Commentary Magazine


Topic: American government

What a Great Idea

 It has perhaps happened before in American politics but not that I can remember. As the Times reported it,

At a moment when the country is as polarized as ever, Mr. Obama traveled to a House Republican retreat on Friday to try to break through the partisan logjam that has helped stall his legislative agenda. What ensued was a lively, robust debate between a president and the opposition party that rarely happens in the scripted world of American politics.

It made for fascinating television and the media would love for it to become a regular feature of American government. The analogy is to questioning time in the House of Commons, when the prime minister is grilled by the opposition, who have no reason to be polite—or even fair. Great political theater sometimes happens (and great political wit too, something rare in this country).  The State of the Union speech is analogous to the Queen’s speech from the throne (except the Lords, who are seated, and members of the Commons, who stand, don’t jump up and down every thirty seconds applauding wildly—another good idea we might adopt from the British).

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out last night on Fox, the president is half king and half prime minister, head of both state and government. As head of state, he is trapped inside the White House bubble. Perhaps that’s why President Obama was apparently genuinely surprised when he learned that some Republicans regard him as an ideologue. “I am not an ideologue,” the Times reported him saying. When he drew “skeptical murmurs from the crowd,” he insisted “I’m not.” Of course, if you spend half your day talking with Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod, it is probably easy to think that hard Left is the path of pragmatism.

So getting out in the real world and taking questions from the Congressmen of the other party on a regular basis would be a useful reality check for presidents both Democratic and Republican. Reporters can’t fill that role. They know that if they are too aggressive in their questioning, they will find their access to White House personnel curtailed. And White House press conferences have become increasingly scripted anyway.

So I hope something like this will become standard, much as debates have become standard in major political races (although the debate formats need to be reformed to produce tougher questions and less scripted answers).

By the way, John McCain promised during the campaign that he would, as president, do exactly this. President Obama might be gracious enough (I won’t hold my breath—graciousness is not his long suit) to acknowledge this.

 It has perhaps happened before in American politics but not that I can remember. As the Times reported it,

At a moment when the country is as polarized as ever, Mr. Obama traveled to a House Republican retreat on Friday to try to break through the partisan logjam that has helped stall his legislative agenda. What ensued was a lively, robust debate between a president and the opposition party that rarely happens in the scripted world of American politics.

It made for fascinating television and the media would love for it to become a regular feature of American government. The analogy is to questioning time in the House of Commons, when the prime minister is grilled by the opposition, who have no reason to be polite—or even fair. Great political theater sometimes happens (and great political wit too, something rare in this country).  The State of the Union speech is analogous to the Queen’s speech from the throne (except the Lords, who are seated, and members of the Commons, who stand, don’t jump up and down every thirty seconds applauding wildly—another good idea we might adopt from the British).

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out last night on Fox, the president is half king and half prime minister, head of both state and government. As head of state, he is trapped inside the White House bubble. Perhaps that’s why President Obama was apparently genuinely surprised when he learned that some Republicans regard him as an ideologue. “I am not an ideologue,” the Times reported him saying. When he drew “skeptical murmurs from the crowd,” he insisted “I’m not.” Of course, if you spend half your day talking with Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod, it is probably easy to think that hard Left is the path of pragmatism.

So getting out in the real world and taking questions from the Congressmen of the other party on a regular basis would be a useful reality check for presidents both Democratic and Republican. Reporters can’t fill that role. They know that if they are too aggressive in their questioning, they will find their access to White House personnel curtailed. And White House press conferences have become increasingly scripted anyway.

So I hope something like this will become standard, much as debates have become standard in major political races (although the debate formats need to be reformed to produce tougher questions and less scripted answers).

By the way, John McCain promised during the campaign that he would, as president, do exactly this. President Obama might be gracious enough (I won’t hold my breath—graciousness is not his long suit) to acknowledge this.

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Two Years from Never

George Mitchell, perhaps the least effective Middle East envoy ever (maybe the least effective envoy to any region of the world), was interviewed by Charlie Rose. The interview will air in full tonight, but Politico has this tidbit:

“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time,” Mitchell tells Rose. “We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

“I want to emphasize, political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth so that when the Palestinian state is created, it is capable of functioning effectively from day one,” Mitchell said.

What is he talking about, really? He has a predetermined time frame for how long the negotiations should last, but there’s no one at the bargaining table and no Palestinian leader invested with the authority or political will to make a deal. And the Israeli government is, at best, wary of the Obama team, which spent a year trying to stuff a unilateral settlement freeze down its throat. Contrast Mitchell’s surreal obsession with conferences and time lines with what is really going on, as this report makes clear:

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests. “Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran,” Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. “They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland.”

Doesn’t sound as though the Palestinians are ready for the bargaining table, does it? But Mitchell is not to be dissuaded by the lack of will or of bargaining parties. He’s got it down pat: the process has to include “political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth.” Earth-shaking and revolutionary! Well, if you’ve been dozing off for 20 years or so and missed the entire failed “peace process,” this would seem innovative.

It’s useful when Mitchell goes on like this, however. When he does, one comes to fully appreciate just how divorced from reality he and the administration are. Back in November, even Thomas Friedman could see that the peace process has become a farce:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen.

Months later Mitchell is still playacting. Meanwhile, the real Middle East crisis — the steady progress of Iran’s march toward inclusion in the club of nuclear powers — grinds on. And while Mitchell has been blathering on, Iran has been busy:

Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Well, you see why the striped pants set at Foggy Bottom and the frequent-flier champ Mitchell would rather be planning out peace conferences with no agenda, no attendees, and no hope for success.

George Mitchell, perhaps the least effective Middle East envoy ever (maybe the least effective envoy to any region of the world), was interviewed by Charlie Rose. The interview will air in full tonight, but Politico has this tidbit:

“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years, once begun we think it can be done within that period of time,” Mitchell tells Rose. “We hope the parties agree. Personally I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”

“I want to emphasize, political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth so that when the Palestinian state is created, it is capable of functioning effectively from day one,” Mitchell said.

What is he talking about, really? He has a predetermined time frame for how long the negotiations should last, but there’s no one at the bargaining table and no Palestinian leader invested with the authority or political will to make a deal. And the Israeli government is, at best, wary of the Obama team, which spent a year trying to stuff a unilateral settlement freeze down its throat. Contrast Mitchell’s surreal obsession with conferences and time lines with what is really going on, as this report makes clear:

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, Director-General of the PA Presidency and member of the Fatah Central Council, claimed that Hamas had forged an alliance with Iran in a way that harms Arab national security and Palestinian interests. “Hamas has turned the Palestinian cause into a cheap card in the hands of Iran,” Abdel Rahim said in an interview with a local Palestinian radio station. “They have done this at the expense of the Palestinian issue and the unity of the Palestinian people and homeland.”

