Commentary Magazine


Posts For: July 10, 2014

Obama’s Disgraceful Border Dodge

Given the opportunity to demonstrate his concern and willingness to take charge of the ongoing fiasco that has overwhelmed U.S. border resources, President Obama chose instead to resort to his favorite pastime: bashing his political opponents.

Read More

Given the opportunity to demonstrate his concern and willingness to take charge of the ongoing fiasco that has overwhelmed U.S. border resources, President Obama chose instead to resort to his favorite pastime: bashing his political opponents.

To say that the president’s decision to schedule partisan fundraising events at the same time that the Rio Grande was being stormed by thousands of illegal aliens made for bad optics is an understatement. Even Democrats have compared his decision to avoid the border like the plague to President Bush’s flyby over a Hurricane Katrina-devastated New Orleans. As I wrote yesterday, that’s a bit unfair but the injured party is Bush, not Obama.

But even if we leave aside the sterile debate about whether Obama should have gone to the border, the problem now is how the president has exacerbated an already terrible situation. His defense of his choice to stay away from the problem was worse than the decision. Saying that he wasn’t interested in “photo-ops” or “theater” rang false even to liberals who know very well that a day rarely passes when the White House isn’t staging some dog-and-pony show where he is framed by the adoring faces of supporters standing by him. Moreover, it came just after time spent in Colorado where Obama pretended to hang out with ordinary people in front of cameras and then drank beer and played pool with the governor. And when he did speak in Texas, at least tangentially about the crisis today, the event was held … wait for it … in a theater where as usual, his advance team had assembled a chorus of fans to nod, laugh, and clap in all the right places.

But what was even more outrageous was the content of his speech. Instead of a sober, presidential assessment of a genuine crisis, he gave the country partisan rhetoric. Instead of a little much-needed introspection about how his statements and policies had, albeit unintentionally, set off a human wave of illegals seeking to get into the country where they expected to be allowed to stay, he gave us more jokes about the do-nothing Republicans in Congress.

Obama enjoys playing the comedian-in-chief and it would be churlish to deny him the occasional riposte at his tormentors on the other side of the aisle. But for him to play this game while visiting the same state where what his administration is describing as a “humanitarian crisis” is unfolding is, at best, unseemly and, at worst, a disgrace.

Just as bad as his lack of taste was the substance of his remarks. Rather than engage on how the border surge happened or even how it can be resolved without trashing the rule of law or treating the illegals, among whom number many unaccompanied children, Obama dodged the question.

His defenders may think that his focus on the failure of the House of Representatives to pass immigration reform was very much to the point. But regardless of whether you think the bipartisan fix passed by the Senate was a good idea, that has very little to do with the fact that the borders are being stormed now. Even if the House had passed that bill, it would not have changed the fact that so many people from Central America believe all they have to do to gain the right to be in the United States is to sneak over the border. Indeed, as someone who supported the Senate bill at the time, I have to admit that in retrospect, the effort to find a path to legal status, if not citizenship for the 11 million illegal aliens already here, may have played a role in encouraging this new wave of illegals. So, too, did President Obama’s statements about allowing so-called “dreamers”—youngsters illegally taken into this country by their parents. Conservatives who insisted that the border must be secured before any thought of dealing with those currently in the United States were probably right.

While immigration reform remains good policy and good politics for Republicans who need to build some bridges to Hispanics, the border crisis is a reminder that any attempt to address the issue must begin with measures aimed at security and defending the rule of law. On those points, the president has little to say. Moreover, by harping on partisan talking points and cheap jokes while demonstrably avoiding ownership of an Obama-made crisis, he appeared more clueless than most second-term lame ducks usually look at this stage of their presidencies.

As much as a photo-op at the border wouldn’t have done much good, it would have been better than today’s tawdry piece of presidential political theater. It showed again what we have known all along about Obama. His great strength is campaigning. His great weakness is governing. As a man who will never again face the electorate the former skill is now obsolete. But as the president of a country badly in need of leadership and administrative skill, the latter failing is as depressing as it is disgraceful.

Read Less

Is Qatar Becoming a Rogue Regime?

Qatar was not too long ago the toast of foreign-policy insiders. It spread its largesse around Washington, and universities fell all over themselves trying to get their foot in the Qatari door. U.S. Central Command has a forward headquarters at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. While some saw Qatar just a few years ago as a symbol of benign neutrality, only a few scholars—COMMENTARY’s own Max Boot, for example, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi as well–recognized the danger which Qatar presented.

Read More

Qatar was not too long ago the toast of foreign-policy insiders. It spread its largesse around Washington, and universities fell all over themselves trying to get their foot in the Qatari door. U.S. Central Command has a forward headquarters at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. While some saw Qatar just a few years ago as a symbol of benign neutrality, only a few scholars—COMMENTARY’s own Max Boot, for example, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi as well–recognized the danger which Qatar presented.

The skeptics were right. Qatar has used its tremendous financial resources to become a major regional and international player. Its money speaks louder than words, and what it says suggests that tiny Qatar supports radical sectarian causes if not outright terrorism. Qatar, for example, has become, alongside Turkey, the chief supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups like Hamas. Increasingly, it also seems willing to seek to undermine the stability of those states surrounding it.

