Commentary Magazine


Topic: Argentina

Kirchner to Skip Bombing Memorial Again

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, points out to me that for the second year running, Argentine President Christina Kirchner is going to skip commemorations for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Her snub to Argentina’s Jewish community comes after her refusal to allow the prosecutor in the case to testify in the U.S. Congress in recent hearings about Iranian activity in Latin America.

The move caps Kirchner’s efforts to exculpate Iran. She has gone so far as to invite Iran to re-investigate the bombing, a move akin to having the arsonist investigate the fire, never mind that when Iran appealed the Argentine court’s ruling to INTERPOL, the international police force examined all the evidence and found it credible, upholding red notices on senior Iranian politicians (including current defense minister Ahmad Vahidi).

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Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, points out to me that for the second year running, Argentine President Christina Kirchner is going to skip commemorations for the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Her snub to Argentina’s Jewish community comes after her refusal to allow the prosecutor in the case to testify in the U.S. Congress in recent hearings about Iranian activity in Latin America.

The move caps Kirchner’s efforts to exculpate Iran. She has gone so far as to invite Iran to re-investigate the bombing, a move akin to having the arsonist investigate the fire, never mind that when Iran appealed the Argentine court’s ruling to INTERPOL, the international police force examined all the evidence and found it credible, upholding red notices on senior Iranian politicians (including current defense minister Ahmad Vahidi).

Let’s put aside Iran’s clear culpability in a terrorist attack on Argentine Jewish civilians apparently only because the Iranian leadership found them guilty of being Jewish. Kirchner’s refusal to attend the memorial suggests deep-seated disdain and disrespect for Argentina’s own Jewish community as it commemorates the worst terrorist attack on Argentine (and perhaps South American) soil.

Argentina’s embrace of Iran not only insults its Jewish citizens, but poses a threat to United States national security as well. As Kirchner follows the path laid by other populist Argentine and Latin American leaders of whipping up populist fervor against contrived and imagined enemies, she threatens to set Argentina down a disastrous path. Let us hope that, in such a case, President Obama will recognize that neutrality is not a virtue.

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A Falkland Islands Coda

Spurred on by James Kirchick’s superb piece on why the Falkland Islands matter, and by my on-going visit to the UN, it’s worth pointing out how the Falklands illustrate one more thing: how the autocracies, in hanging together at the UN, all too often organize around their shared hatred of Israel.

The Argentine line, set out by Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to Britain, is that the referendum was “neither organized nor approved by the United Nations. . . . Argentina is not trying to change their identity or their life style, but the territory they live on is not theirs. . . . [The] Islanders are not part of the sovereignty dispute since the sovereignty claims are over the territory and not them.” Under this doctrine, most African and Asian nations are not legitimately independent either, since the UN did not organize their referenda. The theory that people can be separated from the land they live on would give Britain a claim to the land of Kenya, or Germany a claim to Namibia. It’s an approach that, as Argentina knows all too well, the UN would certainly never apply to the West Bank.

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Spurred on by James Kirchick’s superb piece on why the Falkland Islands matter, and by my on-going visit to the UN, it’s worth pointing out how the Falklands illustrate one more thing: how the autocracies, in hanging together at the UN, all too often organize around their shared hatred of Israel.

The Argentine line, set out by Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to Britain, is that the referendum was “neither organized nor approved by the United Nations. . . . Argentina is not trying to change their identity or their life style, but the territory they live on is not theirs. . . . [The] Islanders are not part of the sovereignty dispute since the sovereignty claims are over the territory and not them.” Under this doctrine, most African and Asian nations are not legitimately independent either, since the UN did not organize their referenda. The theory that people can be separated from the land they live on would give Britain a claim to the land of Kenya, or Germany a claim to Namibia. It’s an approach that, as Argentina knows all too well, the UN would certainly never apply to the West Bank.

What Argentina wants–relying on two UN General Assembly Resolutions–is to throw the Falklands question into the largely moribund UN Special Committee on Decolonization. Amusingly, UN Resolution 1514 of 1960, which Argentina claims supports its case, clearly rejects Argentina’s thesis that peoples and territory can be separated by noting that that “all peoples have the right to self-determination and in virtue of that right can freely determine their political condition.” General Assembly resolutions are in any case only an expression of international opinion, and are binding on no one. Argentina’s enthusiasm for the Special Committee is not a case of a misapplied principle: it’s all about the membership of the committee and Argentina’s search for a biased referee.

As Colum Lynch noted in February, thanks to regional blocs that routinely put up wildly inappropriate candidates for UN positions, the UN has a job for everyone. That includes Syrian envoy Bashar Jaafari, who was re-elected rapporteur of the committee, and who joins Ecuador (an Argentine ally), Cuba (ditto), and Sierra Leone on the committee’s leadership. There are no Western nations on the committee, and the U.S. refuses to participate in it because of its irremediable bias. So how did Ambassador Castro make her appeal for UN intervention?

By asserting that “Self-determination is a fundamental principle contemplated by the international law that’s not granted to any settlers of a certain territory, but only to the original natives that were or currently are being subjugated to a certain colonial power….” You get only one guess as to which nation the UN code word “certain colonial power” refers: Israel, of course. So in this ludicrous analogy, Argentina is to the Palestinians as the Islanders are to Israel. What’s the point of saying something this silly?

Well, as Jonathan noted in January, Argentina is falling–whether for reasons of political sympathy, shared nuclear ambitions, or a mutual desire to escape their economic difficulties–ever more into Iran’s orbit. And one way you can signal that, and even advance it, is to complain about Israel. The appearance of terms like “a certain colonial power,” in other words, is a reliable indicator not just that the UN is up to its old game of slandering the Middle East’s only democracy, but that the autocratic powers are gathering and signaling to each other for nefarious purposes of their own.

