,” Reagan said, “another era.” And he was quite right.

President Reagan knew that the Soviet Union was hardly a model democracy. In fact, he made a point of meeting with more than 100 dissidents during his trip. The New York Times reported at the time, “In a reflection of the Kremlin’s irritation with President Reagan’s plans to dramatize human-rights issues during his visit to Moscow, a senior Soviet official said … that a planned Presidential meeting with Soviet dissidents would be an unwelcome breach of superpower protocol… Mr. Reagan’s determination to press the human-rights issue in Moscow loomed as a potentially disruptive issue on the eve of his arrival. Moscow has traditionally resented what is seen here as an unwarranted and intrusive American assumption of moral superiority.”

Still, the circumstances in 1988 were profoundly different than they were in 1983. Mr. Gorbachev was a Soviet leader — the first Soviet leader — Reagan (and Margaret Thatcher) could do business with. Reagan eventually signed sweeping arms control treaties that went far beyond anything the Nuclear Freeze Movement had ever called for.

It’s worth noting that Reagan, who had been a reviled figure by the left, was excoriated by some conservatives for going soft on the Soviet Union. He was accused of being a “useful idiot for Soviet propaganda,” for losing his way and succumbing to the chimera of arms control agreements. (It should be said that the criticisms of Reagan from conservatives was not nearly as widespread as it was from liberals.)

But what we saw in Reagan was quite a rare thing among politicians — a man of deeply held convictions who even while maintaining those convictions was willing to adjust his thinking in light of new developments. He was able to perceive the core realities of his time and align his views and policies to them. And so one of the most principled and ideological presidents in American history also turned out to be among its most flexible.

During his presidency, Reagan’s critics said he was simple, shallow, and unreasonably stubborn. In fact, he was a person of impressive depth, a man of many parts, and reasonably stubborn. It simply took some people a bit longer than others to understand that.

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Islamists Calling for Pyramids’ Destruction?

According to Raymond Ibrahim, calls are starting among a more radical fringe of Islamists to destroy the Pyramids:

According to several reports in the Arabic media, prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids—or, in the words of Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi’i, those “symbols of paganism,” which Egypt’s Salafi party has long planned to cover with wax. Most recently, Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs” and President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, called on Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Morsi, to “destroy the Pyramids and accomplish what [Muslim conqueror of Egypt] Amr bin al-As could not.”

The calls to destroy the Pyramids are certainly fringe, and do not represent the vast majority of the Egyptian public or the Egyptian leadership, even amongst the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, that such a fringe and wacky idea gains any voice in Arabic media or on Islamist websites should be cause for concern, given precedent.

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According to Raymond Ibrahim, calls are starting among a more radical fringe of Islamists to destroy the Pyramids:

According to several reports in the Arabic media, prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids—or, in the words of Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi’i, those “symbols of paganism,” which Egypt’s Salafi party has long planned to cover with wax. Most recently, Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs” and President of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, called on Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Morsi, to “destroy the Pyramids and accomplish what [Muslim conqueror of Egypt] Amr bin al-As could not.”

The calls to destroy the Pyramids are certainly fringe, and do not represent the vast majority of the Egyptian public or the Egyptian leadership, even amongst the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, that such a fringe and wacky idea gains any voice in Arabic media or on Islamist websites should be cause for concern, given precedent.

In March 2001, the Taliban dynamited the great Buddhas at Bamian, a UNESCO world heritage site. Their destruction came after repeated assurances that no such action would be taken. The destruction of the 1,500-year-old Buddhas came six years after the Clinton administration began its initiative to diplomatically engage the Taliban to bring the group into the community of nations. There were even calls within the State Department to recognize the Taliban who, diplomats reasoned, were no worse than the Saudis and controlled 90 percent of Afghan territory. Fortunately, George W. Bush put a stop to that.

Currently, Islamists in northern Mali are destroying historic Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, sites I was fortunate enough to visit a decade ago as a tourist. The logic of the Islamists is the same. Embracing a radical interpretation of Islam promoted on the back of Saudi petrodollars, the Islamists claim that the shrines which have stood for centuries during periods when even the most religious Muslims understood tolerance, somehow contradict the tenets of Islam by promoting worship of saints.

It is this same logic that has led Saudi architect and archaeologist Sami Angawi to bury and hide archaeological sites he has excavated from the time and, indeed, life of the Prophet Muhammad as Saudi authorities have destroyed 95 percent of Mecca’s ancient and historical buildings.

