Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 14, 2012

A New Podcast…

…featuring me, the great sitcom guru and all-around satirist Rob Long, and Jonah Goldberg, who needs no introduction. It’s presented by Ricochet.com. Here’s the link. People seem to enjoy these, God knows why. 

…featuring me, the great sitcom guru and all-around satirist Rob Long, and Jonah Goldberg, who needs no introduction. It’s presented by Ricochet.com. Here’s the link. People seem to enjoy these, God knows why. 

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Afghan Bugout Will Have Consequences

One of the more frustrating exchanges in the vice presidential debate this past week was the one about Afghanistan. Vice President Biden thinks he won the point by insisting that the United States was simply pulling out: “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” By contrast, Paul Ryan’s position was more nuanced, expressing a clear desire to end the American military role in the war there but criticizing the administration’s decision to announce a firm deadline for the pullout that has told the Taliban that all they need to do to triumph is to just wait for the U.S. to bug out. Ryan has the better argument, but at a time when fatigue with foreign wars is high, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden’s position might be more popular.

That sentiment reflects not merely the wish to extricate U.S. troops from a bloody and difficult task but a desire to ignore what happens to Afghanistan and its people and to treat the conflict as irrelevant to American interests. That position was more fully articulated in today’s lengthy lead editorial in the New York Times. The piece, titled “Time to Pack Up,” takes the position that the United States should not even wait until 2014 to abandon Afghanistan but flee within the next 12 months leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Ironically, the Times underlines Ryan’s fears about what the administration is about to do in Afghanistan. The paper, which in this case probably speaks for most liberals on the issue, treats the Taliban’s eventual victory as perhaps regrettable but unavoidable. They concede defeat to the Islamists but seem to think that admitting this will strengthen rather than hurt American interests in the region. They could not be more mistaken.

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One of the more frustrating exchanges in the vice presidential debate this past week was the one about Afghanistan. Vice President Biden thinks he won the point by insisting that the United States was simply pulling out: “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014, period. There is no ifs, ands or buts.” By contrast, Paul Ryan’s position was more nuanced, expressing a clear desire to end the American military role in the war there but criticizing the administration’s decision to announce a firm deadline for the pullout that has told the Taliban that all they need to do to triumph is to just wait for the U.S. to bug out. Ryan has the better argument, but at a time when fatigue with foreign wars is high, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Biden’s position might be more popular.

That sentiment reflects not merely the wish to extricate U.S. troops from a bloody and difficult task but a desire to ignore what happens to Afghanistan and its people and to treat the conflict as irrelevant to American interests. That position was more fully articulated in today’s lengthy lead editorial in the New York Times. The piece, titled “Time to Pack Up,” takes the position that the United States should not even wait until 2014 to abandon Afghanistan but flee within the next 12 months leaving the country to the tender mercies of the Taliban. Ironically, the Times underlines Ryan’s fears about what the administration is about to do in Afghanistan. The paper, which in this case probably speaks for most liberals on the issue, treats the Taliban’s eventual victory as perhaps regrettable but unavoidable. They concede defeat to the Islamists but seem to think that admitting this will strengthen rather than hurt American interests in the region. They could not be more mistaken.

The editorial acknowledges that the paper, like many liberals, used to think of Afghanistan as the “good war” that needed to be pursued to victory as opposed to the “bad war” in Iraq. But that has long since been exposed as a cheap rhetorical device whose intent was to bash President George W. Bush rather than a sincere desire to ensure that the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies did not regain control of Afghanistan. The Times claims that any chance of victory was lost because of Iraq but fails to explain why that is so since they believe no amount of counter-insurgency efforts would root out the Taliban.

Advocates of quick withdrawal blame the situation there on the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai. On that score, Karzai and his corrupt regime have much to answer for. But the willingness of the Taliban and other Islamists to go on fighting until victory would not be diminished even were the Kabul government to be led by saints. For far too long, America has not treated victory over the Taliban as its priority and the result is an unsatisfying stalemate. But what will follow American withdrawal will be a disaster as even the Times notes:

We are not arguing that everything will work out well after the United States leaves Afghanistan. It will not. The Taliban will take over parts of the Pashtun south, where they will brutalize women and trample their rights. Warlords will go on stealing. Afghanistan will still be the world’s second-poorest country. Al Qaeda may make inroads, but since 9/11 it has established itself in Yemen and many other countries.