The Washington Post (via the Associated Press) now reports that Qatar is seeking the return of two of its citizens which authorities in the United Arab Emirates have arrested on charges of espionage. The charges seem to suggest that the alleged Qatari agents were seeking to bolster Islah, the Emirati branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a group covered here in COMMENTARY and which has maintained ties with both al-Qaeda and which has sought to overthrow the Emirati government.

The Washington Post references Al-Khaleej, a paper published in Sharjah which, in Arabic, reported:

Al-Khaleej has learned that the news carried by a Qatari newspaper on Qatari nationals detained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is in fact about the arrest of Qatari intelligence elements operating in the UAE and currently under investigation…This behavior confirms the general impression, consolidated day after day, that Qatar is not sincere in its reiterated pledge to banish the Muslim Brotherhood group from the country… Some observers monitoring Gulf affairs wondered once again about the real goals pursued by the Qatari foreign policy, which threatens to further isolate Doha… The observers, furthermore, highlighted the modus operandi that Qatar resorted to in the past, which manifested itself through the ambiguous relations of Abd-al-Rahman al-Nuaimi with Al-Karama Organization.

And the UAE’s Gulf News, in English, explores the accusations against the Qataris more fully:

“A group of Qatari men, directly overseen and controlled by the Qatari intelligence was arrested in the UAE,” a senior official told Gulf News. The official added the cell had been attempting to re-establish Al Islah group, linked to Egypt’s terrorist designated Muslim Brotherhood. Al Islah was disbanded after more than 65 people accused of plotting an Islamist coup in the UAE were handed prison terms — some up to 15 years — last year. Twenty six of the defendants were acquitted. The official said the Qatari cell had also been planning to recruit members and raise money for Jabhat Al Nusra, an Al Qaida-linked rebel group in Syria fighting troops loyal to President Bashar Al Assad.

While some people absolutely love Dubai, a city through which I often transit, I have to admit that I find it boring. There are only so many malls I can take; I much prefer Sharjah or Abu Dhabi, which many people would find even more boring. That said, in the Middle East nowadays, boring is good. Boring is what the U.S. government should strive for. That Qatar, after funding chaos in Egypt and radicalism in Syria, is working for ideological reasons to undermine one of the few stable governments in the region is not something which anyone should take lightly. The new Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani has been in his position for only slightly more than a year, but either his promises of reform are hollow or his retired father Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani and his henchmen remain in effective control. It does not matter, however, which of those two scenarios explains current Qatari policy and the emirate’s willingness to fund instability and radicalism. The reality is that while Qatar is transforming itself into some sort of perverse Disneyland, it is using its excess money to bring terror to other states.

As Qatar transforms, the United States should not double down on rotten, but should proceed very, very carefully, lest its presence in Qatar become less a strategic asset and more a hostage to or shield for Qatari bad behavior.

Read Less

Can We Talk About Muslim Intolerance?

In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

Read More

In today’s New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof attempts to broach an important international issue: Muslim religious intolerance across the globe. But though he steps into this controversy, even Kristof may be too afraid of specious charges of “Islamophobia” to draw the proper conclusions from this discussion.

Despite its shortcomings, Kristof deserves some credit for raising an issue that has heretofore been treated as a taboo in the pages of the liberal flagship of the mainstream print media establishment. The Times has been one of the loudest voices touting the myth of a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims. It has campaigned against efforts to monitor homegrown Islamists and treated any concern about extremist Muslims as an expression of bigotry. It has also soft-pedaled Islamist extremism around the globe and rarely sought to explain the deep religious roots of this violent movement.

But confronted with the widespread evidence of religious persecution of non-Muslims throughout the Arab and Islamic world, Kristof does not avert his gaze. The opening of his column speaks for itself:

A Sudanese court in May sentences a Christian woman married to an American to be hanged, after first being lashed 100 times, after she refuses to renounce her Christian faith.

Muslim extremists in Iraq demand that Christians pay a tax or face crucifixion, according to the Iraqi government.

In Malaysia, courts ban some non-Muslims from using the word “Allah.”

In country after country, Islamic fundamentalists are measuring their own religious devotion by the degree to which they suppress or assault those they see as heretics, creating a human-rights catastrophe as people are punished or murdered for their religious beliefs.

These examples are, as Kristof makes clear, not isolated examples or the product of outlier forces. The trend he writes about is mainstream opinion in much of the Muslim world, even in countries that are often somewhat misleadingly labeled as “moderate” because they are supporting terrorist attacks on the West. As he rightly notes, Saudi Arabia is just as repressive toward minority faiths as Iran or Sudan. Though there are places, such as in China, where Muslim minorities are themselves the victims of religious persecution, the pattern of Islamic intolerance is almost uniform across the globe where they are in power.

But the consequences of this trend are not limited to the unfortunate fate of Christians who are being driven out of their homes in places where they have lived for millennia. Muslim aggression against non-believers is integral to the conflict with Islamist forces waging terrorist wars throughout the Middle East as well as parts of Africa.

