Commentary Magazine


Posts For: April 12, 2013

Backing Assad Is Not an Option

In the early days of the revolt against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, it was a little easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. The regime’s massacres of demonstrators and dissidents calling for an end to tyranny made it clear the world’s sympathy should be with the government’s opponents. But the assumption on the part of President Obama and his European allies that the ruthless Assad clan and its Alawite followers would meekly fold up its tents and leave the same way authoritarians in Egypt and Tunisia did was wildly over-optimistic. Since the U.S. rightly knew that Syria was a much tougher nut to crack than the Gaddafi regime in Libya, which they decided to take out as a humanitarian mission, the hope was that Assad would fall in due time, allowing a transition to a less murderous ruler in Damascus.

Unfortunately, Obama’s decision to wait and see was a colossal mistake. Assad and his backers had nowhere to go and showed they were prepared to kill as many people as possible to hang on. Tens of thousands of dead civilians later, something just as troubling has happened as the armed opposition to the regime is now dominated by jihadist forces, some of which are linked to al-Qaeda. Which means the debate about intervention in Syria has become a rather murky subject. But that hasn’t stopped the discussion that was enlivened this week by a couple of suggestions that pretty much covered the spectrum from a stance of dogged do-gooding altruism to dark cynicism.

Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Casey put the former position forward in a Politico op-ed. They want the U.S. to selectively back the least unattractive parts of the Syrian opposition while doing its best to oust the dictator. The latter was the work of scholar Daniel Pipes who wrote in the Washington Times to suggest that it was time to for the United States to think strategically and, astonishingly, back Assad’s bid to stay in power. Which of them is right? I’m not entirely comfortable with either position but if I really had to choose, Rubio and Casey’s proposal seems like the better option.

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In the early days of the revolt against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, it was a little easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. The regime’s massacres of demonstrators and dissidents calling for an end to tyranny made it clear the world’s sympathy should be with the government’s opponents. But the assumption on the part of President Obama and his European allies that the ruthless Assad clan and its Alawite followers would meekly fold up its tents and leave the same way authoritarians in Egypt and Tunisia did was wildly over-optimistic. Since the U.S. rightly knew that Syria was a much tougher nut to crack than the Gaddafi regime in Libya, which they decided to take out as a humanitarian mission, the hope was that Assad would fall in due time, allowing a transition to a less murderous ruler in Damascus.

Unfortunately, Obama’s decision to wait and see was a colossal mistake. Assad and his backers had nowhere to go and showed they were prepared to kill as many people as possible to hang on. Tens of thousands of dead civilians later, something just as troubling has happened as the armed opposition to the regime is now dominated by jihadist forces, some of which are linked to al-Qaeda. Which means the debate about intervention in Syria has become a rather murky subject. But that hasn’t stopped the discussion that was enlivened this week by a couple of suggestions that pretty much covered the spectrum from a stance of dogged do-gooding altruism to dark cynicism.

Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Casey put the former position forward in a Politico op-ed. They want the U.S. to selectively back the least unattractive parts of the Syrian opposition while doing its best to oust the dictator. The latter was the work of scholar Daniel Pipes who wrote in the Washington Times to suggest that it was time to for the United States to think strategically and, astonishingly, back Assad’s bid to stay in power. Which of them is right? I’m not entirely comfortable with either position but if I really had to choose, Rubio and Casey’s proposal seems like the better option.

The bipartisan pair of Rubio and Casey has the advantage of sounding reasonable while also attempting to put the United States on the side of the angels:

We recently introduced legislation that would help bring about such a change in U.S. policy. The bill would authorize additional humanitarian aid for the Syrian people, support for the political opposition, and non-lethal assistance for vetted elements of the armed opposition. It would seek to further isolate Assad by recommending additional sanctions against entities that still do business with his regime. The bill would also require a plan for addressing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, so they cannot be used against civilians or Syria’s neighbors.

That sounds good, but as even the two admit in their piece, the difficulties facing any effort to deal Assad a knockout blow while also ensuring that he isn’t succeeded by an even worse regime are great. Vetting an opposition that is thoroughly infiltrated by Islamists is easier said than done. While there are people in Syria who want democracy, does anyone seriously believe they can prevail over jihadists even with the help of the West? Even more to the point, any ties between them and the West may turn out to be more of a liability than an advantage. Moreover, as our Abe Greenwald pointed out in his post on Syria this afternoon, there is no chance that the United States will have any real interest in nation-building in Syria after what is universally thought to be a disaster in Iraq, even if it was a noble and misunderstood endeavor.

Pipes takes on the issue from a completely different angle. He completely discounts the chance that the Syrian opposition can be cleaned up or even house-trained and views the prospect of an Islamist Syria, which would be heavily dependant on an Islamist Turkey, as a recipe for disaster for the United States. Rather than seeing the goal of American policy as ending the slaughter and pushing for democracy, the head of the Middle East Forum think tank urges us to view this conflict as being analogous to the conflict in the 1980s between Iran and Iraq. Pipes says in that war between two hateful, vicious governments, the smart play was to back whichever side was the weakest in order to keep the fighting going so as to weaken both.

Applying this same logic to Syria today finds notable parallels. Mr. Assad fills the role of Saddam Hussein, the brutal Baathist dictator who began the violence. The rebel forces resemble Iran — the initial victim getting stronger over time and posing an increasing Islamist danger. Continued fighting endangers the neighborhood. Both sides engage in war crimes and pose a danger to Western interests.

Yes, Mr. Assad’s survival benefits Tehran, the region’s most dangerous regime. However, a rebel victory would hugely boost the increasingly rogue Turkish government while empowering jihadis, and replace the Assad government with triumphant, inflamed Islamists. Continued fighting does less damage to Western interests than their taking power. There are worse prospects than Sunni and Shiite Islamists mixing it up, than Hamas jihadis killing Hezbollah jihadis, and vice versa. Better that neither side wins. 

