Members of Congress may be searching across the aisle for dates for the State of the Union speech tonight (Yes, we’re talking about you, Eric Cantor — there has to be somebody other than Nancy Pelosi for you to sit with!), but readers of CONTENTIONS don’t have that problem. Tonight at 9 p.m., join CONTENTIONS contributors Alana Goodman, Abe Greenwald, and Jonathan Tobin for a live-blog session during President Obama’s State of the Union speech. See you tonight!
Topic: Abe Greenwald
Abe Greenwald unerringly fingers the new U.S.-Chinese nuclear-security center, announced by President Obama today, as a problematic idea. The proposed “Center of Excellence” (a 1990s-speak expression from the “reinventing government” era) will reportedly be opened to other countries in Asia, in the hope that “China can use its influence to improve nuclear security in the region.” A review of the other countries in the region suggests that this is, frankly, just silly. Russia, India, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea: these countries, whether nuclear armed or merely users of nuclear power, are hardly candidates for having their practices squared away by a “center of excellence” in China.
On the other hand, a nuclear-security center in China could well be opened to North Korea, Iran, Burma, or a host of Arab, Latin American, or sub-Saharan African nations, all in the name of engagement and responsibility. Besides giving China greater access to U.S. information, the joint venture will make China the potential middleman for technology transfers superior to those Russia can offer.
The idea for the center was reportedly suggested by Hu Jintao at Obama’s nuclear-security summit in April. The center of excellence is perfectly emblematic of the bureaucratic-engagement style of security policy that Team Obama likes to call “smart power.” The nuclear accord with China is supposed to mirror the one we have had with Russia for some years — but its superficial similarities on paper are overwhelmed by the profound differences in circumstances. Proliferation, not a superpower standoff, is the main security problem today. The past 40 years should have taught us that there is no nation — none — whose motivation to prevent dangerous nuclear proliferation is of the same order as ours. If there is any such nation, it certainly isn’t China.
But the Obama administration has a big appetite for paper activism in foreign policy, regardless of the consequences. The Center of Excellence in China has been announced on the heels of last week’s vote in the Russian Duma to advance the New START treaty to its third and final reading, which should assure ratification. The problem with this good-news story is that the Duma, like the U.S. Senate, has attached its own understandings to the instrument of ratification — and the Russians’ understandings directly contradict those of the U.S. Senate. The Senate specifies that New START does not constrain any U.S. missile-defense plans or any U.S. use of strategic delivery platforms for non-nuclear warheads. The Duma understands the opposite, characterizing its legislative understandings as a restoration of the treaty’s original, intended meaning.
On such shoals, “agreements” founder. New START represents no benefit to national security if neither side interprets the treaty to mean the same thing. (At NRO today, Keith B. Payne has another reason why it’s not a boon to U.S. security.) But, like the nuclear-security center in China, New START will have consequences. Treaties and nuclear-security centers shouldn’t be agreed to as if they are items on a peppy “good ideas” checklist. Team Obama too often comes off like a student seminar putting on a mock inter-agency working group. In the real world, poorly conceived joint ventures turn into throbbing security toothaches with alarming frequency.
Join me, Jennifer Rubin, Abe Greenwald, and other guest stars tonight; we’ll be live-blogging throughout.
Obama limits U.S. use of nuclear weapons to one minute after our glorious republic is a steaming pile of ash, toxic waste, and rotting human flesh. So there’s a plan.
World spared another Salinger “masterpiece.” Thank you. Thank you.
Subways of the future are so cool you’ll want to live in them. Unlike some of us…
Loon’s mommy says Fox News made him threaten Nancy Pelosi. Well, MSNBC made me punch a rodeo clown, you don’t hear me whining about it…
Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights forces Steve Jobs to stop running those stupid “Buy Apple” ads.
Obama’s judicial nominee withdraws because she’s not universally acclaimed. Somebody needs a hug. Or clozapine. (I said or …)
NY Times Ethicist says stealing’s OK as long as you convince yourself it’s not really stealing. (Immanuel Kant call your office — and cancel your subscription to the Times.)
ObamaCare a definite pain in the prostate.
Do not quit your job as a nanosurgery technician to stuff envelopes from home. There’s no money in it, apparently.