American leaders have been at pains to try and differentiate our war against terror from a war against Islam and Muslims. They are right to do so because the West has no interest in a general war against any religion or its adherents. But you can’t understand what is driving the efforts of al-Qaeda and its many affiliates and allies, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Iraq, without examining the way these groups exploit religious fervor and intolerance for non-Muslims. Islamist terror in the West cannot be separated from the intolerance against non-Muslims that Kristof laments. It is a sickness within Muslim culture and must be confronted (hopefully by Muslims) and openly discussed if it is ever to be contained.

But even as he finds his voice to speak out for the victims of this trend, Kristof pulls his punches, lest he be labeled as an Islamophobe, as so many others who have raised the alarm about this problem have been:

This is a sensitive area I’m wading into here, I realize. Islam-haters in America and the West seize upon incidents like these to denounce Islam as a malignant religion of violence, while politically correct liberals are reluctant to say anything for fear of feeding bigotry. Yet there is a real issue here of religious tolerance, affecting millions of people, and we should be able to discuss it. …

I hesitated to write this column because religious repression is an awkward topic when it thrives in Muslim countries. Muslims from Gaza to Syria, Western Sahara to Myanmar, are already enduring plenty without also being scolded for intolerance. It’s also true that we in the West live in glass houses, and I don’t want to empower our own chauvinists or fuel Islamophobia.

Muslims do have a lot on their plate these days. But as much as Kristof deserves applauses for having broken ranks with his Times brethren, he fails to connect the dots between the troubles Muslims are enduring in Gaza, Syria, and other hot spots and the virus in their political and religious culture that promotes not only religious intolerance but jihad against the West and Muslims who hesitate to join the dark forces spreading conflict.

More importantly, it’s really not possible to sound the alarm about widespread global Muslim religious persecution while at the same time still trying to stay within the boundaries of liberal political correct dogma about Islamophobia. While anti-Muslim bigots do exist and must be denounced, the use of the term Islamophobia is a buzzword for attempts to silence those seeking to highlight the very trend that Kristof seeks to bring to the attention of the readers of the Times.

Thinking seriously about Muslim intolerance and violence isn’t a function of chauvinism or hate. It’s simply a matter of acknowledging a fact about the world that can’t be ignored. A tentative step, such as the one Kristof took today, is better than none at all. But even this groundbreaking column illustrates the difficulty liberals have in talking about this subject.

Read Less

Journalists to Obama: Let Us Do Our Jobs

For a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine, outgoing White House press secretary Jay Carney sat for the magazine’s weekly interview feature. Since the American mainstream press can never stop talking about itself, the tough line of questioning of the interview concerned the Obama administration’s infamous war on leakers and shameless spying not only on journalists but on their parents. Carney had a revealing response.

Read More

For a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine, outgoing White House press secretary Jay Carney sat for the magazine’s weekly interview feature. Since the American mainstream press can never stop talking about itself, the tough line of questioning of the interview concerned the Obama administration’s infamous war on leakers and shameless spying not only on journalists but on their parents. Carney had a revealing response.

Here’s the exchange:

One serious accusation that has come up throughout your tenure is that this is an Orwellian administration, the most secretive ever. I know — because I covered them — that this was said of Clinton and Bush, and it will probably be said of the next White House. I think a little perspective is useful. What I really reject — and would have rejected as a reporter covering this place — is this notion that whether a reporter is successfully doing his job depends on information he is being handed through the front door from the White House.

But won’t all these leak investigations produce a chilling effect? Len Downie [the former Washington Post editor] sat in this office as he was preparing a report about how we were producing a chilling effect, and I was able to take a copy of The Post and drop it on the table and point to yet another unbelievable national security leak. Reporters are still able to get stories and information that the administration clearly does not want them to have.

Carney has a point that such accusations are leveled at each administration. But notice his answer to the second question there. His rebuttal to the press taking offense at his boss’s attempts to prevent them from accessing information is that, hey, some stories are still getting through. In other words, the Obama administration’s information suppression isn’t perfect, and therefore isn’t objectionable. Come back to him when he’s put you completely out of business, and maybe you’ll have a point.

It’s kind of an amazing answer when you think about it. But it’s also completely characteristic of this administration. Carney was a journalist. And like most journalists, he went to work for President Obama. (That’s an exaggeration: most journalists may have wanted a job doing officially what they were doing unofficially–spinning shamelessly for Obama–but only a select couple dozen got the opportunity to fulfill their dream of silencing a free press and spouting robotic talking points.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carney’s response–that sometimes news is occasionally produced despite Obama’s best efforts–has not convinced journalism groups. Via George Washington Professor Jonathan Turley, 38 such groups have sent Obama a joint letter of protest. They write:

You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.