That’s why he thinks the West should back Assad even though it’s the sort of advice that makes most observers gag. Pipes concedes that the West can’t stand by and let Assad continue slaughtering civilians so he suggests putting pressure on the two sides to behave according to the rules of law while threatening military strikes to punish those who fail to do so. But this idea is every bit as problematic as the formulas put forward by the do-gooders. That will only lead both sides to blame the West and leave it as vulnerable to being held responsible for the slaughter as a policy that backs the rebels.

Pipes is right that those who want to back the rebels are hopelessly naïve about the problems inherent in such a strategy. He’s also correct to point out that the only really good outcome in Syria would be one in which the friends of Iran and the friends of Turkey are both left exhausted and without complete control of the country.

But his call for Americans to think strategically ignores the fact that it is impossible for the United States to have an unabashedly cynical approach to any foreign policy problem. An America that disdains the cause of democracy, even in a country where democracy is not a viable option, is an America that has lost its moral compass and will soon lose whatever influence it has left. A policy that even tacitly countenanced the continuation of Assad in power would be a deathblow to our credibility as a nation. It would also be wrong. Pipes, who has a long record of astute analysis of the Middle East, understands just how evil the Assad regime has been. It is possible to argue that leaving Assad in power prior to the Arab Spring was the least bad option in Syria. But after his murderous role in the civil war of the past three years, it is simply not possible for the United States to even think about associating itself with him.

The fact is there are no good choices left to President Obama in Syria and haven’t been since he first passed on intervention when it might have done some good. Taking a chance on picking winners among the Syrian opposition is a long shot that will probably fail. But betting on Assad is a guaranteed disaster. As much as I think Rubio and Casey’s recommendations are based more on hope than serious analysis, Pipes’s proposal is simply a non-starter.

Like it or not, America’s only choices in Syria consist of the following: continuing to stand on the sidelines or a more robust effort on behalf of the rebels. Neither strikes me as smart, but at least the Rubio-Casey idea has the advantage of being rooted in American values. For all of its logic and historical perspective, Pipes’s realpolitik tilt to Assad is incompatible with those values and therefore must be rejected out of hand.

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Trouble on the Golan: Rabin’s Prescience

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk begins his book on the Clinton administration’s Mideast diplomacy with the initial focus on brokering peace between Israel and Syria, then led by Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez. Assad’s demand was a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a full peace. The Israeli prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, was open to it both because he wanted real peace with Syria–Israel already had a longstanding peace agreement with Egypt, a certain level of cooperation with Lebanese officials and armed forces, and a relationship with Jordan that was a peace agreement in all but name, which was finally signed in 1994–and because he thought it would encourage the Palestinians to want peace as well.

He was right about the latter point, though the Palestinians would end up hijacking the entire process and peace with Syria never happened. But ahead of a trip to Washington to meet with Clinton, Rabin wanted to know how the U.S. would guarantee the peace, as Indyk phrases it, “especially in the event of Asad’s death.” Would Clinton put American troops on the Golan, if it came to that and Israel was proscribed by the peace agreement from sending its own troops? Clinton asked Colin Powell for his advice. Indyk recounts the exchange:

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Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk begins his book on the Clinton administration’s Mideast diplomacy with the initial focus on brokering peace between Israel and Syria, then led by Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez. Assad’s demand was a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for a full peace. The Israeli prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, was open to it both because he wanted real peace with Syria–Israel already had a longstanding peace agreement with Egypt, a certain level of cooperation with Lebanese officials and armed forces, and a relationship with Jordan that was a peace agreement in all but name, which was finally signed in 1994–and because he thought it would encourage the Palestinians to want peace as well.

He was right about the latter point, though the Palestinians would end up hijacking the entire process and peace with Syria never happened. But ahead of a trip to Washington to meet with Clinton, Rabin wanted to know how the U.S. would guarantee the peace, as Indyk phrases it, “especially in the event of Asad’s death.” Would Clinton put American troops on the Golan, if it came to that and Israel was proscribed by the peace agreement from sending its own troops? Clinton asked Colin Powell for his advice. Indyk recounts the exchange:

“No military officer would want to give this up,” Powell replied. He then surprised everyone by arguing that the only way Israel could be convinced to withdraw from the Golan Heights would be if the United States were prepared to insert a brigade of American troops–some four thousand GIs–on the Golan. Unlike the Israel-Egypt peace treaty observer force deployed in the Sinai, which contained only one battalion of American troops, he said the Golan deployment would need to be a full-fledged fighting force to signal Syria and the Arab world that if they broke the peace agreement they would have to tangle with the U.S. Army.

“It would be worth it,” the president responded.

Obviously none of this ever came to pass, but Israeli withdrawal from the Golan has been sought by Assad the younger, as well as current Secretary of State John Kerry as of just before the Arab Spring. But on this, as on many aspects of Middle East policy, the Arab Spring has changed the calculus. Rabin, however, has proven prescient. Not only was he right about the Palestinians coming to the table when they thought they might be sold out or eclipsed by the Syrians, but he also understood that if Israel were to withdraw its civilians and troops and keep them out of the Golan, the peace treaty would need real teeth.

You can see from the Powell-Clinton conversation that Rabin also understood the danger of Golan withdrawal better than they did, though Powell was quite serious about what it would take to enforce it. The problem as Rabin saw it was not the worry that Assad would break the deal–though of course that was a concern–but rather that in Assad’s absence, and the possible resulting anarchy or new regime, the agreement would essentially be nullified.