No Flash a problem if you’re in the Hulu loop.
British farmers claim UFOs are attacking their sheep. Damn foreigners.
Minor-league baseball team signs girl pitcher. For the love of Joe Pepitone, where will this egalitarian madness end? Next thing you know, women will be running businesses and becoming heads of state. Miserable communists…
Prehistoric bugs discovered preserved in amber, just like socialism in the head of a Nation editor…
NYU School of Journalism names Top 10 works of journalism in past decade. Wait a minute — they have schools for journalism? They grade on a curve, yes?
The Twinkie is 80. Literally. Like the one you’re eating right now.
And Gatorade goes kosher. So now your rabbi can replenish his fluids during those really long liturgies. (H/T Abe Greenwald)
Karzai’s tirade makes perfect sense now. Hey, Hamid, don’t Bogart that hookah.
Turkey threatens to do to Armenians what they did to Armenians if anyone mentions what they did to Armenians. Which they deny doing. Unless you make them do it.
Fossil of 4-foot-2-inch boy found. He may or may not be the missing link. He may or may not have fronted an Air Supply tribute band.
And finally, Elizabeth Taylor, 78, is engaged. A triumph of hope over experience.
COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald catches Obama going neocon and observes: “As evil is now part of Barack Obama’s war lexicon, he must make this point, and he must speak of victory. For once evil is invoked, compromise is off the table. Evil demands defeat.”
Harry Reid’s Medicare “deal” may be falling apart: “Senate moderates who are the linchpin to passing a health care reform bill raised fresh worries Thursday about a proposed Medicare expansion, complicating Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hopes of putting together a filibuster-proof majority for the legislation in the coming days.”
There is “quite a bit of data confirming that Republicans, after hitting bottom, are on the rebound, while Democrats are feeling the heat as the party in power.” It seems that saying no to bad policies is a good strategy after all.
The assistant attorney general for civil rights smears the Justice Department attorneys who were on the trial team in the New Black Panther Party voter case. This is not a smart thing to do while subpoenas seek these same attorneys’ testimony about political interference by Obama appointees.
Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren slams J Street: “This is not a matter of settlements here [or] there. We understand there are differences of opinion. … But when it comes to the survival of the Jewish state, there should be no differences of opinion. You are fooling around with the lives of 7 million people. This is no joke. … I think it’s very important that you be up-front with them and say why these policies are outside the mainstream and why they are inimical to Israel’s fundamental interests.”
Kentucky Democrats blame a loss in a state-legislature race on the national political environment: “Notably, the GOP focused the race on the Democrats’ healthcare proposal and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).”
Charles Krauthammer explains the “shakedown” in Copenhagen: “Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.”
Kim Strassel thinks the EPA’s threat to regulate carbon emissions by bureaucratic fiat blew up in the Obami’s faces: “At least some congressional Democrats view this as breathing room, a further reason to not tackle a killer issue in the run-up to next year’s election. Mr. Obama may emerge from Copenhagen with some sort of ‘deal.’ But his real problem is getting Congress to act, and his EPA move may have just made that job harder.”
The Foreign Policy Initiative has put out a handy fact sheet listing and debunking the common arguments against a fully staffed counterinsurgency operation (COIN) in Afghanistan. As FPI explains:
The arguments, when closely considered, expose a default resistance to completing the mission, not a thoughtful dismantling of the pro “surge” case. Below you’ll find a list of the most popular critiques of General Stanley McChrystal’s COIN strategy and resource request, each followed by clear refutations from relevant experts.
The anti-COIN arguments that the fact sheet lays out reminds one, eerily so, of the arguments employed by the Left against the surge in Iraq (the national government is unworthy or inept, the country is too “backward” to sustain a U.S.-led effort, the U.S. Army is stretched too thin, a light footprint will work as well). FPI’s responses to each should be read in full, but the conclusion one comes away with is that the arguments in opposition to COIN are even less compelling this time, in part because we have the experience of Iraq to provide guidance. One of the least effective arguments in opposition to COIN is a circular one: the public isn’t behind this. COMMENTARY contributor Abe Greenwald explains:
Barack Obama has yet to talk about America or its ideals as being worth the fight. It’s no wonder public support for our commitment in Afghanistan is lower today than at any point during the Bush administration. … Since taking office, President Obama has continuously spoken of the United States as a country that “all too often … starts by dictating,” a place that “has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive” toward allies, where “our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight, [and] all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.” America, in Mr. Obama’s words, “is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history.” What kind of dupe would rally behind that place? To make matters worse, while the situation deteriorated in Afghanistan and loose speculation abounded the president went silent on matters of war.