So, under such circumstances, what should the United States do?  There is little direct action, of course, and UNESCO is more concerned with playing Palestinian politics than pursuing its preservation function. Still, diplomacy matters. And so does stigma. Anyone who engages in such behavior should be so far beyond the pale that there can be no redemption. Alas, by talking to the Taliban—the same figures responsible for unleashing this wave of destruction against world heritage—diplomats have signaled that there can be, in effect, redemption after such action and, by so doing, have reduced the cost and stigma of such activity. Perhaps it’s time to decide what actions—terrorism, wanton cultural destruction, genocide—put groups so far beyond the pale of civilized society that there can be no recourse but for their complete destruction.

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Nothing Done, But Still Committed!

The State Department struggled again yesterday to explain why — a month after the U.S. committed itself to having Israel included in the “Global Counterterrorism Forum” (which Secretary Clinton formed last year and which the U.S. co-chairs with Turkey) — Israel was excluded from the Monday conference of the Forum, which 29 other nations attended.

Asked about this by A.P. reporter Matt Lee the day before yesterday, the State Department spokesperson pled ignorance, but said he would look into it. Yesterday, Lee returned to the subject:

QUESTION: … going back to the question I raised yesterday about the Global Counterterrorism Forum … did you get an answer on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, as we said at the time, Matt, that our idea with the Global Counterterrorism Forum was to bring together a limited number of traditional donors, frontline states, and emerging powers to develop a more robust yet representative counterterrorism capacity-building platform. A number of our close partners with considerable experience counting and – countering and preventing terrorism are not included among the GCTF’s founding members. We’ve discussed the GCTF and ways to involve Israel and its activities on a number of occasions, and we’re committed to making this happen. [Emphasis added].

QUESTION: Okay. That last line is exactly what was in the taken question from, I believe, June 8. Can you say –

MR. VENTRELL: And that’s exactly where we are today.

QUESTION: Okay. What was done between then and this last meeting, which was just yesterday? … I’m just wondering what did the CT Bureau or whoever’s in charge of this do in the interim to get Israel included?

MR. VENTRELL: We continued to discuss it with the GCTF. …

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’d just like to know what you did in the interim between June 8 and July 9 to work on this, on your commitment to getting Israel involved.

MR. VENTRELL: I imagine it was raised at a number of different levels, but let me check for you, Matt, and get back to you.

Hopefully Matt Lee will return to the subject once again in today’s press conference, and hopefully the Department spokesperson will have a more informative answer than “I imagine it was raised at a number of different levels.”

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The State Department struggled again yesterday to explain why — a month after the U.S. committed itself to having Israel included in the “Global Counterterrorism Forum” (which Secretary Clinton formed last year and which the U.S. co-chairs with Turkey) — Israel was excluded from the Monday conference of the Forum, which 29 other nations attended.

Asked about this by A.P. reporter Matt Lee the day before yesterday, the State Department spokesperson pled ignorance, but said he would look into it. Yesterday, Lee returned to the subject:

QUESTION: … going back to the question I raised yesterday about the Global Counterterrorism Forum … did you get an answer on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, as we said at the time, Matt, that our idea with the Global Counterterrorism Forum was to bring together a limited number of traditional donors, frontline states, and emerging powers to develop a more robust yet representative counterterrorism capacity-building platform. A number of our close partners with considerable experience counting and – countering and preventing terrorism are not included among the GCTF’s founding members. We’ve discussed the GCTF and ways to involve Israel and its activities on a number of occasions, and we’re committed to making this happen. [Emphasis added].

QUESTION: Okay. That last line is exactly what was in the taken question from, I believe, June 8. Can you say –

MR. VENTRELL: And that’s exactly where we are today.

QUESTION: Okay. What was done between then and this last meeting, which was just yesterday? … I’m just wondering what did the CT Bureau or whoever’s in charge of this do in the interim to get Israel included?

MR. VENTRELL: We continued to discuss it with the GCTF. …

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I’d just like to know what you did in the interim between June 8 and July 9 to work on this, on your commitment to getting Israel involved.

MR. VENTRELL: I imagine it was raised at a number of different levels, but let me check for you, Matt, and get back to you.

Hopefully Matt Lee will return to the subject once again in today’s press conference, and hopefully the Department spokesperson will have a more informative answer than “I imagine it was raised at a number of different levels.”

Jonathan Tobin discussed the substantive aspects of this latest sign of the administration’s approach toward Israel, and Mannie Sherberg’s analysis at Boker tov, Boulder! is also worth reading. And here’s another question: why is getting answers to questions about Israel from this administration always like pulling teeth?

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