Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 27, 2014

What’s the Alternative in Egypt?

Today’s announcement that Egypt’s ruling council of military leaders has given its stamp of approval to General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi’s intention to run for president was an ominous sign that the country had come full circle in the last three years. The Arab Spring protests that began in 2011 toppled the military dictator, Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country for three decades. But after their brief experiment with democracy that resulted in a brush with an Islamist dictatorship led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the generals and perhaps even a majority of Egyptians aren’t taking any chances. With the Brotherhood crushed by a military crackdown, el-Sisi’s “electoral” victory is a certainty. After the hopes that the Arab Spring raised and all the suffering and sacrifices made over the course of two protest movements—one to oust Mubarak and another, even larger, to bring down Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government—it now appears to have all been for naught.

As our Max Boot noted earlier today, the military government’s intolerance of any dissent—whether from the Islamists or liberals—is deeply worrisome. As Max writes, terrorists operating from Gaza could exploit the developing chaos. The increase in violence throughout Egypt, as well as the persistence of the Wild West atmosphere in the Sinai where jihadi groups are still operating as they did during the year of Muslim Brotherhood rule, raises serious doubts about the capacity of the military to restore stability. But acknowledging these facts doesn’t mean that the U.S. should go even further than the Obama administration has already gone in distancing itself from the Egyptian government.

The key question to ask about America’s policy toward Egypt isn’t whether the U.S. approves of military rule; we don’t. But the question becomes whether a decision to further restrict aid to the military would make matters even worse, both for the Egyptians as well as for Israel. The answer to these questions is clear. There is no alternative to the military that would not be far worse for Egypt and U.S. interests, and any American move to undermine el-Sisi would only increase the chances of a disaster there.

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Today’s announcement that Egypt’s ruling council of military leaders has given its stamp of approval to General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi’s intention to run for president was an ominous sign that the country had come full circle in the last three years. The Arab Spring protests that began in 2011 toppled the military dictator, Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country for three decades. But after their brief experiment with democracy that resulted in a brush with an Islamist dictatorship led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the generals and perhaps even a majority of Egyptians aren’t taking any chances. With the Brotherhood crushed by a military crackdown, el-Sisi’s “electoral” victory is a certainty. After the hopes that the Arab Spring raised and all the suffering and sacrifices made over the course of two protest movements—one to oust Mubarak and another, even larger, to bring down Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government—it now appears to have all been for naught.

As our Max Boot noted earlier today, the military government’s intolerance of any dissent—whether from the Islamists or liberals—is deeply worrisome. As Max writes, terrorists operating from Gaza could exploit the developing chaos. The increase in violence throughout Egypt, as well as the persistence of the Wild West atmosphere in the Sinai where jihadi groups are still operating as they did during the year of Muslim Brotherhood rule, raises serious doubts about the capacity of the military to restore stability. But acknowledging these facts doesn’t mean that the U.S. should go even further than the Obama administration has already gone in distancing itself from the Egyptian government.

The key question to ask about America’s policy toward Egypt isn’t whether the U.S. approves of military rule; we don’t. But the question becomes whether a decision to further restrict aid to the military would make matters even worse, both for the Egyptians as well as for Israel. The answer to these questions is clear. There is no alternative to the military that would not be far worse for Egypt and U.S. interests, and any American move to undermine el-Sisi would only increase the chances of a disaster there.

While concerns about the situation in Egypt spiraling out of control are far from unrealistic, the situation there should not be mischaracterized. Any increase in violence should be deplored, but it’s far from clear that either the Brotherhood or terrorist elements that might be aligned with it or based in Hamas-ruled Gaza is capable of destabilizing the country, let alone toppling the military. The Brotherhood has been taken down not only by the ruthlessness of the military crackdown but by the realization on the part of the Egyptian people that Morsi’s Islamist government was a greater threat to their future than a return to a Mubarak-style authoritarian regime. Tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets to call for Morsi’s overthrow and largely applauded when the military complied with their wishes.

They may not be cheering the military’s crackdown on liberal critics quite as enthusiastically. But as much as we may deplore this development, if there is anything Americans should have learned about Egypt and the Arab Spring in the past three years it is that the expectation that democracy was possible was an illusion. The choice was always between the military and the Brotherhood. Neither is palatable but those of us who, however briefly, held onto the hope that Egyptians could go down a path that might lead to genuine democracy must admit we were wrong.

That admission requires us to be both realistic about what is possible in Egypt and vigilant against any American measures that could exacerbate an already bad situation. In the past three years, the Obama administration has gone from one blunder to the next. First it championed Mubarak. Then it dumped him. Then it embraced the Brotherhood and warned the military not to interfere with its rule. It reluctantly accepted the military coup that ended that unfortunate chapter last summer, but has since cut back on aid to the military, further reducing U.S. influence in Cairo.

While chagrin at the turn of events in Egypt is understandable, it cannot be used as an excuse for any action that would weaken the military government at the expense of its Islamist foes. The administration as well as its critics who support the idea of the spread of democracy must understand that, among many bad options, the Egyptian military is the best.

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Why Can’t Jews Stay in a Palestinian State?

For 20 years Israeli governments of both the left and the right have agreed on one thing: Jews and Jewish settlements could not be left behind in any territory handed over to the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he is willing to change that policy and that seems to have upset almost as many Israelis as Palestinians. Netanyahu stated that even in the event of a peace agreement he had no intention of repeating the precedent established by Ariel Sharon in Gaza in which every single settlement, soldier, and individual Jew was uprooted. According to Netanyahu, if there is a peace treaty, there’s no reason that Jewish communities could not remain in part of the Palestinian state along with the Palestinian inhabitants, if they were willing to do so.

It was not surprising that the Palestinians would immediately and angrily reject the suggestion that Jews could live in their putative new state. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas had already denounced the idea, but lest anyone be in doubt about the Palestinian position, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat sought to clarify the official view:

Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.

It was interesting to note that both right-wing and left-wing critics of Netanyahu as well as members of his own Cabinet were almost as angry as the Palestinians. The right is appalled at Netanyahu’s tacit willingness to accept a Palestinian state, and the left thinks the prime minister was just playing a cynical tactical game designed solely to embarrass the Palestinians. The concerns of both factions may well be justified. Netanyahu, however, was right to raise the issue and to provoke a debate about the nature of the Palestinian state that is, after all, one of the goals of the current peace talks. Regardless of his  motives, this is a topic that must be addressed if the negotiations are truly aimed at ending the conflict.