The only problem with this assessment is that it may be too optimistic. If the Afghan people believe the government is no longer the “strong horse” in the country, the Taliban and Al Qaeda may achieve far more than a takeover of the south. The result will be ruinous for the people we have sought to protect there, a point on which the Times editors shed few tears. The Times writes as if the end of the Vietnam War was a worthy model for the U.S. to pursue in Afghanistan. Given the toll in human suffering in terms of mass executions, hundreds of thousands sent to “reeducation camps” and or made to flee as boat people, that’s an immoral position. But it is also wrong about the strategic effects of defeat in Afghanistan.

The end in Vietnam did lead to collapse and genocide in Cambodia, but Southeast Asia was always a strategic backwater in America’s Cold War against the Soviet Union. By contrast Afghanistan’s fall would not only reinvigorate an al-Qaeda that the Obama administration pretends to have defeated. It will impact the stability of non-Islamist regimes throughout the Middle East and reduce the chances that a democratic government in Iraq will survive in the long run.

The Times also foolishly asserts that such an outcome would strengthen America’s hand in Pakistan, but it is difficult to see how a victory for their Taliban allies across the border would make Karachi any more amenable to U.S. interests.

It should also be noted that the editorial concludes with a passage that is factually incorrect. Dwight Eisenhower did negotiate an end to the fighting in Korea but he did not leave Korea as the Times asserts. American troops are there to this day guaranteeing the survival of the peace that Ike made. The absence of such a tough-minded peace doomed Vietnam to a totalitarian nightmare and may yet be felt in Iraq. The Times’s claim that what follows our defeat will be, “likely to be more presentable than North Korea, less presentable than Iraq and perhaps about the same as Vietnam.” That demonstrates ignorance of the differences between the Vietnamese communists and our foes in Afghanistan. But if Americans willingly allow the nation that launched 9/11 to fall back into the hands of those who aided and abetted that crime then it will reduce our prestige and harm our interests far more than advocates of withdrawal seem to understand.

Unlike Southeast Asia in the 1970s, America cannot pretend as if the Middle East is on a different planet. The costs of trying to do so will not only be immoral but will also make the United States and the world far less safe.

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It’s Not Just the Church and Penn State

The unfolding scandal about sexual abuse at the BBC can be viewed as yet another blow to the image of the media. The network’s suppression of a story about a longtime show host’s alleged crimes ought to put a fork in the myth of the Beeb being the gold standard for impartiality and integrity. The fact that the BBC killed a story on its “Newsnight” broadcast while at the same time running tributes to the late Jimmy Saville, the man accused of molesting and raping several teenagers will haunt it for a long time to come.

But as much as this story tells us about the BBC, this latest tale of sexual misconduct is not dissimilar from other abuse scandals. Like the pedophilia outrages that rocked the Catholic Church and the Penn State University football team, there is a familiar pattern at work here. Powerful individuals used their positions to exploit young people in their charge while institutions looked the other way and then did what they could to ensure that no one found out. Investigators will, no doubt, discover what officials at the BBC knew about Saville and when they knew it. It is also to be hoped that the “journalistic decision” to spike the story about the investigation will also be fully explored. However, this episode ought to remind us that such crimes are not solely the province of Catholic priests or football coaches but can also be discovered at those institutions run by the supposedly enlightened classes.

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The unfolding scandal about sexual abuse at the BBC can be viewed as yet another blow to the image of the media. The network’s suppression of a story about a longtime show host’s alleged crimes ought to put a fork in the myth of the Beeb being the gold standard for impartiality and integrity. The fact that the BBC killed a story on its “Newsnight” broadcast while at the same time running tributes to the late Jimmy Saville, the man accused of molesting and raping several teenagers will haunt it for a long time to come.

But as much as this story tells us about the BBC, this latest tale of sexual misconduct is not dissimilar from other abuse scandals. Like the pedophilia outrages that rocked the Catholic Church and the Penn State University football team, there is a familiar pattern at work here. Powerful individuals used their positions to exploit young people in their charge while institutions looked the other way and then did what they could to ensure that no one found out. Investigators will, no doubt, discover what officials at the BBC knew about Saville and when they knew it. It is also to be hoped that the “journalistic decision” to spike the story about the investigation will also be fully explored. However, this episode ought to remind us that such crimes are not solely the province of Catholic priests or football coaches but can also be discovered at those institutions run by the supposedly enlightened classes.

Each set of circumstances may be different. But all these cases boil down to predators using their status and authority to rape and molest and institutions that valued their image more than the lives of children. These are odious crimes, but they are not the sole province of any particular group or class. They can be found anywhere. Those who think otherwise are not only deluded. They are enabling those who use the cover of seemingly respected professions to commit similar offenses.

