My colleague Danielle Pletka alerted me to this article, which truly is a rare good news story out of Pakistan:
Rafiullah Kakar, 23, is all set to live “a dream come true”. He is the 2013 Rhodes Scholar for Pakistan… Kakar does not belong to a feudal family. He grew up in one of the most hostile and backward regions of Pakistan and no one had gone to college in his family before him. His transformation from a boy who did not learn Urdu until the seventh grade to a Rhodes Scholar is a story of hard work, family support, perseverance and the pursuit of personal ambition.
The whole news report is worth reading. Baluchistan is one of the most backward areas of Pakistan and Iran (for history buffs, about five years ago I did a thumbnail history of Baluchistan, here), and Pakistan is a society where elite and family connections often trump talent. American politicians may quip that it takes a village, but government alone will never supplant hard work and individual aptitude, nor does progress occur when it dampens rather than promotes rewards inherent in personal ambition.
On “Fox and Friends” this morning at 7 a.m. came the news that President Obama and Speaker Boehner had had a phone call last evening, content not disclosed.
That shouldn’t have been news—these are the leaders of each party trying to avoid a governmental disaster that could come in less than a month, and should be talking 10 times a day. But it was news, and that’s troubling to say the least.
As Daniel Henninger makes clear in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Where in his career did Barack Obama ever learn the art of the political deal? Nowhere.” He writes:
In the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which Bill Murray’s character must relive the same day over and over again, he is overheard responding to someone on the telephone: “Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” In October, I wrote about how one possible outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections (now precluded by more recent developments) would have put Tzipi Livni on the wrong end of an exact replay of the last time she tried to challenge current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Today, however, Livni held a press conference in Tel Aviv that might have yet again given Israelis the sense they were stuck in their own version of “Groundhog Day”–and not one they would like to relive. The press conference was to announce that Livni will be joined on her slate of candidates by Amir Peretz. The last time the Jewish state saw the two of them serve together was in the summer of 2006, when Israel fought what was considered a badly mismanaged war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The government’s handling of the conflict was clumsy and erratic, both diplomatically and strategically. As foreign minister at the time, Livni was the country’s chief diplomat, and as defense minister, Peretz was in charge of the military prosecution of the war. Now, with missiles once again aimed at Israel from southern Lebanon, the duo is asking for another shot.
If there is anything that the current situation in Egypt teaches, it is how hard it is to create a functioning liberal democracy after decades of oppression. It is, in fact, a lot harder than simply having an election. Because after the voting, it is imperative for the winners to show respect for the losers and not simply try to consolidate all power in their own hands while trying to crush the opposition.
By that standard, Mohamed Morsi is failing as Egypt’s new president. In recent weeks he has tried to claim for himself powers that are above even judicial review, and now he is trying to ram through a new constitution, which is to be voted on mere weeks after being drafted in a secretive process declared invalid by the opposition. When Egyptians opposed to this power grab have taken to the streets they have been met by thuggish Muslim Brotherhood supporters and violence has broken out.
John reflected earlier on the possibility that as the next president of the Heritage Foundation, Jim DeMint might “stress the institution’s role in opposition, which is his stock in trade as a senator, and to downgrade its policy role.” Heritage’s decision to tap DeMint is less a sign that the pathbreaking think tank is setting off in a new direction than a sign it is pleased with the direction it has been taking the last couple of years.
In recent years, and especially over the last several months, Heritage has supplemented its traditional role as a major research institution by getting more involved in day-to-day political battles on Capitol Hill. Heritage Action for America was founded in 2010 by the Heritage Foundation’s board, and serves as a vehicle for Heritage to advance its policy message in a more directly political manner. Heritage, as a 501(c)(3), is unable to participate in direct lobbying; Heritage Action, a 501(c)(4), has fewer legal limitations.
Earlier this week, I wrote a post wondering whether J Street has increased its influence on the Hill after the November election. A good test, I said, was whether J Street was able to rally enough objections to legislation responding to the UN vote.
One of these amendments — which would have shuttered the PLO mission in D.C. — was dropped from the defense authorization bill that passed the Senate earlier this week. According to Open Zion’s Ali Gharib, this proves that J Street has gained clout in Washington:
With tanks deployed in the streets of Cairo, following clashes that have left at least half a dozen people dead, it is obvious that the political turmoil which forced Hosni Mubarak out of office has returned. Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak’s successor, has no one to blame but himself for these street clashes. They are a direct response to what is widely seen as his extra-constitutional grab for power and his tendency to demonize his opponents in inflammatory language by claiming they are former regime stooges.
Morsi’s process of consolidating authority is set to continue in just nine days’ time if the referendum he has scheduled on a hastily cobbled together new constitution is still held. The constitution, based on the existing one that justified decades of dictatorial rule, is full of amorphous language that secularists and Coptic Christians fear could inaugurate a new tyranny by the Muslim Brotherhood. It certainly does nothing to change the military’s unaccountable position, outside of political control—something that can be good or bad depending on whether the military sees its role as shepherding in secular democracy (as in Turkey) or serving as enforcers for the Islamists in power (as in Iran).
