Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 10, 2013

The Truth About Pollard

Last week, the Knesset took up the issue of Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew who has been serving a life sentence for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel. Knesset Speaker Benjamin Ben-Eliezer praised the spy as a “true Zionist.” Many members joined the 100,000 Israelis who signed a petition calling for Pollard’s release. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat agreed and said he would nominate Pollard for the prestigious Jerusalem Freedom Award. Pollard’s supporters are hoping this campaign on the eve of President Obama’s trip to Israel will bring attention to the case and lead to his freedom. But they are almost certainly mistaken.

In today’s Haaretz, the paper’s Barak Ravid quotes a “senior American official” as saying that the latest round of public advocacy in Israel on behalf of Pollard is having no impact on President Obama. Though the administration is resigned to being subjected to numerous appeals to release the former U.S. Navy analyst who has been in jail since 1985, none of it is likely to persuade the president to grant clemency to Pollard. Indeed, as the official makes clear, the more Israelis and some American Jews treat the spy like a hero, the less likely Obama or anyone else in a position of authority in Washington is to listen to their appeals. That’s a hard concept for those who are trying to free Pollard to understand but if they are to ever succeed, they must start trying.

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Last week, the Knesset took up the issue of Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew who has been serving a life sentence for spying on the United States on behalf of Israel. Knesset Speaker Benjamin Ben-Eliezer praised the spy as a “true Zionist.” Many members joined the 100,000 Israelis who signed a petition calling for Pollard’s release. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat agreed and said he would nominate Pollard for the prestigious Jerusalem Freedom Award. Pollard’s supporters are hoping this campaign on the eve of President Obama’s trip to Israel will bring attention to the case and lead to his freedom. But they are almost certainly mistaken.

In today’s Haaretz, the paper’s Barak Ravid quotes a “senior American official” as saying that the latest round of public advocacy in Israel on behalf of Pollard is having no impact on President Obama. Though the administration is resigned to being subjected to numerous appeals to release the former U.S. Navy analyst who has been in jail since 1985, none of it is likely to persuade the president to grant clemency to Pollard. Indeed, as the official makes clear, the more Israelis and some American Jews treat the spy like a hero, the less likely Obama or anyone else in a position of authority in Washington is to listen to their appeals. That’s a hard concept for those who are trying to free Pollard to understand but if they are to ever succeed, they must start trying.

As I wrote in the March 2011 issue of COMMENTARY in an in-depth analysis of the case on its 25th anniversary, both sides of the long running argument about Pollard have exaggerated their positions to the point of caricature. Those in the U.S. security establishment have wrongly tried to blame Pollard for American intelligence setbacks at the hands of the former Soviet Union in an effort to justify their desire to continue to make an example of him. But Pollard’s backers have also inflated the value of the espionage that he committed on behalf of Israel while also trying to ignore the far more serious damage he did to the Jewish state by souring relations with its sole superpower ally.

Irrespective of these exaggerations, Pollard committed a crime for which he deserved serious punishment. But after more than 27 years in jail the case for mercy for the spy is stronger than ever. As I wrote two years ago, his sentence was disproportionate to that given any other person who spied for an ally as opposed to an enemy or rival nation. Nor is there any conceivable security justification for his continued imprisonment. But the biggest mistake that his supporters have continually made over the years is to think that his freedom will ever be won by efforts that cast him as a martyr. It was Pollard’s own foolish boasts along those lines in a “60 Minutes” interview and in discussions with Wolf Blitzer (the CNN star was then a Jerusalem Post reporter) that caused the government to trash the plea bargain agreement with the spy and led to his draconian sentence to life in prison.

Praise from the Knesset and awards from the city of Jerusalem merely repeat these mistakes.

What Pollard’s fans don’t understand is that lionizing the spy merely increases the desire of the U.S. security establishment to keep him in prison to set an example that spies are punished, not set free to play the hero. The vengeful attitude toward Pollard may stem in part from hostility to Israel by some in Washington. But it’s hard to blame them for resenting a campaign that treats a U.S. Navy employee who broke his oath and did real damage to the United States as somehow deserving praise.