Fast forward to today, as Reuters reports just why Israel has always worried about giving up the Golan in the event of the death or overthrow of the regime with whom they would have signed the deal:

Austrian U.N. peacekeepers, fearing their safety due to fighting in Syria, will assess on a daily basis if they can stay to monitor a truce between Israel and Syria, Austria’s foreign minister said on Friday.

Israel is anxious for the peacekeepers to remain, worried that the Golan will become a springboard for attacks on Israelis by Islamist militants fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The article notes that Japan and Croatia have both said they were going to withdraw their own soldiers from the peacekeepers. Austria’s absence would leave a void: Reuters says they make up 380 of the 1,000 peacekeepers. Additionally, how feasible would it be to replace them under these conditions? Peacekeepers have been attacked and kidnapped as the civil war has progressed, and Israel has already had to respond to shelling from Syrian territory.

All this, it should be noted, is happening with Israel still controlling the Golan. The threat is therefore extant but limited. Were the Golan in Syrian hands, the situation would be a chaotic security crisis for Israel, especially when combined with the tense border standoff with Hezbollah in south Lebanon (and Gaza to the south). Had Clinton’s plan been implemented, and all else equal–though I should stress the futility of playing “what if?”–American troops might now be involved in a land war in Syria trying to tamp down an insurgency. In such a case, could American troops withstand the attempts to draw them into nearby Lebanon as well, which would certainly come at some point?

Again, it’s all speculative. But it’s also clear that when Israeli leaders stress the need for defensible borders, they usually know exactly what they are talking about. And when they say that a durable peace agreement, especially in an era of falling dictators, must have popular support–as they do when they criticize Palestinian incitement and government-sponsored anti-Semitic indoctrination–they’re right about that too.

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In Syria, an Alternative Iraq

In all the discussion of the Iraq War’s 10th anniversary it seems nearly everyone has missed the most glaringly relevant detail. George W. Bush went to war to avoid in Iraq exactly what we see today in Syria: an uncontrollable mass-casualty conflagration ignited by the collision of Ba’athism, jihadism, and weapons of mass destruction. Things didn’t go as planned, but the idea was laudable and prescient.

In September 2003, explaining the importance of deposing Saddam Hussein, Bush stated: “The deadly combination of outlaw regimes, terror networks, and weapons of mass murder is a peril that cannot be wished away. If such a danger is allowed to fully materialize, all words, all protests, will come too late.” Clearly the notion of a dullard! But speaking of too late, here’s Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird talking to the Globe and Mail a few days ago:

“A big concern is the chemical weapons stockpiles falling into the wrong hands” amid the chaos as rebels fight to topple the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, Baird said in an interview. “We wouldn’t want to see an al-Qaeda affiliate getting a hold of this or Hezbollah get a hold of it.”

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In all the discussion of the Iraq War’s 10th anniversary it seems nearly everyone has missed the most glaringly relevant detail. George W. Bush went to war to avoid in Iraq exactly what we see today in Syria: an uncontrollable mass-casualty conflagration ignited by the collision of Ba’athism, jihadism, and weapons of mass destruction. Things didn’t go as planned, but the idea was laudable and prescient.

In September 2003, explaining the importance of deposing Saddam Hussein, Bush stated: “The deadly combination of outlaw regimes, terror networks, and weapons of mass murder is a peril that cannot be wished away. If such a danger is allowed to fully materialize, all words, all protests, will come too late.” Clearly the notion of a dullard! But speaking of too late, here’s Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird talking to the Globe and Mail a few days ago:

“A big concern is the chemical weapons stockpiles falling into the wrong hands” amid the chaos as rebels fight to topple the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, Baird said in an interview. “We wouldn’t want to see an al-Qaeda affiliate getting a hold of this or Hezbollah get a hold of it.”

No, we wouldn’t. And yet we find ourselves able to do little more than wish it away. The 70,000 dead, the mounting reports of chemical weapons, the latest Assad crime, the newest jihadi faction, the increasing regional instability—it’s all beyond our control, and expected to continue indefinitely. Perhaps Bush was onto something with that unhinged “preemptive” talk. Post-Saddam Iraq is littered with disappointments, but the Ba’athist country we didn’t invade and occupy has become the scene of this decade’s biblical slaughter. And, as Bush predicted, “all words, all protests” kind of feel “too late.”

But having limited options for intervention in Syria makes it safe for pop-culture voices to express outrage over American inaction. The Onion has published a few satirical pieces savaging Obama with headlines like “’Syrians’ Lives Are Worthless,’ Obama Tells Daughters Before Kissing Them Goodnight” and “Hi, In The Past 2 Years, You Have Allowed Me To Kill 70,000 People.” Yet for all its moral preening about stopping murderous dictators the joke paper only ever treated Iraq with stories like this: “Bush Says He Still Believes Iraq War Was The Fun Thing To Do.”

Doubtless it’s too much to ask the Onion’s one-note wiseguys to identify in Syria a could’ve-been Iraq. But it shouldn’t be so hard for the rest of us to see. 

Barack Obama, unlike the Onion, is consistent. He didn’t think Iraq (before or after Saddam) was much of his business and he’s not likely to do a lot for Syrians if it means missing a spot on a late-night chat show.

In the years since Obama has been in office, deliberate American neglect has allowed Iraq to unravel. This, in combination with the inability to stop the carnage in Syria, is threatening to undo what achievements still stand. “The Americans…left behind remnants of their occupation. Now is the phase of removing them,” Saad Sami al-Obeidi tells the Wall Street Journal today. Obeidi is a Sunni radical who, along with hundreds of thousands of Sunni protestors and dozens of terrorists, hopes to destroy Iraq’s fragile democracy. “The protest movement, now in its fourth month, has drawn inspiration from events in Syria,” according to the Journal’s Sam Dagher.

