I’ve been traveling and so a bit late getting to this, but last week, Sohrab Ahmari, an assistant books editor at The Wall Street Journal (and an occasional COMMENTARY contributor) had an excellent piece examining Voice of America broadcasting into Iran:
Critics also charge that VOA’s Persian coverage is often distorted by an editorial line favoring rapprochement with the mullahs. There is “a clear slant in favor of Iran in terms of its involvement in terrorism,” the current production staffer wrote in response to queries for this article. The network, he said, often refuses to air criticism of Iranian terror unless it is “balanced with the perspective of the Islamic Republic who vehemently [deny] any involvement.” And because “no one in the Islamic Republic gives us interviews anyway,” VOA Persian abandons otherwise informative segments about terrorism.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Chuck Hagel’s position on the board of Chevron, an oil company that’s been criticized for its connection to human rights abuses. His role at the company has troubled environmental activists, and could pit him against progressives who are already wary of his positions on gay rights and abortion.
Hagel’s board membership “raises concerns about conflict of interest, especially in an area as geopolitically sensitive as Central Asia,” said Kate Watters, executive director at Crude Accountability, an environmental activist group that focuses on the Caspian Sea basin. “Chevron’s significant investments in Kazakhstan and interest in investing in Turkmenistan—both authoritarian regimes—are at direct odds with the human rights concerns that should be at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy,” she added.
For years, Israel’s critics have been railing against the construction of illegal outposts by Jews in the West Bank. The hilltop enclaves are erected without government permits and are therefore illegal, but the settlers have often been able to win delays from sympathetic politicians or to otherwise tie up their status in court. This is seen as a failure of the rule of law in Israel but the Palestinians have apparently been taking notes from the settlers’ tactics. Today a group of Palestinians erected a tent city in the controversial E1 area just outside Jerusalem protesting plans to incorporate the area into the city and the Jewish state. Police told them they would eventually be evicted, but those involved say they are on Arab-owned land and intend to stay until their camp is incorporated into a independent Palestinian state rather than Israel.
This is an effective tactic, but at the heart of their stunt is a concept that doesn’t necessarily work in favor of their cause. If, as their sympathizers will argue, Palestinians have the right to live and/or build on Arab-owned land anywhere in the country, then why shouldn’t Jews, who want to do the same thing, have that same right? In other words, is an outpost only truly illegal, not because of the lack of government building permits, but because the residents of the tent are Jewish rather than Arab?
The agreement announced today by President Obama and Afghan President Karzai to speed up the transition of U.S. troops from combat to an advisory role is largely symbolic, since our troops will not be prohibited from engaging in combat. But the desire of the president to pull out as quickly and completely as possible is palpable.
No doubt if he decides to leave only a token residual force behind, or none at all, he will claim that the U.S. can adequately disrupt and deter terrorist groups with the lightest of light footprints. But is that actually true? This Washington Post article reports, not surprisingly, that the CIA is planning its own downsizing in Afghanistan to go along with the military drawdown:
I have some common-sense, but apparently very sorely needed, advice for Republican lawmakers: You have one position and one position only on rape: it is bad. That’s it. If anyone asks you, you say it is a tragedy that no woman (or man, for that matter) should live through and your prayers go out to victims. Many on the right are, justifiably, frustrated that reporters continue to ask questions of candidates and lawmakers on rape, but, in the media’s defense, when Republicans keep giving answers as stupid as those of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, it’s hard to blame them.
Unfortunately for Republicans, another lawmaker has weighed in the rape issue, this time Representative Phil Gingrey of Georgia. The Marietta Daily Journal reports:
Senator Chuck Schumer hasn’t publicly taken a side in the Chuck Hagel debate yet, but as Politico reports, his final decision could tip the scales:
Schumer, the most powerful Jewish Democrat in Congress, has been noncommittal in his public statements on Hagel’s nomination. But privately, several sources say he has told senators it would be “very hard” for him to support Hagel as the next defense secretary because of his positions on Israel over the years. In New York, Schumer has told allies and power brokers in the Jewish community that he’s uneasy about Hagel’s nomination, a concern he reiterated at a private breakfast in Manhattan’s posh Park Avenue Winter restaurant on Wednesday.
If Schumer were to oppose Hagel, it would almost certainly amount to a fatal blow to his candidacy since a number of pro-Israel Democrats who are squeamish about the nominee could very well be influenced by the No. 3 Democrat’s position. It would also give bipartisan political cover to Republicans and neocons fighting Hagel’s nomination.
Still, Schumer could also provide critical support for Hagel’s nomination. Should he support Hagel, it very likely would ride on what the former Nebraska GOP senator eventually says on Israel at an upcoming one-on-one meeting with the New York Democrat and during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Schumer declined to be interviewed Thursday for this story. The White House also declined to comment.
There has been, and will continue to be, buzz around certain young conservative politicians who are expected to be in consideration for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. These young stars, such as Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and others, have their every statement and every vote examined for its relevance to the 2016 nomination battle.
