The New York Times reported last week that Russia finally seemed to be ready to give up on Bashar al-Assad. Russia, the report noted, “was making contingency plans to evacuate its citizens from the country, the Kremlin’s last beachhead in the Middle East.” But in the world of aspiring great power politics, “last beachheads” usually become gateways to the next beachhead. In danger of losing its influence in the region, and aware that Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt isn’t especially picky about his allies, Russia is seeking closer ties with Egypt.
There’s a problem, however. “How come you are asking to have a strong relationship with us while you see [us] as a terrorist group?” Mahmoud Ghozlan recently asked Russia’s ambassador in Cairo. Ghozlan is a spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood–an organization outlawed as a terrorist group in Russia due to its history of aiding and egging on the Islamist rebels in the North Caucasus. In only the latest example of the Muslim Brotherhood’s newfound respectability on the world stage just by virtue of taking power in Egypt, Russia may let bygones be bygones:
Adam Kredo reports that former undersecretary of defense for policy Michele Flournoy may have replaced Chuck Hagel as the current frontrunner for the secretary of defense nod:
Former Republican Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel may no longer be President Obama’s favored pick to run the Defense Department, sources told the Free Beacon.
Hagel immediately drew a frosty reception from observers who criticized him for advocating in favor of direct unconditional talks with Iran and for backing sizable cuts to the defense budget. …
Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy, is currently viewed as the frontrunner for the post.
“She will be the likely candidate as there has been criticism from liberals for possibly replacing a female secretary of state with a male, and [Flournoy would be] the first woman secretary of defense,” said one senior Senate aide with knowledge of the process. “Hagel could have been a test by the president—if Hagel’s positions could be supported then likely so would Flournoy.”
One of the saddest comments I’ve ever heard was Gaza resident Ziad Ashour’s statement to the New York Times last week. Ever since the first intifada erupted in 1987, the 43-year-old butcher said, “things have steadily declined in Gaza.”
Think about that for a moment: After 25 years of fighting Israel in every possible way–“popular resistance,” suicide bombings, rockets, diplomatic warfare, boycott/divestment/sanctions efforts–all the Palestinians have to show for it is 25 years of steady decline. Indeed, the facts bear out Ashour’s assessment: Despite massive international aid, Gaza’s per capita GDP has remained virtually flat, totaling $817 in 1987 and $876 in 2010. Unemployment, which was generally under 5 percent in the 1980s, had soared to 45 percent by the end of 2010. And to add insult to injury, neither the terror nor the diplomatic warfare succeeded in preventing Israel from flourishing over those 25 years.
The three State Department officials who resigned today in the wake of the release of a scathing report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya will probably be the only ones held accountable for that disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conveniently laid up due to a concussion and won’t testify before a congressional committee on the issue, just as she avoided being called to account in the aftermath of the murders even though she issued a statement saying she took “full responsibility” for what happened.
As Seth wrote earlier today, Clinton, who is resigning soon anyway, has managed to maintain a reputation as a successful secretary of state despite a record that can only be characterized as unremarkable at best. A more harsh assessment would say that she has failed on virtually every major issue, whether it was relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, or stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The Benghazi debacle is just the frosting on the cake on four years in which Clinton skated by on her reputation and a press corps determined to flatter her. She was unable to achieve any real successes, but also was clearly subordinate to the White House rather than being the person calling the shots on policy.
While it’s clear that in the short run Clinton will escape the public opprobrium she deserves for presiding over the Benghazi fiasco, it would be wrong to assume that this is the last we will hear of it. If, as many expect, she runs for president in 2016, Democratic opponents will clobber her with the account of how her department ignored pleas for more security in Benghazi and then spread misleading stories about a terrorist attack being nothing more than film criticism run amok.
As others have made clear, Chuck Hagel’s problems extend beyond his controversial comments about the “Jewish lobby.” Several of his stated positions–and not just his opposition to Iran sanctions–could have practical consequences for U.S. interests. A prime example is the European Union’s indication that it may finally designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, depending on the outcome of the Burgas bus bombing investigation. The U.S. has lobbied the reluctant EU on this for years, since the move would cut off much of the terror group’s funding:
European diplomats from Spain and France have told the Post that blacklisting Hezbollah is contingent on the outcome of the Bulgarian investigation into a July bombing in Burgas which killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. American and Israeli intelligence officials believe a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation executed the suicide bombing. Europe has held the line on its ban of Hamas in 2003. Hezbollah’s terrorism is equally deadly and there are no shortage of compelling reasons to evict Hezbollah from European soil.