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Another (Self-Induced) Diplomatic Headache for Obama

For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

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For an administration that has made no effort to conceal its disdain for allied diplomacy, whether with an Israel that President Obama insists doesn’t know its own interests or a British political class that absorbs repeated insults with typical grace, yesterday’s Falklands referendum will provide a few more headaches. The Falkland Islands have been a source of minor tension between Britain and the Obama administration, which refuses to recognize the clear-as-day British sovereignty over the islands and even took the bizarre step of attempting to use the Argentinean term for them. (I say “attempting” because Obama flubbed the name.)

When Secretary of State John Kerry visited London in late February, he was asked about the then-upcoming vote in which the residents of the islands would choose their fate. Kerry explained that he could not begin to care about the wishes of the islanders: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear. First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the President, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto U.K. administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between U.K. and Argentina on practical matters,” Kerry said.

Well now the referendum has taken place, and it’s a result for the pro-British side that vote-rigging autocrats around the world could only dream of. The AP reports that “An overwhelming 99.8 percent of Falkland Islands voters have backed keeping their government just the way it is: a British Overseas Territory.”

The irony of the Falklands is that those who either oppose British sovereignty over the islands or simply refuse to support it have contributed far more to the U.K.’s lasting control over the islands than anyone on the British side. They have turned what was a faraway and costly remnant of a disintegrating empire into an issue of national pride. This was certainly what Argentina did when it chose to invade the islands in 1982. Argentinean junta leaders correctly read signals indicating the British had no real desire to hold on to the islands, and a bit of patience would have almost certainly been rewarded. Instead, they attacked.

In his history of the Cold War, Norman Stone recounts the scene with typically colorful flourishes. Both Argentina and the British seemed to think that a quiet transfer of authority of the islands to Argentina would be in everyone’s interest. Stone describes the unfolding of a genuinely stupid miscalculation on the part of the junta:

In December 1981 a General Leopoldo Galtieri seized the dominant role in the Buenos Aires military junta, and he appeared as the ultimate in comic, circus-uniformed rulers, an “El Supremo” out of Hornblower. In March 1982 he tested the waters: his troops landed on South Georgia, a remote, frozen place from which the British had conducted surveys of the Antarctic. Then, on 2 April, he invaded the Falklands. In London there was disbelief: a senior Foreign Office man caught the mood when he gasped, they cannot treat a major power in this way.

Parliament was furious and Margaret Thatcher took action, sending forces to repel the invasion. Stone notes that public opinion was rallied to the cause. Had the Argentine junta been smart, even the island’s inhabitants who wanted to remain under the crown could have been relocated to other islands still controlled by Britain and for a fraction of the cost of the Falklands war. Yet the junta “behaved with grotesque obstinacy.” The junta seemed to think they’d have American support; they of course did not. Stone suggests the junta leaders may have even misread Jeane Kirkpatrick’s COMMENTARY essay on “Dictatorships and Double Standards” to think they had some latitude in acting out their delusional fantasies. The French helped the British effort, which was successful. Thatcher was able to say “we have ceased to be a nation in retreat.”

The junta fell and Thatcher was venerated as a liberator. British national pride received a much-needed jolt and, Stone writes, “in some ways it marked the high point of the Thatcher period: a courageous budget was associated with economic recovery, and the Falklands campaign with a great sea-change in international affairs.”

The Falklands were an artifact; they were not exactly the jewel in the crown. But just like that they had become a new kind of Dunkirk, a symbol of British strength and resolve. As the AP story notes, some are raising questions about the logic of retaining the islands in an age of austerity. The vote was less a message to the United States than it was to David Cameron not to cut them loose to free up some spare change. But that decision, if taken, will ultimately be Britain’s. Denying British sovereignty remains silly. You can’t ask for much more of a mandate than 99.8 percent agreement among the population.

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Iran Isolated? Don’t Ask Argentina

Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

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Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

The idea of a joint commission to investigate the crime supposedly is an effort to solve the mystery behind the explosion. But as the Argentines have already proven, there is no mystery. Iran is the culprit and giving it the right to name half of the jurists who will make up the investigating body assures them of the ability to block any honest finding.

But the main point here is not so much the notion that Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries will not be held accountable for mass murder. That was already a given. It is the brazen nature of Argentina’s decision to allow the Iranians to evade justice that really stings. It also ought to serve as one more wake-up call for the White House and State Department about Iran’s ability to continue to act on the international stage despite being branded as a terror sponsor. Under the circumstances, does anyone doubt that Iran believes the talk coming out of Washington about preventing them from going nuclear is mere bluster that they can ignore with impunity?

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Buenos Aires Bombing Remembered

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, an attack that killed 85 and seriously injured hundreds. The attack was planned and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its mastermind, Ahmad Vahidi, is now Iran’s defense minister. Argentine authorities ultimately convicted several Iranians and Hezbollah activists in absentia for their roles; Interpol currently has a red notice out for Vahidi. Ahmad Rezai, the son of then-Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Chief Mohsen Rezai, later fingered his father’s role in the affair, and acknowledges that he was an eyewitness to the operation’s planning; Ahmad died under mysterious circumstances in Dubai late last year.

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Today marks the 18th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, an attack that killed 85 and seriously injured hundreds. The attack was planned and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its mastermind, Ahmad Vahidi, is now Iran’s defense minister. Argentine authorities ultimately convicted several Iranians and Hezbollah activists in absentia for their roles; Interpol currently has a red notice out for Vahidi. Ahmad Rezai, the son of then-Islamic Revolution Guard Corps Chief Mohsen Rezai, later fingered his father’s role in the affair, and acknowledges that he was an eyewitness to the operation’s planning; Ahmad died under mysterious circumstances in Dubai late last year.