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For 20 years Israeli governments of both the left and the right have agreed on one thing: Jews and Jewish settlements could not be left behind in any territory handed over to the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he is willing to change that policy and that seems to have upset almost as many Israelis as Palestinians. Netanyahu stated that even in the event of a peace agreement he had no intention of repeating the precedent established by Ariel Sharon in Gaza in which every single settlement, soldier, and individual Jew was uprooted. According to Netanyahu, if there is a peace treaty, there’s no reason that Jewish communities could not remain in part of the Palestinian state along with the Palestinian inhabitants, if they were willing to do so.

It was not surprising that the Palestinians would immediately and angrily reject the suggestion that Jews could live in their putative new state. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas had already denounced the idea, but lest anyone be in doubt about the Palestinian position, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat sought to clarify the official view:

Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.

It was interesting to note that both right-wing and left-wing critics of Netanyahu as well as members of his own Cabinet were almost as angry as the Palestinians. The right is appalled at Netanyahu’s tacit willingness to accept a Palestinian state, and the left thinks the prime minister was just playing a cynical tactical game designed solely to embarrass the Palestinians. The concerns of both factions may well be justified. Netanyahu, however, was right to raise the issue and to provoke a debate about the nature of the Palestinian state that is, after all, one of the goals of the current peace talks. Regardless of his  motives, this is a topic that must be addressed if the negotiations are truly aimed at ending the conflict.

The reason that Israeli governments have always agreed with the Palestinians about the need to evacuate any Israelis living in what might become a Palestinian state is no secret. It’s not just that the Palestinians don’t want Jews in their state and the fact that the settlers don’t want there to be a Palestinian state. It’s that any Israelis who chose to remain in their homes wouldn’t last any longer than the greenhouses that wealthy Americans purchased from Gaza settlers who were uprooted from their homes in 2005. Within hours of the Israeli army pullout, every one of these valuable facilities that could have been used to help revive the strip’s moribund economy was burned to the ground. The same fate awaited every other building left by the Jews, including every synagogue.

Without the protection of the Israel Defense Forces, Jews in Arab territory haven’t a chance. That’s a basic fact of life in the country that predates Israel’s birth. Without self-defense forces, Jewish settlers in those lands inside the pre-June 1967 borders were exposed to relentless harassment, terrorism, and even pogroms. And there is no reason to believe the situation would be any different in a future West Bank state where the Palestinian population has been educated for decades to believe Jews have no right to live in any part of the country.

But, as Netanyahu rightly pointed out, a peace treaty that would actually end the conflict rather than merely pause it until the Palestinians felt strong enough to resume hostilities must entail an acceptance on both sides of the legitimacy of the rights of the other side. Just as Arabs are equal before the law in the State of Israel, have the right to vote, and serve in its Knesset, a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state must not exclude the possibility of allowing a Jewish minority within its borders. If that is something that the PA is unable to countenance, it proves once again that it isn’t interested in peace. A state where Jews are, as Erekat says, “illegal” is one that is committed to a permanent state of war against Israel.

Israeli right-wingers are angry at Netanyahu’s acceptance in principle of a Palestinian state. Without the threat of repeating the traumatic scenes that characterized the Gaza withdrawal, a division of the West Bank would, at least in theory, be more likely.

Yet the prime minister’s suggestion also angered supporters of a two-state solution. In particular, Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni, who as Tom Wilson wrote earlier today seems to understand that the talks have little chance of success, bitterly denounced Netanyahu’s statement as designed more to prove the Palestinians weren’t negotiating in good faith than achieving a deal.

Livni may well be correct about Netanyahu’s intentions. Goading the Palestinians into repeating their intolerant and anti-Semitic objections to Jews living within their borders undermines their cause. Like previous generations of negotiators, Livni seems to think peace can be achieved by ignoring the hatred on the other side. But merely drawing a line between Israel and the Palestinians and calling it a border won’t end a conflict that is rooted in the Arab and Muslim rejection of the idea of legitimacy for any Jewish state no matter how large or small it might be.

It has become a cliché of Middle East commentary to speak of the painful sacrifices that Israel must make if it is to have peace. That is true. But the path to peace is a two-way street. If the Palestinians want a state, it cannot be on genocidal terms that require the ethnic cleansing of Jews. Until they’re ready to live alongside Jews inside their state—and to guarantee their security—genuine peace is nowhere in sight.

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Atrocities Prevention Board: Just Words

International human rights investigators have discovered evidence that “Syria has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising.” The details are horrifying, with respected experts funded by Qatar having obtained photos which showed bodies with evidence of “starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing.” A news account reports: “One of the three lawyers who authored the report — Sir Desmond de Silva, the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone — likened the images to those of Holocaust survivors.”

Seems like a perfect case for the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed Atrocities Prevention Board, announced by the president in 2012 at the Holocaust Museum. Only the administration is largely silent in the face of these atrocities beyond ritual words of condemnation.

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International human rights investigators have discovered evidence that “Syria has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising.” The details are horrifying, with respected experts funded by Qatar having obtained photos which showed bodies with evidence of “starvation, brutal beatings, strangulation, and other forms of torture and killing.” A news account reports: “One of the three lawyers who authored the report — Sir Desmond de Silva, the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone — likened the images to those of Holocaust survivors.”

Seems like a perfect case for the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed Atrocities Prevention Board, announced by the president in 2012 at the Holocaust Museum. Only the administration is largely silent in the face of these atrocities beyond ritual words of condemnation.

If there has been any attempt to indict Bashar Assad and his goons for war crimes, I’ve missed it. If, in fact, the administration has done anything substantive to overthrow Assad and bring the fighting to an end, I’m not aware of it.

If you want a good laugh you can read this press release put out by the White House last year to mark the one-year anniversary of the Atrocities Prevention Board. It claims grandiosely:

One year later, the U.S. Government has done much to keep faith with this commitment. At the President’s direction, we have stood up an interagency Atrocities Prevention Board, which monitors emerging threats, focuses U.S. Government efforts, and develops new tools and capabilities. In January 2013, the President signed expanded war crimes rewards legislation, giving the State Department a new tool to promote accountability for the worst crimes known to humankind. Earlier this month, the United States supported the U.N. General Assembly’s adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty with robust safeguards against export of weapons for use in genocide, crimes against humanity, and other enumerated atrocities.

Yup, if windy speeches and high-minded resolutions and endless meetings are sufficient to stop atrocities, then the administration has done all that anyone can expect. But if measured by real-world results in Syria, the administration has singularly failed to live up to its commitment. The only wonder is that there is not more outrage at this abysmal failure, which recalls the horrors of Rwanda and Srebrenica. Once again, Obama seems to be getting a pass because he talks a good game even if he does little to back it up.