In other words, if the president wants to rally public opinion and debunk the critics of COIN, he can do so, with some effort and determination. But does he? We’ll find out, hopefully soon.
I confess I haven’t listened to all 80 minutes of this interview with Nancy Pelosi. But my CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald tells me that, in addition to crediting Iranian munificence for the growing stability in Iraq, the Speaker made the following statement:
The undermining of our military strength is just staggering. We don’t have one combat-ready unit in the United States to go to protect our interests wherever they are threatened, or those of our friends .
I suppose this is further confirmation of the old chestnut about what goes around comes around: Back in 2000, conservatives were lambasting the Clinton administration for declining readiness levels (see, for instance, this Heritage paper) and promising “help is on the way.” Now it’s the turns of liberals. In both cases the attacks are partially fair, partially not.
The issue is that a unit’s combat readiness declines immediately after rotating out of a war zone. At that point, lots of soldiers and officers leave and lots of new ones come in. Worn-out equipment is repaired or discarded; new equipment arrives slowly. Gradually, the unit fills up and trains up in preparation for another deployment. Often it will not reach the highest level of combat readiness until just before the deployment. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most active-duty army and marine units are either deployed, preparing for deployment, or recovering from deployment. That doesn’t leave a lot of units sitting around at high levels of readiness in CONUS–the military abbreviation for Continental United States. But the units we are sending into combat are the most experienced and best-prepared we have ever sent to fight any war.
Traditionally the 82nd Airborne Division maintained one home-based brigade at the highest state of readiness at all times-ready to deploy anywhere in the world within 72 hours. Last year all four of the 82nd brigade’s deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, handing off the “ready brigade” mission to the 101st Air Assault Division, which has lots of its units deployed too. Three of the 82nd‘s brigades have now returned home to Fort Bragg and the division is supposed to re-assume the “readiness” function next year.
It would be nice to have more units standing by at a higher level of readiness, but that hardly means the U.S. is defenseless. In addition to our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have substantial numbers of ground forces deployed in Okinawa, South Korea, and Germany that in a pinch could be used to deal with another crisis. More importantly, we have lots of air and naval assets that are not engaged in the fight today. Pelosi did not refer specifically to army units; she said “combat-ready units.” By that standard, there are lots of air force squadrons and naval task forces that qualify. And they would in fact be our first line of defense against a crisis in, say, the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan strait, or Iran.
Anyway, just what is Pelosi’s point? Is she saying that she supports a large increase in the size of the active duty force? John McCain has called for increasing the overall size of our ground forces (army and marines) from today’s projected level of 750,000 to 900,000. Is Pelosi willing to support legislation along those lines? Or is she instead suggesting that, rather than substantially increase our forces, we downsize their missions? I suspect it’s the latter, and that her preferred option is to pull units out of Iraq, thereby losing the most significant war we’ve fought since Vietnam, in order to keep units in readiness for another contingency that may or may not materialize. But, if Vietnam teaches anything, it is that nothing is guaranteed to harm long-term readiness more than losing a war.
Over on her blog, Diana West gets a little hysterical about the fallout over the U.S. military sniper who shot up a Qur’an in Bagdhad.
Nice, ad hominem opener.
She objects to the reprimand the soldier received and the general air of apology from the U.S.
Which included, just to refresh, a deferential public apology from Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond during which another US officer presented the assembled locals (likely insurgents, not long ago) with a brand new Koran after kissing it. Abe then quotes briefly from my column:
“Let’s play around some more with the story. Imagine if, during the Allied occupation of post-Nazi Germany, a GI had been discovered using “Mein Kampf” for target practice. Would Gen. George S. Patton have kissed a new copy of the Nazi bible as he presented it to a cadre of former Nazis?”