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Obama Needs a Momentum Shift Now

Last week as Mitt Romney’s post-debate surge first took hold, Democrats comforted themselves by pointing to swing state polls that showed President Obama still holding comfortable leads that ought to have ensured his election. A week later, the fluctuating numbers in the key battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia and Florida as well as several others that must now be considered up for grabs makes it obvious that the gap between Romney’s rise in the national polls and the outlook in the Electoral College has shrunk. The Democrats’ assumption that several important states in various parts of the country could remain comfortably in their grasp while Republicans gained ground in the national polls was illogical.

As the Real Clear Politics Electoral College Map shows, the president’s seemingly overwhelming advantage in terms of states that are solid, likely or leaning in the Democrats direction is evaporating. It currently shows Obama with 201 Electoral College votes and Romney with 191 with a whopping 146 in states where the average margin in recent polls is less than five percent for either candidate. But with Romney steadily gaining ground even in states that few serious people thought would even be in play, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, the ebbing confidence among liberals is justified. The question now is what, if anything, the president can do to reverse this momentum shift that appears to be on the verge of sweeping him out of the White House.

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Last week as Mitt Romney’s post-debate surge first took hold, Democrats comforted themselves by pointing to swing state polls that showed President Obama still holding comfortable leads that ought to have ensured his election. A week later, the fluctuating numbers in the key battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia and Florida as well as several others that must now be considered up for grabs makes it obvious that the gap between Romney’s rise in the national polls and the outlook in the Electoral College has shrunk. The Democrats’ assumption that several important states in various parts of the country could remain comfortably in their grasp while Republicans gained ground in the national polls was illogical.

As the Real Clear Politics Electoral College Map shows, the president’s seemingly overwhelming advantage in terms of states that are solid, likely or leaning in the Democrats direction is evaporating. It currently shows Obama with 201 Electoral College votes and Romney with 191 with a whopping 146 in states where the average margin in recent polls is less than five percent for either candidate. But with Romney steadily gaining ground even in states that few serious people thought would even be in play, like Michigan and Pennsylvania, the ebbing confidence among liberals is justified. The question now is what, if anything, the president can do to reverse this momentum shift that appears to be on the verge of sweeping him out of the White House.

The most obvious answer is for Obama to be seen to beat Romney in either or both of the remaining debates. But, as history shows, decisive wins or loses in these affairs such as the one Romney scored earlier this month are the exceptions. So long as both men show up prepared, look interested (something Obama failed to do on October 3) and don’t make any glaring mistakes, it isn’t likely that either side will reap that much of a benefit.

There is the chance that some “October surprise” will pop up abroad that will reinforce the president’s status as commander-in-chief. Should some of those who assassinated the U.S. ambassador to Libya be killed or captured before Election Day, it may be that this will reinforce the Democrats “bin Laden is dead” theme and give the president the boost he needs even if that also prompt some “wag the dog” cynicism about the action.

But the Libya debacle illustrates that incumbency brings perils as well as advantages. It is likely that the president will spend the next three weeks continuing to try to dodge questions about what he knew about the consulate’s requests for more security and the fact that there was no demonstration about a video prior to the killing and when he knew it. Libya also contradicts the claim aired in his re-election ads that America’s enemies have been beaten.

This should encourage Republicans, but if there is anything we should have learned in the past two months it is that this election is not so easily predicted, as the pundits would like. The unexpected shifts in the polls after the conventions and the first presidential debate illustrate the fact that the nation is still nearly evenly divided. Romney has some more ground to make up in states like Ohio, where both candidates and their running mates are a constant presence. But unlike the situation earlier in the campaign when it was understood that it was Romney that had to act, now it is Obama who must find a way to alter the direction of the race.

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What Did Hillary Tell Obama on 9/11?

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb testified that on September 11, after the “full-scale assault” in Libya — “unprecedented in its size and intensity” — began about 9:40 p.m. Libyan time (4:40 p.m. Washington time), she was “in our Diplomatic Security Command Center [in Washington] monitoring multiple open lines with our agents [in Libya] for much of the attack.”

On Friday, a CNN reporter asked Hillary Clinton what she was doing as the attack occurred, and Clinton responded with a 400-word answer that avoided the question. Here was the colloquy:

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Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb testified that on September 11, after the “full-scale assault” in Libya — “unprecedented in its size and intensity” — began about 9:40 p.m. Libyan time (4:40 p.m. Washington time), she was “in our Diplomatic Security Command Center [in Washington] monitoring multiple open lines with our agents [in Libya] for much of the attack.”