For the time being, Iraq’s American-made institutions continue to hold some appeal even among disgruntled Sunnis. They “remain divided on whether to reform or abolish the democratic process that put the country’s Shiite majority in power,” writes Dagher. But with an absentee superpower and a spiraling Syria anything could happen. If Iraq follows Syria down the sinkhole, chalk it up to Barack Obama’s bringing the war “to a responsible end,” as promised.

The conservative handwringing on the decade anniversary of the Iraq War has been a little much. Republicans have gone from criticizing Obama’s foreign policy for being too politically pandering to criticizing Bush’s as being insufficiently so. Yet Bush saw years ahead the collision of forces that would threaten global stability for the duration of our lifetimes. He made big, well-documented mistakes in trying to do something about it. No, there were no WMD in Iraq. But the incorrect belief that there was figured into the thinking of those who supported the war and those who opposed it. If chemical weapons are being deployed in Syria now, those who wanted to stay out of Iraq will unfortunately get a clearer understanding of what they were willing to tolerate. Ten years after the Iraq War and two years into the Syrian free-for-all, Bush’s effort looks far more noble than the alternative. 

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Defund UNESCO

President Obama breathed new life into the credibility of the UN Human Rights Council when he reversed the Bush administration’s boycott of the body. He similarly spearheaded a drive to restore U.S. funding to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

The idea that either the Council or UNESCO has credibility or deserves U.S. support has increasingly become risible. The Council has certainly embarrassed itself over the past several years, with members like Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia taking seats. Perhaps greater things could be expected from UNESCO, however. Alas, the sickness which runs through the United Nations is widespread. At a meeting in Paris earlier this week, UNESCO allowed Syria to preside as a judge over its human rights committee. This is the same Syrian government that has both masterminded the mass murder of tens of thousands of civilians and allegedly deployed chemical weapons against civilians. Nothing better symbolizes the judgment and moral bankruptcy of the United Nations than such a session.

President Obama breathed new life into the credibility of the UN Human Rights Council when he reversed the Bush administration’s boycott of the body. He similarly spearheaded a drive to restore U.S. funding to UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

The idea that either the Council or UNESCO has credibility or deserves U.S. support has increasingly become risible. The Council has certainly embarrassed itself over the past several years, with members like Cuba, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia taking seats. Perhaps greater things could be expected from UNESCO, however. Alas, the sickness which runs through the United Nations is widespread. At a meeting in Paris earlier this week, UNESCO allowed Syria to preside as a judge over its human rights committee. This is the same Syrian government that has both masterminded the mass murder of tens of thousands of civilians and allegedly deployed chemical weapons against civilians. Nothing better symbolizes the judgment and moral bankruptcy of the United Nations than such a session.

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OWS Redistributes City’s Wealth to Their Lawyers

Occupy Wall Street has finally achieved success in their mission to redistribute wealth from the haves (the taxpayers of the City of New York) to the have-nots (lawyers in the City of New York). Perhaps this exact redistribution wasn’t quite what the group set out to achieve, but thanks to a lawsuit recently settled between the city and Occupy’s lawyers, that’s what the group has accomplished.

CBS News reports on the settlement that landed Occupy’s lawyers with almost four times as much cash as the group itself:

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Occupy Wall Street has finally achieved success in their mission to redistribute wealth from the haves (the taxpayers of the City of New York) to the have-nots (lawyers in the City of New York). Perhaps this exact redistribution wasn’t quite what the group set out to achieve, but thanks to a lawsuit recently settled between the city and Occupy’s lawyers, that’s what the group has accomplished.

CBS News reports on the settlement that landed Occupy’s lawyers with almost four times as much cash as the group itself:

A settlement was announced Tuesday in a lawsuit over the seizure of the Occupy Wall Street library at Zuccotti Park.

Siegel says the settlement, announced Tuesday, calls for the city to pay $47,000 for the loss of books and $186,000 in legal fees. About $16,000 will come from Brookfield.

A city Law Department spokeswoman released a statement saying that “sometimes cases are settled to avoid drawn-out litigation that bolsters plaintiff attorney fees.”

What has the group achieved with this lawsuit? Its lawyer told the Village Voice, “This was not just about money, it was about constitutional rights and the destruction of books.” While pressing ahead with this lawsuit, the group neglected to explain, if the lawsuit isn’t about money, where exactly the cash settlement will be going. The group stated on its website after the settlement was announced that “The money that GlobalRev recovers from this settlement will be used to outfit more citizen journalists, and to train and equip more people to bring us the real stories of what is going on in the streets.” How will this plan be executed and where will the accountability and oversight lie? If the group’s past with financial disclosures is any indication, its members and sympathizers should keep their expectations quite low.

The group’s accounting website hasn’t been updated since September, when it admitted that infighting over the group’s cash reserves had fractured the movement:

The Accounting Working group has had a long discussion about consensus and responsibility over several weeks.  We have decided we are currently unable to recognize the ability of the group meeting on Saturday evenings at Liberty Plaza to access the General Fund and make spending decisions for our community. Other GAs [General Assemblies] have popped up across NYC over the months, but we have not yet seen a community meeting which has the buy-in of a wide range of the OWS community. Thus, we are unable to acknowledge the spending decisions of this group.

The last known accounting of the group’s resources seems to have been reported by the Daily Caller in early 2012, indicating that as of December 2011 the group had about $100,000 in cash reserves in its bank account. Another report from around that same time by CNN Money put the total around $455,000. An accounting meeting early last year devolved into chaos, as the group’s own minutes humorously portray:

Guy insists that bank statements should be published, regardless of whether GA wants it.

Calvin tries to speak to the frustration with how slow things can be in horizontal movement. It can be hard to make a decision or to know “who is in charge” when we all are. Things can be really slow…

Danielle talks about how, since the park, people’s anger at the banks seems to be turning on each other, and on the accounting group. She describes the increased transparency that they have been trying to enact through the website.