Turley comments:

Once again, the White House has a virtually army of commenters and blog surfers who continually deflect such criticism by referring to how much worse the Republicans are or simply changing the subject. However, the mounting attacks on civil liberties by this Administration has gutted the foundational principles of the Democratic party and virtually destroyed the American civil liberties movement. What is left the power of personality over principle. However, this will not our last president. When he leaves, he will leave little in his wake beyond hypocrisy for those who have remained silent in the face of the abuses. It is the victory of the “blue state/red state” construct that maintain the duopoly of the two parties. Each party excuses its failures by referring to the other as the worst of two evils. For years, Democrats and liberals have supported Obama as he has attacked the defining values that were once the Democratic party. The fact that this letter is even necessary is a shocking statement on the state of American press freedom.

Turley makes an important point, not only about press freedom itself but by the partisan nature of excuse-making. We often play the game of “what if a Republican did this?” Well, barring an American metamorphosis into a one-party state, a Republican will at some point be in that position. Obama will have set a precedent in his at times ridiculously obsessive control of the news, and the Democrats will have not only enabled or defended it, but the left-leaning journalists among them will have been lining up for jobs to help them do so.

Read Less

ISIS Seizes Nuclear Material from Iraq

Danielle Pletka, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, draws my attention to the following International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) press statement today:

Read More

Danielle Pletka, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, draws my attention to the following International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) press statement today:

The following is a statement attributable to IAEA Spokesperson Gill Tudor on reports that Iraq has notified the United Nations that nuclear material has been seized from Mosul University: ‘The IAEA is aware of the notification from Iraq and is in contact to seek further details. On the basis of the initial information we believe the material involved is low-grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk. Nevertheless, any loss of regulatory control over nuclear and other radioactive materials is a cause for concern.’

True, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) cannot build a traditional nuclear bomb with nuclear material seized from a university, where perhaps it was used in medical research or medical technology. But terrorists are creative and often do not care if they can build a warhead equivalent to that in the arsenal of nuclear powers. Rather, ISIS could just as easily build a dirty bomb they could use to terrorize those populations or people whose lives and liberty they despise. A dirty bomb in Baghdad, London, or New York—or on an airplane—would make headlines, allow the group to recruit more supporters, and create international panic. It’s all well and good for the IAEA—or, perhaps the White House—to downplay the seizure of the material. But remember the concern this past December when thieves made off with radioactive hospital waste in Mexico.

For too long, the White House turned its back on Iraq. It seemed that President Obama believed that Iraq was the original sin: he disagreed with the intervention launched by President Bush and cynically figured that he could withdraw and if Iraq went to heck, then he could simply blame Bush and more broadly the Republican Party. Playing politics with national security has consequences and it is the responsibility of the White House to manage national security issues even if they disagree with their genesis (any successor to Obama will have to address the reverberations of the president’s attempts at deal-making with Iran). Obama may have dispatched 350 men to shore up the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and Baghdad International Airport, but the consequences of the vacuum which have developed in Iraq are grave and growing and should no longer be ignored.

Being president means being a leader and re-engaging even if unpopular. As a second-term president, Obama has the luxury of not needing to stand for election again. He has so far used that position in the domestic arena, but he has yet to use it to contribute to international security and ensuring America’s best defense. Let us hope that Obama and his advisors will come to recognize the reality of what the United States now confronts.

Read Less

Hamas’s Human Shield War

Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

Read More

Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.

As I noted yesterday, even the New York Times found it necessary to report that the Israel Defense Forces are issuing warnings to Palestinians living in and around Hamas missile launchers and operations center in Gaza. But having decided to escalate another round of violence by launching hundreds of rockets into Israel, the Islamist group is still hoping to use the presence of Palestinian civilians around legitimate military targets as a weapon against the Jewish state.

In the past, this merely meant putting missile launchers next to schools, hospitals, and mosques as well among civilian homes in the densely populated strip. But as Israel has stepped up its efforts to try and spare civilians even as it seeks to silence the terrorist fire, Hamas has also increased its efforts to ensure that as many inhabitants of Gaza as possible are hurt in the fighting.

As Memri.org reports, speaking on Tuesday on Hamas’s Al Asqua-TV in Gaza, the group’s spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri urged the population of the strip to refuse to heed warnings and to use their bodies to shield Hamas facilities:

This attests to the character of our noble, Jihad-fighting people, who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood. The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation. Also, this policy reflects the character of our brave, courageous people. We in Hamas call upon our people to adopt this policy, in order to protect the Palestinian homes.

The talk of defending “Palestinian homes” with “bare chests” is an allusion to the fact that instead of evacuating buildings after IDF warnings, Palestinians have instead surged into them in an effort to either deter the attack or to incur the maximum casualties from the attack.

The cynicism of this tactic is transparent but even though Hamas is making no secret of its intentions, the news reports about the conflict remain centered on the “disproportionate” force used by Israel and the contrast between Palestinian and Israeli casualty figures.

It is true that Hamas’s weaponry is no match for the sophisticated Israeli missile defense system that has, with U.S. help, been created to shield civilians from rocket fire from Gaza. Since, as the media continue to remind us, Palestinians have no “Iron Dome” system to protect them against Israeli counter-attacks, it is assumed that the war between Israel and Hamas is not a fair fight. In this manner, Hamas, cheered on by the so-called “moderate” Palestinians like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas who accused Israel of “genocide” in its attacks on Gaza, reinforces the idea that it is a “David” fighting the Jewish “Goliath.”