On Friday, a CNN reporter asked Hillary Clinton what she was doing as the attack occurred, and Clinton responded with a 400-word answer that avoided the question. Here was the colloquy:

QUESTION: … could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.

SECRETARY CLINTON: … I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on. [Blah, blah for 222 words]. So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting. [Blah, blah for 76 words]. So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Mrs. Secretary, if you could, the question was —

SECRETARY CLINTON: I know, but I’m going to leave it at that.

Later on Friday, the State Department spokesperson was asked why Clinton hadn’t answered, and provided this response:

As you know, she’s not that interested in focusing on herself. But obviously, she was here very late that night. She was getting regular updates from both the DS Command Center and the senior NEA leadership in the building, she was making phone calls to senior people, and so she was obviously very much involved. But I think she was not interested in sort of giving a personal tick-tock. It’s not the way she operates. [Emphasis added].

It is understandable that she’s not interested in focusing on herself, nor on the “senior people” she kept informed on the evening of September 11, as a major terrorist assault unfolded, monitored in real time on multiple open lines in her Washington command center, with a dead foreign service office and a missing ambassador by 6 p.m. Washington time and mortar attacks and more deaths coming later in the evening.

But to believe that her unwillingness to describe her actions reflected a self-effacing modus operandi may require the willing suspension of disbelief. It seems more likely she decided that, in view of Joe Biden’s malarkey on Thursday about an uninformed White House, this was not the time to describe what it seems any secretary of state would have done: inform the White House and keep it informed, in roughly the same real time as the State Department itself received the information, about an attack that was obviously not a demonstration about a video.

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Life Returning to Normal in Baghdad

It has been almost ten months since the last U.S. troops departed Iraq. Many Iraqis—including many in the Iraqi government—had hoped American forces would stay in one form or another, but as some Iraqi government advisors have made clear in informal chats with me, it was obvious that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton would not take “yes” for an answer when they asked if an agreement was possible.

So how goes life in Iraq? It has been a couple years since I have been to either southern Iraq or northern Iraq but, by all accounts, both are booming, in the figurative rather than literal way. Basra’s new governor has been, according to many Iraqis with whom I have spoken, a breath of fresh air. Investment continues in Basra, Najaf, and their environs. Oil wealth is sparking real estate investment, the hotel and tourist sector, and leading Iraqis to invest in automobile dealerships, among other businesses.

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It has been almost ten months since the last U.S. troops departed Iraq. Many Iraqis—including many in the Iraqi government—had hoped American forces would stay in one form or another, but as some Iraqi government advisors have made clear in informal chats with me, it was obvious that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton would not take “yes” for an answer when they asked if an agreement was possible.

So how goes life in Iraq? It has been a couple years since I have been to either southern Iraq or northern Iraq but, by all accounts, both are booming, in the figurative rather than literal way. Basra’s new governor has been, according to many Iraqis with whom I have spoken, a breath of fresh air. Investment continues in Basra, Najaf, and their environs. Oil wealth is sparking real estate investment, the hotel and tourist sector, and leading Iraqis to invest in automobile dealerships, among other businesses.

Iraqi Kurdistan is also doing well, although haphazard planning and corruption has led to the region having the hotels, restaurants, and clubs of Europe, with hospitals and schools reminiscent of sub-Saharan Africa.

For the past several years, however, Baghdad has been a pretty depressing place. After decades of war, it has long had a tired feel. While construction cranes dot the north and south of Iraq, there has not been equivalent development inside the capital city, much to the frustration of city residents.

Still, there is now more reason to be optimistic than in the past. The juxtaposition between the international zone, where American diplomats and many Iraqi politicians hole themselves up, and the rest of Baghdad is striking. While the International Zone is dead, the rest of Baghdad is alive. During both day and night, Iraqis are out and about. As several Iraqis have pointed out, so long as you are not a target (i.e., a politician or someone working for a politician or a foreigner), then life is now normal.

Baghdad is not a pretty town, but the streets are crowded and the restaurants are thriving. At the restaurants, those eating include both men and women. Most women are covered, but not everyone is. I visited one new place—built just recently—with multilevel outdoor dining along the banks of the Tigris River. Wild ducks swam around the lowest platform which jutted out into the river, hoping for scraps from the patrons. Some little girls obliged them. October is the perfect time in Baghdad. The days can still be uncomfortably warm—though no worse than Phoenix, Arizona—but the nights are downright pleasant. Every ice cream café I passed was packed full, with couples and teenagers milling around waiting for tables. It is a scene, alas, that American diplomats will not experience: They seldom emerge from behind the embassy’s walls.

