Commentary Magazine


Topic: Africa

Why He Doesn’t Explain Why We Fight

Charles Krauthammer’s (I won’t say “must-read,” because all are) column today critiques both what Obama said on Tuesday (much discussion of deadlines) and what he did not. As to the latter, Krauthammer explains:

Where does America stand on the spreading threats to stability, decency and U.S. interests from the Horn of Africa to the Hindu Kush?

On this, not a word. Instead, Obama made a strange and clumsy segue into a pep talk on the economy. Rebuilding it, he declared, “must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president.” This in a speech ostensibly about the two wars he is directing. He could not have made more clear where his priorities lie, and how much he sees foreign policy — war policy — as subordinate to his domestic ambitions.

Unfortunately, what for Obama is a distraction is life or death for U.S. troops now on patrol in Kandahar province. Some presidents may not like being wartime leaders. But they don’t get to decide. History does. Obama needs to accept the role. It’s not just the U.S. military, as [the New York Times's] Baker reports, that is “worried he is not fully invested in the cause.” Our allies, too, are experiencing doubt. And our enemies are drawing sustenance.

One can understand why Obama does not like to speak about a worldwide, amorphous war against jihadists. Many of the policies he has implemented are based on the premise that we are not engaged in a war to save our civilization. The Obama administration Mirandizes the Christmas Day  and the Times Square terrorists because these are “one-offs,” as Janet Napolitano put it. They offer KSM a public trial because they turn a blind eye to the impact such a trial would have on jihadists around the world. They excise “jihadist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from their vocabulary because they imagine the war has nothing to do with ideology. (Al-Qaeda is an extremist group, but of what kind? Are they environmental or animal-rights activists who’ve gone over the edge — or murderers who kill in the name of Islam?)

Obama can’t talk about the struggle we are engaged in against Islamic fascists, because he doesn’t believe we’re in such a struggle. Or he pretends we’re not, because to acknowledge reality would make all his deadlines – and the announcement that his central task is the economy — seem ludicrous. And they are.

Charles Krauthammer’s (I won’t say “must-read,” because all are) column today critiques both what Obama said on Tuesday (much discussion of deadlines) and what he did not. As to the latter, Krauthammer explains:

Where does America stand on the spreading threats to stability, decency and U.S. interests from the Horn of Africa to the Hindu Kush?

On this, not a word. Instead, Obama made a strange and clumsy segue into a pep talk on the economy. Rebuilding it, he declared, “must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president.” This in a speech ostensibly about the two wars he is directing. He could not have made more clear where his priorities lie, and how much he sees foreign policy — war policy — as subordinate to his domestic ambitions.

Unfortunately, what for Obama is a distraction is life or death for U.S. troops now on patrol in Kandahar province. Some presidents may not like being wartime leaders. But they don’t get to decide. History does. Obama needs to accept the role. It’s not just the U.S. military, as [the New York Times's] Baker reports, that is “worried he is not fully invested in the cause.” Our allies, too, are experiencing doubt. And our enemies are drawing sustenance.

One can understand why Obama does not like to speak about a worldwide, amorphous war against jihadists. Many of the policies he has implemented are based on the premise that we are not engaged in a war to save our civilization. The Obama administration Mirandizes the Christmas Day  and the Times Square terrorists because these are “one-offs,” as Janet Napolitano put it. They offer KSM a public trial because they turn a blind eye to the impact such a trial would have on jihadists around the world. They excise “jihadist” and “Islamic fundamentalist” from their vocabulary because they imagine the war has nothing to do with ideology. (Al-Qaeda is an extremist group, but of what kind? Are they environmental or animal-rights activists who’ve gone over the edge — or murderers who kill in the name of Islam?)

Obama can’t talk about the struggle we are engaged in against Islamic fascists, because he doesn’t believe we’re in such a struggle. Or he pretends we’re not, because to acknowledge reality would make all his deadlines – and the announcement that his central task is the economy — seem ludicrous. And they are.

Read Less

Yemen and the Biden Strategy

One of the most useful prisms through which to view Yemen and Somalia is that of the “Biden strategy” for the War on Terror. The strategy’s outlines are provided in this article, one of many recounting Biden’s advocacy of over-the-horizon counterterrorism during the interminable seminar on Afghanistan last year:

Biden urged the president to consider a narrow counterterrorism mission, heavy on Special Forces and Predator drone strikes, which would require far less manpower than the military was seeking. … [He] continues to argue that it may not be possible to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan at a reasonable cost.

Administration policy in Yemen and Somalia has been an even purer example of applying the Biden strategy. Team Obama has disavowed any intention of enlarging U.S. goals or the military footprint in either nation (see here and here, for example). The U.S. is there only to hunt terrorists, suppress piracy, and supply humanitarian aid, with a little military aid thrown in on the side.

Obama has so rigorously eschewed having any greater designs on the region that his administration seems to have missed some very basic geopolitical facts; e.g., that the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden lie between Yemen and Somalia and are the main path by which terrorists — and refugees — travel between their unruly shores. Yemen and Somalia function, in many ways, as a “system”; they share problems and displaced populations; and their neighbors — like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Sudan — claim equities in their turmoil. Proposing to interact with this region solely by executing drone attacks and distributing aid, as if that will immunize the U.S. against unpleasant levels of involvement, is as much a fool’s errand as it is in Central Asia.

The U.S. is already deeply embedded in the region, with our naval task force combating piracy, our joint military headquarters in Djibouti, and our Special Forces and military training activities in Yemen. Now Obama wants to increase our counterterrorism activities in Yemen, deeming it a greater source of terrorism than Pakistan. In Somalia, meanwhile, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is trying to retake the south from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terror group, the commander of U.S. Africa Command has stated — for the first time — a U.S. willingness to train Somali TFG troops directly.

The intensifying war on terrorists in Yemen is reminiscent of the U.S. posture in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s. There are, unfortunately, parallels in multiple realms. Human-rights groups are decrying the collateral damage done by U.S. strikes (like this one in December 2009). Yemen itself is rent by factional insurgencies; one of them, the Southern Movement, has ambiguous relations with al-Qaeda. The moral hazard of U.S. cooperation being exploited by the Yemeni government to go after its internal opposition cannot be discounted. Such allegations are already being made by Amnesty International and others. But the strongest parallel with Southeast Asia 50 years ago is the administration’s passion for Special Forces, military advisers, and standoff air strikes.

What happens in Yemen will not stay in Yemen: it will spill over and affect the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight terror there, but it does mean we will be unprepared for the consequences of doing so if we rely only on the Biden strategy. Perhaps the American people have let Team Obama maintain the fiction that we are executing a distant, hands-off strategy there, but regional circumstances won’t allow it much longer. Obama is inviting things to come to a head by ramping up Special Forces operations and drone attacks in Yemen, which will stretch the Biden method to the breaking point.

We are already involved in Yemen’s fate: we’ve been shooting there for years. Somalia may be next. We are backing into a problem we should be meeting head-on. Our strategy should, at the very least, recognize the limits of our ability to ignore local and regional politics when we are hunting our enemies and enforcing our policies on someone else’s territory.

One of the most useful prisms through which to view Yemen and Somalia is that of the “Biden strategy” for the War on Terror. The strategy’s outlines are provided in this article, one of many recounting Biden’s advocacy of over-the-horizon counterterrorism during the interminable seminar on Afghanistan last year:

Biden urged the president to consider a narrow counterterrorism mission, heavy on Special Forces and Predator drone strikes, which would require far less manpower than the military was seeking. … [He] continues to argue that it may not be possible to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan at a reasonable cost.

Administration policy in Yemen and Somalia has been an even purer example of applying the Biden strategy. Team Obama has disavowed any intention of enlarging U.S. goals or the military footprint in either nation (see here and here, for example). The U.S. is there only to hunt terrorists, suppress piracy, and supply humanitarian aid, with a little military aid thrown in on the side.

Obama has so rigorously eschewed having any greater designs on the region that his administration seems to have missed some very basic geopolitical facts; e.g., that the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden lie between Yemen and Somalia and are the main path by which terrorists — and refugees — travel between their unruly shores. Yemen and Somalia function, in many ways, as a “system”; they share problems and displaced populations; and their neighbors — like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Sudan — claim equities in their turmoil. Proposing to interact with this region solely by executing drone attacks and distributing aid, as if that will immunize the U.S. against unpleasant levels of involvement, is as much a fool’s errand as it is in Central Asia.

The U.S. is already deeply embedded in the region, with our naval task force combating piracy, our joint military headquarters in Djibouti, and our Special Forces and military training activities in Yemen. Now Obama wants to increase our counterterrorism activities in Yemen, deeming it a greater source of terrorism than Pakistan. In Somalia, meanwhile, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is trying to retake the south from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terror group, the commander of U.S. Africa Command has stated — for the first time — a U.S. willingness to train Somali TFG troops directly.

