Commentary Magazine


Posts For: March 6, 2014

At the Heart of the Jewish State Issue

As we learned last weekend via Bloomberg, President Obama is obsessed with the idea that Israeli intransigence is the reason there is no peace in the Middle East. Obama’s whitewashing of the rejectionism of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas is shocking in its single-minded determination to ignore both recent history and the current state of the negotiations. Israel has already shown its willingness to accept a U.S. framework for continued talks despite their justified misgivings about the direction of the negotiations. Meanwhile the Palestinians have given every indication that they won’t buy into the framework because they fear it will commit them to the one thing they have repeatedly shown no interest in accepting: peace.

Further proof of that comes today from the New York Times in the form of an op-ed from a leading Palestinian academic explaining why his people could never agree to one of the key points in the framework: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Ali Jarbawi of Bir Zeit University gives a number of reasons why the Jewish state demand is a non-starter. But the Palestinians would probably be better off if they gave up trying to explain why that is so. The more we understand about the Palestinians’ objections to this condition, the less likely peace will ever be agreed to, no matter what the terms.

Not entirely by coincidence, the Times editorial page endorsed the Palestinian position on the Jewish state today. But the paper was far more concerned with seconding President Obama’s stance and ignoring Israel’s past offers of statehood turned down by the Palestinians (in 2000, 2001 and 2008) and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated statements about his willingness to accept a two-state solution if it meant real peace. Their dismissal of the Jewish state demand, which has been accepted by both Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is however, a key point that should alert readers to the fact that the paper’s supposed concern for Israel’s future is less than sincere. But those wishing to understand the Palestinian’s reluctance to accept the necessity to merely say a few words in exchange for tangible concessions in terms of land from Israel need to read Jaberi’s article to understand why this seemingly trivial concern is actually at the heart of the dispute.

Read More

As we learned last weekend via Bloomberg, President Obama is obsessed with the idea that Israeli intransigence is the reason there is no peace in the Middle East. Obama’s whitewashing of the rejectionism of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas is shocking in its single-minded determination to ignore both recent history and the current state of the negotiations. Israel has already shown its willingness to accept a U.S. framework for continued talks despite their justified misgivings about the direction of the negotiations. Meanwhile the Palestinians have given every indication that they won’t buy into the framework because they fear it will commit them to the one thing they have repeatedly shown no interest in accepting: peace.

Further proof of that comes today from the New York Times in the form of an op-ed from a leading Palestinian academic explaining why his people could never agree to one of the key points in the framework: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Ali Jarbawi of Bir Zeit University gives a number of reasons why the Jewish state demand is a non-starter. But the Palestinians would probably be better off if they gave up trying to explain why that is so. The more we understand about the Palestinians’ objections to this condition, the less likely peace will ever be agreed to, no matter what the terms.

Not entirely by coincidence, the Times editorial page endorsed the Palestinian position on the Jewish state today. But the paper was far more concerned with seconding President Obama’s stance and ignoring Israel’s past offers of statehood turned down by the Palestinians (in 2000, 2001 and 2008) and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated statements about his willingness to accept a two-state solution if it meant real peace. Their dismissal of the Jewish state demand, which has been accepted by both Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is however, a key point that should alert readers to the fact that the paper’s supposed concern for Israel’s future is less than sincere. But those wishing to understand the Palestinian’s reluctance to accept the necessity to merely say a few words in exchange for tangible concessions in terms of land from Israel need to read Jaberi’s article to understand why this seemingly trivial concern is actually at the heart of the dispute.

Let’s first dismiss the claim made by both the Times and Jarbawi that this demand by Israel is an innovation on Netanyahu’s part whose purpose is to derail the peace process. But there’s nothing new about it. The original 1947 United Nations partition resolution stated that the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River was to be divided between an Arab state and one it designated as a “Jewish state.” If the Palestinians are now reversing their adamant rejection of partition by saying they will be satisfied by an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, there should be no problem accepting this term.

But they can’t and Jarbawi doesn’t shy away from explaining why. The Palestinians can’t say the words “Jewish state” because to do so would force them to give up their historical narrative in which they see themselves as victims of history who can only be made whole by annulling the results of Israel’s War of Independence. This is not merely a matter of Israelis stating their sympathy for the losers in that war and. The key principle of Palestinian nationalism is rejection of Zionism and the existence of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. If Palestinians agree that a Jewish state has a right to exist that means they are forever giving up their dreams of extinguishing it. That seems unfair to Jaberi because it means the 1948 refugees and their descendants will be deprived of their dream of “return” which means the end of Israel as a Jewish state. But without accepting this will never happen the Palestinians are, at best, merely agreeing to a pause in their war against Israel and not in concluding it.

Jarbawi then makes the specious point that agreeing to Israel being a Jewish state would compromise the rights of Israel’s Arab minority. Jaberi knows very well this is a red herring since Israel’s basic laws hold that it is both a Jewish state and one in which ethnic and religious minorities have full rights. Israeli Arabs are equal before the law in Israel, serve in its Knesset, government and its judiciary. There is no conceivable scenario under which those rights will be annulled even in the event of war, let alone the outbreak of peace. But his real objection to this point comes in the following paragraph when he says his real worry is that even if those conditions are confirmed, Palestinians fear that a peace treaty might mean that Jews living in the West Bank who wish to remain in their homes in the event of peace would be given the same rights that Arabs have in Israel.

A savvy Palestinian propagandist might have been willing to concede the right of Jews to live in the West Bank as a protected minority in a Palestinian state, but not Jarbawi. Speaking for what is mainstream, indeed, the virtually unanimous opinion of Palestinians, the academic says Jews have no right to be there and therefore cannot be accorded the equal rights that Arabs have inside Israel. Their vision of peace is apparently one in which a Jew-free Palestinian state exists alongside an Israel flooded by Palestinian refugees who would vote the Jewish state out of existence.

While Obama, Kerry and the Times are mindlessly blaming Netanyahu for fighting a two-state solution he has already accepted, the Palestinians persist in laying down terms for peace that are not only unrealistic but demonstrate that the end of their century-old conflict with Zionism is still at the top of their agenda. Two little words would be enough to convince the world that the Palestinians are sincere about peace even though Israel has good reason to doubt Abbas’ sincerity or his ability to make a deal stick even if he signed one. But the more the Palestinians explain why they cannot say them the more obvious it becomes that peace is not their objective.