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Egypt’s War on Dissent

The revolution which overthrew Hosni Mubarak is now three years old, and Egypt’s future seems less promising than ever.

General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the military commander, is preparing to run for president—and if he runs he will certainly win, becoming, in essence, a new Mubarak. The army has not only driven the Muslim Brotherhood from power, it has also declared war on all critics of the regime, whether Islamist or liberal. As the Guardian notes:

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel peace prize winner once billed as a potential president, is in exile. So too is Wael Ghonim, the Google executive whose Facebook campaign against police thuggery brought many to Tahrir Square. Ahmed Maher, the activist whose 6 April movement helped drive anti-Mubarak dissent, is in jail along with the group’s co-founders, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel.

In the cell next door is Alaa Abd El Fattah, a renowned activist first jailed under Mubarak. Abd El Fattah returned from exile during the 2011 revolution to help build a new Egypt. Instead he was detained, first under the military dictatorship that followed Mubarak, then under the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, and now under the de facto leadership of General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

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The revolution which overthrew Hosni Mubarak is now three years old, and Egypt’s future seems less promising than ever.

General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the military commander, is preparing to run for president—and if he runs he will certainly win, becoming, in essence, a new Mubarak. The army has not only driven the Muslim Brotherhood from power, it has also declared war on all critics of the regime, whether Islamist or liberal. As the Guardian notes:

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel peace prize winner once billed as a potential president, is in exile. So too is Wael Ghonim, the Google executive whose Facebook campaign against police thuggery brought many to Tahrir Square. Ahmed Maher, the activist whose 6 April movement helped drive anti-Mubarak dissent, is in jail along with the group’s co-founders, Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel.

In the cell next door is Alaa Abd El Fattah, a renowned activist first jailed under Mubarak. Abd El Fattah returned from exile during the 2011 revolution to help build a new Egypt. Instead he was detained, first under the military dictatorship that followed Mubarak, then under the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, and now under the de facto leadership of General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

What happens when it’s impossible to express dissent peacefully? That becomes an open invitation for radicals to take matters into their own hands, and that is precisely what is happening in Egypt today. The latest news on this front is ominous, namely that militants in the Sinai shot down an Egyptian military helicopter with a surface-to-air missile, killing all five soldiers aboard. Such missiles, in the wrong hands, can be a threat not just to helicopters but to civilian aircraft, including those flying in and out of Israel. Meanwhile, on Friday, four bombs went off in Cairo, killing six people.

These are worrisome signs of what some of us have feared all along: By declaring war on dissent, Sisi risks driving his country into a full-blown civil war. At the very least the terrorist threat is increasing, and it is unlikely to stay confined to Egypt—not when there are such close links among jihadists operating in the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. The situation got bad enough under the Muslim Brotherhood government, but there is little sign of improvement under the emerging military dictatorship whose ascension many Israelis understandably cheered. Sisi’s heavy-handed crackdown—undertaken by a corrupt and ineffective regime—unfortunately has the potential to spark a full-blown insurgency that will make current troubles seem benign by comparison.

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Left Goes After Wendy Davis’s Ex-Husband

On the campaign trail in October 2008, Barack Obama walked through the Ohio neighborhood of Joe Wurzelbacher, who would soon be known as Joe the Plumber. Joe asked the presidential candidate about taxes, and the two got into a bizarrely famous discussion. That fame transferred to Joe himself. When the New York Times reported on it, the paper insisted that Joe, “like other celebrities, found himself under scrutiny.” Well, not exactly. But what the Times wrote next only looks more unhinged with the passage of time:

Turns out that “Joe the Plumber,” as he became nationally known when Senator John McCain made him a theme at Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate, may run a plumbing business but he is not a licensed plumber. His full name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher. And he owes a bit in back taxes.

The premise of his question to Mr. Obama about taxes may also be flawed, according to tax analysts.

An Obama supporter and Ohio public official even launched a creepy and unsanctioned search into Wurzelbacher’s personal records. He asked Obama a question, you see.

It’s not uncommon for anyone–public official or not–who is viewed as posing a risk to an up-and-coming liberal political star to find themselves the target of a smear campaign, or worse. And so it was perhaps only a matter of time before Wendy Davis’s ex-husband, Jeff Davis, got dragged through the mud. Davis, you’ll remember, is the pro-abortion extremist running for governor of Texas. She has been lionized by the liberal press, but then it turned out that she had fudged details of her personal story, which she had used to rise to prominence.

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On the campaign trail in October 2008, Barack Obama walked through the Ohio neighborhood of Joe Wurzelbacher, who would soon be known as Joe the Plumber. Joe asked the presidential candidate about taxes, and the two got into a bizarrely famous discussion. That fame transferred to Joe himself. When the New York Times reported on it, the paper insisted that Joe, “like other celebrities, found himself under scrutiny.” Well, not exactly. But what the Times wrote next only looks more unhinged with the passage of time:

Turns out that “Joe the Plumber,” as he became nationally known when Senator John McCain made him a theme at Wednesday night’s third and final presidential debate, may run a plumbing business but he is not a licensed plumber. His full name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher. And he owes a bit in back taxes.

The premise of his question to Mr. Obama about taxes may also be flawed, according to tax analysts.

An Obama supporter and Ohio public official even launched a creepy and unsanctioned search into Wurzelbacher’s personal records. He asked Obama a question, you see.

It’s not uncommon for anyone–public official or not–who is viewed as posing a risk to an up-and-coming liberal political star to find themselves the target of a smear campaign, or worse. And so it was perhaps only a matter of time before Wendy Davis’s ex-husband, Jeff Davis, got dragged through the mud. Davis, you’ll remember, is the pro-abortion extremist running for governor of Texas. She has been lionized by the liberal press, but then it turned out that she had fudged details of her personal story, which she had used to rise to prominence.

Though she portrayed herself as a struggling single mother, the Dallas Morning News pointed out that her ex-husband had in fact helped put her through school, cashed in his 401(k) for her, took care of the kids while she was away, and opened doors for her politically. Once she finished school and had those connections, she divorced him. When she was called on the dishonesty, she responded exactly as would be expected: she and her supporters made false accusations of her opponent, including of sexism.

But it was only going to get worse for her ex-husband, and now it has. Politico is running with a magazine piece by Liza Mundy defending Davis. Most of the article is mendacious–it consists of setting ablaze a field of straw men. But then she aims at Jeff Davis:

While she has been portrayed as the materialistic beneficiary of a duped husband, let me offer another plausible interpretation: At some point Jeff Davis astutely realized he had married a woman who aimed to do more than answer phones and serve salads. He saw that it would be not just in her interest, but his, if he facilitated her advance. He helped her go to law school not only out of the goodness of his heart but because he was betting on her economic prospects, as women have long bet on the prospects of men. How many hundreds of thousands of American women worked to put a husband through law or med school? Did we criticize the men who benefited? Jeff Davis did for his spouse what wives have long done for husbands: He invested in her—their—future.