The intensifying war on terrorists in Yemen is reminiscent of the U.S. posture in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s. There are, unfortunately, parallels in multiple realms. Human-rights groups are decrying the collateral damage done by U.S. strikes (like this one in December 2009). Yemen itself is rent by factional insurgencies; one of them, the Southern Movement, has ambiguous relations with al-Qaeda. The moral hazard of U.S. cooperation being exploited by the Yemeni government to go after its internal opposition cannot be discounted. Such allegations are already being made by Amnesty International and others. But the strongest parallel with Southeast Asia 50 years ago is the administration’s passion for Special Forces, military advisers, and standoff air strikes.

What happens in Yemen will not stay in Yemen: it will spill over and affect the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight terror there, but it does mean we will be unprepared for the consequences of doing so if we rely only on the Biden strategy. Perhaps the American people have let Team Obama maintain the fiction that we are executing a distant, hands-off strategy there, but regional circumstances won’t allow it much longer. Obama is inviting things to come to a head by ramping up Special Forces operations and drone attacks in Yemen, which will stretch the Biden method to the breaking point.

We are already involved in Yemen’s fate: we’ve been shooting there for years. Somalia may be next. We are backing into a problem we should be meeting head-on. Our strategy should, at the very least, recognize the limits of our ability to ignore local and regional politics when we are hunting our enemies and enforcing our policies on someone else’s territory.

Read Less

Dowd vs. Obama

I admit it: I was looking forward to Maureen Dowd’s column today. Nothing quite gets her dander up and her claws out like a reminder that Obama is not merely a disappointment to the left but also an embarrassment. She  seethes:

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing. …

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack.

Well he can and did, but she’s fit to be tied about it — so much so that’s she’s praising George W. Bush for saying nice things about Muslims, championing AIDS prevention in Africa, and making a real effort on immigration reform. (I was not pleased with his excessive genuflecting on the first, but we’ve certainly entered the Twilight Zone of politics when she throws Bush in Obama’s face. Nothing like a woman scorned.) Anyway, she’s not done with the unflattering comparisons. Bill Clinton, at least, “never presented himself as a moral guide to the country,” so it’s all the more painful when Obama “flops around” on the mosque and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now this is Maureen Dowd — who is apparently so powerful that fact checkers and editors dare not raise their hands to caution her about lines like this: “By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.” Uh, not really. We’re yearning for a Muslim who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group and doesn’t suggest that the U.S. is responsible for 9/11. We’re yearning for a Muslim who doesn’t use “hallowed ground” – where 3,000 Americans died at the hands of Islamist extremists — to build a “a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.” (That from an American Muslim whose mother was incinerated on 9/11 by those who “believed that all non-Muslims are infidels and that the duty of Muslims is to renounce them.”) We’re yearning for a Muslim who is “desperate to reform his faith” and forthright in his assessment that the placement of the mosque at Ground Zero is based on “a belief that Islamic structures are a political statement and even Ground Zero should be looked upon through the lens of political Islam and not a solely American one.” (That from a Muslim and former U.S. Navy officer.)

So while her fury at the ever-shrinking Obama may be amusing, her analysis is about what you’d expect from someone who thinks women have it pretty good in Saudi Arabia. The most important insight to be gained from her rant-athon is this: if Democrats were depressed and faced a turnout problem before this incident, watch out. There might not be a poll model in use that accurately measures the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, nor, as a result, the extent of the electoral damage Obama is about to wreak on his party.

I admit it: I was looking forward to Maureen Dowd’s column today. Nothing quite gets her dander up and her claws out like a reminder that Obama is not merely a disappointment to the left but also an embarrassment. She  seethes:

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing. …

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack.

Well he can and did, but she’s fit to be tied about it — so much so that’s she’s praising George W. Bush for saying nice things about Muslims, championing AIDS prevention in Africa, and making a real effort on immigration reform. (I was not pleased with his excessive genuflecting on the first, but we’ve certainly entered the Twilight Zone of politics when she throws Bush in Obama’s face. Nothing like a woman scorned.) Anyway, she’s not done with the unflattering comparisons. Bill Clinton, at least, “never presented himself as a moral guide to the country,” so it’s all the more painful when Obama “flops around” on the mosque and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now this is Maureen Dowd — who is apparently so powerful that fact checkers and editors dare not raise their hands to caution her about lines like this: “By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.” Uh, not really. We’re yearning for a Muslim who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group and doesn’t suggest that the U.S. is responsible for 9/11. We’re yearning for a Muslim who doesn’t use “hallowed ground” – where 3,000 Americans died at the hands of Islamist extremists — to build a “a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.” (That from an American Muslim whose mother was incinerated on 9/11 by those who “believed that all non-Muslims are infidels and that the duty of Muslims is to renounce them.”) We’re yearning for a Muslim who is “desperate to reform his faith” and forthright in his assessment that the placement of the mosque at Ground Zero is based on “a belief that Islamic structures are a political statement and even Ground Zero should be looked upon through the lens of political Islam and not a solely American one.” (That from a Muslim and former U.S. Navy officer.)

So while her fury at the ever-shrinking Obama may be amusing, her analysis is about what you’d expect from someone who thinks women have it pretty good in Saudi Arabia. The most important insight to be gained from her rant-athon is this: if Democrats were depressed and faced a turnout problem before this incident, watch out. There might not be a poll model in use that accurately measures the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, nor, as a result, the extent of the electoral damage Obama is about to wreak on his party.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

Patrick Fitzgerald gets beaten by Blago 23-1. Well, if the prosecution biz isn’t going so well, “[t]here’s always Armitage International, where Rich Armitage and his band of fixers ply their trade. After all, Armitage owes him one—a big one.”

Michael Kinsley gets just about everything wrong in his column with lines like this: “Some people say that tact or respect for the survivors of victims of 9/11 should dissuade these Muslims from building their center [Michael, it is a mosque] on this particular spot. This argument avoids both the constitutional question and the issue of bigotry.” No, you really can have objections that aren’t legal ones and aren’t based on prejudice (even Muslims now object to it). And it’s nice to know he favored letting the Carmelite nuns keep their spot at Auschwitz, but that’s really not a argument that’s going to gain him support, not even 29%.

The picture gets bleaker for Democrats every day: “With today’s ratings changes in 10 House districts, The Cook Political Report is now raising its House forecast from a Republican net gain of between 32 and 42 seats to a gain of between 35 and 45 seats, with the odds of an outcome larger than that range greater than the odds of a lesser outcome. A turnover of 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands.”

William Galston gets no applause from his party for honest analysis like this (registration required): “All signs point to major losses for the Democratic party in the US midterm elections this November. The recovery is slowing, while recent job figures have all but ended hopes that unemployment will fall fast enough to change voter’s minds. But for President Barack Obama it really does not matter whether his party loses its congressional majority, or merely a large number of seats. In either case, the days of single-party government in Washington will be over.” And Obama’s grip on it as well.

Steven Calabresi gets to the nub of Obama’s problem: “President Obama gets in trouble in unscripted moments because at some level he does not really know America very well nor does he thoroughly identify with it. … Unscripted moments are deadly for Obama because they reveal the vast disconnect between his world view and that of people living in the Midwest, the Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and the South.” And Manhattan too!

The White House gets a warning from Harry Reid when he’s going to embarrass Obama, but Democrats get no such courtesy from the president.

Tim Pawlenty gets in another jab at Obama: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — a likely GOP presidential candidate in 2012 — is stepping up his rhetoric against President Obama, saying the commander-in-chief is ‘clueless’ when it comes to the economy and lacks common sense on the controversial mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero. … First of all he is clueless on a number of key issues on our time, including our economy. … And then, No. 2, he doesn’t have the depth of experience to run a large complex organization particularly in a time of crisis and its getting away from him.” I’m thinking there isn’t going to be too much GOP disagreement about that.

The administration never gets the message that civilian courts are not the place to put enemy combatants: “A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.”

It gets clearer all the time that isolationism is what binds the far right and far left. (That, and bashing Israel.) “Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) are urging lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push the President’s Commission on Deficit Reduction for cuts in military spending, as they seek signatories to a letter circulated Tuesday.”

Read Less

New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

Read Less

Winston Churchill in Perspective

In his own day, Winston Churchill was an intensely controversial figure, one who would never have become prime minister were it not for Britain’s desperate straits in May 1940. Yet for decades after the war his heroic leadership made him almost universally acclaimed for saving Western civilization.

The halo began to wear thin in the 1990s when the British historian John Charmley began attacking Churchill for not having tried to strike a deal with Nazi Germany, which would supposedly have preserved the British Empire. Charmley, a right-winger, seemed to think that the empire was worth saving even at the cost of leaving Hitler in power.