Doesn’t sound as though the Palestinians are ready for the bargaining table, does it? But Mitchell is not to be dissuaded by the lack of will or of bargaining parties. He’s got it down pat: the process has to include “political negotiations, security for both people, and what you call the bottom up, correctly, economic and institutional growth.” Earth-shaking and revolutionary! Well, if you’ve been dozing off for 20 years or so and missed the entire failed “peace process,” this would seem innovative.

It’s useful when Mitchell goes on like this, however. When he does, one comes to fully appreciate just how divorced from reality he and the administration are. Back in November, even Thomas Friedman could see that the peace process has become a farce:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen.

Months later Mitchell is still playacting. Meanwhile, the real Middle East crisis — the steady progress of Iran’s march toward inclusion in the club of nuclear powers — grinds on. And while Mitchell has been blathering on, Iran has been busy:

Iran has quietly hidden an increasingly large part of its atomic complex in networks of tunnels and bunkers across the country. In doing so, American government and private experts say, Iran has achieved a double purpose. Not only has it shielded its infrastructure from military attack in warrens of dense rock, but it has further obscured the scale and nature of its notoriously opaque nuclear effort. The discovery of the Qum plant only heightened fears about other undeclared sites.

Well, you see why the striped pants set at Foggy Bottom and the frequent-flier champ Mitchell would rather be planning out peace conferences with no agenda, no attendees, and no hope for success.

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The Politics of Peevishness

Charles Hurt observes Obama’s snippiness about the Constitution. Well, at least the part of the Constitution that sets out a bicameral legislature and establishes a Senate designed to cool the passions and slow the race to pass ill-advised legislation. Obama recently whined about the Senate’s refusal to pass cap-and-trade and about the extended debate over his planned takeover of a sixth of the economy: “If this pattern continues, you’re going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us.” Yes, all that discussion, so many minority rights, and then the annoyance of listening to the sixty percent of Americans who oppose his signature legislation. Who can bear it?

Hurt writes: “His casting aspersions on the very genius of the American government because he can’t get his way is cause for alarm.” But it is nothing new. The Obami have little patience for opposition or dissent, whether it comes from town-hall attendees, Fox News,  the Chamber of Commerce, or the U.S. Senate. They have mastered the art of the Friday-afternoon news dump on major developments (e.g., KSM’s civilian trial), have stiffed congressmen and an independent commission on inquiries regarding the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case,  and won’t release data on Guantanamo recidivism. They need not answer to anyone, it seems. And they have little or no patience with the process of lawmaking so long as they get a bill, any bill, to tout as a win.

It is the impatience of a president frustrated with the pace of democracy, unwilling to explain what his administration is up to, and annoyed that the country no longer falls at his feet. He can no longer inspire or convince with rhetoric so he rails and pouts. Perhaps we should have elected someone with a superior temperament.

Charles Hurt observes Obama’s snippiness about the Constitution. Well, at least the part of the Constitution that sets out a bicameral legislature and establishes a Senate designed to cool the passions and slow the race to pass ill-advised legislation. Obama recently whined about the Senate’s refusal to pass cap-and-trade and about the extended debate over his planned takeover of a sixth of the economy: “If this pattern continues, you’re going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us.” Yes, all that discussion, so many minority rights, and then the annoyance of listening to the sixty percent of Americans who oppose his signature legislation. Who can bear it?

Hurt writes: “His casting aspersions on the very genius of the American government because he can’t get his way is cause for alarm.” But it is nothing new. The Obami have little patience for opposition or dissent, whether it comes from town-hall attendees, Fox News,  the Chamber of Commerce, or the U.S. Senate. They have mastered the art of the Friday-afternoon news dump on major developments (e.g., KSM’s civilian trial), have stiffed congressmen and an independent commission on inquiries regarding the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party voter-intimidation case,  and won’t release data on Guantanamo recidivism. They need not answer to anyone, it seems. And they have little or no patience with the process of lawmaking so long as they get a bill, any bill, to tout as a win.

It is the impatience of a president frustrated with the pace of democracy, unwilling to explain what his administration is up to, and annoyed that the country no longer falls at his feet. He can no longer inspire or convince with rhetoric so he rails and pouts. Perhaps we should have elected someone with a superior temperament.

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The Friends of Jeremiah Wright

The Nation magazine claims 181,070 subscribers, a substantially high number for a political publication, a number that might actually make it the most popular publication of its kind in the United States. (National Review claims 166,000.) In comparison, the center-left New Republic (by which I am employed), has around 60,000 subscribers. Whatever its views, The Nation is not some obscure, fringe journal.

Why does this matter? Well, let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding Jeremiah Wright. By Monday afternoon, most liberal pundits and prominent Obama supporters who had yet to denounce Wright finally came out and did so, if not because they disagree vehemently with what he has to say, then at least because they understand the damage he could potentially inflict on their man’s chances of becoming president.

Most, but not all. John McCormack of The Weekly Standard was at the National Press Club Monday morning when Wright delivered the speech that history will judge to be the death knell of Barack Obama’s political fortunes. He reported the following tidbit, which I’m surprised hasn’t received more attention:

Again and again, Wright was not held to account for his own disputed claims, such as his contention that in his post 9/11 sermon he was merely quoting the ambassador from Iraq that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” To be fair, most of those in the press gallery didn’t openly applaud Wright during his speech–as did Christopher Hayes of the Nation and Nadia Charters of Al-Arabiya TV, who were both sitting (appropriately) to the left of me.

What did the Washington bureau chief of The Nation find in Wright’s tirade that merited applause? The spirited defense of Louis Farrakhan? The reiteration of the dangerous canard that the American government invented HIV to kill black people? Perhaps it was the selfish and historically illiterate conflation of the African-American religious tradition with paranoid and conspiratorial racism? Mr. Hayes is joined in his praise of Rev. Wright by his colleague John Nichols, who compares Wright to Thomas Jefferson.

With conventional wisdom now firmly in the anti-Wright camp, a charitable observer might acknowledge that The Nation’s enthusiasm for this paranoid hate-monger demonstrates a bit of political cojones. But that’s the most, I think, that can be said in its defense.

The Nation magazine claims 181,070 subscribers, a substantially high number for a political publication, a number that might actually make it the most popular publication of its kind in the United States. (National Review claims 166,000.) In comparison, the center-left New Republic (by which I am employed), has around 60,000 subscribers. Whatever its views, The Nation is not some obscure, fringe journal.

Why does this matter? Well, let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding Jeremiah Wright. By Monday afternoon, most liberal pundits and prominent Obama supporters who had yet to denounce Wright finally came out and did so, if not because they disagree vehemently with what he has to say, then at least because they understand the damage he could potentially inflict on their man’s chances of becoming president.

Most, but not all. John McCormack of The Weekly Standard was at the National Press Club Monday morning when Wright delivered the speech that history will judge to be the death knell of Barack Obama’s political fortunes. He reported the following tidbit, which I’m surprised hasn’t received more attention:

Again and again, Wright was not held to account for his own disputed claims, such as his contention that in his post 9/11 sermon he was merely quoting the ambassador from Iraq that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” To be fair, most of those in the press gallery didn’t openly applaud Wright during his speech–as did Christopher Hayes of the Nation and Nadia Charters of Al-Arabiya TV, who were both sitting (appropriately) to the left of me.