When Mundy says “let me offer another plausible interpretation,” what she is saying is she’s about to speculate without evidence that Jeff Davis had ulterior motives when he made great sacrifices for his family. Later, she says, “Just who was financially benefiting from whom?” She’s just asking questions, right? Just inviting the political world to join her in baseless speculation to tear down the name of a private individual so that a politician can have her career elevated by standing on the ruins of the reputation she’s hoping to raze. Harmless liberal fun, right?

She’s not done:

In short, what seems to have happened is what happened in a number of marriages of her generation: Over time, their roles swapped and Wendy Davis became the spouse with higher-octane aspirations. For many couples, this is destabilizing; it may have been for Wendy and Jeff Davis.

So, Jeff Davis, according to Mundy’s theory, was selfishly invested in Wendy Davis’s success and then decided he didn’t appreciate her walking through the doors he opened? This is not a very coherent attack. The truth is, Wendy Davis’s personal story should not be held against her. What she’s being judged for is not telling the truth. Attacking her ex-husband for supporting Wendy Davis and being a conscientious father is in poor taste, and doing so while claiming personal attacks on Wendy Davis to be out of bounds is plainly hypocritical.

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Karzai Pushing U.S. Out?

Hamid Karzai seems to be doing everything he can to drive the U.S. out of Afghanistan.

He is releasing dozens of dangerous detainees from custody–hardened Taliban who have killed American and Afghan troops and Afghan civilians–in spite of American pleas to keep them imprisoned.

He is also issuing hysterical denunciations of an American airstrike which caused some civilian casualties last week, with Karzai’s office exaggerating the number of casualties and not bothering to mention that the air strikes were called in to save Afghan troops who, with their U.S. advisers, were in danger of being overrun by Taliban fighters. Such denunciations are routine for Karzai, of course, but they are made more pernicious by the fact that his office seems to be faking evidence, including claiming that a photo of civilian casualties taken four years ago was actually taken last week.

All of which will only reinforce the tendency among most Americans to say, To hell with it—if the Afghans don’t want us there, why don’t we just leave?

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Hamid Karzai seems to be doing everything he can to drive the U.S. out of Afghanistan.

He is releasing dozens of dangerous detainees from custody–hardened Taliban who have killed American and Afghan troops and Afghan civilians–in spite of American pleas to keep them imprisoned.

He is also issuing hysterical denunciations of an American airstrike which caused some civilian casualties last week, with Karzai’s office exaggerating the number of casualties and not bothering to mention that the air strikes were called in to save Afghan troops who, with their U.S. advisers, were in danger of being overrun by Taliban fighters. Such denunciations are routine for Karzai, of course, but they are made more pernicious by the fact that his office seems to be faking evidence, including claiming that a photo of civilian casualties taken four years ago was actually taken last week.

All of which will only reinforce the tendency among most Americans to say, To hell with it—if the Afghans don’t want us there, why don’t we just leave?

In the first place, most Afghans do want us there. A continued U.S. presence was strongly endorsed by the Loya Jirga that Karzai convened and it has been endorsed by practically the entire Karzai cabinet. The issue isn’t the people of Afghanistan; it’s the behavior of Hamid Karzai, who is scheduled to leave office in April.

We can’t hold the future of our commitment in Afghanistan hostage to his whims because there are larger issues at stake. As the New York Times notes today, “The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.” Those are valid concerns because drones such as the Predator and Reaper have relatively short ranges; they need to be based close to the areas where they operate and if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, it will have no other nearby air base from which to monitor Pakistan’s troubled frontier regions.

At this point, we need to simply ignore Karzai and try to develop a better relationship with whoever succeeds him. Because if we don’t stay in Afghanistan—and that means more than the 1,000 or 2,000 troops that Joe Biden is said to favor—there is a real danger of the country succumbing once again to the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies.

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Rules Change Doesn’t Guarantee GOP Win

Other than Mike Huckabee’s libido gaffe and the discouraging vote condemning the National Security Agency’s intelligence collection, the big news from last week’s Republican National Committee meeting was its decision to shorten the presidential primary schedule, reduce the number of debates and hold their national convention in June rather than in August 2016. The new rules increase penalties on states that seek earlier primaries and caucuses, thus weakening the impact of the four early-voting states, and shortening the primary season to avoid the long and costly internecine bloodbath that so damaged Mitt Romney’s candidacy. The purpose of all the reform is to increase the chances of producing a viable nominee and strengthen the party’s ability to unite and deploy its financial resources in time to win the general election.

But while all these new rules make sense, Republicans should understand that no changes in its procedures can ensure that the GOP will pick an electable candidate in 2016. Though these measures address specific problems that the party encountered in 2012, there’s no guarantee that the new ones will do better or won’t, in fact, have the opposite effect. They could turn out to increase the chances that an outlier candidate rather than a mainstream favorite will sweep the compressed primaries and present the party with a nominee with little chance of beating Hillary Clinton, or whoever the Democrats choose.

The RNC is right to push back against the recent trend in which states wishing to gain the attention that is given to those that go first jumped the line and began the process back in January. A more rational schedule with Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada voting in February and then other states in March cuts down the already insufferably long primary season to more manageable proportions. The rules forcing the early-voting states to hand out their delegates proportionally but allowing later primaries to be winner-take-all should increase the influence of the March and April primaries and, at least in theory, produce a result that reflects the will of GOP voters in large states with mixed urban/rural populations rather than a contest that seemed to be more a product of the whims of Iowa farmers and inhabitants of small towns in New Hampshire.

But to assume that a different process will produce a different result is to make a leap of faith that isn’t justified by the circumstances.

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Other than Mike Huckabee’s libido gaffe and the discouraging vote condemning the National Security Agency’s intelligence collection, the big news from last week’s Republican National Committee meeting was its decision to shorten the presidential primary schedule, reduce the number of debates and hold their national convention in June rather than in August 2016. The new rules increase penalties on states that seek earlier primaries and caucuses, thus weakening the impact of the four early-voting states, and shortening the primary season to avoid the long and costly internecine bloodbath that so damaged Mitt Romney’s candidacy. The purpose of all the reform is to increase the chances of producing a viable nominee and strengthen the party’s ability to unite and deploy its financial resources in time to win the general election.