And then he writes:
That won’t do, Diana.
What won’t “do,” Abe–comparing Gen. Patton and “Mein Kampf” with Gen. Hammond and the Koran? Why not?”
Critics like to say that for neoconservatives it’s always 1938. So I take particular relish in pointing out to Diana that the 1938 framework in which she’s placed the war on terror is a functional nonstarter.
Yes, there are many nasty injunctions in the Qur’an. Yes, there are calls to anti-Semitism and supremacy. But Diana’s line of argument–that the West is up against nothing less than the Qur’an itself–is inevitably countered by one of two points. First, there are nasty parts in the foundational works of other major religions. Second, there are Qur’anic passages promoting humanity and understanding. This is rebutted in turn: “But there are more nasty bits in the Qur’an than in other holy books.” And once you’ve reached that less-than-stellar point, your crusade has lost a good deal of its moral clarity. If you’re going to wage wholesale war on an entire religion, you’ll need more than a tabulation showing that the religion’s core text is, on balance, nastier than the next.
Why are the Iraqi Kurds such reliable American allies? Why, last week, did a Turkish Muslim sit down with me for a glass of wine? After all, they read the same Qu’ran bearing the same proclamations about infidels and the same prohibition on alcohol. Religion is personal, fluid, mysterious. Yes, I know: the Qur’an is supposedly the direct word of God and therefore not open to interpretation. But in reality, it is interpreted and reinterpreted constantly. In various times and various locales, Muslims have given different parts of Qur’anic text different weight. Because of the U.S.’s indefatigable efforts on both the military and diplomatic fronts, we are currently witnessing the rejection of jihad among the Sunni and Shia of Iraq. Nothing spurs religious dynamism like major shifts in the political landscape. I have a hard time seeing how the unapologetic desecration of the Qur’an puts America on a better footing in the war on terror.
Diana goes on:
“I’m not sure whether Abe disputes my argument, but he certainly thinks it shouldn’t be made. Here’s why he says “that won’t do”:
While the Qur’an is sacred to our enemies in Iraq, it is also sacred to our allies in that country. Moreover, it is sacred to the millions of Muslims who are citizens of the United States, to say nothing of the thousands who serve in uniform.
Notice that this fact is given as a rationale for silence, not as a cause for concern.“
Not silence, merely restraint from vandalism. Bluster about shooting up a Qur’an is no substitute for beneficial inquiry into the relationship between moderate and radical Islam. I’m proud to note that COMMENTARY does not shy away from exploring such questions at length. I refer Diana to “In Search of Moderate Muslims” by Joshua Muravchik and Charles P. Szrom in the February 2008 issue, and to these dissenting letters from Stephen Schwartz and COMMENTARY contributor Daniel Pipes.
I understand Diana’s concerns and I share some of them. But all in all it’s a good thing that the U.S. is not in the habit of waging war on religions. Such undertakings would contradict the noblest intentions of our Constitution. And on a purely strategic level, doing battle with Islam itself would surely lose us our most important allies. I always enjoy fielding the anti-war charge that America is trying to oppress Muslims worldwide: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And forfeiting that assurance would be the same thing as giving up the fight.
Yesterday, representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5 + 1, met but failed to agree on a new package of incentives for Iran. The most significant aspect of the meeting is not the result–it was clear from the get-go that the six nations would not immediately see eye-to-eye–but its location, Shanghai: China hosted the talks.
In one sense, it is a measure of progress that Beijing is helping to find a solution to the greatest security challenge of our times. As Guo Xian’gang, a former Chinese diplomat, told Reuters, “China wanted to show that it’s a mainstream member of the five plus one process.”
But should the United States be ceding even more initiative to the Chinese? In 2003 President Bush committed himself to multilateral diplomacy on North Korea, and he generously made China the centerpiece of global efforts to disarm Pyongyang.
The Chinese used their position to craft an arrangement, announced in September 2005, that permitted even more North Korean delaying tactics and bad faith negotiation. And why did the President accept an obviously deficient deal? Largely because Chinese negotiators presented their plan as take-it-or-leave-it and told their American counterparts that they would publicly blame them if they rejected it. In short, the United States generously gave Beijing a leading role on Korea-and the Chinese then turned around and used their new-found prominence to mug America. Now, North Korea is prevailing over United States, as Abe Greenwald suggested on Tuesday, largely because Pyongyang has Beijing on its side.