Read Less

The UK’s Growing Disregard for Religious Liberty

The debate about ritual slaughter appears to be about to erupt in Britain in a significant fashion. Already pundits there are beginning to discuss the matter in terms of religious freedom, which may seem sensible given the very real way in which this matter pertains to Jewish and Islamic practices. Yet, if anyone in Britain is hoping to make the case in defense of ritual slaughter by invoking the value of religious liberty then they are wasting their time. In recent years law makers and the courts in the United Kingdom have displayed a profound disinterest in religious liberty if and when it conflicts with the left-liberal values that Britain’s elites adhere to with a sense of conviction as strong as any religious faith.

With Denmark having recently outlawed ritual slaughter, the conversation has now come onto the agenda in Britain also. The London Times has given over its front page to a piece highlighting calls by John Blackwell, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, to either have ritual slaughter reformed, or if not, banned outright. Blackwell places the emphasis on the notion that slaughter without stunning causes unnecessary suffering to animals. Yet, this is an immediately problematic argument even according to the terms that it sets for itself. Since no doubt vegetarians would retort that all forms of slaughter cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Similarly, one might just as well say that the farming of battery hens causes unnecessary suffering to the birds in question. But the public likes their eggs cheap, so it goes on.

Writing at the Telegraph Christina Odone aptly titles her piece on the subject; I don’t want to live in a Britain that prizes its cows more than its Jews. But for sometime now Britain has prized a great many things over and above its religious groups. In the rights agenda that now plagues most western democracies, minorities are continuously competing to have their demands met under the banner of human rights. Yet, increasingly religious minorities are losing out in this struggle.

Read More

The debate about ritual slaughter appears to be about to erupt in Britain in a significant fashion. Already pundits there are beginning to discuss the matter in terms of religious freedom, which may seem sensible given the very real way in which this matter pertains to Jewish and Islamic practices. Yet, if anyone in Britain is hoping to make the case in defense of ritual slaughter by invoking the value of religious liberty then they are wasting their time. In recent years law makers and the courts in the United Kingdom have displayed a profound disinterest in religious liberty if and when it conflicts with the left-liberal values that Britain’s elites adhere to with a sense of conviction as strong as any religious faith.

With Denmark having recently outlawed ritual slaughter, the conversation has now come onto the agenda in Britain also. The London Times has given over its front page to a piece highlighting calls by John Blackwell, the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, to either have ritual slaughter reformed, or if not, banned outright. Blackwell places the emphasis on the notion that slaughter without stunning causes unnecessary suffering to animals. Yet, this is an immediately problematic argument even according to the terms that it sets for itself. Since no doubt vegetarians would retort that all forms of slaughter cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Similarly, one might just as well say that the farming of battery hens causes unnecessary suffering to the birds in question. But the public likes their eggs cheap, so it goes on.

Writing at the Telegraph Christina Odone aptly titles her piece on the subject; I don’t want to live in a Britain that prizes its cows more than its Jews. But for sometime now Britain has prized a great many things over and above its religious groups. In the rights agenda that now plagues most western democracies, minorities are continuously competing to have their demands met under the banner of human rights. Yet, increasingly religious minorities are losing out in this struggle.

In recent years there have been no shortage of lawsuits where religious individuals have been stripped of their freedoms in the name of advancing human rights. Perhaps just a couple of examples will suffice here. While in 2002 Britain changed the law to allow same-sex couples to adopt, in 2011 the High Court sided with social workers who were preventing certain Christian couples from being allowed to foster if they refused to endorse homosexuality as a lifestyle to the children they were fostering. When throwing out the case of a specific Pentecostal couple the judges stated, “we live in this country in a democratic and pluralistic society, in a secular state not a theocracy.”

In 2009 it had been the turn of the Jewish community to be subjected to this kind of thinking. That year Britain’s newly formed Supreme Court ruled that Jewish schools were practicing racial discrimination by following their tradition and only admitting children who were Jewish by religious law; be that according to matrilineal descent or Orthodox conversion. But in hyper-politically correct modern Britain, once this was framed as racism, the schools didn’t stand a chance.   

Of course, those coming out in support of a ban on ritual slaughter claim that they are in no way motivated by hostility to either Jews or Muslims. Yet, in a country where one can still go shooting deer for sport, it is surely legitimate to question the motives of those driving this campaign. Indeed, in another opinion piece featured in the Telegraph, this time by Harry de Quetteville, there is a rather striking anomaly. The article primarily consists of a fairly gritty description of an unauthorized and ad hoc slaughtering of sheep by a group of Muslims, witnessed by the author, behind some apartment buildings in Paris. What then to make of the fact that the image accompanying the piece is a photograph showing two ultra-Orthodox Jews in a darkened abattoir?

Britain, like the rest of Europe that is moving to outlaw ritual slaughter, is increasingly not only a secular but also a decidedly anti-religious place. There the interest in environmentalism and animal welfare is becoming infused with a neo-Darwinism that holds that man is really just one of the animals in any case. Ritual slaughter like circumcision, which also faces being outlawed in Europe, seeks to make a clear distinction between the animal and the human by ritualizing and elevating that which would otherwise be entirely animalistic.

Those promoting the notion of religious freedom in an attempt to defend these practices can do so all they like, but Britain and Europe now consider themselves subject to a ‘higher’ system of values.  

Read Less

Foreign Policy is Back and So Is Rubio

The year 2013 was not a good one for Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions. As I noted in January, it was annus horribillis for Rubio as he went from being seen as the perfect prototype of the Republican of the future to being scorned as a RINO by many of his former Tea Party supporters for his efforts on behalf of immigration reform and being overshadowed on security issues by the rise of Rand Paul and the isolationist wing of his party. But Rubio make a strong start in 2014 with an eloquent address at the Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty that rightly sought to lead the GOP toward a new approach to the welfare state that sought to make the Republicans once again the party of ideas. But Rubio’s greatest strength has always been foreign policy. With the Russian seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine refocusing the public of the vital importance of America’s standing in the world, Rubio seems to have not only rediscovered the confidence that he seemed to lack at times last year but reminded a lot of Republicans of the reasons he was on everyone’s short list for president at the start of 2013.

While there’s no telling whether the senator will run in 2016 or if he can succeed if he does, Rubio’s speech to the CPAC Conference today in Washington showcased the senator’s strengths. In a speech that including many of his traditional stump remarks about his immigrant parents and the American dream, Rubio made the best case against the sort of retreat from engagement with the world that Rand Paul has championed that conservatives have heard in a long time. In a political atmosphere in which the sole foreign policy concerns of Republicans was the Obama administration’s violations of civil liberties and trashing of the Constitution it was possible for Paul to dominate the GOP. But now that Russia’s aggression has put foreign policy back on the front burner with most Republicans agreeing that the trouble is due to President Obama’s weak leadership and lack of faith in American principles, Rubio seems to be back as well.