The local government is also starting to take baby steps toward beautifying the city. There is a concerted effort to plant trees, curbs are painted, and fountains were working. So, too, were traffic lights, although no one paid any attention to them. There were no new bridges and roads were still in poor condition.

Larger developments—at least in the central neighborhoods where I was going—are still lacking. Sure, there were some nice new homes that looked like they had been transplanted from Kuwait (and designed by the same tasteless architects) and new car dealerships, but the one distinguishing feature of the Baghdad skyline—if you can call this city of overwhelmingly squat structures a skyline—is that working construction cranes are noticeably absent. The Iraqi budget may be huge, but most of the money goes toward the salaries of the inflated state bureaucracy, not to actual development. That may be fine so long as the price of oil is high, but if it ever drops precipitously, there will be trouble.

The State Department and USAID have never been as serious about lessons-learned as the Pentagon is, but the Iraq situation may be a good place to start. It is worth asking—and discussing in far more than passing—what USAID and American development income achieved in Baghdad. Almost a year after the American military presence officially ended, and more than eight years since Iraqi sovereignty was fully restored, there is precious little ordinary Iraqis can point to in terms of physical infrastructure and say, “The Americans did that.”

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Forced Marriages Alleged for Syrian Refugees

This may not be a big story in the West, but it is getting a lot of play on the Arabic satellite channels and here in Iraq:

Akram, a long-time Syrian resident of Jordan, says that in the Zaatari camp, which houses some 30,000 Syrian refugees in the desert near the border town of Mafraq, a new social phenomenon has spread that has come to be termed sutra or “cover” marriage, where refugees marry off their daughters, even at a very young age, to the first person who asks for their hand, under the pretext of “covering” their honor. He says he knows of one case in which a 70-year old Jordanian man wed a Syrian child of 12… “Cover” marriages started becoming more numerous and exploitative as a direct result of the atrocious living conditions in the camp, according to Nidal. Desperate refugees began looking for any way to extricate their children from impoverishment and misery. At the same time, Jordanian men seeking to marry increasingly took advantage of their dire situation.

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This may not be a big story in the West, but it is getting a lot of play on the Arabic satellite channels and here in Iraq:

Akram, a long-time Syrian resident of Jordan, says that in the Zaatari camp, which houses some 30,000 Syrian refugees in the desert near the border town of Mafraq, a new social phenomenon has spread that has come to be termed sutra or “cover” marriage, where refugees marry off their daughters, even at a very young age, to the first person who asks for their hand, under the pretext of “covering” their honor. He says he knows of one case in which a 70-year old Jordanian man wed a Syrian child of 12… “Cover” marriages started becoming more numerous and exploitative as a direct result of the atrocious living conditions in the camp, according to Nidal. Desperate refugees began looking for any way to extricate their children from impoverishment and misery. At the same time, Jordanian men seeking to marry increasingly took advantage of their dire situation.

There has never been any love for Saudis either among Shi’ites or among Sunnis throughout much of the Middle East. Rumors that the Saudi embassy and Saudi bureaus now facilitate the marriages of young Syrian girls to Saudis are spreading outrage. Self-righteous explanations that such marriages save girls and women from prostitution or being forced into other immoral behavior carry little water, as the same Saudis who allegedly are taking such children could just as easily provide charity to assist families who have fled the Syrian crackdown without seeking to exploit the situation.

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Why the Slow Response Time in Benghazi?

Amid the burgeoning controversy over what the administration–and who in the administration–knew what, when about Benghazi, Marc Thiessen raises an important point: “the more serious scandal” is “the Obama administration’s utter failure to respond.”

As he notes, it took less than a month for the Bush administration to respond to 9/11 with an invasion of Afghanistan and less than a month (two weeks to be exact) for the Clinton administration to respond to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya with cruise missile strikes on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and on a suspected chemical-weapons plant in Sudan. The latter strikes were utterly ineffectual–but at least the U.S. did something.

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Amid the burgeoning controversy over what the administration–and who in the administration–knew what, when about Benghazi, Marc Thiessen raises an important point: “the more serious scandal” is “the Obama administration’s utter failure to respond.”