What did the Washington bureau chief of The Nation find in Wright’s tirade that merited applause? The spirited defense of Louis Farrakhan? The reiteration of the dangerous canard that the American government invented HIV to kill black people? Perhaps it was the selfish and historically illiterate conflation of the African-American religious tradition with paranoid and conspiratorial racism? Mr. Hayes is joined in his praise of Rev. Wright by his colleague John Nichols, who compares Wright to Thomas Jefferson.

With conventional wisdom now firmly in the anti-Wright camp, a charitable observer might acknowledge that The Nation’s enthusiasm for this paranoid hate-monger demonstrates a bit of political cojones. But that’s the most, I think, that can be said in its defense.

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Iran in Iraq: Why Do Sabers Now Rattle?

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

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Is Jimmy Carter in Violation of the Logan Act?

The Logan Act was enacted in 1799. It states in full:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

The origins of this law lie in the activities of Dr. George Logan, a Quaker pacifist doctor who tried to lessen tensions between the French Revolutionary government in Paris and the Federalists then leading the nascent American Republic, who tilted towards Britain. Logan traveled to France with an approving letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, and was accepted by the French government as a legitimate representative of the United States. Then-President John Adams condemned Logan for his rogue diplomacy, and decried the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” One can only wonder what Adams would think of Jimmy Carter, who has brazenly announced his intention to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus later this week.

Perhaps it is in light of the Logan Act that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino emphasized, “The president believes that if president Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity, as a private citizen, he is not representing the United States.” It is all well and good for the White House to distance itself from the behavior of Jimmy Carter, but there is a limit to how far any American government can go in condemning the actions of a former president. The station of ex-president carries a diplomatic heft, and no one has used it with more inelegance and opportunism than Jimmy Carter, whose sabotage of American foreign policy has not been limited to Republican presidents (see Bill Clinton and North Korea). By calling on the United States to include Hamas in peace talks, and by meeting with the leader of said terrorist group in the capital of a country with which the United States does not even maintain diplomatic relations, Carter undermines a crucial plank in America’s Middle East policy.

Last year, Robert F. Turner argued that Nancy Pelosi had violated the Logan Act when she traveled to Syria against the wishes of the State Department and met with President Basher Assad. He wrote at the time:

Ms. Pelosi’s trip was not authorized, and Syria is one of the world’s leading sponsors of international terrorism. It has almost certainly been involved in numerous attacks that have claimed the lives of American military personnel from Beirut to Baghdad.

The U.S. is in the midst of two wars authorized by Congress. For Ms. Pelosi to flout the Constitution in these circumstances is not only shortsighted; it may well be a felony, as the Logan Act has been part of our criminal law for more than two centuries. Perhaps it is time to enforce the law.

The circumstances surrounding Carter’s visit are no less egregious, in fact, Carter’s freelance diplomacy is arguably worse. Hamas, unlike Syria, is not a country — an entity with territorial integrity, recognized by the international community as the legitimate authority of a nation-state — but a terrorist group. I’m no lawyer, but it appears that a strong case can be made that Jimmy Carter has been in constant violation of a federal statute ever since he left the White House.

The Logan Act was enacted in 1799. It states in full:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.

The origins of this law lie in the activities of Dr. George Logan, a Quaker pacifist doctor who tried to lessen tensions between the French Revolutionary government in Paris and the Federalists then leading the nascent American Republic, who tilted towards Britain. Logan traveled to France with an approving letter signed by Thomas Jefferson, and was accepted by the French government as a legitimate representative of the United States. Then-President John Adams condemned Logan for his rogue diplomacy, and decried the “temerity and impertinence of individuals affecting to interfere in public affairs between France and the United States.” One can only wonder what Adams would think of Jimmy Carter, who has brazenly announced his intention to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Damascus later this week.

Perhaps it is in light of the Logan Act that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino emphasized, “The president believes that if president Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity, as a private citizen, he is not representing the United States.” It is all well and good for the White House to distance itself from the behavior of Jimmy Carter, but there is a limit to how far any American government can go in condemning the actions of a former president. The station of ex-president carries a diplomatic heft, and no one has used it with more inelegance and opportunism than Jimmy Carter, whose sabotage of American foreign policy has not been limited to Republican presidents (see Bill Clinton and North Korea). By calling on the United States to include Hamas in peace talks, and by meeting with the leader of said terrorist group in the capital of a country with which the United States does not even maintain diplomatic relations, Carter undermines a crucial plank in America’s Middle East policy.

Last year, Robert F. Turner argued that Nancy Pelosi had violated the Logan Act when she traveled to Syria against the wishes of the State Department and met with President Basher Assad. He wrote at the time:

Ms. Pelosi’s trip was not authorized, and Syria is one of the world’s leading sponsors of international terrorism. It has almost certainly been involved in numerous attacks that have claimed the lives of American military personnel from Beirut to Baghdad.

The U.S. is in the midst of two wars authorized by Congress. For Ms. Pelosi to flout the Constitution in these circumstances is not only shortsighted; it may well be a felony, as the Logan Act has been part of our criminal law for more than two centuries. Perhaps it is time to enforce the law.

The circumstances surrounding Carter’s visit are no less egregious, in fact, Carter’s freelance diplomacy is arguably worse. Hamas, unlike Syria, is not a country — an entity with territorial integrity, recognized by the international community as the legitimate authority of a nation-state — but a terrorist group. I’m no lawyer, but it appears that a strong case can be made that Jimmy Carter has been in constant violation of a federal statute ever since he left the White House.

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Obama Smear–The Hebrew Version

The Democratic race has fallen off the curb and into the gutter. Ynet News reports that an email making its way through the U.S. and Israel asserts that Barack Obama is a stealthy al Qaeda operative poised to topple the American government. Here’s perhaps the most distasteful aspect of this latest development: “One of the target audiences in the campaign is clearly the American Jewish community because the e-mail has also been sent out in Hebrew.”

In fact, this new smear is merely a Hebrew translation of the email that went around a month ago – the email that was actually penned by a (since jettisoned) Hillary Clinton Iowa county chair. With the non-stop identity carnival that is now the Obama and Clinton campaigns, this update on last month’s mini-scandal takes on the larger grotesqueness of the day.

This isn’t the first time the Obama-Muslim connection has come up. About a year ago, Daniel Pipes merely raised the question of Obama’s historical relationship to Islam, and the left-wing blogosphere went apoplectic. Where’s the outrage now that a Hillary supporter’s vulgar slander finds a second life through Jew-baiting?

The Democratic race has fallen off the curb and into the gutter. Ynet News reports that an email making its way through the U.S. and Israel asserts that Barack Obama is a stealthy al Qaeda operative poised to topple the American government. Here’s perhaps the most distasteful aspect of this latest development: “One of the target audiences in the campaign is clearly the American Jewish community because the e-mail has also been sent out in Hebrew.”