Now comes Richard Toye, a left-wing British historian, to attack Churchill for having shown too much devotion to the empire. I confess to not having read his book, Churchill’s Empire, but the glowing review in the New York Times from ultra-left-wing British columnist Johann Hari makes it sound like a standard-issue anti-imperial screed from today’s academy. Hari recites Churchill’s record in defense of the empire, from his early days as a young army officer on the Northwest Frontier, the Sudan, and South Africa, up to his time as a minister who sent the Black and Tans to Ireland, repressed an Iraqi revolt, and tried to stymie Indian independence. Much of Hari’s approach (and Toye’s?) consists of quoting out of context Churchill’s colorful rhetoric. For example:

When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Apparently, Hari is not familiar with the technique of using rhetorical exaggeration to make a point. Undoubtedly, Churchill was opposed to Gandhi’s independence crusade, but, as far as I know, he made no attempt to actually have Gandhi trampled by an elephant. Gandhi was detained under house arrest in the Aga Khan Palace (not exactly Devil’s Island) for two years during World War II but that’s because he was trying to undermine the British war effort against Germany and Japan. If he had succeeded and India had fallen under the sway of Japanese militarists, he and other anti-British activists would soon have found out what real repression feels like.

In trying to paint Churchill as “cruel and cramped,” Hari also dredges up the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’s allegations that British prison camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s amounted to a “British gulag” — a charge that has been rejected by pretty much all serious historians of the period. There is no doubt that British authorities locked up large numbers of Mau Mau suspects but the conditions under which they were held bore no resemblance to those experienced by Solzhenitsyn and other inmates of the real gulag.

There are indications of a remarkable lack of perspective in Hari’s (and Toyes’s) indictment, which misses two larger points about imperialism. First, for most of his life Churchill championed the empire at a time when imperialism was considered the norm. Empires have existed since ancient Mesopotamia and much of the world was ruled by them until the late 1940s. Hari is right that even in Churchill’s day not everyone favored imperialism but most did — including many Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt. By the standards of its day, the British Empire was, with the possible exception of the American Empire, the most liberal and enlightened in the world — certainly far more humane than the empires carved out by the Belgians and Germans in Africa. It is absurd to second-guess Churchill’s pro-imperial views from the vantage point of 21st century political correctness, which extols nationalism (perhaps wrongly) as the epitome of human development.

This bring us to the second point that Hari and his ilk overlook — namely the alternatives to British imperialism. Not only the alternative of other European empires, most of them far more brutal; but also the alternative of other indigenous regimes, most of which were even worse. Empire was not just a European phenomenon, after all; many of the native powers that British soldiers fought, whether the Zulus or the Moghuls, were imperialists in their own right. That, in fact, is one of the reasons why Britain was able to win and police its empire at such low cost — many of its subject peoples considered British rule preferable to that of local dynasties.

Once the British empire and other Western regimes passed from the scene, what replaced them? In India there was civil strife that killed over a million people. At least India managed to establish a more or less democratic government, thanks to the legacy of British rule. That’s more than can be said for most countries where the British did not stay as long. Many places once ruled by British, French, or other European bureaucrats fell under the sway of native tyrants, whose rule turned out to be far less competent and far more bloody. Idi Amin, who took over the former British colony of Uganda, comes to mind. Given the historical record of much of the post-independence world, it is by no means so obvious that Churchill’s preferred alternative — British rule — was not, in the end, superior.

In his own day, Winston Churchill was an intensely controversial figure, one who would never have become prime minister were it not for Britain’s desperate straits in May 1940. Yet for decades after the war his heroic leadership made him almost universally acclaimed for saving Western civilization.

The halo began to wear thin in the 1990s when the British historian John Charmley began attacking Churchill for not having tried to strike a deal with Nazi Germany, which would supposedly have preserved the British Empire. Charmley, a right-winger, seemed to think that the empire was worth saving even at the cost of leaving Hitler in power.

Now comes Richard Toye, a left-wing British historian, to attack Churchill for having shown too much devotion to the empire. I confess to not having read his book, Churchill’s Empire, but the glowing review in the New York Times from ultra-left-wing British columnist Johann Hari makes it sound like a standard-issue anti-imperial screed from today’s academy. Hari recites Churchill’s record in defense of the empire, from his early days as a young army officer on the Northwest Frontier, the Sudan, and South Africa, up to his time as a minister who sent the Black and Tans to Ireland, repressed an Iraqi revolt, and tried to stymie Indian independence. Much of Hari’s approach (and Toye’s?) consists of quoting out of context Churchill’s colorful rhetoric. For example:

When Gandhi began his campaign of peaceful resistance, Churchill raged that he “ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new Viceroy seated on its back.” He later added: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.”

Apparently, Hari is not familiar with the technique of using rhetorical exaggeration to make a point. Undoubtedly, Churchill was opposed to Gandhi’s independence crusade, but, as far as I know, he made no attempt to actually have Gandhi trampled by an elephant. Gandhi was detained under house arrest in the Aga Khan Palace (not exactly Devil’s Island) for two years during World War II but that’s because he was trying to undermine the British war effort against Germany and Japan. If he had succeeded and India had fallen under the sway of Japanese militarists, he and other anti-British activists would soon have found out what real repression feels like.

In trying to paint Churchill as “cruel and cramped,” Hari also dredges up the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’s allegations that British prison camps in Kenya during the Mau Mau revolt in the 1950s amounted to a “British gulag” — a charge that has been rejected by pretty much all serious historians of the period. There is no doubt that British authorities locked up large numbers of Mau Mau suspects but the conditions under which they were held bore no resemblance to those experienced by Solzhenitsyn and other inmates of the real gulag.

There are indications of a remarkable lack of perspective in Hari’s (and Toyes’s) indictment, which misses two larger points about imperialism. First, for most of his life Churchill championed the empire at a time when imperialism was considered the norm. Empires have existed since ancient Mesopotamia and much of the world was ruled by them until the late 1940s. Hari is right that even in Churchill’s day not everyone favored imperialism but most did — including many Americans such as Theodore Roosevelt. By the standards of its day, the British Empire was, with the possible exception of the American Empire, the most liberal and enlightened in the world — certainly far more humane than the empires carved out by the Belgians and Germans in Africa. It is absurd to second-guess Churchill’s pro-imperial views from the vantage point of 21st century political correctness, which extols nationalism (perhaps wrongly) as the epitome of human development.

This bring us to the second point that Hari and his ilk overlook — namely the alternatives to British imperialism. Not only the alternative of other European empires, most of them far more brutal; but also the alternative of other indigenous regimes, most of which were even worse. Empire was not just a European phenomenon, after all; many of the native powers that British soldiers fought, whether the Zulus or the Moghuls, were imperialists in their own right. That, in fact, is one of the reasons why Britain was able to win and police its empire at such low cost — many of its subject peoples considered British rule preferable to that of local dynasties.

Once the British empire and other Western regimes passed from the scene, what replaced them? In India there was civil strife that killed over a million people. At least India managed to establish a more or less democratic government, thanks to the legacy of British rule. That’s more than can be said for most countries where the British did not stay as long. Many places once ruled by British, French, or other European bureaucrats fell under the sway of native tyrants, whose rule turned out to be far less competent and far more bloody. Idi Amin, who took over the former British colony of Uganda, comes to mind. Given the historical record of much of the post-independence world, it is by no means so obvious that Churchill’s preferred alternative — British rule — was not, in the end, superior.

Read Less

RE: Vindication On Sudan?

Unlike the Washington Post reporter who assured us that the U.S. had been vindicated on its approach to Sudan, the AP has figured out what’s going on:

The words of the Obama administration were unequivocal: Sudan must do more to fight terror and improve human rights. If it did, it would be rewarded. If not, it would be punished.

Nine months later, problems with Sudan have grown worse. Yet the administration has not clamped down. If anything, it has made small conciliatory gestures.

Activists say the backtracking sends a message that the United States is not serious about confronting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whom an international court charged with genocide on Monday.

The report highlights that there has never been any real method of measuring whether our “engagement” is working, despite the promise by UN Ambassador Susan Rice that there would be “significant consequences for parties that backslide or simply stand still.” In practice, the Obami have done nothing:

“There will be no rewards for the status quo, no incentives without concrete and tangible progress,” said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. “There will be significant consequences for parties that backslide or simply stand still. All parties will be held to account.”

Since then, there has been backsliding, as the administration has acknowledged. It issued a statement Friday, together with Norway and the United Kingdom, criticizing Sudan for worsening human rights violations throughout the country and for breaking cease-fires in Darfur, noting its use of aerial bombardment and the deployment of local militias.

Yet the U.S. has not punished Sudan. Instead, it has offered small incentives. The State Department recently expanded visa services for Sudanese citizens in its embassy in Khartoum. It also sent a low-level representative to al-Bashir’s inauguration.

Administration officials say Sudan is regularly discussed at high-level meetings. Officials say they use indicators to measure progress in Sudan, but have declined to say what those indicators are. Even a top lawmaker dealing with Africa issues, Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., said he has difficulty getting information.