Guy starts shouting about accounting having revealed their agenda. Makes crude sexual remarks.

Facilitation tries to extend time but Janet and shouting guy not listening. Meeting time expires and meeting closes.

The group pledged three months later to publish its donations and expenditures online, however the links to view both reports are inactive. If money really is the root of all evil, as many of the participants’ signs claimed during its occupation of Zuccotti Park, then Occupy Wall Street and its lawyers just became a little bit more evil. 

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Time to Bring Justice to Hariri’s Assassin

Rafik Hariri, a Lebanese nationalist who served as that country’s prime minister between 1992 and 1998, and again between 2000 and 2004, was assassinated on February 14, 2005, after having stood up to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s demands that Lebanon extra-constitutionally extend the tenure of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud. Popular outrage in the wake of the assassination led to the Cedar Revolution, an uprising of the Lebanese people against Syrian domination. Alas, the fickleness of the March 14 coalition combined with the empowerment of Hezbollah that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blessed in the short-term pursuit of quiet ended hope that the Cedar Revolution would fundamentally transform Lebanese society. (Michael Young’s The Ghosts of Martyr’s Square, which I reviewed for COMMENTARY in May 2010, remains the best account of the period).

In subsequent years, Syria and its fellow-travelers at the United Nations managed to slow-roll the investigation and tribunal process meant to bring Hariri’s killers to justice. Now, the Beirut Observer has published photographs of the elusive main suspect, Mustafa Badr al-Din, Hezbollah’s second-in-command. The newspaper attributed the photographs to www.stop910.com, a website which purports to hound Hezbollah. Badr al-Din, like the late Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh, has long sought to keep out of sight, and to keep any recent photographs from surfacing.

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Rafik Hariri, a Lebanese nationalist who served as that country’s prime minister between 1992 and 1998, and again between 2000 and 2004, was assassinated on February 14, 2005, after having stood up to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s demands that Lebanon extra-constitutionally extend the tenure of pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud. Popular outrage in the wake of the assassination led to the Cedar Revolution, an uprising of the Lebanese people against Syrian domination. Alas, the fickleness of the March 14 coalition combined with the empowerment of Hezbollah that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice blessed in the short-term pursuit of quiet ended hope that the Cedar Revolution would fundamentally transform Lebanese society. (Michael Young’s The Ghosts of Martyr’s Square, which I reviewed for COMMENTARY in May 2010, remains the best account of the period).

In subsequent years, Syria and its fellow-travelers at the United Nations managed to slow-roll the investigation and tribunal process meant to bring Hariri’s killers to justice. Now, the Beirut Observer has published photographs of the elusive main suspect, Mustafa Badr al-Din, Hezbollah’s second-in-command. The newspaper attributed the photographs to www.stop910.com, a website which purports to hound Hezbollah. Badr al-Din, like the late Hezbollah terrorist mastermind Imad Mughniyeh, has long sought to keep out of sight, and to keep any recent photographs from surfacing.

The new photographs should make it more difficult for the Lebanese government to shirk its responsibility to bring Badr al-Din to justice. The photos also suggest that Hezbollah is not as impermeable as the group pretends. Should Badr al-Din be active in neighboring Syria, let us hope that publication of his photograph will make every checkpoint and every passerby a mortal danger to a man who prefers to kill from afar.

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One More Reason Why Peace Won’t Happen

Anyone who regularly follows the translations of the Palestinian media available on Palestinian Media Watch (www.palwatch.org) or www.Memri.org understands that the blithe talk about the possibility of Middle East peace that is heard on the left is utterly unrealistic. But keeping one’s finger on the pulse of a Palestinian culture that continues to foment hatred of Jews and Israel isn’t the only indicator of just how deep this animus runs in Arab culture. Just as informative is a look at the cultures of the two Arab countries that have already made peace with Israel: Egypt and Jordan. The potent anti-Semitism of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the prejudice that runs throughout the culture of the largest Arab nation is well documented. But the situation in Jordan is less well known.

Jordan’s reputation as a moderate Arab nation stems mostly from the attitude of former King Hussein and his successor King Abdullah. Like his father, the Jordanian monarch is well spoken in English, charming and, despite the criticisms he lobs across the border at Israel in order to maintain his standing as an Arab leader, very much uninterested in conflict with the Jewish state. But his people and even those in his government are a very different manner.

As the Jerusalem Post reports, 110 out of 120 members of the Jordanian parliament have endorsed a petition calling for the release of the former soldier who murdered seven Jewish children in 1997. The shocking incident at the Island of Peace along the border between Israel and Jordan prompted King Hussein to personally apologize to the families of the victims for what he considered a blot on the honor of both his country and its armed services. But to the overwhelming majority of Jordanians, he appears to be a hero. If that doesn’t tell you something about how difficult it is to imagine the end of the Middle East conflict, you aren’t paying attention.

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Anyone who regularly follows the translations of the Palestinian media available on Palestinian Media Watch (www.palwatch.org) or www.Memri.org understands that the blithe talk about the possibility of Middle East peace that is heard on the left is utterly unrealistic. But keeping one’s finger on the pulse of a Palestinian culture that continues to foment hatred of Jews and Israel isn’t the only indicator of just how deep this animus runs in Arab culture. Just as informative is a look at the cultures of the two Arab countries that have already made peace with Israel: Egypt and Jordan. The potent anti-Semitism of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the prejudice that runs throughout the culture of the largest Arab nation is well documented. But the situation in Jordan is less well known.