Almost two decades on, it is important to remember three things:

  • While Iran’s apologists say that Tehran’s problem with Israel is political, and isn’t motivated by religious hatred, the bombing in Buenos Aires targeted not the Israel embassy (which Iran had bombed two years earlier) but rather the Jewish cultural center. The target was not political; it was religious.
  • No Iranian authority, be they hardliner or reformer, has ever apologized for Iran’s role in hostage-taking or terrorism. That Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter embrace former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami as a genuine believer in Dialogue of Civilizations is shameful. Khatami is, to this day, an apologist for terrorism.
  • Iran remains a terror sponsor of global reach; no amount of dialogue during the past two decades has changed that. Perhaps the problem isn’t a regime grievance, but the regime itself.

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Is Obama Repeating April Glaspie’s Gaffe?

On July 25, 1990, April Glaspie, a career foreign service officer and ambassador to Iraq, made what in hindsight was one of the biggest gaffes in State Department history. During a rare meeting with Saddam Hussein, she assured the Iraqi dictator that the United States would not take sides in the dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait,” she reportedly told the Iraqi dictator. Just over a week later, he invaded his tiny neighbor, setting off a cascade of events which would lead to two wars and devastating sanctions.

Fast forward more than two decades. Thirty years after an Argentine military junta for largely populist reasons invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory populated by British citizens, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner is at it again. Perhaps she wants to deflect attention from her own mismanagement, or perhaps the fact that the British have discovered significant oil reserves off-shore has led her to renew Argentina’s increasingly militant claim. Enter President Obama. Putting aside his gaffe of his calling the islands the “Maldives” (an Indian Ocean archipelago) instead of Las Malvinas, Argentina’s name for the islands, Obama sought to play the neutral card. From The Daily Telegraph:

In his address, Mr Obama maintained the USA’s stance of neutrality over the Falklands, saying he wanted to ensure good relations with both Argentina and Britain. “This is something in which we would not typically intervene,” he said.

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On July 25, 1990, April Glaspie, a career foreign service officer and ambassador to Iraq, made what in hindsight was one of the biggest gaffes in State Department history. During a rare meeting with Saddam Hussein, she assured the Iraqi dictator that the United States would not take sides in the dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait,” she reportedly told the Iraqi dictator. Just over a week later, he invaded his tiny neighbor, setting off a cascade of events which would lead to two wars and devastating sanctions.

Fast forward more than two decades. Thirty years after an Argentine military junta for largely populist reasons invaded the Falkland Islands, a British territory populated by British citizens, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner is at it again. Perhaps she wants to deflect attention from her own mismanagement, or perhaps the fact that the British have discovered significant oil reserves off-shore has led her to renew Argentina’s increasingly militant claim. Enter President Obama. Putting aside his gaffe of his calling the islands the “Maldives” (an Indian Ocean archipelago) instead of Las Malvinas, Argentina’s name for the islands, Obama sought to play the neutral card. From The Daily Telegraph:

In his address, Mr Obama maintained the USA’s stance of neutrality over the Falklands, saying he wanted to ensure good relations with both Argentina and Britain. “This is something in which we would not typically intervene,” he said.

Alas, there is a thin line between neutrality and moral equivalence. The fact of the matter is that the islands are British, the people residing on the islands are British, and every time anyone has bothered to ask the residents of the Falkland Islands, they have expressed an overwhelming desire to remain fully British. The problem with neutrality is that it legitimizes outrageous claims. There really is nothing to talk about, but by suggesting there is, Obama is fanning the flames of conflict, allowing rhetorical momentum to build, perhaps to the point where Kirchner will look at Obama’s studied neutrality the same way Saddam interpreted Glaspie’s.

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More on the Freedom Agenda

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

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The Slap Heard Round the World

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has.

The danger is that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, hijacks the revolution. The goal of U.S policy must therefore be to influence this revolution, to the degree we can, in a way that advances U.S. interests and American ideals. This means taking an active role, both publicly and behind the scenes, in support of those who stand for liberal democracy (for more, see here).

The hour has grown quite late. As Max Boot points out, the equivocation of the Obama administration needs to end. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading Egyptian dissident who appears to be rapidly gaining power, is right when he said the United States is “losing credibility by the day” by its support for the Egyptian dictator. Mr. Mubarak is, politically speaking, a Dead Man Walking. There is still time, but not much time, for the president to get on the right side of this revolution and the right side of history. Secretary of State Clinton’s comments yesterday, in which she called for an “orderly transition” to a representative government, were certainly an improvement from where the administration was last week, when she was assuring the world of the staying power of Mr. Mubarak and Vice President Biden was declaring, against three decades of evidence, that the Egyptian president was not a dictator.

Having worked in three administrations and in the White House during a series of crises, I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to navigate through roiling waters, when one has to act on incomplete information in the midst of chaotic and constantly changing events, the outcome of which is impossible to know. In that respect, the Obama administration deserves some empathy. It’s never as easy to guide events when you’re in government as it is to critique events when you’re outside of government.

Still, as my former colleague William Inboden has written, it seems to me that the Obama administration can be held responsible for two important errors: (a) its failure to anticipate what is happening in Egypt and prepare contingency plans. and (b) its neglect of human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Egypt for the previous two years. “These failures should be front and center in any post-mortem policy review,” Professor Inboden writes. “The Mubarak regime’s brittleness and Egypt’s stagnation have long been apparent to many observers.” But not, apparently, to the Obama administration, which seems to have been caught completely off guard. If the spark that set the region afire was impossible to anticipate, the dry tinder of the region was not.