But the pro-Pollard Jews just can’t seem to help themselves. One of the main lessons of 20th century history for Jews was that they couldn’t afford to be silent in the face of a threat or injustice. Such silence or a reliance on traditional modes of quiet diplomacy failed them in the greatest crisis of modern Jewish history during the Holocaust. A desire not to make the same mistake helped inspire the movements to free Soviet Jewry and to support Israel. It inspired in many Jews an understandable contempt for behind-the-scenes diplomacy or reticence on any issue. But it was that discredited strategy of quiet outreach rather than aggressive advocacy that was always the only formula to help free Pollard.

Had the issue been framed solely on the concept that Pollard was a misguided soul who erred but deserved mercy, he probably would have been out of jail a long time ago. But the attempt to cast him as an American “prisoner of Zion” merely strengthened the hands of those U.S. officials who have always been the roadblock to clemency.

At this point, it’s hard to imagine any circumstance in the immediate future that will lead Obama or his successor to free Pollard. But if there is to be any hope, it must begin with the spy’s supporters dropping any mention of anything but a desire for mercy for a man who has already been severely punished. If they ever want to see him freed, there must be an end to awards or rhetoric about his commitment to Zionism.

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What’s “Wacko” Among Republicans?

As I wrote on Friday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham didn’t do themselves any good this week when they angrily trashed Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster about drone attacks on the Senate floor. Sounding like angry old men telling the kids to get off their lawn isn’t the best way to respond to an event that galvanized the country and inspired admiration from both the right and the left. But rather than turn down the heat, McCain doubled down on his critique when he subsequently referred to Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and fellow libertarian Rep. Justin Amash as “wacko birds” in an interview with the Huffington Post that was published subsequent to his Senate remarks.

It should be understood that the Arizonan firing from the hip in this manner is just McCain being McCain. He doesn’t pull his punches, and, as is well known among those who have worked with him in the Senate, his lack of tolerance for those politicians who don’t measure up to his standards or who just annoy him is legendary.

But at this point that remark will do McCain more harm than it will the targets of his wrath. It will be seen as yet another indication that McCain and others who agree with him just don’t understand why Paul’s filibuster struck a nerve with so many in his party’s grass roots and inspired the admiration of many on the other side of the aisle as well. The word “wacko” signifies a lack of seriousness and the idea that those who fit the description are out of the political mainstream. The problem is that McCain, Graham and others who oppose Paul’s foreign policy views don’t seem to grasp that what is happening now is not merely excrescence of a marginal movement but the beginning of a serious policy debate about what Republicans believe about foreign policy. And the sooner he, and others who don’t want the GOP to drift away from being the party that stands for a strong America on the international stage, stop dismissing their opponents and start engaging them on the issues the better off they and the country will be.

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As I wrote on Friday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham didn’t do themselves any good this week when they angrily trashed Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour filibuster about drone attacks on the Senate floor. Sounding like angry old men telling the kids to get off their lawn isn’t the best way to respond to an event that galvanized the country and inspired admiration from both the right and the left. But rather than turn down the heat, McCain doubled down on his critique when he subsequently referred to Paul, Senator Ted Cruz and fellow libertarian Rep. Justin Amash as “wacko birds” in an interview with the Huffington Post that was published subsequent to his Senate remarks.

It should be understood that the Arizonan firing from the hip in this manner is just McCain being McCain. He doesn’t pull his punches, and, as is well known among those who have worked with him in the Senate, his lack of tolerance for those politicians who don’t measure up to his standards or who just annoy him is legendary.

But at this point that remark will do McCain more harm than it will the targets of his wrath. It will be seen as yet another indication that McCain and others who agree with him just don’t understand why Paul’s filibuster struck a nerve with so many in his party’s grass roots and inspired the admiration of many on the other side of the aisle as well. The word “wacko” signifies a lack of seriousness and the idea that those who fit the description are out of the political mainstream. The problem is that McCain, Graham and others who oppose Paul’s foreign policy views don’t seem to grasp that what is happening now is not merely excrescence of a marginal movement but the beginning of a serious policy debate about what Republicans believe about foreign policy. And the sooner he, and others who don’t want the GOP to drift away from being the party that stands for a strong America on the international stage, stop dismissing their opponents and start engaging them on the issues the better off they and the country will be.