Jordan’s reputation as a moderate Arab nation stems mostly from the attitude of former King Hussein and his successor King Abdullah. Like his father, the Jordanian monarch is well spoken in English, charming and, despite the criticisms he lobs across the border at Israel in order to maintain his standing as an Arab leader, very much uninterested in conflict with the Jewish state. But his people and even those in his government are a very different manner.

As the Jerusalem Post reports, 110 out of 120 members of the Jordanian parliament have endorsed a petition calling for the release of the former soldier who murdered seven Jewish children in 1997. The shocking incident at the Island of Peace along the border between Israel and Jordan prompted King Hussein to personally apologize to the families of the victims for what he considered a blot on the honor of both his country and its armed services. But to the overwhelming majority of Jordanians, he appears to be a hero. If that doesn’t tell you something about how difficult it is to imagine the end of the Middle East conflict, you aren’t paying attention.

The details of the Island of Peace shooting were horrific. Ahmed Daqamseh, one of the Jordanian soldiers on duty at the site that day, turned his gun on a group of visiting Israeli schoolgirls, killing seven and injuring five. The death toll was limited only by the fact that his gun jammed. He was spared a death sentence because a tribunal ruled that he was mentally unstable. But the elevation of his former defense attorney, Hussein Mjali, to the post of minister of justice in 2011 gave new life to the campaign to spring the killer.

Unlike other such causes to free long-imprisoned figures, this effort isn’t based on any ideas about a miscarriage of justice or an overly harsh sentence. It is, instead, based on the abhorrence with which Israel and Jews in general are viewed in Jordanian society. Daqamseh is unrepentant about his crime and that appears to make him popular. Part of this can be traced to the fact that the majority of Jordanians are Palestinians who are generally marginalized in a government run by and for the Hashemite ruling family. But it must also be traced to a general current of Jew-hatred that grips the Arab and Muslim worlds. It is only that feeling that can explain the desire of so many in Jordan to treat a madman who went on a rampage killing little girls as a hero or imprisoned martyr.

The problem between Israel and its neighbors has never really been the location of borders, settlements or the severity of its measures of self-defense. It’s about the unwillingness of a critical mass of Palestinians and Arabs in general to tolerate Jewish sovereignty over any portion, no matter how small, over part of the Middle East. The hate that leads serious people to demand freedom for a mass killer of children is the same factor that makes true peace unlikely in the foreseeable future. This is regrettable, but those who wish to claim any insight into the politics that drive the Middle East conflict cannot ignore it.

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Rubio Welcomes the Immigration Challenge

Two stories illustrated yesterday the (sometimes willful) confusion about where Marco Rubio stands on immigration reform. Hot Air discusses a Media Research Center video taken at a pro-immigration rally in Washington. The MRC’s correspondent noticed that some of the signs held by protesters were directed at Rubio. One said “Mr. Rubio your parents are immigrants,” and the woman holding the sign admitted she did not know, when pressed, who Marco Rubio actually was. The same was true of a woman standing next to her whose sign read “Rubio the time is now.” She told the MRC, “Look, my social worker gave it to us.”

Some of those at the rally were schoolchildren who were given anti-Rubio signs by their teachers. Very few knew who Rubio even was; those who did know him didn’t know much about Rubio’s stance on immigration. (This may have something to do with the fact that, as I wrote about here, liberal “pro-immigration” groups have been calling voters and misinforming them about Rubio’s support for immigration.) The other story was that those who oppose Rubio’s immigration reform plans seized on a story that cast doubt about the enforcement provisions in the compromise that is taking shape. Rubio’s staff, then, has spent the week trying to answer a recurring question: What does Marco Rubio want?

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Two stories illustrated yesterday the (sometimes willful) confusion about where Marco Rubio stands on immigration reform. Hot Air discusses a Media Research Center video taken at a pro-immigration rally in Washington. The MRC’s correspondent noticed that some of the signs held by protesters were directed at Rubio. One said “Mr. Rubio your parents are immigrants,” and the woman holding the sign admitted she did not know, when pressed, who Marco Rubio actually was. The same was true of a woman standing next to her whose sign read “Rubio the time is now.” She told the MRC, “Look, my social worker gave it to us.”

Some of those at the rally were schoolchildren who were given anti-Rubio signs by their teachers. Very few knew who Rubio even was; those who did know him didn’t know much about Rubio’s stance on immigration. (This may have something to do with the fact that, as I wrote about here, liberal “pro-immigration” groups have been calling voters and misinforming them about Rubio’s support for immigration.) The other story was that those who oppose Rubio’s immigration reform plans seized on a story that cast doubt about the enforcement provisions in the compromise that is taking shape. Rubio’s staff, then, has spent the week trying to answer a recurring question: What does Marco Rubio want?

Virtually every move of Rubio’s on the issue has been subject to conflicting interpretations. Depending on which side you hear, the public hearing process Rubio wants to hold on immigration reform is either a ruse to lull Rubio’s critics into a false sense of security or a delaying tactic enabling him to passively sideline the legislation. It has become the worst of both worlds for Rubio, with the left attacking him for advancing their cause and the right suspecting him of selling them down the river.

But as a thorough piece in Politico today explains, it cannot be plausibly argued that Rubio wants immigration reform to fail. He has tied his own political fate, it seems, to that of immigration reform:

Marco Rubio is preparing to go all in to support sweeping immigration legislation, offering himself up as the public face of a bill that will split the Republican Party — but that his allies hope will propel him to the front of the GOP presidential sweepstakes.

After offering lukewarm support until now, Rubio is preparing to fully embrace a measure that is the most significant of his political career so far. The gambit could pay off in spades by crowning a leading presidential contender in 2016, or it could permanently damage the Republican’s brand with conservatives.