Read More

The year 2013 was not a good one for Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions. As I noted in January, it was annus horribillis for Rubio as he went from being seen as the perfect prototype of the Republican of the future to being scorned as a RINO by many of his former Tea Party supporters for his efforts on behalf of immigration reform and being overshadowed on security issues by the rise of Rand Paul and the isolationist wing of his party. But Rubio make a strong start in 2014 with an eloquent address at the Capitol on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty that rightly sought to lead the GOP toward a new approach to the welfare state that sought to make the Republicans once again the party of ideas. But Rubio’s greatest strength has always been foreign policy. With the Russian seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine refocusing the public of the vital importance of America’s standing in the world, Rubio seems to have not only rediscovered the confidence that he seemed to lack at times last year but reminded a lot of Republicans of the reasons he was on everyone’s short list for president at the start of 2013.

While there’s no telling whether the senator will run in 2016 or if he can succeed if he does, Rubio’s speech to the CPAC Conference today in Washington showcased the senator’s strengths. In a speech that including many of his traditional stump remarks about his immigrant parents and the American dream, Rubio made the best case against the sort of retreat from engagement with the world that Rand Paul has championed that conservatives have heard in a long time. In a political atmosphere in which the sole foreign policy concerns of Republicans was the Obama administration’s violations of civil liberties and trashing of the Constitution it was possible for Paul to dominate the GOP. But now that Russia’s aggression has put foreign policy back on the front burner with most Republicans agreeing that the trouble is due to President Obama’s weak leadership and lack of faith in American principles, Rubio seems to be back as well.

It’s likely that many on the right will never forgive Rubio for his support of a bipartisan compromise immigration bill last year. Though the bill passed the Senate with the support of a substantial minority of Republicans, it was dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled House and Rubio bore the brunt of much of the resentment of the party’s grass roots activists for backing a bill that granted a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal aliens in the country. The depth of this opposition as well as the intemperate and often biased language used by some on the right has embittered many Hispanics and created a long-term problem for Republicans. Rubio hasn’t backtracked on his support for the original bill but he understands there is no persuading his party’s base on the issue and didn’t even mention it in his speech today.

But while that conflict has permanently alienated many Tea Partiers who formed the base of his successful 2010 primary challenge to once (and perhaps future) Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the outcomes of elections are as much about the defining issues of the moment as they are about personalities. If, after years of being dominated by discussions of taxes, spending, ObamaCare and immigration, the Republican public square returns to some of its traditional focus on foreign policy, there’s no denying that Rubio’s ability to articulate a Reaganite stance on engagement with the world and defense returns him to the front rank of GOP leaders.

Speaking today about how Obama’s weakness on China, Iran and North Korea has led inevitably to disasters in Syria and Ukraine, Rubio sounded a clarion call for conservatives to stand up for a strong America by telling his audience that “only one nation can stand up to totalitarianism.”

We have a president who believes that by the sheer force of his personality he could be able to shape global events. We have a president that believes that by going around the world and giving key speeches in key places, he can shape the behavior of other nations. We do not have the luxury of seeing the world the way we hope it would be. We have to see the world the way it is.

Paul’s neo-isolationism has expanded its appeal beyond the libertarian base inherited from his father because of the cynicism about government that Obama’s extra-Constitutional behavior has bred in conservatives. But Rubio’s appeal for a foreign policy rooted in support for core American principles is one that still resonates with most Republicans. At a time when the administration is gutting defense and retreating in the face of foreign tyrants, the pendulum may be swinging back toward the pro-defense wing of the party.

To note this is not the same thing as assuming that Rubio will be moving back to the front rank of his party’s presidential contenders. But if he is interested in running in 2016, those who assume that immigration has doomed his chances forever may be wrong. If, thanks to Putin, Iran and Obama’s blunders, a strong stance on foreign affairs is again a prerequisite for winning the Republican nomination, Rubio will have a fighting chance.

Read Less

The Obamacare Disaster Is Now Undeniable

The Washington Post has the bombshell story of the month: “A pair of surveys released on Thursday suggest that just one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private health plans through the new marketplace have signed up for one—and that about half of uninsured adults has looked for information on the online exchanges or plans to look.” Well, and there goes the famed rationale for the health-care law—which was to bring the people, numbering anywhere between 31 million to 47 million depending on how and whom you count, without insurance into the system.

Why aren’t they signing up? First off, there will always be people who choose to live on the margins in some way or other. They don’t want to be in the system, they’re paranoid about the system, they keep their money in their mattress and lots of cans in the basement. But mostly, people aren’t signing up now and haven’t had health care before because of the cost: “Of people who are uninsured and do not intend to get a health plan through the marketplaces, the biggest factor is that they believe they could not afford one.”

Read More

The Washington Post has the bombshell story of the month: “A pair of surveys released on Thursday suggest that just one in 10 uninsured people who qualify for private health plans through the new marketplace have signed up for one—and that about half of uninsured adults has looked for information on the online exchanges or plans to look.” Well, and there goes the famed rationale for the health-care law—which was to bring the people, numbering anywhere between 31 million to 47 million depending on how and whom you count, without insurance into the system.

Why aren’t they signing up? First off, there will always be people who choose to live on the margins in some way or other. They don’t want to be in the system, they’re paranoid about the system, they keep their money in their mattress and lots of cans in the basement. But mostly, people aren’t signing up now and haven’t had health care before because of the cost: “Of people who are uninsured and do not intend to get a health plan through the marketplaces, the biggest factor is that they believe they could not afford one.”

Since October 1 of last year, the coverage of the Obamacare disaster has centered on the technical catastrophe of the healthcare.gov and the transitional problems afflicting insurers, employers, and the insured alike—and more recently the administration’s desperate efforts to delay the penalties and controls imposed by the law to limit the political fallout. It is safe to say, though, that this is the worst possible news for Obama and his people. They have thrown the entire health-care system into unprecedented chaos for a population that is, it seems, staying as far away from it as possible. Little has been fixed; much has been made far worse; nothing makes sense; and good luck to the Democrats who have to defend their votes for this colossal cock-up in November.

Read Less

No Separating Iran’s Nukes From Terrorism

Yesterday, White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the idea that there ought to be any connection between the interception of an Iranian arms shipment headed for Gaza and the United States pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. Carney noted that U.S. and Israel had shared intelligence about the sailing of the Kos-C, which was filled with sophisticated and powerful M-302 missiles that had been shipped from Syria and also acknowledged that this provides more proof of Iran’s “bad behavior” as a state sponsor of international terrorism. But he insisted that American efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iran on its nuclear weapons program were a separate issue.