In fact, this new smear is merely a Hebrew translation of the email that went around a month ago – the email that was actually penned by a (since jettisoned) Hillary Clinton Iowa county chair. With the non-stop identity carnival that is now the Obama and Clinton campaigns, this update on last month’s mini-scandal takes on the larger grotesqueness of the day.

This isn’t the first time the Obama-Muslim connection has come up. About a year ago, Daniel Pipes merely raised the question of Obama’s historical relationship to Islam, and the left-wing blogosphere went apoplectic. Where’s the outrage now that a Hillary supporter’s vulgar slander finds a second life through Jew-baiting?

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Obama’s Curious Foreign Policy Advisor

Today on Fox News, Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisor Samantha Power stated that Obama is the only candidate who’s got Iraq right. Ms. Power’s own paper trail of mixed messages on Iraq, along with Obama’s stated Iraq stance, makes this claim quite a head-scratcher.

A Los Angeles Times opinion piece on March 5, 2007 finds Power hopeless on the prospect of a troop surge success. In her plea for the U.S. to withdraw, she writes:

It would be nice to think the surge of troops to Baghdad would help to staunch the flow. But with only one-third of the new troops on duty at any given time in a city of 6 million people, they will have no more success deterring the militias intent on carving out homogeneous Shiite or Sunni neighborhoods than U.S. forces have had to date.

She was wrong. Which she may have realized by July 29, when the New York Times ran her admiring review of the Petraeus-driven U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. In her recognition of the fact that the U.S. must dig in, She writes:

Sewall [author of the book’s introduction] rightly calls for the “risks and costs of counterinsurgency” to be spread across the American government, but notes this is not an overnight job.

[…]

The manual shows that the demands of counterinsurgency are greater than those the American public has yet been asked to bear. Sewall is skeptical that the public — now feeling burned by Iraq — will muster the will. . .

Now, as advisor to a candidate who deems any counter-insurgency cost too high, and who’s vowed to ask the American public to bear nothing in the way of the burden, Power says her boss has it right.

This “change” thing is getting out of hand.

Today on Fox News, Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisor Samantha Power stated that Obama is the only candidate who’s got Iraq right. Ms. Power’s own paper trail of mixed messages on Iraq, along with Obama’s stated Iraq stance, makes this claim quite a head-scratcher.

A Los Angeles Times opinion piece on March 5, 2007 finds Power hopeless on the prospect of a troop surge success. In her plea for the U.S. to withdraw, she writes:

It would be nice to think the surge of troops to Baghdad would help to staunch the flow. But with only one-third of the new troops on duty at any given time in a city of 6 million people, they will have no more success deterring the militias intent on carving out homogeneous Shiite or Sunni neighborhoods than U.S. forces have had to date.

She was wrong. Which she may have realized by July 29, when the New York Times ran her admiring review of the Petraeus-driven U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. In her recognition of the fact that the U.S. must dig in, She writes:

Sewall [author of the book’s introduction] rightly calls for the “risks and costs of counterinsurgency” to be spread across the American government, but notes this is not an overnight job.

[…]

The manual shows that the demands of counterinsurgency are greater than those the American public has yet been asked to bear. Sewall is skeptical that the public — now feeling burned by Iraq — will muster the will. . .

Now, as advisor to a candidate who deems any counter-insurgency cost too high, and who’s vowed to ask the American public to bear nothing in the way of the burden, Power says her boss has it right.

This “change” thing is getting out of hand.

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Ron Paul: When Right Meets Left

When someone argues for moral equivalency between the American government and Al Qaeda and suggests Bush is leading America toward fascism, we tend to assume the person is a leftist. But those same views are widely shared by parts of the libertarian right.

This isn’t entirely new: in the 1930’s the pro-communist left and the isolationist right both decried Roosevelt as a fascist war-mongerer. In the 1960’s both the New Right and New Left were sure that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was the incarnation of “friendly fascism.” The common thread was that both the anarcho-libertarians of Young Americans for Freedom and the anarcho-socialists of The Students for a Democratic Society saw the compromises of politics and the bureaucracies associated with governments as the spawn of soul-slaying managerialism. They (like Ron Paul) both adored Randolph Bourne, the American critic of WWI, entirely unaware of the appeal German romanticism and proto-fascism had for him. You could hear those common chords in Tim Russert’s interview with Ron Paul on Meet the Press this past Sunday:

MR. RUSSERT: But let me go back to this ad. You do not believe that Mike Huckabee, that ad commercial represents the potential of fascism in the form of a cross.

REP. PAUL: No. But I think this country, a movement in the last 100 years, is moving toward fascism. Fascism today, the softer term, because people have different definition of fascism, is corporatism when the military industrial complex runs the show, when the—in the name of security pay—pass the Patriot Act. You don’t vote for it, you know, you’re not patriotic America. If you don’t support the troops and you don’t support—if you don’t support the war you don’t support the troops. It’s that kind of antagonism. But we have more corporatism and more abuse of our civil liberties, more loss of our privacy, national ID cards, all this stuff coming has a fascist tone to it. And the country’s moving in that direction. That’s what I’m thinking about. This was not personalized. I never even used my opponents names if you, if you notice.

MR. RUSSERT: So you think we’re close to fascism?

REP. PAUL: I think we’re approaching it very close. One—there’s one, there’s one documentary that’s been put out recently that has generated a lot of interest called “Freedom to Fascism.” And we’re moving in that direction. Were not moving toward Hitler-type fascism, but we’re moving toward a softer fascism. Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business. So you have the military industrial complex, you have the medical industrial complex, you have the financial industry, you have the communications industry. They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s where the control is. I call that a soft form of fascism, something that is very dangerous.

Paul, the provincial, is as blissfully unaware of the history of 1300 years of Jihad as the Daily Kos and most of its readers. Here’s his exchange with Russert on Al-Qaeda:

MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you think that the problem is al-Qaeda—the problem is the United States, not al-Qaeda.

REP. PAUL: No, it’s both. It’s both—al-Qaeda becomes violent. It’s sort of like if you step in a snake pit and you get bit, you know, who caused the trouble? Because you stepped in the snake pit or because snakes bite you? So I think you have to understand both. But why, why produce the incentive for these violent, vicious thugs to want to come here and kill us.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think there’s an ideological struggle that Islamic fascists want to take over the world?

REP. PAUL: Oh, I think some, just like the West is wanting to do that all the time. Look at the way they look at us. I mean, we’re in a, we’re in a 130 countries. We have 700 bases. How do you think they proposed that to their people, saying “What does America want to do? Are they over here to be nice to us and teach us how to be good democrats?”

MR. RUSSERT: So you see a moral equivalency between the West and Islamic fascism.

REP. PAUL: For some people, some radicals on each side that when we impose our will with force by a few number of people—not the American people—I’m talking the people who have hijacked our foreign policy, the people who took George Bush’s foreign policy of a humble foreign policy and turned it into one of nation-building which he complained about.