Yet the Bush administration is again trying to give the Chinese a leading role in international affairs, this time to stop Iran’s efforts to weaponize the atom. That’s why the place of yesterday’s meeting is so important. Working with China can hasten its integration into the global order, yet long before Beijing is ready to accept the role as a constructive power, the Iranians will have built an arsenal of nuclear warheads.
Whether or not it was wise for the White House to work with the Chinese over North Korea five years ago, it should not be doing so now with Iran. There are too many lives at stake for the Bush administration to continue its optimistic diplomacy experiment with China.
Like Abe Greenwald, I was struck by the New York Times‘ article on Tuesday that described the growing disenchantment of young Iraqis with the clerics. And I share his assessment that it offers the hope of vindication for the Bush Doctrine. History may come to see the Iraqi insurgency as the natural result of lifting the lid off of the Iraqi kettle: the pressure built up by Saddam, and fueled by Al Qaeda
It is far too soon to start claiming victory. The Times‘ story is based on a mere forty interviews, and as Frederick and Kimberly Kagan point out in their latest piece in the Weekly Standard, on “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” “the war is still very much ongoing and victory is by no means assured.” But the Kagans’ article also draws attention to the same trends the Times has discovered. According to them, while there is widespread frustration with the Maliki government:
that frustration is increasingly expressed not simply as resentment of Maliki and his allies, but in a rejection of clerical government (the dominant Shia party south of
is controlled by a turbaned cleric, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim); of Iranian influence; and of regionalism, factionalism, and sectarianism. Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia, are increasingly defining themselves as Iraqis, that is to say Arabs, rather than Sunnis or Shia. Baghdad
That last sentence is the crucial one. Across the
But as long as faith squeezes nationalism out of the public square, the various body politics of the region will be weak and divided, prone to manipulation by dictators and terrorists. That is exactly what happened in
My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.
First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.
Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.
I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.
More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.
Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.
And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)
The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.
Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.
Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”
Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.
Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.
Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.
There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.
Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.
There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.
The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.
John McCain just completed another blogger call. He began by talking about Kosovo, saying he believed it would be an independent country and that Vladimir Putin’s comments were “very unhelpful” and his discussion of Georgia’s breakaway provinces was “outrageous.” He also again took Barack Obama to task for offering to meet with Raul Castro without preconditions. He stated that Raul was “the bad guy of the duo” and responsible for sentencing people to death and maintaining a dictatorship and that McCain would only meet with him after “the prisons were emptied,” fair elections were held and other conditions had been met. (In response to a question later in the call he noted that the danger in meeting with Raul would be to legitimize him when a transition to a freer system might otherwise be possible. He argued that the embargo policy had successfully contained Castro.)
I asked him about the potential Democratic nominees’ unwillingness to recognize progress in Iraq. He said he was “disappointed but not surprised they continue to deny obvious facts” that political and military progress was being made. He termed it “almost Orwellian” that people would assert that the threat of withdrawal actually contributed to improved conditions. He suggested that his opponents need not “apologize” but they should admit they were wrong in opposing the surge. (He offered that MoveOn.org has a “significant influence in the Democrat party.”)
Abe Greenwald asked about Jay Lefkowitz’s criticisms (which were given the back of the hand by Secretary of State Condi Rice) that the Six Party talks involving North Korea should address human rights abuses. McCain said succinctly that he does believe the talks should address human rights and that North Korea remains the world’s largest functioning “gulag.” (He mentioned his disappointment that the South Korean government was not as “mindful” of the human rights abuses as it should be.) He said undue focus on the make-up of the talks rather than the content was misguided and drew analogies to Vietnam, mentioning that talks went on unsuccessfully for years until “B-52′s appeared in the skies.” He said that he was concerned about the North Korea’s failure to live up to its committments and its potential involvement with Syria’s nuclear program. (He ended his response by quoting Ronald Reagan’s “Trust but verify” addage.)