That Israel faces challenges in what is a classic case of asymmetrical warfare is a given in this conflict. The Palestinians have perpetuated this war by continually refusing to make peace and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. They are also attempting to manipulate Western opinion into believing their version of the conflict in which they falsely portray Israel as a “colonial” power occupying another people’s land rather than admitting that the dispute is part of an existential struggle aimed at wiping out the one Jewish state on the planet. The lopsided casualty figures bolster these specious talking points.

But it cannot be emphasized too much that Palestinian intent plays a much greater role in the casualties than technology. Hamas situates its weapons and fighters next to or among civilians not just because Gaza is crowded but because it is hoping that Israel will kill as many of their own people as possible. It indiscriminately fires rockets at Israeli population centers in part to kill as many Jews as possible though it has, to date, failed in that effort. But it is just as important to them to generate the Israeli counter-attacks that inevitably lead to Palestinian civilian deaths even if those numbers are inflated because many of those killed are actually Hamas terrorists.

In a war of perceptions, Hamas’s human shield tactics have given its leaders a winning strategy even if the result is tragedy for their own people. But the problem with those who draw superficial conclusions from the casualty figures is not just that they don’t understand what Hamas is doing to inflict as much pain on their own people as they can. It’s that these numbers obscure the basic point of the conflict. Hamas is not seeking to end the occupation of Gaza or the West Bank or to force Israel to draw its borders differently. Hamas’ purpose is to destroy Israel and kill its people. When they speak of “resistance” it is not an effort to push back against particular Israeli policies but a refusal to accept the permanence of the return of the Jews to their land. The misleading blood feud narrative adopted by the media in response to the carnage may seem even-handed. But there should be no mistake about the fact that the human shields of Gaza are merely a ploy aimed at diverting the world from the truth about Palestinian intentions.

Read Less

What’s the Real Story of the U.S. and Maliki?

Earlier this week, Max Boot flagged an important column by Ali Khedery, the American who had perhaps the greatest institutional knowledge of what went on inside Iraq, because as an advisor to a succession of American diplomats, he was often at the thick of things. I do not know Khedery well and have only met him a few times in a cursory fashion, but he is smart, personable, and able. In short, Khedery is everything he claims to be in his Washington Post essay, when he writes that he was the reason why the United States initially pushed Nouri al-Maliki to Iraq’s premiership but that he recognized Maliki’s drawbacks and sought a withdrawal of U.S. support in 2010.

Read More

Earlier this week, Max Boot flagged an important column by Ali Khedery, the American who had perhaps the greatest institutional knowledge of what went on inside Iraq, because as an advisor to a succession of American diplomats, he was often at the thick of things. I do not know Khedery well and have only met him a few times in a cursory fashion, but he is smart, personable, and able. In short, Khedery is everything he claims to be in his Washington Post essay, when he writes that he was the reason why the United States initially pushed Nouri al-Maliki to Iraq’s premiership but that he recognized Maliki’s drawbacks and sought a withdrawal of U.S. support in 2010.

Khedery’s column comes just a few months after Dexter Filkins wrote a lengthy profile of Maliki in the New Yorker based on numerous interviews with American officials.

Enter Reidar Visser, an astute Norwegian Iraq analyst, who has compared the two narratives and pointed out some inconsistencies. First, Khedery writes that it was he and Jeffrey Beals who promoted Maliki’s candidacy within the embassy and U.S. government. Filkins, however, credits a CIA officer whom he doesn’t name. As Visser notes wryly, “Unless one of them was indeed CIA there is some discordance between the two narratives.” In this case, the answer might simply be both are right. U.S. policymaking is marked by huge bureaucracies. Independent strains coalescing to a common purpose shape outcomes, but it is the nature of the beast that each independent strain believes that they were the ones who mattered: it’s like the old parable of the blind men describing the elephant, but in this case, two of the blind men were describing its legs, albeit separate ones.

Visser then identifies two problems in which the open sources seem to contradict Khedery’s narrative. The first was with regard to Maliki’s use of the de-Baathification committee against opponents in the lead-up to the 2010 elections. Visser quotes Khedery as writing, “He [Maliki] coerced Iraq’s chief justice to bar some of his rivals from participating in the elections,” and then Visser himself notes, “This description of what happened comes across as disingenuous. For starters, the resuscitation of the de-Baathification issue in early 2010 was clearly driven by Maliki’s Shiite enemies [like Adel Abdel Mehdi] who, with considerable Iranian assistance, had tried in vain to enlist him for their sectarian alliance during the previous summer.” Indeed, Visser notes, Maliki had to fight off de-Baathification committee attempts to disqualify some of his own political allies. It was only after the elections that Maliki sought to use de-Baathification to disqualify some election winners.

Visser also takes Khedery to task for his treatment of the Iraqi supreme court which ruled in May 2010 that blocs could shift and merge after the election, in effect building coalitions to change the election outcome. “Many Americans have tried to portray this ruling as some kind of Maliki coup,” Visser notes, “but closer inspection of the relevant constitutional background materials suggests that the ruling was quite objective in addressing the limited constitutional ambiguity that existed.”