But while all these new rules make sense, Republicans should understand that no changes in its procedures can ensure that the GOP will pick an electable candidate in 2016. Though these measures address specific problems that the party encountered in 2012, there’s no guarantee that the new ones will do better or won’t, in fact, have the opposite effect. They could turn out to increase the chances that an outlier candidate rather than a mainstream favorite will sweep the compressed primaries and present the party with a nominee with little chance of beating Hillary Clinton, or whoever the Democrats choose.

The RNC is right to push back against the recent trend in which states wishing to gain the attention that is given to those that go first jumped the line and began the process back in January. A more rational schedule with Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada voting in February and then other states in March cuts down the already insufferably long primary season to more manageable proportions. The rules forcing the early-voting states to hand out their delegates proportionally but allowing later primaries to be winner-take-all should increase the influence of the March and April primaries and, at least in theory, produce a result that reflects the will of GOP voters in large states with mixed urban/rural populations rather than a contest that seemed to be more a product of the whims of Iowa farmers and inhabitants of small towns in New Hampshire.

But to assume that a different process will produce a different result is to make a leap of faith that isn’t justified by the circumstances.

It is true that the drawn-out schedule of debates, primaries and caucuses created a sort of “Queen for a Day” dynamic in which second-tier candidates took turns rising to the top of the heap, putting a good scare into a GOP establishment that spent the latter half of 2011 desperately trying to persuade some prominent non-candidates to jump into the race. Though Republicans wound up picking the most mainstream candidate in Mitt Romney, the process left him bloodied by his intra-party foes and his resources drained by the scrum.

But the length of the process also worked to his advantage. Though Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain (remember him?), Newt Gingrich, and then finally Rick Santorum all had their moments in the sun, the long slog actually benefited Romney since he had the money and the national appeal to weather his rivals momentary spurts of popularity.

A shortened schedule opens up the possibility that a less-electable candidate can appear at the right moment and then sweep the early states—where more conservative voters predominate—and then have the momentum as well as the mantel of inevitability to win the nomination.

But there’s a more important lesson to be drawn here. No process or schedule can ensure a Republican victory if the party nominates a candidate who can’t win. After all, even though Romney was the most electable Republican in 2012, he wasn’t elected, for reasons that had nothing to do with what happened in Iowa or the amount of money he raised. His defeat had everything to do with the party’s inability to turn out enough voters to stop the president. I would argue that no Republican could have beaten Barack Obama that year. But even if I’m wrong, the emphasis on process ignores more important problems relating to the types of candidates who run and the party’s inability to win the votes of groups such as women and Hispanics that abandoned them in droves in 2012.

No matter how the process works, the Herman Cains are not going to win presidential nominations. But the rules won’t stop a Ted Cruz or even a Rand Paul from gaining momentum at the right moment and sweeping through the late winter and early spring of 2016 to victory even though these two favorites of the GOP base have little hope of beating Hillary. If the deep GOP bench turns out for one reason or another to be not as deep as we now think, it won’t matter what rules the RNC designs or how few or how many debates they force us to endure. One can sympathize with the RNC’s hope that changing the rules will change the game, but it will take a change in the array of candidates, as well, to return the GOP to the White House.

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Livni’s Comments Show Talks Are Failing

Few serious observers held out much hope for the current round of U.S. sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even proponents conceded this was always going to be extremely difficult. But things in that negotiating room must now be going especially badly. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator and longtime advocate of the two-state solution and a negotiated peace, has for the first time come out publicly to condemn Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s negotiating positions.

For someone like Livni to have gone public on what are supposed to be closed-door negotiations, we can assume that her back must really be against the wall this time. With just three months to go before the current round of negotiations are due to expire, it seems that everyone, even the talks’ most enthusiastic supporters, are now preparing for the fallout from negotiations collapsing. And clearly Livni, too, is looking for a position from which to weather the storm.

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Few serious observers held out much hope for the current round of U.S. sponsored negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Even proponents conceded this was always going to be extremely difficult. But things in that negotiating room must now be going especially badly. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator and longtime advocate of the two-state solution and a negotiated peace, has for the first time come out publicly to condemn Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s negotiating positions.

For someone like Livni to have gone public on what are supposed to be closed-door negotiations, we can assume that her back must really be against the wall this time. With just three months to go before the current round of negotiations are due to expire, it seems that everyone, even the talks’ most enthusiastic supporters, are now preparing for the fallout from negotiations collapsing. And clearly Livni, too, is looking for a position from which to weather the storm.

Speaking over the weekend, Livni openly condemned what she referred to as Abbas’s “unacceptable positions” in the negotiations. We are told that Abbas is demanding all of east Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, including the Old City and its holy sites, that he has refused to recognize the Jewish state, and in contradiction to what many believed to be his position in the past, Abbas is insisting that the millions of descendants of the Palestinian refugees return, not to a future Palestinian state, but to the very Jewish state that he refuses to recognize.

None of these demands are that surprising; Abbas knows full well that these are things that Israel will never be able to concede. But then Abbas also knows that his own political survival depends on not reaching an agreement with Israel, just as Livni’s political survival always depended on these talks yielding some modicum of success.

Clearly Livni is now facing up to seeing what most people saw long ago. Indeed, a recent poll showed that 87 percent of Israelis do not expect these negotiations to go anywhere. Even President Obama has said that he now believes these talks have a less than 50 percent chance of success, a remarkable statement at this late stage given the way his administration has spent the past five years strong-arming the two sides into talks that clearly neither felt particularly enthusiastic about.

Livni has staked her political career on the two-state proposal and a negotiated settlement. She was a protégée of Ariel Sharon and has sought to pickup where prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak left off. Yet, like the two Ehud’s she now finds herself trading incriminations with the Palestinians as they appear set to walk away from yet another Israeli offer. This is what always ends up happening. Now that we’re back to this stage in the cycle once again it would be so easy, and indeed politically tempting, for her to attempt to lay the blame on her old rival, Prime Minister Netanyahu, by making the claim that he set her up with a negotiating position bound to fail. Instead, Livni has placed the blame where it’s due, with Abbas.

Mahmoud Abbas is now entering his tenth year of a four-year presidential term. He is all but devoid of legitimacy and has a proven track record of doing everything in his power to avoid negotiations with Israel, and to avoid agreeing to anything in the event that he is forced to take part in them. But if Secretary of State John Kerry should have seen this coming–and he really should have–then all the more so for Livni.

As a staunch believer in negotiations, Livni almost certainly wouldn’t have come out with these damaging revelations unless she felt she absolutely had to. Yet, trying to get in early and level the blame at Abbas before the blame is leveled at her is unlikely to save her career now. 