On other matters: 1) He expressed “distress” that Congressman Rick Renzi was indicted and agreed he would likely step down as an Arizona co-chair; 2) He said he was on “solid ground” in withdrawing from the public financing constraints imposed by the FEC as Congressman Dick Gephardt previously had done in similar circumstances; 3) He said he would be competitive in California and states in the northeast like New Jersey and even New York and intended to go to places Republicans usually don’t and compete in all states.; 4) Explained his “100 years in Iraq” comment as an indication that our security arrangements would be ongoing but that we would be successful militarily in the short term and defended himself against the Democratic charges that he was not expert on the economy by saying he was most expert on foreign policy given his decades of involvement in that area, but that his low tax, free market philosophy would stack up well against the Democrats. He declined to comment further on the New York Times lobbyist story.
In general, he seemed engaged and forward looking. There was no trace of animus or bitterness about yesterday’s events, and he seemed energized when talking about differences with his Democratic opponents.
Abe Greenwald has touched on an aspect of the current Democratic race war that disturbs me, and you don’t have to be a psychologist to think it matters. Shelby Steele has argued that Obama is an icon, and implicit in so much of Obama’s popularity is that voting for him-and especially electing him-would be a national absolution for racial sins, would allow the US to have the open conversation about race that it has supposedly failed to have since its founding.
The response to Hillary Clinton’s unexceptional statement about Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights Act suggests that, instead of opening the conversation up, an Obama victory is much more likely to shut it down completely. Accusations of racial insensitivity are powerful weapons, and if elected, Obama would need the restraint of a saint not to avail himself of them. The line between being the hero and playing the victim is a narrow one, and it is not in the American tradition to regard politicians as self-denying saints.
But even if he does restrain himself, as he claims to have done this time, the effect will be much the same. Whether he wills it or not, an Obama presidency looks like it will make it harder to commemorate the full diversity of the civil rights movement, and, especially, harder for reformers of all races to argue that there may be aspects of African-American culture that are destructive and self-defeating. The ‘national conversation’ will be further submerged by the clichés of multiculturalism.
An icon, after all, is something you worship-and the more important Obama’s iconic status as the African-American par excellence becomes, the more eagerly his supporters will seek out and demonize anything that might detract from it. The United States is not entirely free from racism-but that kind of relentless, eager, politically-motivated quest for evidence of it will only increase the resentful, touchy sourness that is such a disturbing feature of American race relations today.
That is a foreboding, not a reason to avoid voting for Obama. Personally, I have never thought he had a chance, mostly because he is the favorite candidate here at Yale, which is all the proof I need that he will lose. If the power of iconic status could defeat bland ambition, Gary Hart, not Walter Mondale, would have been the Democratic nominee in 1984. Obama’s candidacy only has a chance of victory if he rejects what has so far defined it.
How he might do this-and whether he would survive politically-is difficult to know, but it cannot be done through words alone: Obama is a powerful speaker, but believing that words always trump actions was what brought Clinton down. Still, he might begin by admitting candidly that Hillary was right: Presidents can do things that civil society cannot. Surely that is not such a damaging thing to say if you want to be President.
This morning, the New York Times reacted to Iran’s recent naval maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz. On Monday, U.S. officials reported that five Iranian speedboats threatened three Navy warships in international waters at the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf on Sunday. The small boats, probably operated by the Revolutionary Guard, closed within two hundred yards of the American vessels, communicated a threat to destroy them, and dropped boxes into the water in an apparent attempt to disrupt free passage in the waterway. Abe Greenwald reported and discussed this troubling development in this forum yesterday.
The Times, predictably, saw Saturday’s hostile act as an opportunity to begin a dialogue with Tehran. “At a minimum, the administration should use this incident to engage Iran in formal talks on conduct in the strait,” the paper said in an editorial. Why? “It is not clear what game the Iranians were playing or even who was giving the orders. President Bush’s refusal to engage Iran diplomatically makes it even harder for American officials to deconstruct Iran’s motives and increases the risk of future miscalculation on both sides.”
The principal flaw in the Times’s argument is that Iran’s motives for its dangerous conduct are relevant. They are not. The fact that Iranians sought to disrupt traffic in the waterway carrying 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is all we need to know.