One Arab nation that so far hasn’t been convulsed by the political revolution now sweeping the Middle East is Iraq — the one Arab nation whose government is legitimate, the produce of free elections and political compromise, and that has the consent of the people. When it came to Iraqi democracy, most of the foreign-policy establishment assured us that self-government there could never take root, that Iraq would simply be a pawn of Iran, that the ethnic divisions in Iraq were too deep to overcome, and that (as Joe Biden argued at the time) the only solution was partition. At this stage, it’s reasonable to conclude that these judgments were quite wrong. And while one can certainly debate whether the Iraq war was worth the blood, treasure, and opportunities it cost, it appears as if the Egyptian people, and not only the Egyptian people, are longing for what the people of Iraq have embraced: self-government. It isn’t perfect by any means — but for the Arab Middle East, it is a model for other nations to aspire.

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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Time Magazine Takes Its Israel Hatred to a New Level

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

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Block This Sale

The bad ideas just keep coming. A few bloggers and news outlets picked up this week on the report that a Russian company wants to acquire a 51 percent stake in a U.S. uranium-mining operation. Four congressmen have written to Timothy Geithner asking him to block the sale, pointing out that if it goes through, a Russian corporation will control 20 percent of America’s uranium resources.

The sale should be blocked. The congressmen fear – with reason – that Russia could deliver uranium from the Wyoming mine to Iran, but that’s not the only consideration. Russia acquiring a 51 percent interest in a natural-resources operation creates unnecessary vulnerabilities for the nations involved. Multiple rounds of natural-gas extortion in Europe have made that clear. Russia behaves badly in its natural-resources dealings, using them alternately to build leverage with the wealthy and to strong-arm the struggling.

Russia and China are competing vigorously to acquire control of natural resources in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Besides its gas and oil investments in the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia, Russia has signed uranium-development agreements with Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Russians are also prospecting for oil and gas off Cuba’s West coast in the Gulf of Mexico, an enterprise unaffected by President Obama’s moratorium on U.S. drilling. (See here for an extended treatment of Russia’s oil and gas acquisitions.) Between them, Russia and China are gradually narrowing the resource options of the U.S., the EU, and Japan; if geopolitical shifts drive us to seek new suppliers, we will find, wherever we look, that the Asian giants are already there. We certainly don’t need to collude in their strategy by handing our own resources over to their companies.

In turning markedly against Japan last week over the Kuril Islands issue – which carries major implications for undersea resources – the Putin-Medvedev regime sent a very clear signal about where it is headed. If we invite Russia to control the commercial destiny of a significant amount of our natural resources, we will be buying political problems for the future. Our current ability to stand up to extortion is no excuse for courting it unnecessarily. The Russia factor makes this sale an issue of national security; it is inherently political and should be decided for political reasons. The sale should be blocked.

The bad ideas just keep coming. A few bloggers and news outlets picked up this week on the report that a Russian company wants to acquire a 51 percent stake in a U.S. uranium-mining operation. Four congressmen have written to Timothy Geithner asking him to block the sale, pointing out that if it goes through, a Russian corporation will control 20 percent of America’s uranium resources.

The sale should be blocked. The congressmen fear – with reason – that Russia could deliver uranium from the Wyoming mine to Iran, but that’s not the only consideration. Russia acquiring a 51 percent interest in a natural-resources operation creates unnecessary vulnerabilities for the nations involved. Multiple rounds of natural-gas extortion in Europe have made that clear. Russia behaves badly in its natural-resources dealings, using them alternately to build leverage with the wealthy and to strong-arm the struggling.

Russia and China are competing vigorously to acquire control of natural resources in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Besides its gas and oil investments in the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia, Russia has signed uranium-development agreements with Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Russians are also prospecting for oil and gas off Cuba’s West coast in the Gulf of Mexico, an enterprise unaffected by President Obama’s moratorium on U.S. drilling. (See here for an extended treatment of Russia’s oil and gas acquisitions.) Between them, Russia and China are gradually narrowing the resource options of the U.S., the EU, and Japan; if geopolitical shifts drive us to seek new suppliers, we will find, wherever we look, that the Asian giants are already there. We certainly don’t need to collude in their strategy by handing our own resources over to their companies.

In turning markedly against Japan last week over the Kuril Islands issue – which carries major implications for undersea resources – the Putin-Medvedev regime sent a very clear signal about where it is headed. If we invite Russia to control the commercial destiny of a significant amount of our natural resources, we will be buying political problems for the future. Our current ability to stand up to extortion is no excuse for courting it unnecessarily. The Russia factor makes this sale an issue of national security; it is inherently political and should be decided for political reasons. The sale should be blocked.

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The Economic and Budget Issue Brief: Read It and Weep

The CBO’s July 27 Economic and Budget Issue Brief, “Federal Debt and the Risk of a Fiscal Crisis,” is short (8 pages), accessible, and worth reading. It covers past and projected federal debt held by the public, some of the consequences of growing debt, the increased chance of a fiscal crisis (including a brief review of fiscal crises in Argentina, Ireland, and Greece), and how a fiscal crisis might affect the United States. Among the many interesting data points, you’ll find is this:

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) projections, federal debt held by the public will stand at 62 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2010, having risen from 36 percent at the end of fiscal year 2007, just before the recession began. In only one other period in U.S. history—during and shortly after World War II—has that figure exceeded 50 percent.