“I haven’t heard what the benchmarks are or what specifically will be done if they are not met,” said Payne, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Africa subcommittee.

The White House’s top Africa policy adviser, Michelle Gavin, said the administration never intended to have specific metrics that would automatically prompt a reaction. Instead, the White House would use the indicators to continually reassess its policy.

But there has been no reassessment. I don’t often agree with the Center for American Progress, but the head of its anti-genocide program is spot on when he concludes that giving Sudan a “pass” was a mistake:

“If the parties, particularly the ruling party, do not understand that there will be real consequences for a return to war, and real benefits for peace in the country, then the U.S. has lost its biggest point of influence in the effort to avert the worst-case scenario.”

In other words, whether by design or execution, the Obama policy has been a complete failure. Sounds like the Middle East.

Unlike the Washington Post reporter who assured us that the U.S. had been vindicated on its approach to Sudan, the AP has figured out what’s going on:

The words of the Obama administration were unequivocal: Sudan must do more to fight terror and improve human rights. If it did, it would be rewarded. If not, it would be punished.

Nine months later, problems with Sudan have grown worse. Yet the administration has not clamped down. If anything, it has made small conciliatory gestures.

Activists say the backtracking sends a message that the United States is not serious about confronting Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, whom an international court charged with genocide on Monday.

The report highlights that there has never been any real method of measuring whether our “engagement” is working, despite the promise by UN Ambassador Susan Rice that there would be “significant consequences for parties that backslide or simply stand still.” In practice, the Obami have done nothing:

“There will be no rewards for the status quo, no incentives without concrete and tangible progress,” said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. “There will be significant consequences for parties that backslide or simply stand still. All parties will be held to account.”

Since then, there has been backsliding, as the administration has acknowledged. It issued a statement Friday, together with Norway and the United Kingdom, criticizing Sudan for worsening human rights violations throughout the country and for breaking cease-fires in Darfur, noting its use of aerial bombardment and the deployment of local militias.

Yet the U.S. has not punished Sudan. Instead, it has offered small incentives. The State Department recently expanded visa services for Sudanese citizens in its embassy in Khartoum. It also sent a low-level representative to al-Bashir’s inauguration.

Administration officials say Sudan is regularly discussed at high-level meetings. Officials say they use indicators to measure progress in Sudan, but have declined to say what those indicators are. Even a top lawmaker dealing with Africa issues, Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., said he has difficulty getting information.

“I haven’t heard what the benchmarks are or what specifically will be done if they are not met,” said Payne, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Africa subcommittee.

The White House’s top Africa policy adviser, Michelle Gavin, said the administration never intended to have specific metrics that would automatically prompt a reaction. Instead, the White House would use the indicators to continually reassess its policy.

But there has been no reassessment. I don’t often agree with the Center for American Progress, but the head of its anti-genocide program is spot on when he concludes that giving Sudan a “pass” was a mistake:

“If the parties, particularly the ruling party, do not understand that there will be real consequences for a return to war, and real benefits for peace in the country, then the U.S. has lost its biggest point of influence in the effort to avert the worst-case scenario.”

In other words, whether by design or execution, the Obama policy has been a complete failure. Sounds like the Middle East.

Read Less

Why Uganda?

Yesterday’s double terrorist bombing in Kampala is both a heart wrenching tragedy and a clarifying moment. Why would Islamists target an international sporting event in Uganda? After all, we’ve been told by our most thoughtful analysts and academics that terrorism is a response to insensitive Western policy. Earlier in the same day that bombs killed scores of soccer fans, the Center for American Progress’s Larry Korb told the Washington Times, “Once you attach a religious thing, you’re basically saying somehow or other this [terrorism] is caused by the religion. Most Muslims are not that way.” Surely there is a rational explanation for yesterday’s attack that avoids our “attaching a religious thing” to it, right?

“Uganda is a major infidel country supporting the so-called government of Somalia,” said  Sheikh Yusuf Isse of the Islamist al-Shabaab group. “We know Uganda is against Islam and so we are very happy at what has happened in Kampala. That is the best news we ever heard.”

He means to tell us that the secular man-made-disaster organization al-Shabaab allegedly killed innocent sports fans because Uganda is an infidel country? This sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush’s claim that we were attacked on September 11 because of our defining freedoms. And every enlightened Westerner knows that’s just a bunch of simplistic jingoism, right?

Well, you tell me what’s more simplistic and obtuse: a nuanced policy which maintains, as Bush put it, “terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics,” or a White House-directed terrorism policy whereby the word “Islam” is literally banned for fear of being mean to those who brag of killing infidels.

Which attitude speaks more to a sense of decadent Western denial: one which acknowledges the very reasons being given by Islamists for the bombing of two bars in Africa or one in which America is assumed to earn its Islamist enemies ultimately because of its Israel policies?

The cutest part of Barack Obama’s no-Islam policy is that it’s reversed in every area outside of terrorism. NASA now exists to point out Islamic achievements. Iran is to be talked out of a nuclear weapon specifically because of the soundness of its great Islamic heritage. Obama holds an “Entrepreneurship Summit” in Washington in order to “bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.”

What a great turn it would be if our president could actually learn what Islamists are trying so hard to teach us.

Yesterday’s double terrorist bombing in Kampala is both a heart wrenching tragedy and a clarifying moment. Why would Islamists target an international sporting event in Uganda? After all, we’ve been told by our most thoughtful analysts and academics that terrorism is a response to insensitive Western policy. Earlier in the same day that bombs killed scores of soccer fans, the Center for American Progress’s Larry Korb told the Washington Times, “Once you attach a religious thing, you’re basically saying somehow or other this [terrorism] is caused by the religion. Most Muslims are not that way.” Surely there is a rational explanation for yesterday’s attack that avoids our “attaching a religious thing” to it, right?

“Uganda is a major infidel country supporting the so-called government of Somalia,” said  Sheikh Yusuf Isse of the Islamist al-Shabaab group. “We know Uganda is against Islam and so we are very happy at what has happened in Kampala. That is the best news we ever heard.”

He means to tell us that the secular man-made-disaster organization al-Shabaab allegedly killed innocent sports fans because Uganda is an infidel country? This sounds an awful lot like George W. Bush’s claim that we were attacked on September 11 because of our defining freedoms. And every enlightened Westerner knows that’s just a bunch of simplistic jingoism, right?

Well, you tell me what’s more simplistic and obtuse: a nuanced policy which maintains, as Bush put it, “terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics,” or a White House-directed terrorism policy whereby the word “Islam” is literally banned for fear of being mean to those who brag of killing infidels.

Which attitude speaks more to a sense of decadent Western denial: one which acknowledges the very reasons being given by Islamists for the bombing of two bars in Africa or one in which America is assumed to earn its Islamist enemies ultimately because of its Israel policies?

The cutest part of Barack Obama’s no-Islam policy is that it’s reversed in every area outside of terrorism. NASA now exists to point out Islamic achievements. Iran is to be talked out of a nuclear weapon specifically because of the soundness of its great Islamic heritage. Obama holds an “Entrepreneurship Summit” in Washington in order to “bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.”

What a great turn it would be if our president could actually learn what Islamists are trying so hard to teach us.

Read Less

Success Without Victory

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Read Less

Honorary Sovereignty and International De-recognition

In his recent piece in the New York Times, “To Save Africa, Reject Its Nations,” Pierre Englebert, professor of African politics at Pomona College, advances an important — fundamental, even — idea: i.e., that sovereignty, understood as a privilege accorded to a state by virtue of international recognition, is based on the satisfactory performance by that state of certain basic duties.

First among those duties is respecting and reflecting the will of the governed.  Thus, precisely because sovereignty belongs ultimately to the people, it cannot be separated from the sovereignty that pertains to the state in the international system.  If the first is not respected, the second should not exist.

Prof. Engelbert believes this is a “radical” idea, though he means that in an approving sense. But it is not radical at all. It is an old-fashioned idea, and I mean that in an approving sense. The classical literature on sovereignty teems with requirements that an entity must fulfill if it is to be described as a state and therefore accorded the privilege of sovereignty. It must control its territory. Its armed forces must obey the laws of war and be under a recognized chain of command. It must not allow its subjects to engage in freelance violence against other states. It must have a regular system of justice. By the late 19th century, it could not practice slavery. And, by the 20th century, it had to allow its citizens — the shift from ‘subject’ to ‘citizen’ is vital — some voice in shaping their own government.

If there is anything radical in Prof. Engelbert’s thought, it is that we should seek again to apply these classical standards in a world that, for most of the past hundred years, has paid them progressively little mind. The descent has been slow but steady — first, the admission of the USSR into the ranks of the recognized states, then the reluctance to kick Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany out of those ranks, and then, finally, the step that most worries Prof. Engelbert: the fact that during decolonization, the “gift of sovereignty was granted from outside rather than earned from within.” I describe this as ‘honorary sovereignty’: sovereignty that is given but is not merited.