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GOP Plans to Be Ready for Hillary, Again

In 2007, speaking to the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden, Rudy Giuliani offered a declaration: “If you want to defeat Hillary Clinton, I would be the best person to do that because I can make this campaign nationwide.” It would be something of a theme of his campaign, though that was partly due to the fact that Clinton was, for some time, the frontrunner across the aisle. In Harnden’s piece, Giuliani explains that he thinks the Democratic ticket will eventually be Clinton-Obama, in that order.

In the end, it wasn’t Clinton-Obama or even Obama-Clinton. It was, for the purposes of that rivalry, just Obama. This surprised people on both sides, who expected Clinton to eventually run out the clock on Obama’s insurgent challenge, and was never able to. It was doubly challenging for the GOP: not only was Barack Obama a better general-election candidate, but the GOP candidates were unprepared for him. They had been planning for Hillary.

And they are again. Both CNN and the Washington Examiner noticed that the GOP leadership gathering in Washington last week seemed awfully preoccupied with Clinton. The Examiner notes:

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In 2007, speaking to the Telegraph’s Toby Harnden, Rudy Giuliani offered a declaration: “If you want to defeat Hillary Clinton, I would be the best person to do that because I can make this campaign nationwide.” It would be something of a theme of his campaign, though that was partly due to the fact that Clinton was, for some time, the frontrunner across the aisle. In Harnden’s piece, Giuliani explains that he thinks the Democratic ticket will eventually be Clinton-Obama, in that order.

In the end, it wasn’t Clinton-Obama or even Obama-Clinton. It was, for the purposes of that rivalry, just Obama. This surprised people on both sides, who expected Clinton to eventually run out the clock on Obama’s insurgent challenge, and was never able to. It was doubly challenging for the GOP: not only was Barack Obama a better general-election candidate, but the GOP candidates were unprepared for him. They had been planning for Hillary.

And they are again. Both CNN and the Washington Examiner noticed that the GOP leadership gathering in Washington last week seemed awfully preoccupied with Clinton. The Examiner notes:

Concern about Clinton is framing many GOP officials’ approach to the 2016 contest and was much on the minds of those who gathered in Washington this week for the party’s annual winter meeting. Indeed, the GOP’s ongoing overhaul of voter turnout machinery — and the rules changes governing its presidential primary process — are being conducted with an eye toward helping the eventual GOP nominee overcome the Clinton juggernaut.

Giuliani’s experience provides a cautionary tale, but it also in some ways justifies the GOP’s focus on Hillary. The cautionary tale part is obvious: they thought she was inevitable, she wasn’t, and the concentration on Hillary constituted an opportunity cost in preparing for Obama. Additionally, the party structure around a presidential candidate needs to offer its own agenda, a vision for governing the country. A referendum can only be held on the administration in office, and in 2007-2008 the GOP was the party in the White House.

Republicans were able to run that kind of campaign against Obama in 2012, but it won’t be so simple when there’s no incumbent and they are trying to convince the country to give them back the levers of power. And if they prepare only for Hillary, and she doesn’t run (or loses the nomination/coronation somehow) they will be in the same situation as Giuliani.

However, that’s not the whole story. Giuliani, in fact, got a few things right. The first was how to run against Hillary. She would have been a historic candidate, and still would be, by attempting to be the first woman president. Giuliani seemed to understand the pitfalls of running against her better than Rick Lazio, her 2000 Senate opponent, did when he was faulted for looking like a bully. (This critique of Lazio from the left, painting Hillary as a damsel in distress, should actually have been quite offensive to her, and perhaps gave an indication of the trouble she’d have winning a Democratic Party nomination.)

In that Telegraph piece, Giuliani indicated that he would treat Hillary like a run-of-the-mill liberal and ignore her historic status. He also honed his attacks on policy: “If we do HillaryCare or socialized medicine, Canadians will have no place to go to get their health care,” Giuliani quipped at a GOP primary debate.

There is still plenty on the policy side to criticize Clinton, even (or especially) in areas the burgeoning Clinton campaign thinks it’s strongest. For example, in Amy Chozick’s New York Times magazine piece on Clintonworld, we learn:

If there is one thing that Clinton allies want to make sure you know — and will keep reminding you, over and over, in interviews — it’s that Hillary Clinton’s State Department was run nothing like her chaotic 2008 presidential campaign. When Clinton accepted the job as secretary of state, she did so with the understanding that she could bring some of her most loyal people — called the Royal Council by one aide — along with her. …

The cloistered State Department offered Clinton a chance to define herself away from her husband and to shed the stench of managerial dysfunction that still lingered from the campaign.

And wouldn’t you know it, she failed that test spectacularly. Even the Accountability Review Board on Benghazi noted massive organizational and managerial incompetence when Clinton was in charge at Foggy Bottom. Those who wanted to exonerate Clinton from the consequences of the attacks relied on her managerial incompetence to do so: a fuzzy chain of command, confusion over safety requirements, failure to prepare a slow-moving bureaucracy for the challenges of postwar Libya.

Republicans are playing the odds by betting that Clinton–especially with no one like Obama in her path this time–remains the favorite for her party’s 2016 nomination. There is much to be said for being prepared to face a challenging opponent. In that sense, they’re right not to interpret Giuliani’s loss as an argument against such preparation. At the same time, they should remember that Giuliani understood far better than some current Republicans–Mike Huckabee comes to mind–how to run against a candidate of her status in the identity politics world. But they’re also the party out of power, and they’ll have to make sure to have plenty of ideas of their own.

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Tony Blair’s Education Won’t End Terrorism

Writing this weekend in the British newspaper the Observer, former Prime Minister Tony Blair turned once again to address the ongoing threat from terrorism. Blair identifies religious extremism as being fundamentally at the root cause of terrorism–a far cry from the delusions of Secretary of State John Kerry who recently claimed terrorism is caused by poverty. Blair quite rightly observed that just as extreme political ideologies marred the twentieth century, so the terror that emerges from religious extremism threatens to plague the twenty-first. Yet, troublingly, much of Blair’s article is devoted to a rather superficial discussion about the prospects of confronting extremism through “education.” No doubt much of the war for the West’s values will be waged on the battlefield of the mind, but Blair is straying into territory almost as naïve as that inhabited by the likes of John Kerry if he thinks we can simply abandon the military option and reason the societies that support terrorism out of extremism.