The administration position is that a tough stance on international terror is compatible with a more forthcoming diplomatic effort aimed at persuading Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambition. While this sounds like an effort to defend a stance in which one hand of U.S. security policy doesn’t know — or care — what the other is doing, it’s conceit is more sophisticated than that. The subtext of the push for engagement with Iran is that nuclear diplomacy is a wedge by which the U.S. can ease the Islamist regime back into the international mainstream and make it easier for it to start acting like a responsible nation.

That sounds logical but it is exactly the sort of reasoning that Iran is counting on as it pursues its own two-track policy toward the West. The fallacy here is the assumption that Iran’s participation in international terror can somehow be separated from the nuclear threat. In fact, these are two elements of a common strategy aimed at destabilizing the Middle East and increasing Iranian influence. Treating one as if it had nothing to do with the other enables the president to rationalize a diplomatic strategy in which he deeply believes. But diplomacy that is based on willful ignorance of the other side’s goals is one that is doomed to failure. Rather than dismissing the Iranian arms shipment as irrelevant to the nuclear question, the president must shake off his ideological blinders and try to understand that the seizure of the ship is a clear warning of what lies ahead if he continues to blindly pursue engagement with Iran.

Read More

Yesterday, White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the idea that there ought to be any connection between the interception of an Iranian arms shipment headed for Gaza and the United States pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran. Carney noted that U.S. and Israel had shared intelligence about the sailing of the Kos-C, which was filled with sophisticated and powerful M-302 missiles that had been shipped from Syria and also acknowledged that this provides more proof of Iran’s “bad behavior” as a state sponsor of international terrorism. But he insisted that American efforts to negotiate an agreement with Iran on its nuclear weapons program were a separate issue.

The administration position is that a tough stance on international terror is compatible with a more forthcoming diplomatic effort aimed at persuading Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambition. While this sounds like an effort to defend a stance in which one hand of U.S. security policy doesn’t know — or care — what the other is doing, it’s conceit is more sophisticated than that. The subtext of the push for engagement with Iran is that nuclear diplomacy is a wedge by which the U.S. can ease the Islamist regime back into the international mainstream and make it easier for it to start acting like a responsible nation.

That sounds logical but it is exactly the sort of reasoning that Iran is counting on as it pursues its own two-track policy toward the West. The fallacy here is the assumption that Iran’s participation in international terror can somehow be separated from the nuclear threat. In fact, these are two elements of a common strategy aimed at destabilizing the Middle East and increasing Iranian influence. Treating one as if it had nothing to do with the other enables the president to rationalize a diplomatic strategy in which he deeply believes. But diplomacy that is based on willful ignorance of the other side’s goals is one that is doomed to failure. Rather than dismissing the Iranian arms shipment as irrelevant to the nuclear question, the president must shake off his ideological blinders and try to understand that the seizure of the ship is a clear warning of what lies ahead if he continues to blindly pursue engagement with Iran.

Iran’s purpose in shipping missiles to Gaza is no secret. By reviving its alliance with the Hamas terrorists who rule the strip, Tehran is not only hoping to acquire the ability to veto any chance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It must be seen in the context of a regional struggle for hegemony in which Iran can add Gaza to Syria and Lebanon as strategic outposts from which it can exert influence as well as inflict pain on Israel and the West. Even an Obama administration that is disinclined to think the worst of Iran or to engage in disputes with its leaders can grasp the danger that comes from Tehran moving its chess pieces around the international board in this manner. The regime’s Revolutionary Guard’s transfer of Syrian missiles to Gaza is not only a sign that it may believe the war it has waged along with Hezbollah (with Russian aid) to keep Iranian ally Bashar Assad is largely won but that it also wishes to open up a new front against the West in Gaza.

But to pretend that this threat can somehow be separated from the nuclear issue is testimony to the administration’s myopia about Iran than anything else. The point of Iran’s nuclear program is not just to create a weapon that would enhance the prestige of the Islamist government and secure its long-term survival despite the unhappiness of the Iranian people. It is also a means to extend and reinforce its effort to dominate the region via auxiliaries and allies. An Iran nuke does constitute an existential threat to Israel that has been repeatedly threatened with annihilation by the theocrats of Tehran. But even if that genocidal intent is never acted upon, a bomb gives the ayatollahs a way of creating a nuclear umbrella over Syria, Lebanon and perhaps Gaza and the West Bank (if Hamas ever succeeds in toppling the Palestinian Authority). That changes the balance of power in such a way as to threaten moderate Arab states as well as Israel. The missiles Iran sends to its terrorist allies may be not as frightening as its uranium enrichment program or heavy water plant but these are differences in scale not in purpose.

That’s why the arms shipment must be understood as more than a sideshow to the main event of nuclear diplomacy. The basis of hope for nuclear diplomacy is that Iran’s government is moderating and wishes to rejoin the family of nations. But what is really going on is a two-track policy in which Iran engages in off-and-on diplomatic activity designed to deceive Western leaders and undermine sanctions on the regime while at the same time actively building a weapon and seeking to dominate the region via terrorism and strategic alliances.

The seizure of the weapons ship ought to serve as a wake-up call to the West that nothing has changed in Iran. More to the point, even if they insist on pursuing the P5+1 diplomatic process, it must be done without any illusions about Iranian moderation or a desire for détente with the West. Iran’s deadly deception has been exposed. If the administration’s willful blindness about this prevails over common sense, it won’t make it any more likely that Iran will surrender its nuclear option. To the contrary, keeping the nuclear issue separate from that of the country’s sponsorship of international terror will only confirm the Islamist regime’s belief that it is succeeding in fooling the West.

Read Less

Why Politics Can’t Stop At the Water’s Edge

 Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has led many Americans to re-evaluate President Obama’s mockery of those Republicans like Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin’s warnings about the geo-strategic threat that Vladimir Putin’s regime posed to the West. It turns out that the administration’s assumptions about not only Russia but also about the basic principles of U.S. foreign policy were mistaken. Not only did the magic of Barack Obama’s personality fail to tame Putin, Iran, Syria or North Korea. As our Abe Greenwald noted yesterday, the administration’s belief that America had transcended history and that the use of force was ineffective has again been thoroughly exploded.