Today President Obama announced an interagency task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, to guide his administration’s response to the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School. Politico reports “it will follow a call on Friday for ‘meaningful action’ and his Sunday pledge to use the White House to ‘engage’ Americans to prevent mass shootings. According to a White House official, the president likely won’t make significant policy announcements but will instead explain how his administration will determine what to do next.”
The president is well-known for asking groups of people to gather to discuss problems of national importance, including task forces on: working families, the middle class; Guantanamo Bay, commercial advocacy, Hurricane Sandy rebuilding, interagency ocean policy, childhood obesity, Puerto Rico’s status, federal contracting opportunities for small businesses, climate change adaption, financial fraud enforcement, and many, many others. A search on the White House website for the words “task force” yields 86,000 results. What exactly have these task forces accomplished? What legislation has been put forth? What executive orders have been put into effect? What do they do besides issue reports?
Ted Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator, appears to be floating his name for a potential senatorial bid to replace John Kerry. A “friend and adviser” to the Kennedy scion emailed the following to Mike Allen this morning:
“It’s no secret that Ted is interested in entering politics, after a long and successful career as a disability rights advocate and businessman. Numerous people in Massachusetts have reached out to him to ask him to consider running for office there, and, if Senator Kerry is nominated to a Cabinet post, it’s fair to say that he will be giving this very serious consideration.”
There is a New York Times op-ed this morning that is somewhere beyond appalling. It is by Adolph L. Reed Jr., a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Professor Reed writes about the appointment of Rep. Tim Scott to replace the retiring Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina. Scott, in Reed’s view, is essentially an Uncle Tom because he does not agree with the politics of most black Americans:
Since the terrorist attack in Benghazi killed our ambassador there and three others, I’ve been asking just how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has managed to avoid accountability for what was clearly her State Department’s failure. Others have begun asking that same question, including former Clinton administration official Aaron David Miller. Miller offered a few possible answers, one of which was that her expected run for the presidency in 2016–which is already in motion–has convinced the Washington establishment to stay on her good side.
Miller was asking the question in the context of the strangely effusive praise she has been receiving for her work as secretary of state, even though she has been surely unremarkable–and that was before the debacle in Benghazi (and, I would add, Foggy Bottom’s failure with regard to the Palestinians’ unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN). It’s possible that Miller is right–that most people don’t actually believe what they’re saying about Clinton, but are simply speaking flattery to power. But yesterday’s release of the inquiry into Benghazi should inspire at least some honesty about Clinton’s manifest failure there. It also explains why Republicans have latched on to Benghazi with such force: as the report shows, the tragedy in Benghazi was evidence of the failure of the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy across the administration.
Our friend John R. Bolton writes eloquently about Bob Bork on the website of the American Enterprise Institute, where both worked. Here’s his take in part:
Bob Bork was my antitrust professor at Yale Law School in 1972-73, where he was one of a small band of conservative/libertarian students and teachers….So few were our numbers at Yale Law that when the White House announced Bob’s name for Solicitor General, Ralph Winter joked that the first sentence in the Yale Daily News coverage should read: “Yesterday, President Nixon nominated twenty percent of all the conservatives at Yale Law School to be Solicitor General.” Bob himself could have come up with that line, his sense of humor being wry and self-deprecating….
One of Bob’s most important services to our country is also one of the most misunderstood, during the “Saturday Night Massacre.” When Nixon gave Attorney General Elliot Richardson the order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Richardson resigned, as he had committed to do in his Senate confirmation hearings if the White House ever tried to interfere with Cox’s investigation. Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus also resigned, as he had similarly pledged to do.
By virtue of these resignations, Bork, the third-ranking official at the Department of Justice, became Acting Attorney General. Although he had been confirmed before the Watergate affair had become an issue, and never been asked to mae such a pledge, Bork told Richardson and Ruckelshaus that he thought he should also resign. They urged him not to, because then the entire top leadership of the Department might have followed suit, and the country plunged into a constitutional crisis the likes of which we had never seen.
Richardson and Ruckelshaus urged him to fire Cox to preserve the Department’s legitimacy. Said Richardson: “You’ve got the gun now, Bob. It’s your duty to pull the trigger.” Bork did fire Cox, and paid for it the rest of his life…..
Our country will greatly miss Bob Bork. He was a friend and inspiration to many at AEI and around the country. He never regretted the consequences of standing by his philosophical principles. Why else have them?
Read the whole thing.
The Washington Post editorial board came out against Chuck Hagel’s potential nomination for secretary of defense this morning, citing his “near the fringe” views on Iran and defense spending:
But Mr. Hagel has elsewhere expressed strong skepticism about the use of force.