Rubio wants a comprehensive bill, despite the pleas from some Republicans to work the process in stages. (Such a process would almost certainly result in the thorniest immigration issue–what to do with the 11 million or so illegal immigrants in the country–left unaddressed.) Rubio, according to the story, wants the illegal immigrants currently in the country to be permitted to apply for citizenship after 13 years and when the border enforcement mechanisms have been established.

Rubio plans to unveil the text of the bill early next week, and at least one major committee hearing will be held on it before Judiciary Committee voting begins in about a month. To assuage concerns that the bill could get jammed through Congress without sufficient conservative input and feedback, Rubio will probably hold separate public meetings on the bill, which he hopes will include immigration experts.

That may not be enough to satisfy skeptics, and in fact it presents its own risks to the bill (which is likely why his committee colleagues won’t agree to official extensive public hearings themselves). Rubio is grappling in many ways with the ghost of ObamaCare. Public hearings and town halls were held on the president’s proposed health care reform and they allowed the public to register voters’ overwhelming opposition to the bill. The result was a disaster: the terrible legislation was shoved through over the opposition of the public via procedural tricks and unseemly trade-offs like the “Cornhusker Kickback” and the bill’s supporters were washed out of Congress in a wave of public outrage.

The immigration hearings have another precedent as well, and it’s not much more encouraging: the town halls held by Republicans opposed to the immigration reform spearheaded by George W. Bush and John McCain that was eventually spiked in 2007. As the AP reported in February, it’s not going much better for McCain this time around.

The public hearings are going to test Rubio’s powers of persuasion, but the whole process will also gauge whether the perceived shift in the GOP stance on immigration, led by the party’s next generation, has been pronounced enough to not only get a comprehensive bill passed but do so with the support, even if grudging, of the grassroots. Rubio is almost surely hoping to find out the answer to the latter before the 2016 GOP primary process renders its own verdict.

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Pat Toomey and the Zero Sum Gun Game

The Washington Post has an interesting background piece detailing the process by which a hard-core conservative Republican like Pennsylvania’s Senator Pat Toomey became a co-sponsor of a gun legislation compromise. According to the Post, the keys to Toomey’s decision were the relationship he developed with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and the input of a new lobbying group backed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Toomey appears to have done an intense study of the issues surrounding the push for gun control after the Newtown massacre with the intent of finding a legislative idea that could be seen as a response to the incident that would also protect the rights of gun owners and the Second Amendment. The result was the proposed amendment to the gun bill being proposed by Democrats that will expand background checks for purchases while also limiting the ability of the government to interfere in legitimate exchanges and sales, as well as providing other provisions that would benefit gun owners.

But that hasn’t protected Toomey from a storm of abuse from pro-gun groups as well as some Republicans who have come to see the tussle over guns as one more zero-sum game between the two parties in which the only possible outcome is that one side wins and the other loses. Seen from that perspective, any compromise on guns, no matter how anodyne in nature or insignificant in terms of its impact on Second Amendment rights, must be resisted not just because it might be the first step on a slippery slope toward abolition of gun rights but because it could be considered a victory for President Obama.

I sympathize with those who see the liberal exploitation of Newtown as unscrupulous and agree with their conclusion that none of the possible legislative options on guns—up to and including the ones that Toomey opposes, which seek to ban certain types of rifles or ammunition magazines—will do much to prevent another such atrocity. But the willingness of some partisans to treat even ideas about background checks that polls show have the support of approximately nine of out of 10 Americans as something that must be rejected simply because the president and his liberal backers want it is neither good policy nor good politics.

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The Washington Post has an interesting background piece detailing the process by which a hard-core conservative Republican like Pennsylvania’s Senator Pat Toomey became a co-sponsor of a gun legislation compromise. According to the Post, the keys to Toomey’s decision were the relationship he developed with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and the input of a new lobbying group backed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Toomey appears to have done an intense study of the issues surrounding the push for gun control after the Newtown massacre with the intent of finding a legislative idea that could be seen as a response to the incident that would also protect the rights of gun owners and the Second Amendment. The result was the proposed amendment to the gun bill being proposed by Democrats that will expand background checks for purchases while also limiting the ability of the government to interfere in legitimate exchanges and sales, as well as providing other provisions that would benefit gun owners.

But that hasn’t protected Toomey from a storm of abuse from pro-gun groups as well as some Republicans who have come to see the tussle over guns as one more zero-sum game between the two parties in which the only possible outcome is that one side wins and the other loses. Seen from that perspective, any compromise on guns, no matter how anodyne in nature or insignificant in terms of its impact on Second Amendment rights, must be resisted not just because it might be the first step on a slippery slope toward abolition of gun rights but because it could be considered a victory for President Obama.

I sympathize with those who see the liberal exploitation of Newtown as unscrupulous and agree with their conclusion that none of the possible legislative options on guns—up to and including the ones that Toomey opposes, which seek to ban certain types of rifles or ammunition magazines—will do much to prevent another such atrocity. But the willingness of some partisans to treat even ideas about background checks that polls show have the support of approximately nine of out of 10 Americans as something that must be rejected simply because the president and his liberal backers want it is neither good policy nor good politics.

It may well be that the entire discussion about guns in the wake of Newtown can be put down as merely another attempt by politicians to look as if they are doing something about problems that are basically beyond their capacity to address. Events such as Newtown are more the product of mental illness and inadequate security than our gun laws. But there is no denying that after such events the public wants politicians to act as if they are concerned. That usually leads to legislative mischief, and many of the Democratic proposals pushed by the president and Vice President Biden fall into that category as well as not doing much, if anything, to reduce gun violence.

Yet even if we concede that much, the only way one could categorize the Manchin-Toomey proposal as an attack on the Second Amendment is by putting it in a context in which any legislation must be stopped simply because the president and liberals want to pass something. While one can understand the partisan impulse behind such thinking, acting on it isn’t a theory of responsible government. Legislators are justified in trying to stop proposals that undermine liberties even if they are popular. But what Toomey is proposing is merely an attempt to provide a rational response to a national furor that is both constitutional and consistent with the principle of limited government.