My fellow blogger Abe Greenwald has already commented on the incongruity of the comparison that Condi Rice reportedly made at Annapolis, suggesting that because of her childhood in the segregated South she can empathize with both Palestinians and Israelis.
On the one hand, Rice said: “I know what its like to hear that you can’t use a certain road or pass through a checkpoint because you are a Palestinian. I know what it is like to feel discriminated against and powerless.” On the other hand, “Like Israelis, I understand what it’s like to go to sleep not knowing if you will be hurt in an explosion, the feeling of terror walking around your own neighborhood, or walking to your house of prayer.”
One wonders if Rice thought through the implications of her comparison of Israelis with Southern segregationists and of Palestinians with the Ku Klux Klan: not a very flattering comparison to either side.
But even if you accept the dubious premise that Palestinians, like African-Americans, are innocent victims of discrimination, it is worth pondering the differences in their responses. Some African-Americans, like the Black Panthers, opted for a violent response. But theirs was a tiny, minority position. The overwhelming majority of the African-American community protested injustice through nonviolent protest, even in the face of severe provocation. In the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. they produced a towering figure in the Gandhi tradition who, in effect, shamed American whites into overturning centuries of officially enforced segregation.
Where, one wonders, is the Palestinian Martin Luther King? Their most recognizable leader was Yasser Arafat, who devoted his life to terrorism. Today their most powerful leaders, in Hamas, are also firmly intent on the path of war; they continue to attack Israel and refuse to recognize its right to exist even after Israel has made a generous concession by evacuating the Gaza Strip. Mahmoud Abbas is of a more moderate bent, but he too has been part of a violent struggle for most of his life, having spent long years as Arafat’s top henchman.
The Palestinians have reaped what they have sown: Faced with violence, Israel has had no choice but to respond in kind, even though the Israeli security services have usually opted for the most measured responses possible.
What the Palestinians don’t seem to realize is that nonviolent protest is actually the best strategy against a liberal democracy like Israel. If the Palestinians had kept the moral high ground, Israel would have been forced to make even more concessions than they have already—the substantial body of liberal opinion in Israel would have seen to that. But because the Palestinians reward every concession with more attacks, they have convinced the overwhelming majority of Israelis that there is no hope in the near future of a negotiated settlement.
In short, the Palestinian strategy is not only immoral but impractical. They have no one but themselves to blame for their current predicament. It’s a shame that an American secretary of state is, in effect, letting them off the hook with an injudicious analogy.
Slick Willie is at it again. This time it comes in the form of his assertion that he opposed the Iraq war from the start. You can see new contributor Abe Greenwald’s post below for details about Clinton’s claims.
What ought we to make of this?
First, if it’s true that Bill Clinton opposed the war but held his tongue because it would have been “inappropriate at the time for him, a former President, to oppose—in a direct, full-throated manner—the sitting President’s military decision,” one might ask: Why then would it be appropriate to criticize now—in a direct, full-throated manner—the same sitting President’s military decision? In fact, it would have been more responsible to voice his objections before the war, when it was being debated, rather than now, when the decision has been made.
Beyond that, Bill Clinton, unlike George H.W. Bush, has not been shy about criticizing the actions of the President who followed him. Bill Clinton has been a constant critic of President Bush, on a range of issues, including the Kyoto Treaty, the withdrawal of U.S. support for the International Criminal Court and the ABM Treaty, tax cuts, education funding, homeland security, and more.
The core point, of course, is that Bill Clinton did not oppose the war from the beginning; if he had, he would have made his views clear. He didn’t, and it’s no surprise he didn’t. Remember that support for the war at that time was quite high—and there have been few politicians in our lifetime who are less principled and less willing to take an unpopular stand than Bill Clinton. If at that point the country was for the war, he simply would not have been against it.
Jewcy blogger Abe Greenwald lets us know today just how far reporters from the New York Times to Time to the BBC are willing to go not to admit the obvious about the participants in the riots that began in France this past weekend.
For some reason, I can’t imagine why, these news outlets avoid stating that the rioters are Muslim. In fact, consistently referring to the rioters as “youths,” the news outlets make it sound as though, as Greenwald points out, what France and Nicolas Sarkozy are confronting is “teenage extremism” that “demands nothing less than a fully committed War on Puberty.”