But for all the similarities between the heirs of the New Right and the New Left, Paul, a Texan still carries some burden peculiar to right-wing libertarians. Abe Lincoln is a very bad guy, the father of Leviathan state that’s lead to today’s incipient (it’s always incipient) fascism. And while there are and have been card-carrying left-liberal Lincoln haters (Gore Vidal, John Updike, and Edmund Wilson, to name a few) this is largely an affectation of the right. Paul, unaware that Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888 and Saudi Arabia till 1962, had the following exchange with Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. “According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery.”

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn’t have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the—that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We’d still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn’t sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

Still, for all their similarities, the heirs of the New Right and the New Left do have some fundamental differences. In part because the leftists are afraid that we will pollute the world with our capitalist-liberal democratic ideals, while the rightists are worried that the rest of the world will pollute our founding traditions with statist and socialist effects. But the common bottom line is neo-isolationism.

When someone argues for moral equivalency between the American government and Al Qaeda and suggests Bush is leading America toward fascism, we tend to assume the person is a leftist. But those same views are widely shared by parts of the libertarian right.

This isn’t entirely new: in the 1930’s the pro-communist left and the isolationist right both decried Roosevelt as a fascist war-mongerer. In the 1960’s both the New Right and New Left were sure that Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was the incarnation of “friendly fascism.” The common thread was that both the anarcho-libertarians of Young Americans for Freedom and the anarcho-socialists of The Students for a Democratic Society saw the compromises of politics and the bureaucracies associated with governments as the spawn of soul-slaying managerialism. They (like Ron Paul) both adored Randolph Bourne, the American critic of WWI, entirely unaware of the appeal German romanticism and proto-fascism had for him. You could hear those common chords in Tim Russert’s interview with Ron Paul on Meet the Press this past Sunday:

MR. RUSSERT: But let me go back to this ad. You do not believe that Mike Huckabee, that ad commercial represents the potential of fascism in the form of a cross.

REP. PAUL: No. But I think this country, a movement in the last 100 years, is moving toward fascism. Fascism today, the softer term, because people have different definition of fascism, is corporatism when the military industrial complex runs the show, when the—in the name of security pay—pass the Patriot Act. You don’t vote for it, you know, you’re not patriotic America. If you don’t support the troops and you don’t support—if you don’t support the war you don’t support the troops. It’s that kind of antagonism. But we have more corporatism and more abuse of our civil liberties, more loss of our privacy, national ID cards, all this stuff coming has a fascist tone to it. And the country’s moving in that direction. That’s what I’m thinking about. This was not personalized. I never even used my opponents names if you, if you notice.

MR. RUSSERT: So you think we’re close to fascism?

REP. PAUL: I think we’re approaching it very close. One—there’s one, there’s one documentary that’s been put out recently that has generated a lot of interest called “Freedom to Fascism.” And we’re moving in that direction. Were not moving toward Hitler-type fascism, but we’re moving toward a softer fascism. Loss of civil liberties, corporations running the show, big government in bed with big business. So you have the military industrial complex, you have the medical industrial complex, you have the financial industry, you have the communications industry. They go to Washington and spend hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s where the control is. I call that a soft form of fascism, something that is very dangerous.

Paul, the provincial, is as blissfully unaware of the history of 1300 years of Jihad as the Daily Kos and most of its readers. Here’s his exchange with Russert on Al-Qaeda:

MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you think that the problem is al-Qaeda—the problem is the United States, not al-Qaeda.

REP. PAUL: No, it’s both. It’s both—al-Qaeda becomes violent. It’s sort of like if you step in a snake pit and you get bit, you know, who caused the trouble? Because you stepped in the snake pit or because snakes bite you? So I think you have to understand both. But why, why produce the incentive for these violent, vicious thugs to want to come here and kill us.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think there’s an ideological struggle that Islamic fascists want to take over the world?

REP. PAUL: Oh, I think some, just like the West is wanting to do that all the time. Look at the way they look at us. I mean, we’re in a, we’re in a 130 countries. We have 700 bases. How do you think they proposed that to their people, saying “What does America want to do? Are they over here to be nice to us and teach us how to be good democrats?”

MR. RUSSERT: So you see a moral equivalency between the West and Islamic fascism.

REP. PAUL: For some people, some radicals on each side that when we impose our will with force by a few number of people—not the American people—I’m talking the people who have hijacked our foreign policy, the people who took George Bush’s foreign policy of a humble foreign policy and turned it into one of nation-building which he complained about.

But for all the similarities between the heirs of the New Right and the New Left, Paul, a Texan still carries some burden peculiar to right-wing libertarians. Abe Lincoln is a very bad guy, the father of Leviathan state that’s lead to today’s incipient (it’s always incipient) fascism. And while there are and have been card-carrying left-liberal Lincoln haters (Gore Vidal, John Updike, and Edmund Wilson, to name a few) this is largely an affectation of the right. Paul, unaware that Brazil didn’t abolish slavery until 1888 and Saudi Arabia till 1962, had the following exchange with Russert:

MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. “According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery.”

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn’t have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the—that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We’d still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn’t sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

Still, for all their similarities, the heirs of the New Right and the New Left do have some fundamental differences. In part because the leftists are afraid that we will pollute the world with our capitalist-liberal democratic ideals, while the rightists are worried that the rest of the world will pollute our founding traditions with statist and socialist effects. But the common bottom line is neo-isolationism.

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A Closer Look at China’s Port Closures

There is word from Washington that, together with the Chinese, the American government has agreed “to put behind them” the dispute that erupted when China abruptly closed Hong Kong to a number of American ships and aircraft.

The most important turn-away was the USS Kitty Hawk carrier battle group, which had been granted permission to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Hong Kong. The U.S. government had flown the families of the crew to the former British dependent territory for the festivities. Then, without explanation, on November 22 that permission was withdrawn, along with permission for the frigate Reuben James to spend New Year’s in Hong Kong.

Faced with great U.S. unhappiness, China reversed herself again, saying the Kitty Hawk could come—but carrier battle groups cannot turn on a dime. By then the Kitty Hawk was well under way for Japan—via the Taiwan Strait.

It is all very well and good for the Chinese ambassador to tell President Bush that it was a “misunderstanding”—indeed, a lot of talk has been coming out of our capital that would make you think sudden port closures on the eve of long-planned visits were routine. But they are not. Closing Hong Kong is not an oversight; it is serious business.

A few questions must be answered before the United States can close the file on this case. Who is in charge of access to Hong Kong? Do people in Hong Kong decide? Does the Chinese Navy decide? Does the standing committee of the politburo of the Communist Party decide? To make the point absolutely clear: does the Party rule the gun—or, as looks increasingly to be the case, does the gun rule the Party?

If the military made the decision against civilian wishes, that would be important news, for the Chinese military recently has been showing more “assertiveness” (to put it delicately). If, on the other hand, the civilians initiated the action, then clearly we have to reconsider what exactly the Chinese authorities are envisioning as a future.