What really pleases me is that Prof. Engelbert goes on to draw the logical conclusion from this concept: the advance of honorary sovereignty has been bad for the peoples of the world (especially those who are victimized by the resulting mis-governance), and that one remedy is “international de-recognition” of abusive states. I would add something that Prof. Engelbert does not: since today’s international institutions are premised on the idea of universal membership (a premise entirely contradicted by their claim that they stand for certain non-negotiable freedoms), a world of de-recognition must also be a world with new international institutions, ones that have distinct standards for membership. But Prof. Engelbert is right to begin mapping out, even in the context of the existing institutions, what de-recognition might mean. The logic is simple: If sovereignty gives privileges to a state, then the failure to live up to the requirements of sovereignty means that those privileges should disappear.

For my part — and I believe for Prof. Engelbert — those requirements are relatively limited. Setting the bar too high would delegitimize virtually every existing state, which would be nonsensical. As Prof. Engelbert puts it, the standard is “a minimum of safety and basic rights.” In other words, a return to the traditional requirements of sovereignty, supplemented by the most vital modern addition: the voice of the people must be heard and respected. Of course, while the existence of honorary sovereignty is most glaringly obvious in Africa, it is not limited to that continent. And as Prof. Engelbert’s example of Taiwan suggests, we need to concern ourselves not just with kicking the non-sovereign states out: we also need to let the genuinely sovereign states in.

At bottom, what Prof. Engelbert rejects is the belief that a legitimate state can exist apart from its people. That confusion is illustrated by the headline writer for the Times, who – predictably — got it just about exactly wrong. We do not need to reject the nations of Africa (or others that fail to live up to those basic standards): we need to reject their states. Bravo to Prof. Engelbert for making the case.

In his recent piece in the New York Times, “To Save Africa, Reject Its Nations,” Pierre Englebert, professor of African politics at Pomona College, advances an important — fundamental, even — idea: i.e., that sovereignty, understood as a privilege accorded to a state by virtue of international recognition, is based on the satisfactory performance by that state of certain basic duties.

First among those duties is respecting and reflecting the will of the governed.  Thus, precisely because sovereignty belongs ultimately to the people, it cannot be separated from the sovereignty that pertains to the state in the international system.  If the first is not respected, the second should not exist.

Prof. Engelbert believes this is a “radical” idea, though he means that in an approving sense. But it is not radical at all. It is an old-fashioned idea, and I mean that in an approving sense. The classical literature on sovereignty teems with requirements that an entity must fulfill if it is to be described as a state and therefore accorded the privilege of sovereignty. It must control its territory. Its armed forces must obey the laws of war and be under a recognized chain of command. It must not allow its subjects to engage in freelance violence against other states. It must have a regular system of justice. By the late 19th century, it could not practice slavery. And, by the 20th century, it had to allow its citizens — the shift from ‘subject’ to ‘citizen’ is vital — some voice in shaping their own government.

If there is anything radical in Prof. Engelbert’s thought, it is that we should seek again to apply these classical standards in a world that, for most of the past hundred years, has paid them progressively little mind. The descent has been slow but steady — first, the admission of the USSR into the ranks of the recognized states, then the reluctance to kick Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany out of those ranks, and then, finally, the step that most worries Prof. Engelbert: the fact that during decolonization, the “gift of sovereignty was granted from outside rather than earned from within.” I describe this as ‘honorary sovereignty’: sovereignty that is given but is not merited.

What really pleases me is that Prof. Engelbert goes on to draw the logical conclusion from this concept: the advance of honorary sovereignty has been bad for the peoples of the world (especially those who are victimized by the resulting mis-governance), and that one remedy is “international de-recognition” of abusive states. I would add something that Prof. Engelbert does not: since today’s international institutions are premised on the idea of universal membership (a premise entirely contradicted by their claim that they stand for certain non-negotiable freedoms), a world of de-recognition must also be a world with new international institutions, ones that have distinct standards for membership. But Prof. Engelbert is right to begin mapping out, even in the context of the existing institutions, what de-recognition might mean. The logic is simple: If sovereignty gives privileges to a state, then the failure to live up to the requirements of sovereignty means that those privileges should disappear.

For my part — and I believe for Prof. Engelbert — those requirements are relatively limited. Setting the bar too high would delegitimize virtually every existing state, which would be nonsensical. As Prof. Engelbert puts it, the standard is “a minimum of safety and basic rights.” In other words, a return to the traditional requirements of sovereignty, supplemented by the most vital modern addition: the voice of the people must be heard and respected. Of course, while the existence of honorary sovereignty is most glaringly obvious in Africa, it is not limited to that continent. And as Prof. Engelbert’s example of Taiwan suggests, we need to concern ourselves not just with kicking the non-sovereign states out: we also need to let the genuinely sovereign states in.

At bottom, what Prof. Engelbert rejects is the belief that a legitimate state can exist apart from its people. That confusion is illustrated by the headline writer for the Times, who – predictably — got it just about exactly wrong. We do not need to reject the nations of Africa (or others that fail to live up to those basic standards): we need to reject their states. Bravo to Prof. Engelbert for making the case.

Read Less

Helen Thomas Should Go, Says Lanny Davis

Lanny Davis, Clinton adviser and stalwart Democrat, joins Ari Fleischer in calling for Helen Thomas to be booted. He has released a statement, which reads:

Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot. This not about her disagreement about her criticisms of Israel. She has a right to criticize Israel and that is not the same as being an anti-Semite.

However, her statement that  Jews in Israel should leave Israel and go back to Poland or Germany is an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic  stereotype of the Alien Jew not belonging in the “land of Israel” — one that began  2,600 years with the first tragic and violent diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans.

If she had asked all Blacks to go back to Africa, what would White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials — much less a privileged honorary seat?

Does anyone doubt that my friends Ann Compton, head of the WHCA,  and Joe Lockhart, who believe in the First Amendment right of free expression as much as I do, would be as tolerant and protective of Helen’s privileges and honors in the White House press room as they appear to be if she had been asking Blacks to return to Africa? Or Native Americans to Asia and South America, from which they came 8,000 or more years ago? I doubt it.

Of course Helen has the right as a private citizen under the First Amendment to speak her mind, even as an anti-Jewish bigot — but not as a member, much less privileged member with a reserved seat, in the WH press corps.

See, that wasn’t so hard. Where is the rest of the media, the White House Correspondents Association, and the White House? As to the latter, no response to my inquiry has been forthcoming. Perhaps, the White House is hoping — you know, like with the BP spill — that it can dodge responsibility for this one. But it is their credentials Helen Thomas uses and their briefing room in which she sits. What say you, Mr. President?

UPDATE: Helen Thomas gets dumped by her agent.

Lanny Davis, Clinton adviser and stalwart Democrat, joins Ari Fleischer in calling for Helen Thomas to be booted. He has released a statement, which reads:

Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot. This not about her disagreement about her criticisms of Israel. She has a right to criticize Israel and that is not the same as being an anti-Semite.

However, her statement that  Jews in Israel should leave Israel and go back to Poland or Germany is an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic  stereotype of the Alien Jew not belonging in the “land of Israel” — one that began  2,600 years with the first tragic and violent diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans.

If she had asked all Blacks to go back to Africa, what would White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials — much less a privileged honorary seat?

Does anyone doubt that my friends Ann Compton, head of the WHCA,  and Joe Lockhart, who believe in the First Amendment right of free expression as much as I do, would be as tolerant and protective of Helen’s privileges and honors in the White House press room as they appear to be if she had been asking Blacks to return to Africa? Or Native Americans to Asia and South America, from which they came 8,000 or more years ago? I doubt it.

Of course Helen has the right as a private citizen under the First Amendment to speak her mind, even as an anti-Jewish bigot — but not as a member, much less privileged member with a reserved seat, in the WH press corps.

See, that wasn’t so hard. Where is the rest of the media, the White House Correspondents Association, and the White House? As to the latter, no response to my inquiry has been forthcoming. Perhaps, the White House is hoping — you know, like with the BP spill — that it can dodge responsibility for this one. But it is their credentials Helen Thomas uses and their briefing room in which she sits. What say you, Mr. President?

UPDATE: Helen Thomas gets dumped by her agent.

Read Less

Why Is the Left Silent on Helen Thomas?

It’s a troubling reflection of the times when Helen Thomas can tell Israeli Jews to go back to the countries ravaged by the Holocaust (Germany and Poland), and only conservative media outlets seem to care. Greg Sargent reports that her employer, Hearst Newspapers, isn’t saying whether she’ll be fired. And he acknowledges that liberals don’t seem to care:

Conservative Web sites have been banging away at Thomas ever since video surfaced of her urging Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany and Poland. Beyond these comments, Thomas has aggressively questioned the Obama administration’s support for Israel in the wake of the flotilla raid, angering the right, and some Republicans are now seizing on her latest comments to call for her firing.