Both Khedery and Visser skim past the arrest warrant which the Maliki government issued for former Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Visser does note that Khedery “conveniently flashes forward to the threatened arrest of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi right after the US withdrawal from Iraq in December 2011, and then jumps further to the targeting of Rafi al-Eisawi [sic], the finance minister, in late 2012. Between those events, however, there were junctures where things could have gone very differently in Iraqi politics if the US government had had the acumen to act in a more balanced way.” The problem with this statement is that it seems to imply that the arrest warrants were somehow wrong. Even many Sunni Arab Iraqis acknowledge substance behind the accusations against Hashemi. And, as the Iraqi government points out, why would Issawi pay blood money to the family of his victims if there were no victims? The criticism that should be made of the Maliki government is not that it sought to bring Sunni officials complicit in terrorism to justice, but rather that it was selective and did not pursue many Shi‘ite officials (Muqtada al-Sadr, for example) with the same energy or enthusiasm.

There are other issues of context which should be acknowledged and understood when reading Khedery’s narrative. Khedery is forthcoming in acknowledging his post-government role with Exxon, where he helped that oil company begin operations in Iraqi Kurdistan. What is important to note, however, is that the Iraqi government considered this a shot across its bow, corrosive to Iraqi integrity, and deeply illegal. Indeed, Maliki subsequently exerted great pressure on Exxon and lobbied the White House furiously to accept Baghdad’s position in the conflict and, indeed, this is what the Obama administration did. The Kurds have lobbied tirelessly against Maliki, and it bears observation that Khedery’s change of mind coincided with his joining of Exxon and its attempts to do business with the Iraqi Kurds.

Iraq is a complicated story. After leaving the Pentagon, I was approached by many Ph.D. students who wanted to interview me as they wrote about the decisions to go to war. Because of my own bias as a historian–the old Yale adage that was drilled into us that to try to write a history of recent events for which there hasn’t been adequate declassification of documents from all sides isn’t history but rather journalism–I turned them down. I had my own opinions and observations, but absent declassified documentation, no Ph.D. student would be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in his sourcing and would likely simply go with his or her bias. To re-read today some of those journalists—George Packer and Tom Ricks, for example—who sought to write a first draft of the Iraqi war’s history is to recognize how superficial, self-serving, and inaccurate some of their sources were. Khedery, Filkins, and Visser are more the real deal. And each of their writings is worth reading in order to better illustrate key decisions and their reasoning.

That said, one of the problems—and this is especially true in Filkins’s piece—is that American officials tend to re-write their legacies and exaggerate their importance. It is unbecoming, and it reinforces the notion that American officials cannot and should not be trusted. Too often, writers also assume that the United States shapes the playing field, and that Iraqis don’t simply nod their heads, make the American feel important, and then pursue their own politics. It is also unbecoming—and very damaging to American interests—to bash a democratically-elected leader like Maliki simply because he has pursued policies which do not always conform to what the United States would like to see. After all, Maliki’s constituency is Iraq, and not the American embassy. Some American analysts and, indeed, Iraqis can be frustrated with what they perceive as Maliki’s sectarianism, but they might also recognize that Maliki was put in a precarious position when American generals made promises to some Sunni tribal leaders that they had no ability to keep. In effect, these generals traded long-term stability for short-term calm. Of course, the problem isn’t just with these generals: Many Sunni tribal leaders heard only what they wanted to hear from their interlocutors and when what they wished to be the case did not become their reality, they grew bitter and disenfranchised.

Maliki won the largest share of votes in Iraq’s most recent elections, but he also faces unease within his own party, especially in the wake of the joint tribal and Baathist uprising, and ISIS terror campaign that erupted in its wake. It is the vanguard of this uprising that is truly sectarian. To suggest that Maliki is somehow responsible for the sectarian radicalism of the Islamic State is to blame a battered spouse for the aggression of her partner. It is still a testament to Iraq’s system, as convoluted and dysfunctional as it can be, that Maliki may not get the third term he desires for the simple reason that his opponents have coalesced around him.

As to who is responsible for Maliki, let’s stop treating the man as a puppet: Maliki has a far greater role in his rise than outside forces did and even if he got a boost at some strategic points, it is well-past time to stop pretending that Iraqi politicians are puppets that can be controlled by Foggy Bottom or Langley. The more we engage in that self-deception, the more detached from reality we will become, and the worse the outcome will be for U.S. interests in the country.

Read Less

Even the Media’s Corrections Are Deceptive

Earlier this week I wrote about the thoroughly dishonest and ignorant editorial in the New York Times on the recent abduction and killing of four teens in Israel. The Times strove for moral equivalence since the victims included Jews and an Arab. To review: the Times editorial wrongly accused Benjamin Netanyahu of a delay in condemning the killing of an Arab teen and the editors took a Netanyahu quote that denounced the desire for vengeance and claimed it meant Netanyahu was doing the opposite and inciting vigilante terrorism. After wide condemnation, the Times corrected the editorial. Sort of.