As he notes, it took less than a month for the Bush administration to respond to 9/11 with an invasion of Afghanistan and less than a month (two weeks to be exact) for the Clinton administration to respond to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya with cruise missile strikes on al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and on a suspected chemical-weapons plant in Sudan. The latter strikes were utterly ineffectual–but at least the U.S. did something.

In the case of Benghazi, it has taken the FBI three weeks merely to get to Benghazi to investigate the attack which left our ambassador and three others dead, even though reporters had no problem getting to the site of the consulate immediately after the attack. The administration appears to be confused about whether to treat this as a criminal investigation or an act of war and seems, at least for the time being, to be leaning toward the former option. In this, the Benghazi attack resembles the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which both the Clinton and Bush administrations allowed to pass without a military response. Those unwittingly setting the stage for 9/11.

Admittedly, a response in the case of Libya is complicated by the fact that it has a friendly government, thus the U.S. is under pressure not to undermine that government’s standing with a unilateral military response. But the U.S. has an overriding interest in showing that attacks on our diplomats will be met with an overwhelming response–and that response has been utterly lacking so far.

It is possible, of course, that the administration is patiently collecting intelligence and waiting to strike. Admittedly action between now and the election will inevitably be criticized in some quarters as a “wag the dog” scenario but, just as they did with the 1998 strikes on Afghanistan and Sudan (which occurred in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal), Republicans are likely to support any military action against terrorists. Politics aside, it is imperative for the U.S. to show that this attack will not be lost in a morass of dead-end criminal investigations.

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Why is Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkul Karman Silent?

Last year, I criticized the Nobel Peace Prize award to Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. My objection rested not in Karman’s track record as an opposition activist in Yemen, but rather rested in the tokenism and political agenda of the Nobel Committee. Its chairman made no secret that he hoped the award would legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood. As the Associated Press reported at the time:

Thorbjoern Jagland, who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, told AP that including Karman in the prize is “a signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.” He also said Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”

A year on, has the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to make Karman its youngest Nobel Peace Laureate paid off?

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Last year, I criticized the Nobel Peace Prize award to Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman. My objection rested not in Karman’s track record as an opposition activist in Yemen, but rather rested in the tokenism and political agenda of the Nobel Committee. Its chairman made no secret that he hoped the award would legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood. As the Associated Press reported at the time:

Thorbjoern Jagland, who heads the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, told AP that including Karman in the prize is “a signal that the Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it.” He also said Karman belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, “which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy.” He added that “I don’t believe that. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”

A year on, has the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to make Karman its youngest Nobel Peace Laureate paid off?

Sadly, the answer is no. Last week, the Pakistani Taliban conducted a horrific attack on 14-year-old school girl Malala Yousafzai whose crime was to advocate for girls’ right to education. With a bully pulpit bestowed by the Nobel Committee and its choice of Karman as a laureate because of her gender, religion, commitment to reform, and boldness, it would be reasonable to expect that Karman would be front and center in her condemnation of the Pakistani Taliban.

The world may have condemned the attack, but sadly, a Google search in English and an Open Source Center search of the Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Turkish press show that Karman was too busy attending to other matters. Whereas prominent Pakistanis visited Malala and her family, Karman (and other Nobel laureates) were not among them. In both English and Arabic, Karman’s website focuses on promoting herself and her latest mentions and speeches. Perhaps she was too busy accepting honorary Turkish citizenship or attending the World Forum for Democracy in Strasburg, France, to speak up or visit Pakistan. Karman is not afraid to speak up on other issues: She has urged Turkish military intervention in Syria, at least to create a buffer zone, in the increasingly sectarian civil war. She has praised pro-revolution forces in the Yemeni army. Perhaps the victim needs to be a Sunni Islamist to be worthy of Karman’s time.

It’s time to ask the Nobel Committee and Karman’s most vocal supporters: Was the investment in Karman worth it? Has outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood privileged moderate factions within the group and marginalized more radical factions? If Karman was the token to give moral ammunition in the feminist fight against radicalism and dictatorship of all types in majority Muslim countries, why the apparent silence in the face of Yousafzai (and others)?

If I’m wrong in my assessment that Karman has disappointed, I will be gladly so. I am traveling right now with limited Internet and may simply have missed an important statement but, as of my writing this on Saturday afternoon Baghdad time, I do not think I have. I have seen ample coverage on Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Al-Hurra, and other channels, but I have not seen Karman speak out. Certainly, I would stand happily corrected, however, and will read any comments on this post carefully for those Karman fans who can demonstrate that she has been a voice of support for Malala Yousafzai and those like her targeted by the Taliban, Salafis, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamist groups.

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