Read the whole thing — and weep. (h/t: Yuval Levin/NRO)

The CBO’s July 27 Economic and Budget Issue Brief, “Federal Debt and the Risk of a Fiscal Crisis,” is short (8 pages), accessible, and worth reading. It covers past and projected federal debt held by the public, some of the consequences of growing debt, the increased chance of a fiscal crisis (including a brief review of fiscal crises in Argentina, Ireland, and Greece), and how a fiscal crisis might affect the United States. Among the many interesting data points, you’ll find is this:

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) projections, federal debt held by the public will stand at 62 percent of GDP at the end of fiscal year 2010, having risen from 36 percent at the end of fiscal year 2007, just before the recession began. In only one other period in U.S. history—during and shortly after World War II—has that figure exceeded 50 percent.

Read the whole thing — and weep. (h/t: Yuval Levin/NRO)

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The World Cup and American Exceptionalism

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

Jonathan, it took me a while to read your response to my response to your response — I am watching football!

Far from me the thought that a game of football is anything more than a game of football.

For those who like football, the World Cup is the most epic tournament of all — the concentration of talent on the pitch and intensity of the emotions around the pitch is unprecedented. You either like it or not, of course, but to question the wisdom of club team versus national team is besides the point. It’s been like that since 1930, and nobody wants to change it, because it is simply an exciting spectacle that hundreds of millions of people around the world wait for and watch religiously every four years.

America has not been privy to this extravagance for a long time — but look at the U.S. team. Before the World Cup came to the United States, the U.S. only moonlighted with semi-professional teams that would suffer basketball-score defeats. Since then, the American team has been steadily rising. It now plays in the big league. It is a remarkable accomplishment.

Are there political implications to the game? There should be none, whatsoever — although there was a war once because of a match. But the fans — and their passions — attest to a deep-seated sentiment of national pride, which in turn explains the popularity of the World Cup contest. The way that victory and defeat is taken is another testament to the power of nationalist feelings and patriotic pride — and all the better that it is expressed through peaceful enthusiasm and playful banter against adversaries, especially the old ones.

The interesting point is another one, and has little to do with the use of the flag by governments. If tyrannies ever tried to exploit the game for their own aggrandizement, they did not accomplish much. In recent decades, the only country I can think of that won a World Cup and was a dictatorship was Argentina in 1978 (Maggie Thatcher took care of them, eventually). And Communism never produced a winner — ideology always stands in the way of complex game strategies, bouts of individual creativeness, and the need to adjust quickly.

The interesting point is that it is often in those enlightened societies that reject patriotism as outdated and pernicious on philosophical grounds — Western Europe being a primary location, the newsroom of NPR a secondary one — that the World Cup unleashes patriotism in a way that no other sport competition in the world ever does, not even the Olympics. This raises an interesting question, first and foremost for those left-wing promoters of flower power who think nationalism is both pernicious and on the wane. The World Cup awakens the sentiment where leftists think there is none left (or there should not be, i.e., even in their own newsroom). And that, to me, is a good thing — it highlights the fallacy of the post-national, postmodern worldview, especially because all it takes is 22 men in shorts chasing a football to demonstrate this fine point of political philosophy.

As for the U.S., my point is even less ambitious. To see it join the big league as a serious contender to me is refreshing not because a victory for the United States (unlikely this time, by the way) would bring pride and prestige to democracy, or because of what it may or may not demonstrate about American nationalism or America’s sudden abandonment of its exceptionalism. In fact, I think it proves American exceptionalism. Given how late America comes to football and how quickly it rises from obscurity to success, it would be yet another sign of certain characteristics that make America so unique. It would prove how fast and successful America is in mastering all things foreign and seamlessly integrating them in its own unique national fabric; it would offer yet another proof of immigrants becoming the standard bearers of American patriotism — just look at who plays for the national team and you’ll see my point; and of sport being a ticket for them into the pantheon of all American heroes.

All in all a good thing — and one that a club-team international competition with the LA Galaxy beating the Muloudia Club d’Alger is not likely to engender.

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Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

You would think that leftists who hope that American sports exceptionalism is breaking down in the face of World Cup fever would be thrilled by the big American victory in a game against Algeria. And they are. Sort of.

As leftist ideologue and soccer fanatic Dave Zirin writes in the Nation, the NPR crowd was ecstatic when the U.S. squad’s Landon Donovan scored to seal the American victory that put them into the tournament’s second round. As Zirin tells it, he was literally at the NPR studios in Washington waiting to go on to discuss the game when the goal was scored and “almost every cubicle and office let out an extemporaneous yelp. Yes, NPR went wild.” Needless to say, there was no such demonstration at the offices of COMMENTARY.

That is, of course, hardly surprising. In the NPR universe, the reluctance of the vast majority of Americans to embrace the so-called “beautiful game” is a symbol of our Bush-like arrogance and refusal to march to the same drummers as those enlightened soccer hooligans from Europe, South America, and even North Korea (whose representatives made the 32-team final in South Africa). For soccer lovers who see the sport’s minor-league status here as an affront to their globalist sensibilities, the World Cup is the quadrennial chance to boost its status, so the fortunes of the American team are a matter of deep concern to them. If the Americans succeed, as they have so far in this World Cup, then they hope that somehow this will translate into more prestige for U.S. soccer or at least a chance that the sports manifestation of American exceptionalism is in decline. Notwithstanding our sympathy for the boys running around the fields of South Africa in red, white, and blue, that is an outcome we should not desire. Soccer is just a game (albeit a boring one), and there’s no need for patriots to abuse it or its fans. But let’s just say that as long as Americans don’t share a common sports culture with Algerians and Iranians or even Europeans, we need not fear for the future of the republic.