We share that skepticism — but we also understand that, during the next year or two, Mr. Obama may be forced to contemplate military action if Iran refuses to negotiate or halt its uranium-enrichment program. He will need a defense secretary ready to support and effectively implement such a decision. Perhaps Mr. Hagel would do so; perhaps he would also, if installed at the Pentagon, take a different view of defense spending. (Mr. Hagel declined through a spokesman to speak to us about his views.)
What’s certain is that Mr. Obama has available other possible nominees who are considerably closer to the mainstream and to the president’s first-term policies. Former undersecretary of defense Michèle Flournoy, for example, is a seasoned policymaker who understands how to manage the Pentagon bureaucracy and where responsible cuts can be made. She would bring welcome diversity as the nation’s first female defense secretary.
The Accountability Review Board appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to look into the deadly assault on the Benghazi consulate has come back with a damning series of findings. The panel, chaired by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering, found “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” which resulted in security “that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Not surprisingly, the panel affirmed what the intelligence community has been saying for months now, that contrary to what administration spokesmen said immediately afterward, there was no protest before the attack; it was simply a well-executed terrorist attack.
But for all of the rigor of the panel’s work, it was narrowly focused on the State Department’s handling of the situation. There is little said about the military response to the attacks, beyond the sending of a drone aircraft and the evacuation of the diplomats in Benghazi; and there is even less about the White House role in managing the response to the crisis, even though senior officials, up to and including the president, must have been aware of the attacks as they were occurring. Nor is there anything in the report about the failure, so far, to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice. Why, for example, has the administration seemingly decided to treat this as a law enforcement matter, with the FBI in the lead, rather than treating it as an act of war, with the armed forces in the lead? A fuller explanation of those issues awaits, presumably, more congressional digging.
Word came yesterday evening that the House of Representatives has agreed with a Senate amendment and so Rep. Jeff Duncan’s (R-South Carolina) “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act” will head to the White House for President Obama’s signature.
If the bill becomes a law—and presumably it will because the White House did not oppose it—then the secretary of state will have to report to Congress on a broad range of Iranian activity in the Western hemisphere. According to the Congressional Research Service’s summary, the report will include:
Today’s Washington Post editorial opposing the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary should provide encouragement for those seeking to derail the appointment. The Post rightly pointed out that Hagel’s positions on defense spending and stopping Iran’s nuclear program “fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term — and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him.” The Post is right about that, but that is exactly why the talk about Hagel is raising alarms among those who fear that a second Obama administration will not follow through on the promises made by the president during his first term, with specific attention to his pledge to stop Iran from developing a nuclear capability.
However, those expecting that pro-Israel Jewish Democrats will be leading the charge to stop the appointment of a man who is a prominent critic of the Jewish state as well as of its American supporters are probably going to be disappointed. As this article published today in the Hill demonstrates, the unwillingness of influential Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin to oppose Hagel shows that any campaign against the nomination may be an uphill slog. Combined with the natural reluctance of many senators to oppose a former colleague and friend, the inability of Hagel’s foes to get prominent Jewish Democrats to take a stand may ensure his victory.
For both COMMENTARY MAGAZINE and here at Contentions, I’ve written a lot about Turkey in recent years. The reason is two-fold: First, Turkey is an important country, and its support was crucial to the United States during the Cold War; and, second, as an ostensibly democratic, Muslim-majority country spanning continents, Turkey is often upheld as a model for the region.
Alas, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is accelerating Turkey’s backslide from democracy. His target now is separation of power. There were earlier hints of this, for example the 2005 threat by Bülent Arınç, at the time speaker of the parliament, to dissolve the constitutional court if it continued to find AKP legislation unconstitutional. Erdoğan subsequently promoted Arınç to be his chief deputy, but he still had plausible deniability since it was his proxy rather than himself who uttered the threat.
Now, however, Erdoğan is attacking separation of power directly. According to the Hürriyet Daily News:
Robert Bork died today at the age of 85, having had the distinction of becoming one of the most famous figures in the realm of public policy of the 20th century in part because of the unprecedented effort to destroy his reputation following his nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court in 1987.
Bob’s sin was believing that the job of a constitutional jurist was to analyze constitutional cases in light of the specific language of the Constitution and the intent and ideas of those who wrote it. For believing this—for believing in the classical notion, which defines the very act of interpretative scholarship, that a work of governing philosophy and practice has intrinsic meaning and not just the meaning we wish to assign to it—he was disgustingly slandered.
Perhaps the most important legal scholar of his day, whose work on matters ranging from anti-trust to the complexities of privacy laws was both accessible and deeply considered, Bork was exactly the sort of choice serious-minded people should have welcomed. The Court had been in large measure the province of lightweights who were considered politically safe or somehow controllable, men who possessed no intellectual compass and were either the captives of their clerks or of the conventional wisdom. His nomination did the Court credit. It was an effort to elevate it.