Read More

Earlier this week I wrote about the thoroughly dishonest and ignorant editorial in the New York Times on the recent abduction and killing of four teens in Israel. The Times strove for moral equivalence since the victims included Jews and an Arab. To review: the Times editorial wrongly accused Benjamin Netanyahu of a delay in condemning the killing of an Arab teen and the editors took a Netanyahu quote that denounced the desire for vengeance and claimed it meant Netanyahu was doing the opposite and inciting vigilante terrorism. After wide condemnation, the Times corrected the editorial. Sort of.

Here is the Times’s correction of just one of the falsehoods the editors pushed:

An editorial on Tuesday about the death of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem referred incorrectly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. On the day of the killing, Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying he had told his minister for internal security to quickly investigate the crime; it is not the case that “days of near silence” passed before he spoke about it.

But in reality the way the editorial now reads is not all that much better. Here is the initial, false sentence, as pointed out immediately by CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal:

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, after days of near silence, condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would “face the full weight of the law.”

Sternthal had made it clear that even the Times’s own reporting showed this to be wrong; Netanyahu had spoken up days earlier. Yet here is how the corrected sentence now reads:

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel condemned that killing and promised that anyone found guilty would “face the full weight of the law.”

Notice the problem? The editorial still uses Netanyahu’s condemnation days after the murder instead of his earlier statements on the crime, leaving the reader to come away with the same mistaken impression. The Times’s new version of the editorial is closer to the truth, but still not all that close. The Times editors’ allergy to the truth is inexcusable: they should pop a Claritin, endure the hives, and be honest about Israel.

But that’s not the end of the objectionable content in the Times’s faux correction. The correction makes no mention of the other, arguably greater mistake on the Israeli poem, and the editorial still includes that line. It’s one thing to get the date of Netanyahu’s condemnation of the attack wrong; that’s bad, especially because it shows the Times editors don’t read their own (or any other) newspaper. But there is a dangerous aspect to the editors’ pernicious misreading of the poem.

To put this in simple terms: Netanyahu read a poem that denounced earthly vengeance and vigilantism. The Times editorial claims the poem encourages earthly vengeance and vigilantism. This is a serious slander of Netanyahu, the poet, and the Israeli people. It includes Netanyahu in a group of Israelis the Times accuses of displaying vicious anti-Arab bigotry and violent tendencies, when in fact the prime minister was criticizing them in a bid to lower the temperature and promote restraint.

Only the New York Times can so blithely add a “correction” to its own false claims that muddy the waters even more and further concretize a dishonest narrative that tosses a match into a tinderbox. And the really dispiriting aspect to this is that we can expect more of the same. The desire of the leftist media to perpetuate a lie that the Israeli and Palestinian leadership are morally equivalent will only produce more hateful anti-Israel propaganda now that Hamas and Fatah have joined in their unity government.

That’s because Hamas is guilty of even more terrorism and anti-Semitism than Fatah is, so if the media want to equate the Israeli leadership with the Palestinian leadership they’ll have to drop Israel to Hamas’s level. And they’ll be taking their cues from Washington, apparently. While the State Department recently offered the laughable nonsense that America’s leaders “have no evidence that Hamas plays any role in the interim technocratic government,” other countries are taking a more serious approach to foreign affairs and recognizing reality.

In a Times of Israel story about how several Western countries have been more supportive of Israel during this crisis and possessed a greater degree of moral clarity than the Obama administration, we read the following tweet from Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird:

The new Palestinian government must exercise its authority in #Gaza and bring an immediate end to Hamas’s rocket attacks on #Israel

I don’t know whether the New York Times editors are getting their information from the Obama administration or the White House is getting its information on the conflict from the Times, but there’s a quite delusional feedback loop here. And it helps explain why even the Times’s corrections warrant their own corrections.

Read Less

Obama’s Indefensible Palestinian Policy

It might be considered an indication of just how warped the Obama administration’s position on Israel has become when the U.S. is sounding less supportive of Israel than several of the European countries. Germany’s Angela Merkel was quick to unequivocally condemn the latest barrage of Hamas rockets while Downing Street was also uncharacteristically forceful in its statement. There was none of the usual calls for Israeli restraint, and no attempt to pin casualties in Gaza on Israel. Instead the press release simply announced: “The Prime Minister strongly condemned the appalling attacks being carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians,” and “The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s staunch support for Israel in the face of such attacks, and underlined Israel’s right to defend itself from them.”

Read More

It might be considered an indication of just how warped the Obama administration’s position on Israel has become when the U.S. is sounding less supportive of Israel than several of the European countries. Germany’s Angela Merkel was quick to unequivocally condemn the latest barrage of Hamas rockets while Downing Street was also uncharacteristically forceful in its statement. There was none of the usual calls for Israeli restraint, and no attempt to pin casualties in Gaza on Israel. Instead the press release simply announced: “The Prime Minister strongly condemned the appalling attacks being carried out by Hamas against Israeli civilians,” and “The Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s staunch support for Israel in the face of such attacks, and underlined Israel’s right to defend itself from them.”