But there’s the rub for hardcore leftists like Zirin, who hope that one day we will be no different than the rest of the world. Zirin wrote last week that the real reason that most Americans don’t like soccer is racism and looked forward to Glenn Beck’s dilemma when America was a World Cup favorite, as the right-wing broadcaster would have to choose between supporting the flag and his anti-soccer faith. But American successes, such as yesterday’s U.S. victory, provide Zirin with his own problem. In order for soccer to do well here, he’s got to root for the American team against Third World victims like Algeria (he admits he’s really an Argentina fan) and be subjected to jingoist soccer rhetoric about America’s “cultural supremacy” on sports talk shows. He confesses that is why international competitions leave him “with such a sour taste.”

While I find Zirin’s soccer evangelism as well as his aversion to rooting for his own country risible, he’s actually right about that last point even if he doesn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug. Which is why I despise the World Cup in the same way I detest other instances of sports globaloney, like the Olympics or our beloved national pastime of baseball’s own World Cup, whose absurd out-of-season international tournament has produced little interest here the two times it was played. It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

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Sorry, Obama, but Russia and China Are Never Going to Help You on Iran

The headline says it all: “Clinton appears to extend timeline for Iran sanctions.” The Secretary of State told reporters aboard her flight to Argentina:

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months.”

Why all the delays? The reason is that China and Russia are refusing to join a sanctions resolution. Obama’s response is becoming increasingly clear: deny that the Security Council is a dead end, extend deadlines, say that everyone’s coming around, and submerge the Iranian nuclear crisis in the interminable machinations of the “international community.”

China and Russia won’t play ball because they have no good strategic reason to help relieve America’s burden of global leadership. But it’s not so clear why the Obama administration is eager to participate in this charade.

There are two reasons, I think. The first is that acknowledging Russia and China’s unwillingness to help would strike the most powerful blow yet to Obama’s central foreign-policy message: that his personality and eagerness for engagement would open up doors for America that were slammed shut by the Bush administration’s alleged arrogance and quickness to go to war. Acknowledging that the Security Council will never allow strong sanctions would be tantamount to admitting that the very logic and premises of Obama’s foreign policy is flawed. Thus, this isn’t really about Iran. It’s about the politics of failure and Obama’s increasingly desperate attempt to shield his presidency from the hard realities of the world.

And there is a practical reason why Obama may never admit that the Security Council is a dead end: doing so would force him to move to a new strategy — and there is no new strategy. So instead of thinking seriously about a Plan B, the administration is simply burying Plan A in a process with no chance of success and no expiration date. This is passivity, and it puts Obama in the position of reacting to events instead of shaping them. That’s not a good position for the American president to be in.

The headline says it all: “Clinton appears to extend timeline for Iran sanctions.” The Secretary of State told reporters aboard her flight to Argentina:

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months.”

Why all the delays? The reason is that China and Russia are refusing to join a sanctions resolution. Obama’s response is becoming increasingly clear: deny that the Security Council is a dead end, extend deadlines, say that everyone’s coming around, and submerge the Iranian nuclear crisis in the interminable machinations of the “international community.”

China and Russia won’t play ball because they have no good strategic reason to help relieve America’s burden of global leadership. But it’s not so clear why the Obama administration is eager to participate in this charade.

There are two reasons, I think. The first is that acknowledging Russia and China’s unwillingness to help would strike the most powerful blow yet to Obama’s central foreign-policy message: that his personality and eagerness for engagement would open up doors for America that were slammed shut by the Bush administration’s alleged arrogance and quickness to go to war. Acknowledging that the Security Council will never allow strong sanctions would be tantamount to admitting that the very logic and premises of Obama’s foreign policy is flawed. Thus, this isn’t really about Iran. It’s about the politics of failure and Obama’s increasingly desperate attempt to shield his presidency from the hard realities of the world.

And there is a practical reason why Obama may never admit that the Security Council is a dead end: doing so would force him to move to a new strategy — and there is no new strategy. So instead of thinking seriously about a Plan B, the administration is simply burying Plan A in a process with no chance of success and no expiration date. This is passivity, and it puts Obama in the position of reacting to events instead of shaping them. That’s not a good position for the American president to be in.

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Quite a Legacy

For those of us accustomed to watching the Obami try very hard to do as little as possible on Iran, this should come as no surprise:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday it could take months for new UN sanctions against Iran, as she prepared for talks in Argentina and Brazil about the perceived Iranian nuclear threat. Speaking on the plane to Buenos Aires, the chief US diplomat appeared to back away from her contention before the US Senate last week that a new resolution could be obtained in the “next 30 to 60 days.”

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months,” she said before landing in the Argentine capital.

The Obami’s “deadlines” and “timelines” come and go with nary a backward glance. There is no resolve, no determination to draw a line, for that would require action and raise the prospect of conflict, something Obama studiously tries to avoid on the foreign-policy front, no doubt so he can pursue his true passions: health care and climate change, which also are going nowhere.

We seem to have no game plan for those crippling sanctions and no intention of using military force. Obama refuses to pursue regime change. So we sit and wait as the mullahs inch closer to obtaining a nuclear-weapons capability. And this, it seems, more than the catastrophic failure of his domestic agenda, will be the Obama legacy: a revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons.

For those of us accustomed to watching the Obami try very hard to do as little as possible on Iran, this should come as no surprise:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday it could take months for new UN sanctions against Iran, as she prepared for talks in Argentina and Brazil about the perceived Iranian nuclear threat. Speaking on the plane to Buenos Aires, the chief US diplomat appeared to back away from her contention before the US Senate last week that a new resolution could be obtained in the “next 30 to 60 days.”

“We are moving expeditiously and thoroughly in the Security Council. I can’t give you an exact date, but I would assume sometime in the next several months,” she said before landing in the Argentine capital.