Michael Rubin’s incisive post on the apparent exclusion of Israel from another meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) identifies a significant effect of U.S. acquiescence in the exclusion: an implicit U.S. endorsement of the drive to delegitimize Israel, by signaling that even on the issue of counterterrorism (on which Israel has obvious knowledge and expertise); even in the case of a prominent international forum on that subject (co-founded and co-chaired by the United States); and even though the U.S. has repeatedly announced its “commitment” to the inclusion of Israel, the U.S. will continue to permit Israel’s exclusion.
There is another unfortunate effect, highlighted by the way the issue was treated at yesterday’s State Department press conference, where the deputy spokesman announced that Secretary Clinton would participate in the December 14 ministerial meeting of the GCTF. The following colloquy occurred:
The rumors that President Obama might nominate Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense have been swirling for a while, but this Reuters story is the first time I’ve seen them sourced to senior administration officials:
President Barack Obama is expected to announce his nominees for secretaries of state and defense in the next two weeks, with former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on the short list of potential choices to head the Pentagon, senior administration officials said on Tuesday.
Hagel, whose appointment would give Obama’s reshuffled second-term Cabinet a bipartisan cast, met the Democratic president at the White House this week to discuss a post on his national security team. But there was no sign that Obama had decided on any of the key nominations he will put forth.
Although the Occupy Wall Street protest movement often shunned both organization and the formation of a coherent set of principles and demands, its antipathy to Wall Street–hence the name of the movement–was central to its cause and its grievances, real or imagined. Punishing Wall Street was a given to the protesters, because in their minds the city’s kings of finance were greedy oligarchs hoarding their wealth. But occasionally the OWS protesters accidentally stumbled upon some cold hard facts that undercut their complaints, such as when New York City Councilman Daniel Halloran approached the crowd and told them:
I think there needs to be Wall Street reform, but we also have to remember that one-third of the city’s revenue comes from Wall Street right now, OK? One-third of the city’s revenue stream already comes from Wall Street.
The big news in conservative circles today is that Jim DeMint will be leaving the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, built from scratch by its innovative founder, Ed Feulner, into a colossus that redefined the way public-policy ideas could be integrated into the ongoing political process on Capitol Hill. Before Heritage was created in 1974, Capitol Hill was a vast wasteland intellectually and ideologically, especially on the Republican side; most policy was generated by the bureaucrats in the executive branch and then refined into legislative form by permanent staff on the Hill. Heritage began examining specific pieces of legislation and offering criticisms of them and proposals for their refinement, as well as producing short and coherent documents on a range of issues to educate congressmen and their staffs about the effects their votes could and would produce. This is now standard practice across the ideological camps in D.C., but it was entirely new and enormously influential.
Heritage is commonly called a “think tank,” but it’s something far more complex than that—it is one of the largest grass-roots organizations in the world, with an astonishing 700,000-plus donors and supporters and a budget of $75 million. And like most of the right, it has found itself see-sawing between trying to offer constructive policy advice advancing innovative legislation and standing in potent opposition to liberal innovations.
I heard from a couple of prominent conservatives yesterday who mentioned to me the pessimism, and even depression, they sense among conservatives throughout the land. That’s understandable, given the results of the 2012 election. Because unlike 2008, this is an election Barack Obama should have lost and that the right fully expected him to lose.
Still, there have been worse wilderness years than what we’re experiencing now. (Retaining control of the House will prove to be an important check on Mr. Obama’s second-term ambitions.) In addition, the loss Republicans experienced can be leveraged to conservatives’ advantage, if we take away the right lessons from the 2012 defeat.
Two individuals who are doing just that are Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio. They spoke earlier this week at the annual dinner of the Jack Kemp Foundation. Both speeches (which can be found here and here) are well worth reading.
Yesterday, I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Europe and Eurasian Subcommittee, which was investigating Iranian strategy, influence, and interests in the Caucasus. As always, there’s good news and bad news from the region. Azerbaijan remains a stalwart U.S. ally intolerant of Iranian approaches. Georgia is as well, but after its October election remains very much in play. Turkey’s efforts to subvert sanctions are well known. The greater problem today is Armenia:
- According to a State Department cable released by Wikileaks, in 2008, U.S. diplomats concluded that Armenia shipped Iran weaponry, which Iran then used to kill Americans.
- Bank Mellat, a sanctioned Iranian bank, operates in Yerevan, and Iranian businesses dot the city.
- In October 2011, a member of Armenia’s Nuclear Energy Organization told the Iranian press that Tehran had enticed several Armenian nuclear scientists to work in Iran’s nuclear program.
Last year, the Obama administration and State Department promoted the Global Counterterrorism Forum, but acquiesced to Turkey’s demand that Israel be excluded from the forum. Apparently, as seen by his repeated endorsements of Hamas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan believes that terrorism is always bad, unless directed at Israelis.
Last July, Rick Richman and Jonathan Tobin noted that long after Secretary Clinton had promised to do what was necessary to win Israel’s inclusion, forum meetings were going ahead without the Jewish state’s presence. Well, it’s happened again.
As if to buttress my earlier item on the dangers of outsourcing support for Syrian rebels to the Qataris and other Gulf Arabs, the New York Times carries this report on the worrisome consequences of earlier outsourcing the support of Libyan rebels to Qatar.
The newspaper reports: “The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”