Yet from the State Department any cursory remarks about Israel defending itself were immediately invalidated by the usual moral equivalence that spoke of “both sides” and called for restraint, which in reality is just diplomacy speak for opposing any meaningful efforts taken by Israel to stop these unprovoked attacks on its people. However, the recent events raise pressing questions about the administration’s wider policy on the Palestinians, not least because just weeks ago President Mahmoud Abbas entered into a unity government with Hamas, a move that the Obama administration acquiesced in despite the many cautionary warnings they received against doing so.

The most recent flare-up makes the ongoing U.S. relationship with Abbas’s Hamas-Fatah unity government all the more awkward, but the administration has been seeking to get around the inconvenient facts of the matter with the most preposterous double-think, insisting that Abbas’s unity government with Hamas doesn’t actually have Hamas playing “any role” within it. The subtlety of this distinction will no doubt be lost on almost everyone but the State Department’s Jen Psaki, who has the unfortunate task of having to peddle this line to the press.

Nevertheless, even if we suspend our overriding sense of disbelief and buy into the State Department line for a moment, the truth is that Abbas and his supposedly moderate Fatah movement are far from innocent with regard to these latest attacks on Israel. Indeed, as Khaled Abu Toameh has pointed out, Fatah militiamen who serve in the Palestinian Authority security force—which is funded by the U.S. among others—have openly participated in rocket fire into Israeli civilian areas during this latest assault.

Yet far from hearing any condemnation from Abbas on account of these barbaric acts of terrorism, President Abbas—lauded by Obama and Kerry as Israel’s fabled and long awaited partner for peace—has been engaging in the most inflammatory incitement against Israel. At yesterday’s emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership Abbas accused Israel of perpetrating “genocide” in Gaza and even invoked a reference to Auschwitz, another apparent case of double-think given that Abbas holds a Ph.D. in Holocaust denial from the University of  Moscow.

To add to this unhinged rhetoric Abbas instructed the Palestinian Authority to ready for an application for membership of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Now this could just be a bluff, but as Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren noted, in the event that the Palestinians launched a successful prosecution campaign against Israel at the ICC, Israel would have “no Iron Dome for this,” and the threat of sanctions could suddenly become very real. Of course, this move could also backfire terribly for Abbas; given that the unity government theoretically puts Gaza under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, genuine and fully warranted charges of war crimes could well be leveled against the Palestinians. But when one considers that in 2004 the so-called International Court of Justice disgracefully ruled that Israel’s security barrier—its last line of defense against suicide bombings—is illegal under international law, it is hard to hold out much hope for decent rulings where Israel is concerned.

And when it comes to acting decently, if Abbas continues down the path that he has already progressed quite someway along, then it will become increasingly difficult for the Obama administration to defend its ongoing closeness with the Palestinian Authority, or to justify the significant amount of U.S. financial support that keeps Abbas in power. Yet after the administration has invested so much in so publicly championing Abbas as a kind of Palestinian Mandela, it would be rather awkward for them to have to admit that they were wrong all along.

Read Less

The Immigrant Family Unification Ruse

According to the Migration Policy Institute, “family unification” accounts for the largest number of applicants seeking “lawful permanent residence” in the United States. And the League of Women Voters notes that “Since 1965, between 50 and 70 percent of U.S. immigrant visas distributed annually have been allotted to close family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.” And here is the State Department explaining eligibility and procedures for family reunification.

Read More

According to the Migration Policy Institute, “family unification” accounts for the largest number of applicants seeking “lawful permanent residence” in the United States. And the League of Women Voters notes that “Since 1965, between 50 and 70 percent of U.S. immigrant visas distributed annually have been allotted to close family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.” And here is the State Department explaining eligibility and procedures for family reunification.

One of the reasons why so many citizens of Latin American countries are now sending their unaccompanied children illegally and at great danger is the belief that not only will they be able to stay in the United States should they successfully cross the border, but once here, they will also be regularized and able to sponsor for humanitarian reasons family members’ entrance into the United States.

All sides of the immigration debate can agree that the current crisis along the Mexican border is reflective of a broken system, and activists in both the Democratic and Republican parties want to fix the problem, although they disagree starkly in how they would do this.

I wrote before about the lessons reformers can learn from Australia, whose transparent but no-nonsense policy discourages economic migrants who would risk their lives with human smugglers who prey on the desperate. Perhaps the first of these lessons should be to dispense with family unification visas. After all, there are two ways to unify families: One is to bring them into the United States, but the other is to simply tell the immigrant to hop a flight back to the country in which their extended family resides.

There are real reasons why the United States should encourage immigration: It infuses new blood into U.S. society. Legal immigrants can bring skills and investment that benefits the United States economy rather than acts as a drain upon it. The United States was founded as a beacon of liberty, and so it should pride itself on standing up for those who face persecution for their political or religious beliefs.

It should not, however, allow its generosity to be abused. Cohesive, coherent families are important, but travel need not be one way. If immigrants want to visit parents, children, siblings, or cousins, perhaps it’s time to point out that flights leave daily for every Central American capital and many other cities, and that the cost of a ticket is far less than the cost of transferring whole families from these lands into the United States.

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.