One reason for this is that the GOP seems to have finally shed its allegiance to next-in-linism, the practice of nominating last cycle’s runner-up or someone with the right pedigree, or even someone viewed as having paid his dues. The party that does not hold the White House is usually in search of an identity. But this is even more the case with regard to the current Republican Party, which has no obvious nominee waiting in the wings, and as such, no obvious leader. But the party’s identity going forward is going to be shaped as much by up-and-coming politicians who aren’t vying for the 2016 nomination as those who are.
Many of Chuck Hagel’s more vocal supporters have trumpeted his supposed anti-war credentials: He was against the Iraq war (after he was for it) and he was a skeptic about the Afghan war (again, after he was for it). Let’s put aside the fact that while senators can blow with the wind, the job of the defense secretary isn’t to abandon conflict when the winds of war change, but to adjust strategy in order regain momentum, fulfill the mission, and achieve the best results for U.S. national security.
There are plenty of mistakes to go around in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban government are not among them. What drove up the cost of the conflicts in both countries was not the initial military action, but rather all the nation building in which the United States subsequently engaged. While diplomats and politicians speak loftily of soft-power and development, the truth is that neither worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. The irony here, of course, is that while Zalmay Khalilzad and Ryan Crocker have endorsed Hagel, they were the ones most responsible for the prolongation of the Iraq mission with their decision to scrap plans for a provisional government prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom (and, no, despite the nonsense in the press, pre-war plans did not envision anointing Ahmad Chalabi as Iraqi leader). Had the United States exited Iraq in 2003, Iraq would not look much different than it does today. Likewise, if the United States abandons Afghanistan—as it seems the Obama administration is wont to do—it will simply return that country to the dark days of its civil war.
In the weeks since the Newtown shooting, the conventional wisdom has been that the country was so outraged about gun violence that the basic rules of Washington politics had been forever altered. The assumption was that a re-elected President Obama would get any sort of gun control legislation passed that he wanted and that the National Rifle Association would be powerless to stop him. But even before next Tuesday’s announcement of the recommendations made to the president by Vice President Biden, it appears as if everyone in the capital knows that it is highly unlikely that the administration will be able to pass any sort of major gun control bill. That’s the upshot of a New York Times article published this morning which, following up on the hints dropped by Biden yesterday, made it clear that the White House was probably more interested in lowering expectations about what they could achieve than bashing the NRA.
This has to leave a lot of liberals, who have been watching the talking heads on CNN and MSNBC spend the last month telling them that the Republicans would reinforce their status as the “stupid party” if they tried to obstruct Obama’s gun plans, wondering what happened. It turns out that the while most Americans probably support measures calling for more background checks or restrictions on ammunition, the massive shift in public opinion and among politicians that we were told had happened since Newtown is a figment of the liberal imagination. As even NBC’s Andrea Mitchell said on “Morning Joe” today, an attempt to reinstate an assault weapons ban or to pass a more far-reaching gun ban is never going to be passed.
Sometime in the afternoon or evening of January 9, three Kurdish activists were assassinated in their office in Paris, France. To enter the office required being buzzed in and the office was not marked by signs. This was no random mugging or robbery: Whoever entered and shot dead Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); Fidan Doğan, a representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress; and Leyla Söylemez was deliberate. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited the site of the murders and called the slaughter “intolerable.”
There are two main suspects: Turkey and Iran. Many Kurds are pointing the finger at Ankara. After all, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan feigns moderation toward the Kurds only when it suits him, but embraces a hardline approach when he wants to whip up Turkish nationalists. In recent years, the PKK has been winning its insurgency: The Turkish army has effectively lost control of much territory which the PKK now administers in far southeastern Anatolia.
David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, writes that there will likely be “a different Israel” after the January 22 election–one that has voted to reject a Palestinian state. He attributes the “dramatic imminent shift” not to the Israeli electorate moving right (total seats held by the right and left may not change materially), but to a right that has become “far-right.” The prime minister will stay the same, but he will head “a very different party.”
This analysis ignores an important fact: the Israeli left has also moved right–and its own shift has been even more dramatic. In “We Gave Peace a Chance,” Daniel Gordis notes that what destroyed the Israeli left was four years of the “Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada),” which disabused Israelis of the idea that the Palestinian leadership wanted a deal, and the fact that Arabs have become ever more candid about their ultimate goal, with Mahmoud Abbas telling Egyptian TV “he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state.” Gordis writes that “Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying”:
Today marks four months since the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, which killed our ambassador and three other Americans. Justice still has not been done—and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will ever be done.
Just a couple of days ago a Tunisian court freed Ali Harza, a Tunisian man who was one of the few to be charged in connection with the assault. This is what comes from giving the FBI the lead in the response to this assault on American territory. The criminal investigation appears to be going nowhere fast, which is hardly surprising given how hard it is to gather evidence and bring indictments under such chaotic conditions. The only mystery is why this isn’t being treated as what it is—an act of war on the United States that deserves a military response.