What worries me most in this whole situation is that we seem not to want to know what really happened. If we look too closely, we might find that the benign assumptions upon which our China policy rests do not fit with the facts.

There is word from Washington that, together with the Chinese, the American government has agreed “to put behind them” the dispute that erupted when China abruptly closed Hong Kong to a number of American ships and aircraft.

The most important turn-away was the USS Kitty Hawk carrier battle group, which had been granted permission to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Hong Kong. The U.S. government had flown the families of the crew to the former British dependent territory for the festivities. Then, without explanation, on November 22 that permission was withdrawn, along with permission for the frigate Reuben James to spend New Year’s in Hong Kong.

Faced with great U.S. unhappiness, China reversed herself again, saying the Kitty Hawk could come—but carrier battle groups cannot turn on a dime. By then the Kitty Hawk was well under way for Japan—via the Taiwan Strait.

It is all very well and good for the Chinese ambassador to tell President Bush that it was a “misunderstanding”—indeed, a lot of talk has been coming out of our capital that would make you think sudden port closures on the eve of long-planned visits were routine. But they are not. Closing Hong Kong is not an oversight; it is serious business.

A few questions must be answered before the United States can close the file on this case. Who is in charge of access to Hong Kong? Do people in Hong Kong decide? Does the Chinese Navy decide? Does the standing committee of the politburo of the Communist Party decide? To make the point absolutely clear: does the Party rule the gun—or, as looks increasingly to be the case, does the gun rule the Party?

If the military made the decision against civilian wishes, that would be important news, for the Chinese military recently has been showing more “assertiveness” (to put it delicately). If, on the other hand, the civilians initiated the action, then clearly we have to reconsider what exactly the Chinese authorities are envisioning as a future.

What worries me most in this whole situation is that we seem not to want to know what really happened. If we look too closely, we might find that the benign assumptions upon which our China policy rests do not fit with the facts.

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Mattel in Hell

On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

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On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

It’s hard to create sympathy for a company that has just had to recall 19.6 million defective products intended for children, but the Chinese have done just that. For one thing, it was clear that Beijing was determined to humiliate Mattel. Debrowski was scheduled to meet with Li, but the Beijing official at the last moment said he would not get together unless reporters were present. Li, from his overstuffed chair, then administered a finger-wagging lecture to the obviously uncomfortable Debrowski as cameras rolled.

So the real story is not Mattel. It is China. China’s officials know they cannot solve the structural problems of Chinese manufacturing within the context of their one-party system, in which corruption runs rampant and central authorities have little control over local officials. Therefore, they are choosing to deal with a public relations nightmare by going on the attack against foreigners. Li Changjiang was angry because Mattel’s public comments in the United States did not always note that recalls involved products with defective designs—improperly secured magnets—when it talked about products with excessive levels of lead paint.

Yet Li’s tirade went well beyond this omission. He told Mattel in public that its stringent recall policy was “unacceptable.” Beijing may have the right to adopt whatever standards it wants for its own citizens, but it has no place telling American companies—and by implication the American government—what rules to apply to protect American consumers. Now that Chinese officials have used a public forum to try to dictate Washington’s products-safety policy, it is the responsibility of the Bush administration to demand publicly that China stop its interference in our efforts to look after the well-being of our own children.

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Making Iran Pay

An important event, which passed with hardly any media attention, transpired last week. A federal judge ordered that Iran pay $2.6 billion to the family members and survivors of the 1983 Hizballah bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth held Iran “legally responsible” for supporting Hizballah, which carried out the attacks. Last week’s ruling determined the damages. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, “Iran did not contest the charges.”

Why would Iran refrain from challenging such a serious ruling against it? There are two ostensible reasons. The first is that the Iranian regime considers any United States court illegitimate, and would see engaging in an appeal as an infidel ritual. The second, and more interesting, is that this is a tacit acknowledgment on Iran’s part that it was responsible for this crime (which could be considered an act of war). By not contesting the charge, Iran admits, in a not-very-subtle fashion, that it arms and equips Hizballah.

This was not the first time that Judge Lamberth has found Iran guilty of acts of international terror, specifically terror aimed at killing American servicemen. In 2003, he found Iran guilty of training men who carried out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 23 American soldiers.

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An important event, which passed with hardly any media attention, transpired last week. A federal judge ordered that Iran pay $2.6 billion to the family members and survivors of the 1983 Hizballah bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth held Iran “legally responsible” for supporting Hizballah, which carried out the attacks. Last week’s ruling determined the damages. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, “Iran did not contest the charges.”

Why would Iran refrain from challenging such a serious ruling against it? There are two ostensible reasons. The first is that the Iranian regime considers any United States court illegitimate, and would see engaging in an appeal as an infidel ritual. The second, and more interesting, is that this is a tacit acknowledgment on Iran’s part that it was responsible for this crime (which could be considered an act of war). By not contesting the charge, Iran admits, in a not-very-subtle fashion, that it arms and equips Hizballah.

This was not the first time that Judge Lamberth has found Iran guilty of acts of international terror, specifically terror aimed at killing American servicemen. In 2003, he found Iran guilty of training men who carried out the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 23 American soldiers.

Of course, there is no way for the 1983 victims of the Marine barracks bombing to collect the money they have been awarded. Iran’s assets in the United States amount to no more than $20 million, almost all of it diplomatic property that the American government cannot touch. So this ruling, and the subsequent judgment, are both symbolic.

Typical of this symbolism was a portion of Judge Lamberth’s written decision, in which he stated that “this extremely sizeable judgment will serve to aid in the healing process and simultaneously sound the alarm to the defendants that their unlawful attacks on our citizens will not be tolerated.” His first contention—that the awarding of many millions of dollars (which they will never see) will “aid in the healing process”—is one that only the victims of this tragedy can judge. The second—that a force-less American court ruling (not the first of its kind) will somehow dissuade Iran from continuing its support for global terror—is even more dubious.

Iran’s involvement in attacks against American soldiers persists, at least according to General David Petraeus. At a news conference Wednesday after his congressional testimony, the General said, “The evidence is very, very clear. We captured it when we captured Qais Khazali, the Lebanese Hizballah deputy commander and others. And it’s in black and white.”

But according to many on the Left, Petraues is somehow a traitor for reporting such evidence. Others who make mere mention of the Iranian proxy war (most prominently, Senator Lieberman) are called “warmongers,” in the words of net-left favorite Matthew Yglesias. Through such effusions, these critics betray a belief that the Islamic Republic will stop killing our soldiers if we just abandon Iraq. But as last week’s court ruling reminds us, Iran has been killing Americans for decades—long before the 2003 invasion. There’s no reason to think the attacks on Americans suddenly will stop, and all kinds of reasons to think they will increase, should we capitulate.