So why don’t liberals care — has defense or at least toleration of anti-Semitism become a tenet of the Left? Really, had Thomas told blacks to go back to Africa or Palestinians to go back to Jordan, she’d already be gone. (A reader e-mails, “Imagine if this had been a Fox reporter!”) The bar is evidently so low these days that no one much cares. Oh, she’s a cranky has-been, you might say? Not important. Once the standard is set, the unacceptable gains respectability, and the sentiments are no longer out of bounds.

We’ll see which, if any, Jewish organizations speak up. And by the way, she’s credentialed through the White House press office. What does the Obama administration think of this, and why should they continue to permit her to masquerade as a legitimate media figure when she is no more than a propagandist for a Judenfrei Israel? The White House press operatives tried to throw Fox out of the press pool, so why don’t they throw Thomas out of the briefing room?

It’s a troubling reflection of the times when Helen Thomas can tell Israeli Jews to go back to the countries ravaged by the Holocaust (Germany and Poland), and only conservative media outlets seem to care. Greg Sargent reports that her employer, Hearst Newspapers, isn’t saying whether she’ll be fired. And he acknowledges that liberals don’t seem to care:

Conservative Web sites have been banging away at Thomas ever since video surfaced of her urging Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany and Poland. Beyond these comments, Thomas has aggressively questioned the Obama administration’s support for Israel in the wake of the flotilla raid, angering the right, and some Republicans are now seizing on her latest comments to call for her firing.

So why don’t liberals care — has defense or at least toleration of anti-Semitism become a tenet of the Left? Really, had Thomas told blacks to go back to Africa or Palestinians to go back to Jordan, she’d already be gone. (A reader e-mails, “Imagine if this had been a Fox reporter!”) The bar is evidently so low these days that no one much cares. Oh, she’s a cranky has-been, you might say? Not important. Once the standard is set, the unacceptable gains respectability, and the sentiments are no longer out of bounds.

We’ll see which, if any, Jewish organizations speak up. And by the way, she’s credentialed through the White House press office. What does the Obama administration think of this, and why should they continue to permit her to masquerade as a legitimate media figure when she is no more than a propagandist for a Judenfrei Israel? The White House press operatives tried to throw Fox out of the press pool, so why don’t they throw Thomas out of the briefing room?

Read Less

Hypocrisy Run Amok

The Washington Post reports:

Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.

Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

It’s always reassuring to learn that the White House is hypocritical and not entirely naive in its approach to terrorism. Like its defense of “no rules apply at Bagram,” it is some evidence that the un-Bush approach is selectively applied. No caterpillars to annoy terrorists who show up here, but no habeas corpus rights at Bagram. Mirandize a bomber who makes it here, but kill him — and his unfortunate family members — in his home country with a drone. I’m not quite seeing how this justifies the moral preening, but it’s good to know the administration doesn’t believe all of its own spin. Now, if it would just recognize who the enemy is and that U.S. soil is a battlefield too, we’d be making some progress.

There is also this snippet well down in the body of the story:

The United Nations, in a report this week, questioned the administration’s authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. One possible legal justification — the permission of the country in question — is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge approving the attacks.

Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president’s authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions. “While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based,” said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush’s administrations.

And speaking of hypocrisy, the administration that is expanding the use of techniques that kill entirely innocent civilians won’t extend latitude to the Israelis to act in self-defense when phony peace activists attack their troops? And then Obama complains that Israel isn’t considering our interests. Perhaps George W. Bush’s “failing” was candor and sincerity. Obama isn’t about to make that error.

The Washington Post reports:

Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.

Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

It’s always reassuring to learn that the White House is hypocritical and not entirely naive in its approach to terrorism. Like its defense of “no rules apply at Bagram,” it is some evidence that the un-Bush approach is selectively applied. No caterpillars to annoy terrorists who show up here, but no habeas corpus rights at Bagram. Mirandize a bomber who makes it here, but kill him — and his unfortunate family members — in his home country with a drone. I’m not quite seeing how this justifies the moral preening, but it’s good to know the administration doesn’t believe all of its own spin. Now, if it would just recognize who the enemy is and that U.S. soil is a battlefield too, we’d be making some progress.

There is also this snippet well down in the body of the story:

The United Nations, in a report this week, questioned the administration’s authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. One possible legal justification — the permission of the country in question — is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge approving the attacks.

Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president’s authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions. “While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based,” said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush’s administrations.

And speaking of hypocrisy, the administration that is expanding the use of techniques that kill entirely innocent civilians won’t extend latitude to the Israelis to act in self-defense when phony peace activists attack their troops? And then Obama complains that Israel isn’t considering our interests. Perhaps George W. Bush’s “failing” was candor and sincerity. Obama isn’t about to make that error.

Read Less

Mia Farrow Speaks Up Again

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

Read Less

“Rescue” Jerusalem

What a difference a year makes. In January 2009, Arab League summitry was in disarray. Members assembling to discuss the Gaza crisis couldn’t even agree on holding a single, unified summit: “moderates” met in Kuwait that month and “radicals” in Doha, Qatar, with factional differences centering on suspicion of Iran and the rift between Fatah and Hamas. When the annual Arab League summit convened in March 2009, observers largely agreed with this assessment that the meeting ended ingloriously, yielding no decisions of substance.

The atmosphere is markedly different as the 2010 summit opens this week in Sirte, Libya. For one thing, with Libya acting as host, it appears that longstanding disputes between Muammar Qaddafi and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are being papered over. Lebanon’s President Suleiman will not attend the summit due to a Lebanese grudge against Qaddafi dating to 1978, but he’s the only holdout. Lebanon will probably send a lower-level delegation; pressure is mounting for a show of unity by the league’s membership. Saudi Arabia is also hard at work on brokering a last-minute reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas so that a unified Palestinian delegation can be assembled for the leaders’ meetings on March 27 and 28.

The push for unity, in conjunction with Libya’s de facto readmission to the ranks of the respectable, distinguishes this summit from its predecessors over the past decade. And there is no mistaking the basis on which Libya has been restored to the fold: Qaddafi has spent the past 18 months accusing Israel of fomenting strife in Africa, charging Israel with genocide in the UN, and agreeing with Bashar al-Assad that the Arab nations must “unite against Israel.”

Reports this week have concentrated on the upcoming summit’s agenda of unifying Arabs to “rescue Jerusalem.” The wording of that theme seems to have emerged after the Obama administration overreacted to Israel’s March 9 announcement on construction in East Jerusalem. A presentation outlining the “occupation” of Jerusalem since 1967 is now promised as a summit event, with the yet-to-be-assembled Palestinian delegation on the hook to brief it.

In light of the energy building for this summit, Tuesday’s news that the Arab League is seeking closer cooperation with Iran strikes an ominous note. The impetus for that move comes as much from the regional perception that U.S. policy is ineffective as from any other source. Obama proposes, moreover, to shore up the Arab nations against Iran by arming them, an approach hardly calculated to act as a brake on anti-Israel rhetoric or actions. With Russia making landmark arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Libya (as well as Kuwait and Algeria), conditions are ripening for partisan saber-rattling — as they deteriorate for honestly brokered negotiations and a peaceful resolution.

Support for Israel in the U.S. Congress is an encouraging sign after the barrage of rhetorical attacks from the Obama administration. But it’s the president whose signals are typically decisive for both allies and opponents abroad. The Arab League’s members have been reading Obama’s signals for more than a year now. Their posture in Sirte this weekend will be a reflection of the effect he has had.

What a difference a year makes. In January 2009, Arab League summitry was in disarray. Members assembling to discuss the Gaza crisis couldn’t even agree on holding a single, unified summit: “moderates” met in Kuwait that month and “radicals” in Doha, Qatar, with factional differences centering on suspicion of Iran and the rift between Fatah and Hamas. When the annual Arab League summit convened in March 2009, observers largely agreed with this assessment that the meeting ended ingloriously, yielding no decisions of substance.

The atmosphere is markedly different as the 2010 summit opens this week in Sirte, Libya. For one thing, with Libya acting as host, it appears that longstanding disputes between Muammar Qaddafi and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are being papered over. Lebanon’s President Suleiman will not attend the summit due to a Lebanese grudge against Qaddafi dating to 1978, but he’s the only holdout. Lebanon will probably send a lower-level delegation; pressure is mounting for a show of unity by the league’s membership. Saudi Arabia is also hard at work on brokering a last-minute reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas so that a unified Palestinian delegation can be assembled for the leaders’ meetings on March 27 and 28.