It may well be that if Manchin-Toomey is passed—something that is by no means certain even in the Senate, let alone the House of Representatives—that liberals will seek in the future to ban more weapons and ammunition and chip away at the Second Amendment in ways that those who back this proposal will oppose. But the idea that all legislation about guns must be opposed in the same dogged manner that pro-abortion groups fight parental consent or bans on infanticide-like partial birth procedures simply because they fear it will lead to a complete ban on abortion is neither rational nor a path to gaining more support.

When Toomey says he doesn’t think requiring a background check to prevent criminals or the mentally ill from obtaining legal weapons is gun control, he’s right. It’s not. If pro-gun groups can live with existing background checks on purchases in stores, then there’s no reason why they should see similar procedures at gun shows or on the Internet as a threat to their rights. Nor should they be under the impression that opposing such relatively inoffensive measures will expand the ranks of Second Amendment supporters.

Toomey’s conduct in this matter has been consistent with his scrupulous approach to attempts to expand government power. Whether or not his compromise becomes law, Toomey hasn’t done himself any political harm or undermined support for gun rights. But those who think gun rights can be best defended by seeking to spike Toomey-Manchin may discover that stands that are not reasonable and so distant from mainstream opinion aren’t going to help their cause. 

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The Lethal Logic Behind the Abortion Rights Movement

Kirsten Powers wrote a powerful piece in USA Today on the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. (The 72-year-old Gosnell is charged with killing a woman patient and seven babies.) 

By all accounts Gosnell was a butcher of newborn, or about to be born, babies. The specifics are gruesome but probably necessary to comprehend the level of depravity we’re talking about. So here we go.

This account comes to us courtesy of delawareonline.com (h/t Allahpundit): 

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Kirsten Powers wrote a powerful piece in USA Today on the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. (The 72-year-old Gosnell is charged with killing a woman patient and seven babies.) 

By all accounts Gosnell was a butcher of newborn, or about to be born, babies. The specifics are gruesome but probably necessary to comprehend the level of depravity we’re talking about. So here we go.

This account comes to us courtesy of delawareonline.com (h/t Allahpundit): 

A Delaware woman who worked for Kermit Gosnell testified Tuesday that she was called back to a room at his abortion clinic in Philadelphia where the bodies of aborted babies were kept on a shelf to hear one screaming amid the bodies of aborted babies kept on a shelf….

“I can’t describe it. It sounded like a little alien,” [Sherry] West said, telling the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge and jury that the body of the child was about 18 to 24 inches long and was one of the largest babies she had seen delivered during abortion procedures at the Women’s Medical Society clinic….

West, who said she called aborted babies “specimens” because “it was easier to deal with mentally,” said a co-worker had called her back to the room that night because she did not know what to do. West said the baby’s eyes and mouth were not yet completely formed and it was lying on a glass tray on a shelf and she told the co-worker to call Gosnell and fled the room.

She later made it clear that she called it “a baby” in her testimony “because that is what it is.”

And this from NBC Philadelphia:

An unlicensed medical school graduate delivered graphic testimony about the chaos at a Philadelphia clinic where he helped perform late-term abortions.

Stephen Massof described how he snipped the spinal cords of babies, calling it, “literally a beheading. It is separating the brain from the body.” He testified that at times, when women were given medicine to speed up their deliveries, “it would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.”

About all this I wanted to make several points, the first of which is that this is the kind of brutality many people in the pro-life movement warned was at the end of the lethal logic behind the abortion rights movement. If we accept–and in some quarters, celebrate–abortion as a modern emancipation, you end up with people like Kermit Gosnell, who view an unborn child that has been targeted for abortion as marked for death even after birth. And before you dismiss Gosnell’s views as rare among those who champion abortion rights, consider the views of representatives of Planned Parenthood, an organization which (a) receives $500 million in government subsidies and (b) is the most conspicuous abortion rights group in America.

As George Will tells it:

Recently in Florida, Alisa LaPolt Snow, representing Florida Planned Parenthood organizations, testified against a bill that would require abortionists to provide medical care to babies who survive attempted abortions. Snow was asked: “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?” Snow replied: “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family and the physician.” She added, “That decision should be between the patient and the health care provider.” To this, a Florida legislator responded: “I think that at that point the patient would be the child struggling on a table. Wouldn’t you agree?”

As I said, there is a lethal logic at work here. 

In light of this, perhaps it’s worth reconsidering how absurd it is to portray those who oppose abortions as waging an imaginary “war on women” while ignoring the very real war on the unborn and the newborn.

Which brings us, finally, to the matter of media bias. As Powers points out, the elite press obsessed over Rush Limbaugh’s reference to Sandra Fluke as a “slut”–a comment for which Limbaugh apologized–while they have paid almost no attention to the Gosnell trial. Perhaps it’s because the Limbaugh story allowed many journalists to zero in on someone they loathe while the Gosnell story poses a terribly inconvenient challenge to their sanitized, settled views on abortion. It complicates matters immensely when you have to make room in this discussion for the baby who suffers a severed neck before being aborted, doesn’t it? 

My guess is most journalists (and most people who consider themselves pro-choice) would not feel comfortable defending what Dr. Gosnell did, even if they can’t articulate where exactly (or why exactly) a line should be drawn that separates a woman’s right to choose and a baby’s right to live. Rather, I suspect they are avoiding the story because it demonstrates an undeniable fact: abortion is an act of violence against an unborn child.

It isn’t easy to defend such things. So why not just ignore them? Because that’s what journalists are supposed to do. Isn’t it?

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