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Mr. Rauch’s Narrative

In his column in the most recent issue of National Journal, Jonathan Rauch admonishes Congressional Democrats:

Here is something that Democrats might want to think about before rushing to shut down the surge: If they managed to ram through a withdrawal or timetable on party lines this fall, when most Republicans think the surge is working, they would be flayed for a generation as the party that seized certain defeat from the jaws of possible victory. For years to come, Republicans would insist that Democratic pusillanimity emboldened jihadism, an ugly narrative that some are already rehearsing. (Last month Peter Wehner, who recently left the White House for a post at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, sent out an e-mail pointing to jihadists’ claim that America is a “weak horse” that runs when bloodied. He continued, “If the critics have their way and deny General Petraeus the time he needs to help bring about a decent outcome in Iraq, the jihadists will be right.”)

Mr. Rauch doesn’t explain (perhaps because he can’t) why he considers this narrative “ugly”—a word clearly meant to suggest partisan political strategy—rather than accurate. The reality is that we know, from their own past words, that weakness emboldens jihadists. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden (from his 1998 interview with ABC’s John Miller):

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weaknesses of the American solider, who is ready to wage cold wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than twenty-four hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. . . . [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers. . . . After a few blows, they ran in defeat. . . . They forgot about being the world leader and the leader of the new world order. [They] left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

Let’s lay out the logic for Mr. Rauch in an easy-to-follow manner: If jihadists have declared Iraq to be the central front in the larger war we are engaged in—as they have—and if we retreat because we have been bloodied in Iraq—as leading Democrats want—then it’s reasonable to assume that a precipitous American withdrawal, led by Democrats, will embolden the jihadists.

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In his column in the most recent issue of National Journal, Jonathan Rauch admonishes Congressional Democrats:

Here is something that Democrats might want to think about before rushing to shut down the surge: If they managed to ram through a withdrawal or timetable on party lines this fall, when most Republicans think the surge is working, they would be flayed for a generation as the party that seized certain defeat from the jaws of possible victory. For years to come, Republicans would insist that Democratic pusillanimity emboldened jihadism, an ugly narrative that some are already rehearsing. (Last month Peter Wehner, who recently left the White House for a post at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, sent out an e-mail pointing to jihadists’ claim that America is a “weak horse” that runs when bloodied. He continued, “If the critics have their way and deny General Petraeus the time he needs to help bring about a decent outcome in Iraq, the jihadists will be right.”)

Mr. Rauch doesn’t explain (perhaps because he can’t) why he considers this narrative “ugly”—a word clearly meant to suggest partisan political strategy—rather than accurate. The reality is that we know, from their own past words, that weakness emboldens jihadists. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden (from his 1998 interview with ABC’s John Miller):

We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weaknesses of the American solider, who is ready to wage cold wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than twenty-four hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. . . . [Our] youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers. . . . After a few blows, they ran in defeat. . . . They forgot about being the world leader and the leader of the new world order. [They] left, dragging their corpses and their shameful defeat.

Let’s lay out the logic for Mr. Rauch in an easy-to-follow manner: If jihadists have declared Iraq to be the central front in the larger war we are engaged in—as they have—and if we retreat because we have been bloodied in Iraq—as leading Democrats want—then it’s reasonable to assume that a precipitous American withdrawal, led by Democrats, will embolden the jihadists.

If retreating from Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia led terrorists to conclude America was the “weak horse”—the term is bin Laden’s—what does Rauch think a defeat in Iraq would do for the cause of radical Islam? Depress morale? Make jihadists more fearful that America will respond to terrorist attacks?

Pusillanimity, whether it comes from Republicans or Democrats, emboldens jihadists. That assertion is true, not ugly, and the sooner we accept it, the better off we will be. It is simply silly and sloppy for Rauch (an otherwise serious man) to make the charge he does.

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Exporting Repression

Is it wrong to help authoritarian states repress their own citizens? Of course. But the question is rarely posed in Washington these days, which is what made last week’s hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs so notable.

In a brief exchange, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fiery Republican from Florida, questioned Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte about American exports of security-related articles and services to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Negroponte told her that the State Department is the lead agency in the American government for “supporting security for the Olympics,” and that there is a small task force in our embassy in Beijing working on this matter. He promised that in the future he would consult with the House committee, but said he knew nothing more about the issue.

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Is it wrong to help authoritarian states repress their own citizens? Of course. But the question is rarely posed in Washington these days, which is what made last week’s hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs so notable.

In a brief exchange, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fiery Republican from Florida, questioned Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte about American exports of security-related articles and services to China for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Negroponte told her that the State Department is the lead agency in the American government for “supporting security for the Olympics,” and that there is a small task force in our embassy in Beijing working on this matter. He promised that in the future he would consult with the House committee, but said he knew nothing more about the issue.

Mr. Negroponte should have done his homework. For starters, legislation enacted in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre prohibits American companies from exporting crime-control or detection equipment to China. In other words, they cannot sell handcuffs, helmets, and shotguns. But the Commerce Department, which is supposed to enforce the sanctions, has gutted them by adopting a very narrow definition of security equipment. Police gear is out, but Oracle, Cisco, and Sybase are allowed to sell modern information technology that China needs to trace, track, and arrest drug dealers.

Representative Tom Lantos, the committee’s chairman, tried to draw a bright line between helping the Chinese prevent terrorist acts at the Olympic Games and contributing to the suppression of free speech by the Communist party. But that isn’t possible. If the U.S. helps Beijing track terrorists, it is also helping Beijing round up anyone else it pleases—not just drug dealers but dissidents and democracy activists too.

The U.S. does receive some benefit by cooperating on security matters with China. We win the right to screen American-bound containers on Chinese soil, get help in solving run-of-the-mill crimes, and obtain assistance in the global struggle against terrorists. Yet Beijing gets at least as much as it gives, especially in terms of help tracking down elements perceived as enemies by the regime.

The issues involved are complex, but Washington policymakers have not yet had honest conversations with the American people about the consequences of our assistance to China. As Representative Ros-Lehtinen suggests, the costs may end up being far too high.

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Brzezinski’s Paranoia

Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

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Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

Brzezinski’s goal, he says, is an end to “this hysteria . . . this paranoia.”

How to react to this? Would that one could say simply that it is sad to see a former high official go off the rails, and leave it at that. But the very fact that the Post chose to give the man such prime space shows that he will be taken seriously, although he no longer deserves to be. So here are a few comments.

It is rather rich to decry hysteria and paranoia in the same breath that one likens the slights to Arabs in the American news media to the depiction of Jews by the Nazis, and to imply that these slights may be the prelude to another Holocaust.

It is also rich to hear Brzezinski sneer at “security entrepreneurs.” How, exactly, would Brzezinski describe his own career? The Encyclopedia of World Biography’s entry on him reminds us that “Brzezinski was openly eager to be appointed assistant to the President for nation security affairs and delighted when President-elect Carter offered him the position in December 1976.”