Of course, nowhere does Blair directly advocate dropping the military option; this isn’t some latter day about-turn on the policies of military intervention that he himself once employed. Yet, there can be little doubt from his tone as to where Blair thinks the emphasis now needs to be placed: on promoting education and interfaith outreach. Indeed, to that effect Blair is sure to note that he does not consider this a uniquely Islamic problem. It seems that the former prime minister is genuinely under the impression that education and good intentions are going to essentially win the war on terror for us. Like Kerry’s ideas about poverty being at the root of terrorism, the notion that providing education will win over our enemies is a far more palatable strategy than the military option. And like the thought of defeating terror by defeating poverty, it is not only attractive, but also much too good to be true.

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Writing this weekend in the British newspaper the Observer, former Prime Minister Tony Blair turned once again to address the ongoing threat from terrorism. Blair identifies religious extremism as being fundamentally at the root cause of terrorism–a far cry from the delusions of Secretary of State John Kerry who recently claimed terrorism is caused by poverty. Blair quite rightly observed that just as extreme political ideologies marred the twentieth century, so the terror that emerges from religious extremism threatens to plague the twenty-first. Yet, troublingly, much of Blair’s article is devoted to a rather superficial discussion about the prospects of confronting extremism through “education.” No doubt much of the war for the West’s values will be waged on the battlefield of the mind, but Blair is straying into territory almost as naïve as that inhabited by the likes of John Kerry if he thinks we can simply abandon the military option and reason the societies that support terrorism out of extremism.

Of course, nowhere does Blair directly advocate dropping the military option; this isn’t some latter day about-turn on the policies of military intervention that he himself once employed. Yet, there can be little doubt from his tone as to where Blair thinks the emphasis now needs to be placed: on promoting education and interfaith outreach. Indeed, to that effect Blair is sure to note that he does not consider this a uniquely Islamic problem. It seems that the former prime minister is genuinely under the impression that education and good intentions are going to essentially win the war on terror for us. Like Kerry’s ideas about poverty being at the root of terrorism, the notion that providing education will win over our enemies is a far more palatable strategy than the military option. And like the thought of defeating terror by defeating poverty, it is not only attractive, but also much too good to be true.

That is not to say that there is no common sense to be found in this article. There is plenty, and that is what makes its mistaken conclusions all the more jarring. One of Blair’s most important points is that solving the growing crisis in the Middle East is not simply a matter of establishing new improved constitutional arrangements. As Blair writes, “Democracy is not only a way of voting. It is a way of thinking.” This is an important point, absent from many discussions about democracy and its meaning. Functioning democracy is not simply a question of a procedure for determining who administers government, it is an entire attitude with a whole corresponding system of values upon which that procedure depends.

Tony Blair speaks glowingly in his article of his efforts for interfaith outreach and education thus far. He tells his readers of the work of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, with its soon-to-be launched database on religion and conflict created in collaboration with Harvard Divinity School, interfaith programs and degree courses, first pioneered at Yale, now available in universities from China to Latin America. No doubt this is all good work, but are we really to believe that degree courses in religious toleration, taking place in China and Latin America, are going to heal such intractable conflicts as the fracture between Sunni and Shia that dates to Islam’s founding? Even if Blair’s foundation were to hit upon the magic formula for de-radicalization, they are hardly going to be setting the curriculum in Saudi or Iranian schools any time soon.

While religious toleration may be in short supply throughout many parts of the world, and particularly the Islamic Middle East, we should not forget that in our own countries it was the obsession with tolerance that caused many Western governments to turn a blind eye to this very religious extremism in the first place. It has been the continuing obsession with tolerance that is exploited by those who essentially wish to neuter the West’s capabilities and willingness to defend itself in the face of the threat from hardline Islam.

People in the Islamic world have noticed these weaknesses emerging in our sense of civilizational self-confidence. As Joshua Mitchell has observed from his interactions with young Muslims in the Gulf, one of their greatest fears, found even among highly educated people, is that their own societies might succumb to becoming like the West, which they see as being beset by a valueless individualism.  

We can hope for a change in the Islamic world, hope for an Islamic reformation that is liberalizing rather than radicalizing, although current trends should dissuade excessive optimism. But we need to be realistic about just how limited our ability to bring about drastic changes in that culture really is. In his book The Suicide of Reason Lee Harris puts forward the contention that one of the greatest conceits of Western strategy has been the belief that since our system is the natural and inevitable end point in which all societies are progressing, people from other traditions will only be too ready to adopt our values. The last decade of turmoil in the Middle East suggests they are far from ready.

Blair is quite mistaken if he thinks that the West can simply educate our enemies into abandoning the extremism that drives their terror war against us, and indeed one another. Changing “them” may not be feasible, changing “us” is far more within reach, however. Our efforts should be toward reaffirming our sense of commitment to our own values and way of life and doubling up on our readiness to proactively defend those basic principles that we most value.  

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Demonizing Israel; Demonizing ScarJo

The boycott-Israel movement has had only sporadic success in getting celebrities to stay away from the Jewish state. But actress Scarlett Johansson may have provided the anti-Zionists with an easier target by endorsing SodaStream, a company with a factory in Maale Adumim, the Jerusalem suburb that is on the wrong side of the green line and therefore considered an “illegal” settlement particularly deserving of the BDS treatment. As Seth noted on Friday, Oxfam and the Forward scolded Johansson for daring to stick to her endorsement. But the fact that an ad for SodaStream starring Johansson is set to appear during the Super Bowl raises the stakes for what might otherwise be yet another minor skirmish in a low-intensity propaganda war against Israel. As the actress is learning, Israel-bashers are pulling out all the stops in their smear campaign.

One example of this disturbing trend is when Iranian-American author Reza Aslan branded the actress a Nazi in a tweet mocking Johansson’s defense of SodaStream as a model employer that accords equal treatment to both its Jewish and Arab employees. As the Algemeiner reported yesterday, Aslan, who become something of a minor celebrity himself because of criticism of his biography of Jesus as well as his false claims of scholarly credentials, tweeted a fake quote attributed to the actress in which he “quoted” her as defending Hitler’s attack on Poland while linking to a Huffington Post article on the controversy:

Scarlett Johansson: “Adolf is committed to building a bridge to peace between Germany and Poland.”

Aslan subsequently deleted the tweet without apologizing, but it was captured in a screen shot that can be seen at the Algemeiner link.

But the significance of this incident isn’t about Aslan’s heinous use of the standard trope of contemporary anti-Semites in which Jews are deemed Nazis. Rather, the question is whether a lionized film star and celebrity like Johansson is prepared to withstand the kind of abuse for which the BDS movement is notorious.