But rather than prompt a far-reaching debate about the lessons to be drawn from this episode, many pundits, not all of whom are knee-jerk Obama defenders are calling for Americans to pipe down about whether the policies of the past five years are partly responsible for the mess in Eastern Europe as well as the fiasco in Syria, not to mention the ongoing administration attempt to forge a new détente with Iran. Instead, we are being told to be quiet and to let America speak with one voice, lest Putin or any other foe be encouraged by criticism of Obama. Not for the first time, Arthur Vandenberg’s famous 1947 quote in which he chided Republican critics of President Harry Truman’s foreign policy that “we must stop partisan politics at the water’s edge” is being disinterred in order to give the 44th president some respite from the beating he has been taking from conservatives about his policies. Though, as Robert Lieber wrote last month in the Washington Post, Democrats have ignored that principle in the last decade, Joe Scarborough, MSNBC’s token conservative is sounding that bipartisan theme both on “Morning Joe” and in a Politico op-ed. Scarborough argues that, “There is nothing more frightening to our enemies than a strong, unified American voice.” That’s true. But in the absence of leadership from the president and the administration, such a stance is impossible. Though loyalty to country must always trump partisanship, the effort to suppress a debate about foreign policy at a time when it is desperately needed is antithetical to the cause of creating that “strong, unified American voice.”

Read More

 Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has led many Americans to re-evaluate President Obama’s mockery of those Republicans like Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin’s warnings about the geo-strategic threat that Vladimir Putin’s regime posed to the West. It turns out that the administration’s assumptions about not only Russia but also about the basic principles of U.S. foreign policy were mistaken. Not only did the magic of Barack Obama’s personality fail to tame Putin, Iran, Syria or North Korea. As our Abe Greenwald noted yesterday, the administration’s belief that America had transcended history and that the use of force was ineffective has again been thoroughly exploded.

But rather than prompt a far-reaching debate about the lessons to be drawn from this episode, many pundits, not all of whom are knee-jerk Obama defenders are calling for Americans to pipe down about whether the policies of the past five years are partly responsible for the mess in Eastern Europe as well as the fiasco in Syria, not to mention the ongoing administration attempt to forge a new détente with Iran. Instead, we are being told to be quiet and to let America speak with one voice, lest Putin or any other foe be encouraged by criticism of Obama. Not for the first time, Arthur Vandenberg’s famous 1947 quote in which he chided Republican critics of President Harry Truman’s foreign policy that “we must stop partisan politics at the water’s edge” is being disinterred in order to give the 44th president some respite from the beating he has been taking from conservatives about his policies. Though, as Robert Lieber wrote last month in the Washington Post, Democrats have ignored that principle in the last decade, Joe Scarborough, MSNBC’s token conservative is sounding that bipartisan theme both on “Morning Joe” and in a Politico op-ed. Scarborough argues that, “There is nothing more frightening to our enemies than a strong, unified American voice.” That’s true. But in the absence of leadership from the president and the administration, such a stance is impossible. Though loyalty to country must always trump partisanship, the effort to suppress a debate about foreign policy at a time when it is desperately needed is antithetical to the cause of creating that “strong, unified American voice.”

Scarborough is right that “political broadsides” are out of place “when the tanks are rolling.” But what’s happening in the Ukraine is not a replay of the Cold War confrontation with the Soviets about Berlin or the Cuban Missile Crisis, let alone a crisis when U.S. troops are on the move. The point about what is happening in the Ukraine is that both America’s friends and its foes take it for granted that the U.S. is out of the business of trying to defend freedom, whether in places where our military can make a difference or those, like in Ukraine, where we know it is not possible.

Given the hyper-partisan nature of our current political culture that is exacerbated by an equally divided media, it is hard to imagine the revival of the kind of bipartisanship that Vandenberg embodied under any circumstances. But in the absence of either strong leadership or an articulation of core American principles by the president it is impossible.

Were President Obama showing the kind of courage in standing up to Putin that other presidents of both political parties demonstrated in past disputes with the Russians, criticism of his foreign policy could and would be put off until later. But asking critics to be silent when no such effort to unify the country or to stand up for the interests of U.S. friends and allies is being put forward by the administration is itself mere partisan hogwash.

A debate about foreign policy is needed precisely because what we are witnessing is the product of a feckless foreign policy that primarily views geostrategic foes such as Russia and Iran as candidates for appeasement rather than dangerous enemies to be faced down with strength. For many liberals, Obama’s weakness is an asset to be applauded as they support his vision of a world in which American exceptionalism is mere chauvinism. However, this unilateral moral disarmament has severe consequences. Putin doesn’t need to listen to conservative criticisms of the president’s foreign policy to understand that Obama’s naïve conception of global politics to be encouraged to violate international law. He already came to that conclusion before he invaded the Ukraine.

Politics must now extend beyond the water’s edge not because conservatives wish to cripple administration efforts to defend American interests — as was so often the case in the past when the left treated anti-American forces as victims to be sympathized with rather than enemies to be despised — but because they want Obama to start behaving like someone who believes in his nation’s cause.

Far from undermining the president’s ability to deal with Putin or Iran, a debate about his policies is the starting point for a recovery of American strength. What Putin expects, indeed, what he is counting on, is the kind of apathy about Obama’s foreign policy that has allowed the president to evade accountability for stances that undermined allies and appeased foes for years. After years of being told, both by the left and some on the right that America can afford to retreat from the world stage, a vigorous discussion of foreign policy and the mistakes made by this administration isn’t a political luxury; it’s a necessity.

Read Less

Pryor’s Insane Attack on Military Service

Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, in an interview with NBC News, said this about his opponent, Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and current Representative Tom Cotton:

There’s a lot of people in the Senate that didn’t serve in the military. Obviously in the Senate we have all types of different people, all kinds of different folks that have come from all types of different background— and I think that’s part of that sense of entitlement that he gives off is that, almost like, I served my country, let me into the Senate. But that’s not how it works in Arkansas.

To be clear: Representative Cotton, a very impressive man and a very impressive candidate, has never argued that he’s entitled to the Senate seat for any reason, including his military service. But Representative Cotton is arguing, quite rightly, that his military service should be taken into account when judging him in the totality of his acts. Some of the things he learned while serving in the military are transferable. And surely the problem with the Senate right now isn’t that it is comprised of too many people whose lives are characterized by virtue and valor. As for a sense of entitlement: Mr. Pryor’s father was governor and senator of Arkansas. Just FYI.

Read More

Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, in an interview with NBC News, said this about his opponent, Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and current Representative Tom Cotton:

There’s a lot of people in the Senate that didn’t serve in the military. Obviously in the Senate we have all types of different people, all kinds of different folks that have come from all types of different background— and I think that’s part of that sense of entitlement that he gives off is that, almost like, I served my country, let me into the Senate. But that’s not how it works in Arkansas.