The Obami’s “deadlines” and “timelines” come and go with nary a backward glance. There is no resolve, no determination to draw a line, for that would require action and raise the prospect of conflict, something Obama studiously tries to avoid on the foreign-policy front, no doubt so he can pursue his true passions: health care and climate change, which also are going nowhere.

We seem to have no game plan for those crippling sanctions and no intention of using military force. Obama refuses to pursue regime change. So we sit and wait as the mullahs inch closer to obtaining a nuclear-weapons capability. And this, it seems, more than the catastrophic failure of his domestic agenda, will be the Obama legacy: a revolutionary Islamic state with nuclear weapons.

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A Talk in Tehran

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that two organizations at Tehran University will host a May 26th conference on “Israel’s End” in order to coincide with “the sad 60th anniversary of Palestine’s occupation by the Zionists.”

Here’s the IRNA:

The guests of the conference that would be attended by Iranian and foreign students of universities in Tehran will be intellectuals and university professors from Egypt, Venezuela, Morocco, Lebanon, Indonesia, the United States, Pakistan, Argentina, India, Iraq, Syria, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, France, Tunisia, and a number of other countries.

In March, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement, one of groups organizing the upcoming confab, offered a bounty of more than $1 million for the assassination of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad director Meir Dagan, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

What kind of student activist group has a cool million laying around in a mercenary fund? The kind under the guidance of the “Council for Spreading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Thoughts.” Yes, that is a real, government-organized council. And yes, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement is under their direct influence. So, the May 26th international conference on the liquidation of Israel is, in its turn, an Ahmadinejad-sponsored event. It’s hard to say whether or not IRNA’s claim of U.S. attendees is genuine–but there’s little reason to doubt that some American academics would jump at this golden opportunity.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that two organizations at Tehran University will host a May 26th conference on “Israel’s End” in order to coincide with “the sad 60th anniversary of Palestine’s occupation by the Zionists.”

Here’s the IRNA:

The guests of the conference that would be attended by Iranian and foreign students of universities in Tehran will be intellectuals and university professors from Egypt, Venezuela, Morocco, Lebanon, Indonesia, the United States, Pakistan, Argentina, India, Iraq, Syria, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, France, Tunisia, and a number of other countries.

In March, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement, one of groups organizing the upcoming confab, offered a bounty of more than $1 million for the assassination of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad director Meir Dagan, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

What kind of student activist group has a cool million laying around in a mercenary fund? The kind under the guidance of the “Council for Spreading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Thoughts.” Yes, that is a real, government-organized council. And yes, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement is under their direct influence. So, the May 26th international conference on the liquidation of Israel is, in its turn, an Ahmadinejad-sponsored event. It’s hard to say whether or not IRNA’s claim of U.S. attendees is genuine–but there’s little reason to doubt that some American academics would jump at this golden opportunity.

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Good(ish) News from Iran

Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Italian conservative party Alleanza Nazionale and an ally of Silvio Berlusconi in the upcoming April 13 Italian national elections, has offered a glimpse into Italy’s foreign policy if he and Mr Berlusconi win a majority.

According to a recent report in the Financial Times, Fini called Iran the “danger of today,” and said that

the EU should take a “very tough” stand and that Italy’s position as an important European trade partner gave it extra leverage in imposing sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

This is very good news, given that Italy is Iran’s second-largest commercial partner in Europe and that its business interests mainly contribute to strategic sectors of Iran’s economy–steel, energy, and civil engineering. But Fini’s welcome remarks should come with a caveat: turning these good intentions into good practice is a different story, even if Fini and his political allies win next week. Italy is currently the principal obstacle in efforts to expand EU sanctions to target Iran’s Bank Melli, its principal commercial bank

Melli is the main conduit for financial transactions for Italian companies operating in Iran. But it’s is also the main conduit of financing for Hezbollah in Lebanon and was instrumental in funding the terror attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994. Italy’s current position is that Bank Melli–evidence of misdeeds notwithstanding–cannot be touched: too many commercial interests are at stake. Will Fini and his putative prime minister Berlusconi change course?

Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the Italian conservative party Alleanza Nazionale and an ally of Silvio Berlusconi in the upcoming April 13 Italian national elections, has offered a glimpse into Italy’s foreign policy if he and Mr Berlusconi win a majority.

According to a recent report in the Financial Times, Fini called Iran the “danger of today,” and said that

the EU should take a “very tough” stand and that Italy’s position as an important European trade partner gave it extra leverage in imposing sanctions against Tehran’s nuclear programme.

This is very good news, given that Italy is Iran’s second-largest commercial partner in Europe and that its business interests mainly contribute to strategic sectors of Iran’s economy–steel, energy, and civil engineering. But Fini’s welcome remarks should come with a caveat: turning these good intentions into good practice is a different story, even if Fini and his political allies win next week. Italy is currently the principal obstacle in efforts to expand EU sanctions to target Iran’s Bank Melli, its principal commercial bank

Melli is the main conduit for financial transactions for Italian companies operating in Iran. But it’s is also the main conduit of financing for Hezbollah in Lebanon and was instrumental in funding the terror attack against the AMIA Jewish center in Argentina in 1994. Italy’s current position is that Bank Melli–evidence of misdeeds notwithstanding–cannot be touched: too many commercial interests are at stake. Will Fini and his putative prime minister Berlusconi change course?

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Good Riddance: Imad Mugniyeh

Great news from Syria. Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world’s worst terrorists, has been killed by a car bomb in Damascus. He is all but forgotten now, but Mughniyeh, a leader of Hezbollah, was the original Osama bin Laden—a terrorist kingpin who was responsible for hundreds of deaths, primarily Americans and Israelis. He had a $25 million American bounty on his head, the same size as the reward for bin Laden. It’s not hard to see why. This AP story sums up his reign of terror:

Mughniyeh, who had been in hiding for years, was among the fugitives indicted in the United States for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed. He was also suspected of masterminding attacks on the U.S. Embassy and the Marine base in Lebanon that killed more than 260 Americans in the 1980s when he was then the Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s security chief.