It is amusing to be lectured that “America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor” by the national security adviser of the President who delivered the infamous “malaise” speech, telling Americans that our problems arose from “a crisis of the American spirit” and a “los[s of] confidence in the future.” Aside from being rich, Brzezinski’s claim is false. Fear of the enemy is not the opposite of determination and confidence in ultimate victory. There was much fear of the enemy in 1941, including some that was quite hysterical. The main difference in regard to self-confidence between World War II and the war on terror is that after Pearl Harbor, one no longer heard voices like Brzezinski’s claiming that the real enemy was ourselves.

In a further sneer, Brzezinski writes: “President Bush even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging [the war on terror] lest al Qaeda cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States.” Quite a fool, that Bush. Terror here in the United States? Absurd, indeed! How could al Qaeda cross the Atlantic? In airplanes? Ha, ha.

Between sneers, Brzezinski waxes professorial. “Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique,” he explains. Quite so. The enemy might more precisely be described as jihadism, a political ideology that claims that the Christian and Jewish worlds are at war with Islam and that the Islamic world must make war on them. This ideology traces its roots to the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in the 1920′s. But it only took wing after a jihadist government seized power in Iran in 1979, much as Communism only emerged as a major force after a Communist government was established in Russia. And where was Brzezinski when this enemy was taking shape? At the very pinnacle of the American government, flapping about pathetically, pursuing policies that enabled this strategic disaster to happen. His qualification for instructing us about how to deal with jihadism is therefore clear: there are few Americans who did us much as he to create the problem.

* Editor’s Note: You can read Gabriel Schoenfeld’s response to one of Muravchik’s critics here.

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Freedom House v. Anatol Lieven

Anatol Lieven—a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Ethical Realism: A Vision of America’s Role in the World—has emerged in recent years as one of the more relentless critics of democratization as a core project of U.S. foreign policy. The latest effort in his anti-democratization campaign is a January 26 column published in the Financial Times in response to Freedom House’s recently released annual index of global political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. (contentions blogger Joshua Muravchik wrote about the Washington Post‘s own attempt to spin this report here.) Lieven levels a number of serious charges at Freedom House and democracy advocates in general. Let’s examine these charges, one by one:

1. Democracy advocates, presumably including Freedom House, have exaggerated the impact of the elections in Iraq.

In its reports and findings on Iraq, Freedom House has consistently stressed the high incidence there of violence, terrorism, and sectarian strife. Freedom House has never described Iraq as a democracy or as a free society, and the country’s rating has remained “not free” throughout the period of occupation.

2. Freedom House distorts its findings to suit the ideological leanings of the American government.

Only someone who has not read Freedom in the World carefully could come to this conclusion. The latest index suggests that, far from being on the march, freedom has entered a period of stagnation, with very little progress in recent years—a conclusion hardly in line with the ideological leanings of the Bush administration.

3. Freedom House gives the United States the highest possible freedom score while judging other countries by the degree of their alliance with America.

The United States does, indeed, receive the highest possible rating—as do practically all the countries of Western Europe. One feels almost ridiculous in pointing out that a number of these countries—for starters, France, Spain, and Germany—have had sharp differences with America over its foreign policy in recent years. At the same time, Freedom in the World gives low scores to such American allies or “partners” as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

4. Freedom House does not appreciate the levels of freedom in China and Russia.

China devotes billions of dollars to the political censorship of the Internet. The authorities regularly imprison journalists, human-rights lawyers, and ordinary citizens seeking redress in cases of official abuse of power. Russia is moving precipitously in the wrong direction in almost every sphere of freedom. (For a detailed look at Russia’s regression, see Leon Aron’s What Does Putin Want? in the December issue of COMMENTARY.) What, exactly, are we meant to appreciate?

5. Freedom House has a narrow and extremist definition of freedom that fails to consider political developments leading to “a real sense of individual rights and personal liberty.”

Again, had Lieven read the report more carefully, he would have learned that Freedom House stresses precisely those institutions that are the key guarantors of “individual rights and personal liberty.” The issues of concern singled out in the report include the global decline in freedom of expression and the press, the widespread failure to create the effective rule of law, and rampant corruption.

Anatol Lieven calls himself an “ethical realist.” The “realist” component of this description seems to consist in his support of “benevolent” autocrats the globe over. Where the “ethical” comes in, given his slipshod reporting of the contents of Freedom in the World, remains rather mysterious.

Anatol Lieven—a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Ethical Realism: A Vision of America’s Role in the World—has emerged in recent years as one of the more relentless critics of democratization as a core project of U.S. foreign policy. The latest effort in his anti-democratization campaign is a January 26 column published in the Financial Times in response to Freedom House’s recently released annual index of global political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. (contentions blogger Joshua Muravchik wrote about the Washington Post‘s own attempt to spin this report here.) Lieven levels a number of serious charges at Freedom House and democracy advocates in general. Let’s examine these charges, one by one:

1. Democracy advocates, presumably including Freedom House, have exaggerated the impact of the elections in Iraq.

In its reports and findings on Iraq, Freedom House has consistently stressed the high incidence there of violence, terrorism, and sectarian strife. Freedom House has never described Iraq as a democracy or as a free society, and the country’s rating has remained “not free” throughout the period of occupation.

2. Freedom House distorts its findings to suit the ideological leanings of the American government.

Only someone who has not read Freedom in the World carefully could come to this conclusion. The latest index suggests that, far from being on the march, freedom has entered a period of stagnation, with very little progress in recent years—a conclusion hardly in line with the ideological leanings of the Bush administration.

3. Freedom House gives the United States the highest possible freedom score while judging other countries by the degree of their alliance with America.

The United States does, indeed, receive the highest possible rating—as do practically all the countries of Western Europe. One feels almost ridiculous in pointing out that a number of these countries—for starters, France, Spain, and Germany—have had sharp differences with America over its foreign policy in recent years. At the same time, Freedom in the World gives low scores to such American allies or “partners” as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

4. Freedom House does not appreciate the levels of freedom in China and Russia.

China devotes billions of dollars to the political censorship of the Internet. The authorities regularly imprison journalists, human-rights lawyers, and ordinary citizens seeking redress in cases of official abuse of power. Russia is moving precipitously in the wrong direction in almost every sphere of freedom. (For a detailed look at Russia’s regression, see Leon Aron’s What Does Putin Want? in the December issue of COMMENTARY.) What, exactly, are we meant to appreciate?

5. Freedom House has a narrow and extremist definition of freedom that fails to consider political developments leading to “a real sense of individual rights and personal liberty.”

Again, had Lieven read the report more carefully, he would have learned that Freedom House stresses precisely those institutions that are the key guarantors of “individual rights and personal liberty.” The issues of concern singled out in the report include the global decline in freedom of expression and the press, the widespread failure to create the effective rule of law, and rampant corruption.

Anatol Lieven calls himself an “ethical realist.” The “realist” component of this description seems to consist in his support of “benevolent” autocrats the globe over. Where the “ethical” comes in, given his slipshod reporting of the contents of Freedom in the World, remains rather mysterious.

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