To be clear: Representative Cotton, a very impressive man and a very impressive candidate, has never argued that he’s entitled to the Senate seat for any reason, including his military service. But Representative Cotton is arguing, quite rightly, that his military service should be taken into account when judging him in the totality of his acts. Some of the things he learned while serving in the military are transferable. And surely the problem with the Senate right now isn’t that it is comprised of too many people whose lives are characterized by virtue and valor. As for a sense of entitlement: Mr. Pryor’s father was governor and senator of Arkansas. Just FYI.

Mr. Cotton is leading the race right now. That lead will grow because of Mark Pryor’s foolish and offensive line of attack. The race is still close and Cotton can’t let up. He needs to run as if he’s running a couple of points behind. But as an outside observer, my own hunch is that we’ll look back at Pryor’s comments and point to it as a sign of desperation and perhaps the moment in which (to borrow from this Willie Nelson classic) it can be said of the Pryor campaign, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over; they say that all good things must end. Let’s call it a night; the party’s over.”

Read Less

There’s Plenty the U.S. Can Do About Putin

Vladimir Putin doesn’t seem to be terribly impressed by the State Department’s decision to ban visas for all those involved in undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity–nor by the EU’s decision to freeze the assets of deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and 17 of his closest aides and family members.

The Kremlin is pushing ahead with a referendum, now scheduled for March 17. That vote is almost certain to result in the people of Crimea voting to join the Russian Federation. That is the way of votes held at gunpoint, although even without a Russian troop occupation the Crimeans, most of whom are Russian speakers, might have voted to join Russia anyway.

There is, it seems, little the West can do to evict the Russian troops—pardon me, “local self defense forces” that just happen to be wearing Russian army uniforms–from the territory they have seized in recent days. But there is much more that the West could be doing to make Russia pay a higher cost for its brazen aggression.

Read More

Vladimir Putin doesn’t seem to be terribly impressed by the State Department’s decision to ban visas for all those involved in undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity–nor by the EU’s decision to freeze the assets of deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and 17 of his closest aides and family members.

The Kremlin is pushing ahead with a referendum, now scheduled for March 17. That vote is almost certain to result in the people of Crimea voting to join the Russian Federation. That is the way of votes held at gunpoint, although even without a Russian troop occupation the Crimeans, most of whom are Russian speakers, might have voted to join Russia anyway.

There is, it seems, little the West can do to evict the Russian troops—pardon me, “local self defense forces” that just happen to be wearing Russian army uniforms–from the territory they have seized in recent days. But there is much more that the West could be doing to make Russia pay a higher cost for its brazen aggression.

The Treasury Department, for a start, could ban all Russian financial institutions from interacting with the U.S. banking system and force other countries to comply on threat of being denied access to the American market as well. Britain, whose capital is home to a vast amount of Russian money (just think of how many oligarchs own fancy apartments and sports teams in Britain), could freeze the assets of many of Putin’s cronies. France could stop building two amphibious assault carriers for the Russian Navy that will allow Putin to project power more easily into places like Ukraine. NATO could announce that it is beefing up its forces in Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic Republics, including stationing US troops there for the first time, to make clear that Russia cannot invade NATO members as it invaded Ukraine. The U.S. could announce a total suspension of all diplomatic contacts with Russia and refuse to send an ambassador to Moscow to replace the recently departed Michael McFaul.

And those are just actions (with the partial exception of the NATO troop move) that could be taken by countries that are not as heavily reliant as Germany on Russian shipments of natural gas. (Although if Putin were to stop shipping the gas he would face a crippling loss of revenue, so he’s not likely to do that.) But none of this is being done, at least not yet. Instead the Europeans, who have most of the leverage here because of their greater business dealings with Russia, are as usual trying to find a way to keep talking rather than acting. At least the EU has decided to cough up $15 billion in a rescue package for the new pro-Western government in Ukraine. Washington is kicking in another $1 billion. That’s a significant step to help steer Ukraine toward the West.

But the Europeans, along with the Obama administration, are missing the imperative to inflict significant harm–economic, political, and diplomatic–on Moscow in retaliation for its aggression. This is necessary whether or not such pressure forces Russia to disgorge Crimea. It is necessary to send a signal to other countries that aggression does not pay.

That signal was sent clearly in 1990-1991 when the George HW Bush administration organized an international coalition to evict Saddam Hussein’s troops from Kuwait. But the signal is being attenuated as Putin continues to use salami-slicing tactics to take one bit of territory after another–first a chunk of Georgia, now a chunk of Ukraine, whatever next? Nobody is suggesting, of course, using military force: Russia is not Iraq. It is a nuclear-armed state with a large military and war would be unthinkable. But there are plenty of options between appeasement and launching World War III that could be usefully implemented, and they should be, whether Russia decides to advance beyond Crimea or not.

Putin is no Hitler but remember how in the 1930s World War II became inevitable because Hitler was not stopped in time. Every time he tried a fresh provocation–rearming in violation of the Versailles Treaty, reoccupying the Rhineland, Anschluss with Austria, seizing the Sudetenland–he received no pushback from the West so he decided he could keep going. Today we should be worried about sending such a permissive message not only to Russia but also to other states such as Iran, North Korea, and China that are carefully watching this drama unfold. As Eliot Cohen notes: “If Russia can rip off a limb with impunity, why can’t China do the same with the Senkaku Islands?”

 The West needs to stop its rush to reestablish cordial relations with Russia. However discomfiting it might be to ratchet up tensions in the short term, the long-term result is likely to make peace more, not less, likely.

Read Less

“I Live in a Rather Special World”

When I was driving my son to school yesterday (there was a two-hour delay in opening), I listened to Mike Gallagher, a talk show host whom I like and on whose show I have appeared.

During the portion I listened to, Gallagher was urging Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016, assuming she’d be relatively easy to defeat. When it came to the “perfect” GOP candidate to beat her, Gallagher named Senator Ted Cruz. The reason, he said, is that Cruz will focus attention on and prosecute the case against Mrs. Clinton in two areas: the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and her role in the various Clinton scandals of the 1990s. Mr. Gallagher contrasted Cruz with John McCain, who (to Gallagher’s consternation) didn’t make Barack Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright a prominent part of his run for the presidency. The implication was that if he had, McCain would have done much better.

Now I happen to believe that all of the issues Gallagher names are legitimate ones to raise – and indeed I’ve written about them myself. I certainly don’t think they should be off limits if Mrs. Clinton runs. Of course her record and actions are legitimate lines of inquiry.