It bears repeating that Paul’s bold gesture in the filibuster inspired admiration because it was a rare example of a Washington figure standing up for the principle of constitutional government with courage and grace. That he did so at the expense of an Obama administration that is so often cavalier about not respecting the Constitution endeared him to many Republicans who are not part of his libertarian base.

But the notion that all this fuss was about the Constitution and the right of due process is a cover for Paul’s basic disagreement with the GOP’s long consensus about foreign and defense policy. Paul spent much of Wednesday speculating about the possibility that an unprincipled future American president could use a drone to kill his political opponents or to punish dissidents of the Jane Fonda variety. That fired the imagination of paranoids on both the right and the left who are always ready to believe Big Brother is about to haul them off to jail. But the cheers Paul received went beyond that limited set to those who are uncomfortable with more than just the theoretical possibility of a drone attack on an America in the United States. It’s important to understand that Paul’s issue is not so much with drones as it is with a policy of what he calls “perpetual war” against Islamist terrorism and the entire concept of a strong U.S. policy to protect our influence, allies and trade in the Middle East.

Instead of venting resentment at the way in which the filibuster rallied conservaties, responsible Republicans should think back on Paul’s foreign policy address given at the Heritage Foundation last month in which he detailed his desire to reboot American foreign policy. That speech received a lot less attention than the filibuster but it showed that his goal is not so much restraint of American power at home as it is in cutting back abroad. Though he calls himself a realist in the mode of the first President Bush or James Baker, his embrace of containment as a strategy would have serious consequences for any hope for stopping Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons or the fight against Islamist terrorism.

Paul’s ideas are not so much “wacko” as they are dangerous. Though they seek to exploit American weariness with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they mistake that understandable emotion for a widespread desire to retreat from the world. Though Paul wisely avoids the sort of rhetoric that marked his father’s isolationist views which seems to treat terrorism as America’s just punishment for its sins, his policies are rooted in the same mindset. Most Americans support drone attacks and don’t wish to contain a nuclear Iran. If Republicans follow Rand Paul and become the party that wishes to stop fighting Islamists while Democrats continue to pose as the killers of Osama bin Laden, foreign and defense policy will become a permanent advantage for President Obama’s party in the future.

No one can blame Republicans for being excited about what Rand Paul did last week, but they won’t win in 2016 or any other year if they become a party whose foreign policy earns the admiration of left-wingers like Ron Wyden. Halting this trend will require more than name-calling. It will require those who oppose Paul’s ideas to make their case on the merits as well as exhibit the same sort of moxie that the libertarian displayed in his filibuster. It is no small irony that McCain and Graham passed on an opportunity to filibuster Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense over his views about Iran and containment. They seemed more concerned at that time with not appearing to be as much of a “wacko” as Ted Cruz, who took no prisoners in his attacks on Hagel. If they, and those who agree with them, are to prevail in the coming years and save their party they’ll have to confront Paul’s ideas as well as match his courage.

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What’s Wrong with the US Embassy in Egypt?

After Samuel Tadros blew the whistle on First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s plans to honor a vicious anti-Semite, Hitler-quoting, 9/11 celebrating, anti-American conspiracy theorist, the State Department backtracked and deferred the award, blaming the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for the poor vetting. Lee Smith has a useful summary of that issue, here. He writes:

It is unfair that the American embassy in Cairo is taking most of the blame for the [Samira] Ibrahim affair. Yes, they should’ve done a better job of vetting her before sending her name on to Washington. To get a read on Ibrahim’s political positions, all embassy staff had to do was check with some of Egypt’s genuine liberal activists, like those who since the story broke have criticized her vicious opinions, or like Samuel Tadros, or Mina Rezkalla and Amr Bargisi, or anyone from the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth. But that hardly excuses management at Foggy Bottom, who should have smelled something fishy at the outset…