Mughniyeh, 45, was also the reputed leader of a group that held Westerners hostage in Lebanon, among them journalist Terry Anderson, a former Associated Press chief Middle East correspondent who was held captive for six years.

Mughniyeh is also believed by Israel to have been involved in planning the 1992 bombing of Israel’s embassy in Argentina in which 29 people were killed and the blast at a Buenos Aires Jewish center two years later that killed 95.

Hezbollah predictably blamed Israel for his death. That’s quite possible, although it’s also possible that he was killed by Syria’s intelligence services (for whom car bombings are a favorite assassination technique) or by a competing faction of Islamist thugs.

I would like to think there is even a chance he was killed by American operatives from the CIA or Special Operations Command. But while possible that seems unlikely; car bombs aren’t a typical American touch, and our commandos are not known for operating in Syria—although they should be.

Frankly it’s a disgrace that our forces didn’t manage to kill Mugniyeh long ago, a problem that can be attributed largely to the excessive caution that numerous American administrations, from Reagan on, have displayed in fighting terrorists. Robert Baer’s book See No Evil provides some details.

Even if it occurred far too late, the civilized world should rejoice at the demise of this monster. But keep in mind that Hezbollah has plenty of other killers just as vicious and cruel waiting in the wings.

Great news from Syria. Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world’s worst terrorists, has been killed by a car bomb in Damascus. He is all but forgotten now, but Mughniyeh, a leader of Hezbollah, was the original Osama bin Laden—a terrorist kingpin who was responsible for hundreds of deaths, primarily Americans and Israelis. He had a $25 million American bounty on his head, the same size as the reward for bin Laden. It’s not hard to see why. This AP story sums up his reign of terror:

Mughniyeh, who had been in hiding for years, was among the fugitives indicted in the United States for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed. He was also suspected of masterminding attacks on the U.S. Embassy and the Marine base in Lebanon that killed more than 260 Americans in the 1980s when he was then the Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s security chief.

Mughniyeh, 45, was also the reputed leader of a group that held Westerners hostage in Lebanon, among them journalist Terry Anderson, a former Associated Press chief Middle East correspondent who was held captive for six years.

Mughniyeh is also believed by Israel to have been involved in planning the 1992 bombing of Israel’s embassy in Argentina in which 29 people were killed and the blast at a Buenos Aires Jewish center two years later that killed 95.

Hezbollah predictably blamed Israel for his death. That’s quite possible, although it’s also possible that he was killed by Syria’s intelligence services (for whom car bombings are a favorite assassination technique) or by a competing faction of Islamist thugs.

I would like to think there is even a chance he was killed by American operatives from the CIA or Special Operations Command. But while possible that seems unlikely; car bombs aren’t a typical American touch, and our commandos are not known for operating in Syria—although they should be.

Frankly it’s a disgrace that our forces didn’t manage to kill Mugniyeh long ago, a problem that can be attributed largely to the excessive caution that numerous American administrations, from Reagan on, have displayed in fighting terrorists. Robert Baer’s book See No Evil provides some details.

Even if it occurred far too late, the civilized world should rejoice at the demise of this monster. But keep in mind that Hezbollah has plenty of other killers just as vicious and cruel waiting in the wings.

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Peacemaker’s Encore

Oh, good. Daniel Barenboim, the renowned pianist, conductor, and peace activist, has just taken upon himself Palestinian citizenship, as reported in today’s Haaretz. The Argentinian-born Israeli, who once declared Edward Said to be his “most intimate friend,” has made a career of assaulting the Jewish state and supporting what is one of the world’s leading terror regimes.

A critic of Barenboim’s once wrote that “Barenboim, who can do anything in music, has been known to deliver less than musicians with half his ability and intelligence . . . . A courageous idealist who believes that symphonic music can heal human conflict, Barenboim appears to have no idea how to redeem symphonic music from the slough of 21st century human indifference.” But it is not clear that his sense of politics is much more effective. “I believe that the destinies of . . . the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are inextricably linked,” Barenboim said. “We are blessed – or cursed – to live with each other. And I prefer the first.” Such hopes seem remarkably detached not only from the realities on the ground, but from the terror operations emphatically glorified by his newly adoptive nation.

“Now even not very intelligent people,” he added, “are saying that the occupation has to be stopped.” Hm? Whatever.

Oh, good. Daniel Barenboim, the renowned pianist, conductor, and peace activist, has just taken upon himself Palestinian citizenship, as reported in today’s Haaretz. The Argentinian-born Israeli, who once declared Edward Said to be his “most intimate friend,” has made a career of assaulting the Jewish state and supporting what is one of the world’s leading terror regimes.

A critic of Barenboim’s once wrote that “Barenboim, who can do anything in music, has been known to deliver less than musicians with half his ability and intelligence . . . . A courageous idealist who believes that symphonic music can heal human conflict, Barenboim appears to have no idea how to redeem symphonic music from the slough of 21st century human indifference.” But it is not clear that his sense of politics is much more effective. “I believe that the destinies of . . . the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are inextricably linked,” Barenboim said. “We are blessed – or cursed – to live with each other. And I prefer the first.” Such hopes seem remarkably detached not only from the realities on the ground, but from the terror operations emphatically glorified by his newly adoptive nation.

“Now even not very intelligent people,” he added, “are saying that the occupation has to be stopped.” Hm? Whatever.

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Iran in Latin America

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

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