But my sense is that Gallagher, as well as other conservatives, believe re-litigating the Clinton years and Benghazi will move voters into the Republican column. Their argument, as I understand it, is that a major problem, and maybe the main problem, with recent Republican presidential candidates is that they haven’t been aggressive enough; that if, say, John McCain had talked more often and with more outrage directed at Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright, he would have done much better in 2008. 

Read More

When I was driving my son to school yesterday (there was a two-hour delay in opening), I listened to Mike Gallagher, a talk show host whom I like and on whose show I have appeared.

During the portion I listened to, Gallagher was urging Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2016, assuming she’d be relatively easy to defeat. When it came to the “perfect” GOP candidate to beat her, Gallagher named Senator Ted Cruz. The reason, he said, is that Cruz will focus attention on and prosecute the case against Mrs. Clinton in two areas: the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi in 2012 and her role in the various Clinton scandals of the 1990s. Mr. Gallagher contrasted Cruz with John McCain, who (to Gallagher’s consternation) didn’t make Barack Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright a prominent part of his run for the presidency. The implication was that if he had, McCain would have done much better.

Now I happen to believe that all of the issues Gallagher names are legitimate ones to raise – and indeed I’ve written about them myself. I certainly don’t think they should be off limits if Mrs. Clinton runs. Of course her record and actions are legitimate lines of inquiry.

But my sense is that Gallagher, as well as other conservatives, believe re-litigating the Clinton years and Benghazi will move voters into the Republican column. Their argument, as I understand it, is that a major problem, and maybe the main problem, with recent Republican presidential candidates is that they haven’t been aggressive enough; that if, say, John McCain had talked more often and with more outrage directed at Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright, he would have done much better in 2008. 

I don’t think there’s any empirical evidence that supports that theory and, in fact, it almost certainly would have backfired on McCain. As for Hillary Clinton: if she is the nominee, relentlessly pounding her on Whitewater, the firing of White House travel office director Billy Dale and attacking Ken Starr would  boomerang, making the attacker appear to be (among other things) out of touch. Her culpability on Benghazi is (potentially) another matter — but even then, it may not be a terribly effective line of attack and it will never be anything like a decisive factor. The drawback to those who embrace the re-litigation strategy is that it will distract Republicans from a far more urgent need, which is to develop a comprehensive conservative governing agenda that will reach voters who are not now voting for GOP presidential nominees.

What this highlights, I think, is a temptation we all face in politics, which is to assume what we care about and feel passionate about is what others must as well. If the misdeeds surrounding what happened in Benghazi or Whitewater infuriate you, it will surely infuriate others. And if they’re not reacting the same way as you are, it must be a communications problem. You simply need to make your case more often, more vocally, and with more passion. You need to make the case over and over again, until you make voters care.

I know of what I speak. In the last 1990s, during the Clinton impeachment battles, I assumed that at some point, as President Clinton’s lawlessness (including perjury), his abuses of power and his predator behavior were exposed, the American people would turn on him. They never did. (Remember when Bob Dole, in the last days of the 1996 campaign — before the Lewinsky scandal — asked, “Where’s the outrage? Where’s the outrage?”) 

To return to the Gallagher example: a majority, and probably a vast majority, of his listeners are energized and interested in Benghazi and the Clinton scandals. That’s fine. The error, I think, is in assuming that the rest of America must care about it, too, and that focusing on these issues would help a GOP nominee win the presidency.

This is the downside of the modern media age, when those on the left and right can read and listen almost exclusively to people who share their worldview and serve to reinforce it. I’m reminded of the comment by The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, who after the 1972 presidential election reportedly said, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” (Kudos to John Podhoretz for calling attention to the actual Pauline Kael quote.)

Probably more than ever before, more and more of us live in “a rather special world” in which those who hold views different than ours are outside our ken. That’s true for me. I imagine it’s true for Mike Gallagher and Rachel Maddow. And who knows; it may be true for you, too. 

Read Less

Not All Dissidents Are Heroes

Given the proclivity of dictators to label all of their domestic critics, no matter how non-violent, as “terrorists” it is understandable that there is not more outrage in the West over an attack by Uighur separatists in southern China who stabbed to death at least 29 people in a railroad station and wounded perhaps 100 more. That’s understandable, but wrong.

Let us grant that China’s policies in Xinjiang, the western province where the Uighurs live, are oppressive, even more so than in the case of the rest of the country. The Han Chinese who dominate the Chinese government have long discriminated against ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs and Tibetans. As the Washington Post notes:

Just as Chinese leaders try to control other religions, including Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, they have issued strict policies for Muslim Uighurs. They must use a state-approved Koran. The government manages mosques. And Uighur men who want government jobs have been forced to shave their beards; women are forbidden to wear headscarves.

When Uighurs try to protest such restrictions, or even agitate for independence for a new state of East Turkestan, the Chinese authorities react with the savagery typical of a police state, locking up dissidents. Little wonder, then, that some Uighurs are resorting to terrorism to fight back. But however understandable the reaction of the extremists, it is also unforgivable. The poor commuters slain in a railway station in Kunming are not responsible for their government’s polices; they are just innocent victims.

Read More

Given the proclivity of dictators to label all of their domestic critics, no matter how non-violent, as “terrorists” it is understandable that there is not more outrage in the West over an attack by Uighur separatists in southern China who stabbed to death at least 29 people in a railroad station and wounded perhaps 100 more. That’s understandable, but wrong.

Let us grant that China’s policies in Xinjiang, the western province where the Uighurs live, are oppressive, even more so than in the case of the rest of the country. The Han Chinese who dominate the Chinese government have long discriminated against ethnic minorities such as the Uighurs and Tibetans. As the Washington Post notes:

Just as Chinese leaders try to control other religions, including Catholicism and evangelical Christianity, they have issued strict policies for Muslim Uighurs. They must use a state-approved Koran. The government manages mosques. And Uighur men who want government jobs have been forced to shave their beards; women are forbidden to wear headscarves.

When Uighurs try to protest such restrictions, or even agitate for independence for a new state of East Turkestan, the Chinese authorities react with the savagery typical of a police state, locking up dissidents. Little wonder, then, that some Uighurs are resorting to terrorism to fight back. But however understandable the reaction of the extremists, it is also unforgivable. The poor commuters slain in a railway station in Kunming are not responsible for their government’s polices; they are just innocent victims.

There is no cause to kill civilians to make the Uighurs’ case. They would be better off using non-violent protests even if such protests are likely to prove ineffectual against a one-party state. At least such protests will not result in violent retaliation against innocent Uighurs. This is one area where the U.S. can actually sympathize with China and foster better cooperation on what used to be known as the war on terror, while of course being aware of, and resistant to, Beijing’s desire to brand all dissidents with the “terrorist” label.