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The boycott-Israel movement has had only sporadic success in getting celebrities to stay away from the Jewish state. But actress Scarlett Johansson may have provided the anti-Zionists with an easier target by endorsing SodaStream, a company with a factory in Maale Adumim, the Jerusalem suburb that is on the wrong side of the green line and therefore considered an “illegal” settlement particularly deserving of the BDS treatment. As Seth noted on Friday, Oxfam and the Forward scolded Johansson for daring to stick to her endorsement. But the fact that an ad for SodaStream starring Johansson is set to appear during the Super Bowl raises the stakes for what might otherwise be yet another minor skirmish in a low-intensity propaganda war against Israel. As the actress is learning, Israel-bashers are pulling out all the stops in their smear campaign.

One example of this disturbing trend is when Iranian-American author Reza Aslan branded the actress a Nazi in a tweet mocking Johansson’s defense of SodaStream as a model employer that accords equal treatment to both its Jewish and Arab employees. As the Algemeiner reported yesterday, Aslan, who become something of a minor celebrity himself because of criticism of his biography of Jesus as well as his false claims of scholarly credentials, tweeted a fake quote attributed to the actress in which he “quoted” her as defending Hitler’s attack on Poland while linking to a Huffington Post article on the controversy:

Scarlett Johansson: “Adolf is committed to building a bridge to peace between Germany and Poland.”

Aslan subsequently deleted the tweet without apologizing, but it was captured in a screen shot that can be seen at the Algemeiner link.

But the significance of this incident isn’t about Aslan’s heinous use of the standard trope of contemporary anti-Semites in which Jews are deemed Nazis. Rather, the question is whether a lionized film star and celebrity like Johansson is prepared to withstand the kind of abuse for which the BDS movement is notorious.

The dynamics of public relations are such that while minor celebrities can benefit from controversies in which their positions or actions alienate segments of the public, being branded as the face of the settlement movement rather than the sexiest woman alive may hurt Johansson. Though her identification with Israel will probably only enhance her popularity in the United States, the opposite may be true in Europe and elsewhere in the world where anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are both endemic and on the rise. That could mean her films and products she has endorsed may be identified with settlements rather than glamour. That’ a chilling prospect for producers, marketing firms and those who manage her career.

Such commercial concerns have the potential to cut short Johansson’s association with SodaStream. Not only will BDSers treat any severance of ties between the actress and the company as a triumph, it will also make it unlikely that SodaStream will be able to find another high-grossing celebrity to take her place.

In the meantime, Johansson deserves applause for being willing to take the heat for standing up for SodaStream. The attack on SodaStream shows the true face of the BDS movement. They don’t care how good the company is for the regional economy or even the Palestinians who work there. They don’t care that the “settlement” in which it exists would almost certainly remain within Israel if a peace treaty with the Palestinians were to be signed. All they care about is demonizing the very existence of the Jews who live there. As the abuse from Aslan and the rest of the BDS movement shows, that same demonization will apply to anyone, even an Obama-supporting politically correct liberal Democrat like Johansson. Though this may not have been a fight that she would have chosen to engage in, Johansson must now show that she and others prepared to stand with Israel won’t be intimidated.

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The Slow-Motion Munich Agreement

In an interview with Robert Gates, posted on Friday, Hugh Hewitt asked the former defense secretary to respond to John Bolton’s characterization of the Iranian deal as another Munich (and Charles Krauthammer’s characterization of it as a catastrophe more cynical than Munich). Gates did not directly respond, but he set forth a procedure designed to prevent it from being one:

I think what’s really important is what happens in six months. And my view is that the administration ought to set a specific date. … [W]hat I would be arguing if I were in the Situation Room is okay, then the negotiations begin on whatever the date, January 25th or whatever. Exactly six months from then, the negotiations stop. Either they’re successful or they’re not, because the Iranians are perhaps the world’s best at slow rolling a negotiation … I don’t see why there is opposition to the Congress passing sanctions that would be triggered at that six month point, so that in essence, the message to the Iranians is if there is no successful negotiations, an agreement at the end of six months, you are going to be significantly worse off than you were when these negotiations began. It’s not going to be a return to the status quo before the negotiations.

Gates must be one of those people who want war rather than peace in our time.

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In an interview with Robert Gates, posted on Friday, Hugh Hewitt asked the former defense secretary to respond to John Bolton’s characterization of the Iranian deal as another Munich (and Charles Krauthammer’s characterization of it as a catastrophe more cynical than Munich). Gates did not directly respond, but he set forth a procedure designed to prevent it from being one:

I think what’s really important is what happens in six months. And my view is that the administration ought to set a specific date. … [W]hat I would be arguing if I were in the Situation Room is okay, then the negotiations begin on whatever the date, January 25th or whatever. Exactly six months from then, the negotiations stop. Either they’re successful or they’re not, because the Iranians are perhaps the world’s best at slow rolling a negotiation … I don’t see why there is opposition to the Congress passing sanctions that would be triggered at that six month point, so that in essence, the message to the Iranians is if there is no successful negotiations, an agreement at the end of six months, you are going to be significantly worse off than you were when these negotiations began. It’s not going to be a return to the status quo before the negotiations.

Gates must be one of those people who want war rather than peace in our time.

In opposing even contingent sanctions, taking effect only if the Iranians violate their deal or if the deal does not dismantle the nuclear-weapons program, the administration has been making a fundamentally illogical argument: sanctions are what brought Iran to the table (they say), but contingent sanctions would make them leave it. Sanctions have been an effective tool (they say), but contingent ones would be counter-productive. Sanctions produced negotiations (they say), but contingent sanctions would end them. The administration’s former defense secretary apparently disagrees. 

In the interview, Gates set forth his view of what any sanctions-avoiding agreement six months from now must provide:

[F]rom my standpoint, the only agreement that we ought to be willing to sign up to is one that rolls back the Iranian program to the point where they are no longer a nuclear weapon threshold state, a state that could go to a nuclear weapon relatively quickly.

Under present circumstances, what is assured in six months is another six-month agreement, as even Obama’s former top arms-control adviser admits. In fact, it will be another eight-month agreement (the current six-month one took two extra months to determine when it would begin), since the six-month extension will itself probably take two-months to negotiate, as the parties discuss the additional sanctions relief necessary to keep Iran at the table. We are in for a rolling series of extensions, as the world’s best in slow-rolling negotiations keeps whirring its centrifuges, works on its missile technology, advances its off-site preparations for its plutonium facility, completes its secret sites, and perfects its breakout capacity.

It is part of a slow-motion Munich agreement. It might be avoided under the Gates plan–contingent sanctions and a six-month time limit–but this is an administration now functioning without a defense secretary in a policy-making position. If there is to be a Gates plan, it will have to come from Congress.

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