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After Samuel Tadros blew the whistle on First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s plans to honor a vicious anti-Semite, Hitler-quoting, 9/11 celebrating, anti-American conspiracy theorist, the State Department backtracked and deferred the award, blaming the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for the poor vetting. Lee Smith has a useful summary of that issue, here. He writes:

It is unfair that the American embassy in Cairo is taking most of the blame for the [Samira] Ibrahim affair. Yes, they should’ve done a better job of vetting her before sending her name on to Washington. To get a read on Ibrahim’s political positions, all embassy staff had to do was check with some of Egypt’s genuine liberal activists, like those who since the story broke have criticized her vicious opinions, or like Samuel Tadros, or Mina Rezkalla and Amr Bargisi, or anyone from the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth. But that hardly excuses management at Foggy Bottom, who should have smelled something fishy at the outset…

That is certainly right, but it only scratches the surface. Something is very rotten at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo which was, until the 2003 Iraq War, the largest U.S. embassy in the world. “Samiragate” is the rule rather than the exception. Remember, after an Egyptian-American posted on YoutTube the trailer for an amateurish film mocking the Prophet Muhammad, the embassy overruled the State Department and tweeted apologies to the militants attacking the embassy. Public affairs officer Larry Schwartz became the fall guy for that episode, but he merely reflected the culture the embassy cultivated.

Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, is a career foreign service officer who has led the embassy since 2010. She has set the tone for the embassy’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood. Explaining why Mohamed Morsi deserved American F-16 fighters, despite an increasing disdain for the rule of law and revelations about his hateful incitement, Patterson declared Morsi deserved the weaponry so Egypt can “continue to serve as a force for peace, security, and leadership as the Middle East proceeds with its challenging yet essential journey toward democracy.”

Here’s the kicker: Guess who seems to be a finalist under Secretary of State John Kerry for a promotion to become assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs? That’s right, Anne Patterson. If Samiragate was truly the result of incompetence, then Patterson could use her new position to bring that quality to the broader Middle East. Conversely, if it really was illustrative of the cultural and political bubble that Patterson imbued or let develop in her staff, then get ready for several more years of self-inflicted wounds.

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Reality Check: Hamas Isn’t Moderating

The Sydney Morning-Herald, one of Australia’s major newspapers, can make The New York Times look like National Review. Paul McGeough, its senior foreign correspondent, has a long track record of not letting facts get in the way of his advocacy for a number of causes that would make Noam Chomsky blush. McGeough’s most recent piece was a front page profile of Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ military chief, which also appeared in the Sydney Morning-Herald’s sister paper, The Age. McGeough’s article is well-worth the read, simply as an example of how some journalists eschew honesty and conduct intellectual somersaults to embrace terrorists. While even left-of-center Australian officials recognize that McGeough should not be taken seriously, none other than the Council on Foreign Relations sees sophistication in his embrace of terrorists.

Thankfully, AIJAC’s Sharyn Mittelman has eviscerated McGeough’s latest “love letter to Hamas.” While McGeough claims Meshal and Hamas are moderating, and that Hamas seeks to negotiate a truce with Israel, Mittelman notes:

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The Sydney Morning-Herald, one of Australia’s major newspapers, can make The New York Times look like National Review. Paul McGeough, its senior foreign correspondent, has a long track record of not letting facts get in the way of his advocacy for a number of causes that would make Noam Chomsky blush. McGeough’s most recent piece was a front page profile of Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ military chief, which also appeared in the Sydney Morning-Herald’s sister paper, The Age. McGeough’s article is well-worth the read, simply as an example of how some journalists eschew honesty and conduct intellectual somersaults to embrace terrorists. While even left-of-center Australian officials recognize that McGeough should not be taken seriously, none other than the Council on Foreign Relations sees sophistication in his embrace of terrorists.