Read Less

Iran Vindicates Israel’s Gaza Blockade

As COMMENTARY noted yesterday, the Israeli Navy seized a general cargo vessel carrying missiles apparently to the Gaza Strip. The weapons are Syrian, allegedly shipped to Hamas by Iran. However, the vessel itself is a Panamanian-flagged ship run by a Marshall Islands shipping company.

Yet so far, no one appears to have accused Israel of violating international law by interdicting the vessel in international waters. This is odd because stopping neutral vessels on the high seas violates fundamental principals of international law, with some narrow exceptions for piracy and the like not relevant here. The United States and a few other countries have tried to carve out a further exception for WMD proliferation through by spearheading the Proliferation Security Initiative — but to the extent that targets WMDs and their delivery systems, it is not obviously relevant here.

Of course, there is another situation in which non-hostile vessels can be stopped on the high seas — blockade running. Israel maintains a naval blockade of the strip. Under international law (as articulated in the the London Declaration Concerning the Laws of Naval War and the San Remo Principles) neutral vessels attempting to run such blockades can, be seized or even sunk on the high seas, or even in foreign waters. 

Read More

As COMMENTARY noted yesterday, the Israeli Navy seized a general cargo vessel carrying missiles apparently to the Gaza Strip. The weapons are Syrian, allegedly shipped to Hamas by Iran. However, the vessel itself is a Panamanian-flagged ship run by a Marshall Islands shipping company.

Yet so far, no one appears to have accused Israel of violating international law by interdicting the vessel in international waters. This is odd because stopping neutral vessels on the high seas violates fundamental principals of international law, with some narrow exceptions for piracy and the like not relevant here. The United States and a few other countries have tried to carve out a further exception for WMD proliferation through by spearheading the Proliferation Security Initiative — but to the extent that targets WMDs and their delivery systems, it is not obviously relevant here.

Of course, there is another situation in which non-hostile vessels can be stopped on the high seas — blockade running. Israel maintains a naval blockade of the strip. Under international law (as articulated in the the London Declaration Concerning the Laws of Naval War and the San Remo Principles) neutral vessels attempting to run such blockades can, be seized or even sunk on the high seas, or even in foreign waters. 

Aside from the U.S., I am not sure any nation has endorsed Israel’s seizure. But given Israel’s armed activities certainly do not enjoy a presumption of legality from the international community, this silence comes quite close to an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the blockade.

Of course, much of the controversy over the “flotilla” incident of 2010 was premised on a denial of the validity of Israel’s blockade.  Current events illustrate how Israel’s position has become increasingly accepted. It also shows how the earlier flap with Turkey was merely contrived.

Read Less

How Not to Bring Putin to His Knees

Upset with the invasion of Crimea and Russian sabre-rattling, President Obama announced he will pump up NATO, at least in those countries bordering Russia, and Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Russia to go no farther. With all due respect to both Obama and Kerry, they are going about it all wrong.

Here’s a modest proposal: First of all, Russia’s economy has been stagnating. Rather than threaten sanctions, it would be wiser to offer economic incentives—perhaps offering Russia $7 billion dollars in immediate financial relief over the next six months or so. Businesses might then continue to encourage Moscow to rejoin the international community by offering new investments that would effectively double that cash infusion.

Obama also errs with tough rhetoric toward Russia. Whatever his frustration at Putin’s behavior, it’s important to treat the Russian people with respect, and that means their democratically elected leader. Rather than condemn the Kremlin, Obama should offer an outstretched hand and ask Putin to unclench his fist.

Read More

Upset with the invasion of Crimea and Russian sabre-rattling, President Obama announced he will pump up NATO, at least in those countries bordering Russia, and Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Russia to go no farther. With all due respect to both Obama and Kerry, they are going about it all wrong.

Here’s a modest proposal: First of all, Russia’s economy has been stagnating. Rather than threaten sanctions, it would be wiser to offer economic incentives—perhaps offering Russia $7 billion dollars in immediate financial relief over the next six months or so. Businesses might then continue to encourage Moscow to rejoin the international community by offering new investments that would effectively double that cash infusion.

Obama also errs with tough rhetoric toward Russia. Whatever his frustration at Putin’s behavior, it’s important to treat the Russian people with respect, and that means their democratically elected leader. Rather than condemn the Kremlin, Obama should offer an outstretched hand and ask Putin to unclench his fist.

The Russian military is formidable, and we must recognize Russian rights in the region. It is clear they see U.S. military deployments as a provocation, and so perhaps it is time to cut back naval deployments in and around Russia. If Russian forces shadow or swarm American ships, the best course of action would be simply to withdrawal those American ships in order to resolve any misunderstandings. After all, Russia has never acted aggressively toward any neighboring state, unless of course, its interested dictated it needed to act in such a way. It’s also important to consider that, even if Russia maintains links to separatist groups in Abkhazia, Ossetia, or Crimea, in each case people there act autonomously. Many states bordering Russia act irrationally, and so as we push forward with our diplomacy, it’s important to keep allies like Poland, Georgia, and Estonia in the dark.

Greater people-to-people exchanges might also encourage better understanding. Perhaps having the State Department pay to send U.S. sports teams over to Russia would pay dividends. They might also send scientists who could attend conferences there. Retired diplomats like Thomas Pickering might continue Track II exchanges, and write about how to conduct diplomacy in the New York Review of Books. We’ve got to be mindful of our rhetoric. No matter how often Putin and his Kremlin minions ridicule or condemn the United States, it is important that we recognize that to call Putin ‘evil’ will only justify his actions further.

Setting the right agenda for talks is also crucial. Worrying about Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missile program will hamper the important business of diplomacy, and so Obama should leave that completely off the table. Nor, if Russia works on nuclear warhead triggers, should Obama worry. Indeed, if international agencies appear ready to report Russian misbehavior, it would be ideal to encourage them to keep such findings under wraps in order to enable diplomacy to succeed. Likewise, as we create a framework with Russia, it is best to keep that preliminary deal secret so that if Russia cheats a little, Congress won’t use that in a way that could hamper further dialogue and diplomacy.

You might think such advice may sound both silly and fantastic. And you’d be right. Under no circumstances, would such a soft approach convince Putin to change his behavior.

Perhaps then it’s worth asking why Obama, Kerry, the State Department, and so many journalists and academics endorse such a ridiculous strategy as the proper course of action to resolve the Iranian challenge.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.