The push for unity, in conjunction with Libya’s de facto readmission to the ranks of the respectable, distinguishes this summit from its predecessors over the past decade. And there is no mistaking the basis on which Libya has been restored to the fold: Qaddafi has spent the past 18 months accusing Israel of fomenting strife in Africa, charging Israel with genocide in the UN, and agreeing with Bashar al-Assad that the Arab nations must “unite against Israel.”

Reports this week have concentrated on the upcoming summit’s agenda of unifying Arabs to “rescue Jerusalem.” The wording of that theme seems to have emerged after the Obama administration overreacted to Israel’s March 9 announcement on construction in East Jerusalem. A presentation outlining the “occupation” of Jerusalem since 1967 is now promised as a summit event, with the yet-to-be-assembled Palestinian delegation on the hook to brief it.

In light of the energy building for this summit, Tuesday’s news that the Arab League is seeking closer cooperation with Iran strikes an ominous note. The impetus for that move comes as much from the regional perception that U.S. policy is ineffective as from any other source. Obama proposes, moreover, to shore up the Arab nations against Iran by arming them, an approach hardly calculated to act as a brake on anti-Israel rhetoric or actions. With Russia making landmark arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Libya (as well as Kuwait and Algeria), conditions are ripening for partisan saber-rattling — as they deteriorate for honestly brokered negotiations and a peaceful resolution.

Support for Israel in the U.S. Congress is an encouraging sign after the barrage of rhetorical attacks from the Obama administration. But it’s the president whose signals are typically decisive for both allies and opponents abroad. The Arab League’s members have been reading Obama’s signals for more than a year now. Their posture in Sirte this weekend will be a reflection of the effect he has had.

Read Less

Mainstream Media Discovers Tom Campbell’s Israel Issue

After Phil Klein and I have written about this for a week, the mainstream media, reporting on the Republican Senate primary in California, have finally discovered the controversy concerning Tom Campbell’s record and rhetoric on Israel. The Los Angeles Times has now weighed in:

In a dispute that commingles foreign policy and a quest for political advantage, U.S.-Israel relations have taken an unexpectedly central role in the California race for Senate.

Rivals in the race for the Republican nomination are questioning whether former Rep. Tom Campbell is sufficiently supportive of Israel. They base their criticisms on his voting record, statements about a Palestinian homeland and capital, and some of his past associates.

After some back-and-forth regarding whether his rivals have dubbed him anti-Semitic (they say they have not) we learn that Campbell has rounded up former Secretary of State George Shultz to vouch for him. But then we get to the meat of the concern regarding Campbell’s record:

Criticism of Campbell’s voting record centers on efforts to reduce foreign aid for Israel. While in Congress, Campbell said, he supported military aid for Israel but twice sought to reduce economic aid. In the late 1990s, when foreign aid to other nations was being cut to help balance the budget, Israel’s allocation was not affected. Campbell said he favored allowing the military aid to remain unchanged but supported slightly reducing economic aid.

A second instance occurred when he voted against giving Israel an additional $30 million in economic aid, which was to have been taken from funds set aside for the neediest nations, such as those in Africa. That money, he said, was on top of a $700-million aid request that he supported and an earlier $3-billion appropriation. . . Campbell also drew criticism in the past for saying that Jerusalem should be the shared capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state. He said in the interview that he stands by that view.

Now Campbell is back to admitting he did accept a contribution from convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian. (He flatly denied it in his New Ledger interview yesterday.) The story now is:

His opponents also questioned Campbell’s past associates, notably Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiring to help a terrorist organization. Al-Arian had donated $1,300 to Campbell’s 2000 campaign for Senate. Campbell, who was the business school dean at UC Berkeley and now teaches at Chapman University, wrote a letter to the University of South Florida protesting its decision to fire Al-Arian over comments he made. He also visited Al-Arian’s brother in jail.

Campbell said he did not know about Al-Arian’s illegal activities at the time and said that if he had he would not have written the letter.

“None of that had come out,” he said. Al-Arian was also photographed with George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign, Campbell noted.

(Al-Arian had, of course, been the subject of a 1994 documentary, had been under investigation for years before 2000, and had long spewed jihadist rhetoric.)

But on this one, the lede is buried, and perhaps with it Campbell’s standing in the Jewish community:

“He’s a brilliant gentlemen and an engaging personality, and I don’t think he’s particularly pro-Israel,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who has known Campbell since the 1980s. “I think there’s enough there on the record that would send real alarms that this is someone who maybe doesn’t fully understand, doesn’t fully value or fully support a strong ongoing relationship with the state of Israel, an alliance with the state of Israel.”

Campbell can whine all he likes that his rivals’ attacks are “unacceptable” and “personally hurtful,” but that probably isn’t getting him anywhere. He is, however, reportedly to meet with representatives of AIPAC. Perhaps he can convince those Jewish leaders that his record is a stellar one on Israel, that his praise of Alison Weir (not mentioned in the Times report) is nothing, that his support of Al-Arian is also nothing, and that past rhetoric is not indicative of his views on Israel and a Palestinian state. Stranger things have happened. But first he should, on matters such as Sami Al-Arian, pick one story and stick to it.

After Phil Klein and I have written about this for a week, the mainstream media, reporting on the Republican Senate primary in California, have finally discovered the controversy concerning Tom Campbell’s record and rhetoric on Israel. The Los Angeles Times has now weighed in:

In a dispute that commingles foreign policy and a quest for political advantage, U.S.-Israel relations have taken an unexpectedly central role in the California race for Senate.

Rivals in the race for the Republican nomination are questioning whether former Rep. Tom Campbell is sufficiently supportive of Israel. They base their criticisms on his voting record, statements about a Palestinian homeland and capital, and some of his past associates.

After some back-and-forth regarding whether his rivals have dubbed him anti-Semitic (they say they have not) we learn that Campbell has rounded up former Secretary of State George Shultz to vouch for him. But then we get to the meat of the concern regarding Campbell’s record:

Criticism of Campbell’s voting record centers on efforts to reduce foreign aid for Israel. While in Congress, Campbell said, he supported military aid for Israel but twice sought to reduce economic aid. In the late 1990s, when foreign aid to other nations was being cut to help balance the budget, Israel’s allocation was not affected. Campbell said he favored allowing the military aid to remain unchanged but supported slightly reducing economic aid.

A second instance occurred when he voted against giving Israel an additional $30 million in economic aid, which was to have been taken from funds set aside for the neediest nations, such as those in Africa. That money, he said, was on top of a $700-million aid request that he supported and an earlier $3-billion appropriation. . . Campbell also drew criticism in the past for saying that Jerusalem should be the shared capital of both Israel and a Palestinian state. He said in the interview that he stands by that view.

Now Campbell is back to admitting he did accept a contribution from convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian. (He flatly denied it in his New Ledger interview yesterday.) The story now is:

His opponents also questioned Campbell’s past associates, notably Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor who pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiring to help a terrorist organization. Al-Arian had donated $1,300 to Campbell’s 2000 campaign for Senate. Campbell, who was the business school dean at UC Berkeley and now teaches at Chapman University, wrote a letter to the University of South Florida protesting its decision to fire Al-Arian over comments he made. He also visited Al-Arian’s brother in jail.

Campbell said he did not know about Al-Arian’s illegal activities at the time and said that if he had he would not have written the letter.

“None of that had come out,” he said. Al-Arian was also photographed with George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign, Campbell noted.

(Al-Arian had, of course, been the subject of a 1994 documentary, had been under investigation for years before 2000, and had long spewed jihadist rhetoric.)

But on this one, the lede is buried, and perhaps with it Campbell’s standing in the Jewish community:

“He’s a brilliant gentlemen and an engaging personality, and I don’t think he’s particularly pro-Israel,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who has known Campbell since the 1980s. “I think there’s enough there on the record that would send real alarms that this is someone who maybe doesn’t fully understand, doesn’t fully value or fully support a strong ongoing relationship with the state of Israel, an alliance with the state of Israel.”

Campbell can whine all he likes that his rivals’ attacks are “unacceptable” and “personally hurtful,” but that probably isn’t getting him anywhere. He is, however, reportedly to meet with representatives of AIPAC. Perhaps he can convince those Jewish leaders that his record is a stellar one on Israel, that his praise of Alison Weir (not mentioned in the Times report) is nothing, that his support of Al-Arian is also nothing, and that past rhetoric is not indicative of his views on Israel and a Palestinian state. Stranger things have happened. But first he should, on matters such as Sami Al-Arian, pick one story and stick to it.

Read Less

The Media Spins More Nonsense About the Arms Trade Treaty

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

This is what baffles average Americans: “A new focus on Yemen as a potential terrorist haven renewed an old debate on Sunday over whether the United States should have transferred or released some of its Guantanamo Bay detainees to foreign countries. The White House has signaled it would be ‘mindful’ of changing security conditions in those states as it makes those key decisions, but the Obama administration made no commitment this weekend to stop the transfer of about 40 prisoners to Yemen this year, as part of its larger plan to shutter the Gitmo detention facility.” Not even Rep. Jane Harman thinks it’s a good idea to keep sending detainees to Yemen. (Sen. Diane Feinstein also wants to halt the transfers.) Really, is this so hard to figure out?