Thankfully, AIJAC’s Sharyn Mittelman has eviscerated McGeough’s latest “love letter to Hamas.” While McGeough claims Meshal and Hamas are moderating, and that Hamas seeks to negotiate a truce with Israel, Mittelman notes:

Firstly, Hamas has not shrunk its claims to the West Bank and Gaza. McGeough is clearly ignoring key parts of Meshal’s recent speech on 7 December 2012 when he returned to the Gaza Strip to mark Hamas’ 25th anniversary and reportedly stated:

“First of all, Palestine – from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea, from its north to its south – is our land, our right, and our homeland. There will be no relinquishing or forsaking even an inch or small part of it. Second, Palestine was, continues to be, and will remain Arab and Islamic. It belongs to the Arab and the Islamic world. Palestine belongs to us and to nobody else.”

She continues:

Secondly, Hamas has not moved from “jihad to hudna”. Hamas is clear that any ‘truce’ would only be temporary to facilitate Israel’s destruction, and Hamas also continues to believe in armed resistance, as evidenced by Meshal’s speech on December 7:

“… Jihad and armed resistance are the proper and true path to liberation and to the restoration of our rights, along with all other forms of struggle – through politics, through diplomacy, through the masses, and through legal channels. All these forms of struggle, however, are worthless without resistance… Politics are born from the womb of resistance. The true statesman is born from the womb of the rifle and the missile.”

The whole take-down is a must read, not only as a reminder of what Hamas truly stands for, but also to recognize just how mendacious and dishonest some prominent foreign correspondents have become.

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Obama Fails Counterterrorism Diplomacy

Max Boot is absolutely right that the United States has not figured out how to treat captured terrorists, like bin Laden son-in-law and former al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. The question comes down to a dispute about whether terrorism is a legal matter to be resolved in courts, or a military matter to be resolved on the battlefield. The problem with the former is that evidence needed for a conviction would require exposing intelligence, sources, and methods that might spoil their utility to prevent future attacks or the forensic data available after an attack. A military response enables the United States government to protect its civilians and eliminate the perpetrators without compromising its own security. That al-Qaeda has declared war on America should have made the debate moot but, alas, Washington sophistication means never having to bow to common sense.

Counterterrorism requires not only military strategies, but diplomatic ones as well. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was first arrested in Turkey, but then released despite U.S. requests that he be extradited to the United States. It was Jordan which complied with the extradition request.

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Max Boot is absolutely right that the United States has not figured out how to treat captured terrorists, like bin Laden son-in-law and former al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. The question comes down to a dispute about whether terrorism is a legal matter to be resolved in courts, or a military matter to be resolved on the battlefield. The problem with the former is that evidence needed for a conviction would require exposing intelligence, sources, and methods that might spoil their utility to prevent future attacks or the forensic data available after an attack. A military response enables the United States government to protect its civilians and eliminate the perpetrators without compromising its own security. That al-Qaeda has declared war on America should have made the debate moot but, alas, Washington sophistication means never having to bow to common sense.

Counterterrorism requires not only military strategies, but diplomatic ones as well. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was first arrested in Turkey, but then released despite U.S. requests that he be extradited to the United States. It was Jordan which complied with the extradition request.

Turkey is a NATO member and both the White House and diplomats say it is an ally of the United States. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, NATO invoked Article V of the Washington Treaty calling for collective defense after the al-Qaeda strike on New York and Washington D.C. Perhaps the Turks forgot. Or perhaps—as this Turkish ambassador suggests—Turkey no long considers al-Qaeda to be terrorists.

Either way, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry need to ask why it is that a supposed ally set free a wanted al-Qaeda terrorist. More importantly, it may be time for the White House and State Department to consider what the proper response should be for a country that shelters if not supports terrorists bent on the destruction of the United States. Strong leaders might curtail aid, withdraw the ambassador for consultations, demarche the Turkish ambassador in Washington, or restrict the flow of military equipment. President Obama, alas, seeks instead to offer Turkey state of the art weaponry and even give it warships. Perhaps it is time for the State Department to recognize that diplomacy is more complicated than ameliorating adversaries, and for Congress to ask some hard questions of Obama and Kerry regarding how they perceive U.S. interests and why, under their leadership, U.S. counter terrorism diplomacy has become laughable.

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