But meanwhile Brennan tells us: “We have good intelligence that Al Qaida is training individuals in Yemen. We are pulling the threads on a number of these reports to make sure that we stay on top of it. And over the past week in particular, we are doing everything possible to scour all the intelligence that is out there to see whether or not there’s another Abdulmutallab out there.” Nevertheless, he can’t definitively rule out sending more detainees back to Yemen.

On the other hand, we are closing our embassy in Yemen because it is a very dangerous place. “The weak central government has little control over vast lawless areas that provide an ideal haven and recruiting ground for al-Qaeda. Besides militants, the government is confronted with a civil war in the north and a separatist movement in the south that is stretching its resources.” So it was a mistake to release all those detainees there? And we should stop? You’d think so.

On Meet the Press it got even worse. Brennan: “Every other day the system has worked this year….The system is working. It’s just not working as well as it needs to constantly.” If we only knew which days it was working.

Bill Kristol, on whether there was a “smoking gun” on Abdulmutallab : “His father comes, gives the CIA station chief in Africa his name. He — a month later, he goes to Yemen, says he’s in Yemen. He’s in Yemen. He’s with this cleric whom we’re monitoring in Yemen, trying to kill in Yemen, Awlaki, who’s the same guy who’s been in touch with Major Hasan.He goes to an airport using his own name, no disguise, no alias, buys with cash a one-way ticket to the U.S…. No luggage. That — he is the smoking gun. And frankly, for Mr. Brennan to say, ‘Well, no smoking gun,’ that itself shows a kind of not-serious-about-the-war mentality.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman gets it right: “That was an act of war. He should be treated as a prisoner of war. He should be held in a military brig. And — and, in fact, he should be questioned now and should have been ever since he was apprehended for intelligence that could help us stop the next attack or get the people in Yemen who directed him to do what he did, so, yes, we — we should follow the rule of law, but the rule of law that is relevant here is the rule of the law of war.” And on Guantanamo: “I’m one who believes that Guantanamo should not be closed. It — it is a — I know it has a bad reputation. I know the president promised during the campaign that he would close it. But the president is in charge of what happens at Guantanamo now, so some of the abuses of the past are not going to happen. You could not find a better, more humane facility when it comes to a detention center in the world. It seems like a waste to me to take these people to Illinois.”

The Obama era is not working out as planned for the Democrats: “In December, the number of Americans identifying themselves as Democrats fell to the lowest level recorded in more than seven years of monthly tracking by Rasmussen Reports. Currently, 35.5% of American adults view themselves as Democrats. That’s down from 36.0 a month ago and from 37.8% in October. Prior to December, the lowest total ever recorded for Democrats was 35.9%, a figure that was reached twice in 2005. . . The number of Republicans inched up by a point in December to 34.0%. That’s the highest total for Republicans since December 2007, just before the 2008 presidential campaign season began.”

Thank goodness: “Iranian legislators on Sunday decided to not allow a visit from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), according to Iranian media.” Let’s just pray the Obami don’t give the mullahs something to get them to change their minds. Unfortunately, that’s the logic of “engagement” — we prostrate ourselves for the sake of getting intransigent enemies to talk to us.

First it was Fox News. Then it was Gallup. Now liberals are whining about Rasmussen’s polling. What’s next — Pollster.com? I think their real beef is with the voters.

Read Less

Connecting Dots

As we learn more about the catastrophic intelligence failure that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get on a plane and come perilously close to slaughtering hundreds of passengers, the question inevitably centers on one question: who dropped the ball? This report gives as good an answer as any:

During Tuesday’s appearance, the president also said: “It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

That “component” is apparently the NCTC, created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It’s not clear what analysts there should have done with the information. One possibility would have been to alert FBI agents.

The U.S. intelligence official said: “The United States government set up NCTC — and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers.”

And the Director of National Intelligence is Dennis Blair. If his job is to connect the dots and his boss says there was a catastrophic failure to do just that, how can Blair remain? At the very least he needs to explain what went wrong and why he didn’t successfully perform the sole task that was the purpose of his position.

Yesterday Rep. Peter King complained that the Obami have built an “iron curtain” and have a “stonewalling mentality” when it comes to sharing information with Congress on terrorist attacks. Actually, it seems as though they didn’t share information with each-other either — and now their reticence to explain anything to Congress can more clearly be seen as an effort to mask their own gross incompetence. A serious Congressional or independent investigation would be a smart idea. Otherwise, we may never know exactly what happened or what went wrong.

As we learn more about the catastrophic intelligence failure that allowed the Christmas Day bomber to get on a plane and come perilously close to slaughtering hundreds of passengers, the question inevitably centers on one question: who dropped the ball? This report gives as good an answer as any:

During Tuesday’s appearance, the president also said: “It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.”

That “component” is apparently the NCTC, created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It’s not clear what analysts there should have done with the information. One possibility would have been to alert FBI agents.

The U.S. intelligence official said: “The United States government set up NCTC — and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — to connect the dots on terrorism. If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers.”

And the Director of National Intelligence is Dennis Blair. If his job is to connect the dots and his boss says there was a catastrophic failure to do just that, how can Blair remain? At the very least he needs to explain what went wrong and why he didn’t successfully perform the sole task that was the purpose of his position.

Yesterday Rep. Peter King complained that the Obami have built an “iron curtain” and have a “stonewalling mentality” when it comes to sharing information with Congress on terrorist attacks. Actually, it seems as though they didn’t share information with each-other either — and now their reticence to explain anything to Congress can more clearly be seen as an effort to mask their own gross incompetence. A serious Congressional or independent investigation would be a smart idea. Otherwise, we may never know exactly what happened or what went wrong.

Read Less

Pirates Are Still at It

Pirates aren’t front-page news anymore, but they continue their predations. The latest news: Somalian desperados ventured 800 miles off the coast of Africa to seize a tanker loaded with $20 million of Saudi oil headed for the United States. The New York Times report notes: “The Somali pirate business appears to be back in full swing after a brief lull this summer that some attributed to increased naval patrols but that may have had more to do with the monsoon season. Now that the seas are calm, the pirates have resumed operations, acting with even greater sophistication.”

The increase in piratical activity is hardly surprising considering how poor most Somalis are and how much money they can make in this lucrative racket. As the Times further notes: “The vast ransoms paid for commercial vessels seem to be drawing more and more Somalis. Piracy used to be dominated by two clans, the Saleban, based in Xarardheere, and the Majeerten, who brought hijacked ships back to a small beach town called Eyl. Now, according to witnesses in Somalia, many other clans are involved, even Bantus, a minority group best known as farmers. ”

The underlying problem here is the toothless response of the international community, which won’t give orders to its warships to sink suspected pirate vessels on sight and won’t pursue the pirates into their onshore lairs. Nor will Western nations give pirates the kind of quick and merciless justice meted out by our ancestors in prior centuries. As I argued in this Foreign Affairs article, there is no secret solution to combating piracy. Western states defeated the pirates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with a variety of tried and true measures. Our failure to heed those lessons today means that the piratical plague will continue to grow — and could wind up helping to finance the Islamist groups who are attempting to take over Somalia.

Pirates aren’t front-page news anymore, but they continue their predations. The latest news: Somalian desperados ventured 800 miles off the coast of Africa to seize a tanker loaded with $20 million of Saudi oil headed for the United States. The New York Times report notes: “The Somali pirate business appears to be back in full swing after a brief lull this summer that some attributed to increased naval patrols but that may have had more to do with the monsoon season. Now that the seas are calm, the pirates have resumed operations, acting with even greater sophistication.”

The increase in piratical activity is hardly surprising considering how poor most Somalis are and how much money they can make in this lucrative racket. As the Times further notes: “The vast ransoms paid for commercial vessels seem to be drawing more and more Somalis. Piracy used to be dominated by two clans, the Saleban, based in Xarardheere, and the Majeerten, who brought hijacked ships back to a small beach town called Eyl. Now, according to witnesses in Somalia, many other clans are involved, even Bantus, a minority group best known as farmers. ”

The underlying problem here is the toothless response of the international community, which won’t give orders to its warships to sink suspected pirate vessels on sight and won’t pursue the pirates into their onshore lairs. Nor will Western nations give pirates the kind of quick and merciless justice meted out by our ancestors in prior centuries. As I argued in this Foreign Affairs article, there is no secret solution to combating piracy. Western states defeated the pirates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with a variety of tried and true measures. Our failure to heed those lessons today means that the piratical plague will continue to grow — and could wind up helping to finance the Islamist groups who are attempting to take over Somalia.

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.