Commentary Magazine


Topic: assistant secretary of state

A Refreshing Change

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

Read Less

What Can the GOP Senators Get?

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

Untangling fact from fiction and sneer from substance in a Maureen Dowd column is not a task for the fainthearted, especially when she wades into matters of policy. But let’s give it a shot. She writes:

But faced with the treaty’s unraveling, with possible deleterious consequences for sanctions on Iran and supply lines for our troops in Afghanistan, Obama had no choice. Even if the treaty doesn’t much affect our strategic security, it affects the relationship with Russia and our standing in the world. And resetting the relationship with Russia, with his buddy Dmitri, is the president’s only significant foreign policy accomplishment.

We will start with the accurate part: Obama has no other foreign policy accomplishments aside from whatever he has gotten out of our newly styled relationship with Russia. This is called “reset” because it sounds so much better than “appeasement.” Putin has much to show for his dealings with Obama. Missile-defense facilities were yanked out of Poland and the Czech Republic. We’ve been rather mute about the Russian thugocracy’s repressive tactics, and Russia still occupies a chunk of Georgia.

But what exactly has Obama accomplished? The Swiss cheese sanctions against Iran, which are not slowing the mullahs’ rush to nuclear powerdom, are not much to write home about. In fact, the Russians helped build and load fuel into the Bushehr nuclear plant, which seems to have accelerated the Iranian nuclear program. And then there is the alleged help in Afghanistan. Jamie Fly has debunked that one:

Unfortunately, only five supply flights occurred in the first six months of the program, an underwhelming number considering the administration’s bold projections.  This failure to meet expectations prompted Politico’s Ben Smith to remark that it was “hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship.”  Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Russian Affairs, recently stated that as of June 18, only 275 flights had occurred over Russian territory.  Had the administration’s bold projections proved accurate, nearly 3,500 flights should have already occurred.

Russia has also played an extensive role in undermining NATO transportation capabilities in other countries throughout the region, and in some cases has actively worked against U.S. efforts to adequately supply forces in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States was forced to triple its annual leasing rights payments to Bishkek after Moscow placed significant pressure on Kyrgyzstan to remove the U.S. air base at Manas.  A Russian-influenced campaign led to the ouster of President Bakiyev of Kyrgyzstan and placed the tenuous status of the Manas air base again in peril.  If continued unrest in Kyrgyzstan leads to a closure of Manas, Russian intransigence in Central Asia could prove to be very costly for the American war effort.

So we are down to voting for an arms-control treaty, regardless of the merits, because otherwise Obama will look worse than he already does. Does this sound familiar? It’s akin to the Middle East peace talks bribe-a-thon, which was also meant to save the president from embarrassment (but merely has convinced onlookers, as one Israel expert put it, that the Obama diplomats “have taken leave of their senses”).

And what of the timing? In the case of both the Middles East and New START agreements, the deals must happen NOW — again, because Obama needs a boost.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Kyl had it wrong in declaring there will be no treaty ratification in the lame duck session. Really, that’s not the way to manage Obama. Instead, it’s time for the GOP senators to name their price. The Israelis got planes, promises to be defended in the UN, and a guarantee that the Obama team absolutely, positively won’t ask for any more settlement freezes. What could the GOP Senate get? They have already secured a multi-billion-dollar modernization plan, but is that really “enough”? Obama, you see, is desperate to get a deal, so the Republican senators should get creative — agreement on the Bush tax cuts, a dealing on spending cuts, etc. Too much? Oh no, the Republicans can tell the White House that this is called “reset.” And the name of the game is to create an exceptionally imbalanced relationship in which the only benefit to Obama is the right to tout his dealmaking skills.

Read Less

How Obama Sees America

The Obama administration recently submitted a 29-page report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on human rights in America. It won the praise of the ACLU, which points out that the report “correctly acknowledges the need for improvement in several key areas, including racial justice, women’s rights, LGBT [Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender People] rights and discrimination against Muslims and Americans of South Asian and Arab descent.”

The report — part of what the UN Human Rights Council calls its “Universal Periodic Review,” in which countries grade their own human rights records — is both ludicrous and offensive. Let’s take them in order.

The report reads like a term paper by a very earnest and very politically correct college freshman. After a few perfunctory words of praise for America in the introduction, the rest of the document is a catalogue of terrible liberal sins that are being washed away by wonderful liberal solutions, including (but not restricted to) ObamaCare; the recently passed financial reform law; suing Arizona for its law aimed to curb illegal immigration; the first White House Adviser on Violence Against Women; the “formation of the 9/11 Backlash Taskforce”; an internal review of the Justice Department’s 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies; a commitment to “protecting the rights of incarcerated persons … including the right to practice their religion”; and of course — who could ever forget? — President Obama’s hosting “a historic summit with nearly 400 tribal leaders to develop a policy agenda for Native Americans where he emphasized his commitment to regular and meaningful consultation with tribal officials regarding federal policy decisions that have tribal implications.”

Gems like these can be found on virtually every page.

The offensive element of this report is that human rights is a deeply serious matter that should be treated in a serious, scholarly way. For the Obama administration to corrupt the cause of human rights in such a flagrant, stupid manner is troubling.

It is also evidence of a particular cast of mind, one that is eager to undermine America’s moral standing in the world. That has been a consistent effort by the current administration. We have seen if from the president, who seems to take special delight in denigrating our country before the rest of the world, and those such as Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, who went out of his way to assure us that in discussions with China about human rights, the Arizona law against illegal immigration was brought up “up early and often. It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society.”

The report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, then, is of a piece. It is yet more evidence that when the president and his administration scan the world for human rights violations, they are irresistibly drawn back to the grave injustices they believe have been and are being perpetrated by America.

It is an unprecedented and alarming thing to witness — an administration that is not only unwilling to defend the United States but seems to take great joy and satisfaction in undermining her.

The Obama administration recently submitted a 29-page report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on human rights in America. It won the praise of the ACLU, which points out that the report “correctly acknowledges the need for improvement in several key areas, including racial justice, women’s rights, LGBT [Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender People] rights and discrimination against Muslims and Americans of South Asian and Arab descent.”

The report — part of what the UN Human Rights Council calls its “Universal Periodic Review,” in which countries grade their own human rights records — is both ludicrous and offensive. Let’s take them in order.

The report reads like a term paper by a very earnest and very politically correct college freshman. After a few perfunctory words of praise for America in the introduction, the rest of the document is a catalogue of terrible liberal sins that are being washed away by wonderful liberal solutions, including (but not restricted to) ObamaCare; the recently passed financial reform law; suing Arizona for its law aimed to curb illegal immigration; the first White House Adviser on Violence Against Women; the “formation of the 9/11 Backlash Taskforce”; an internal review of the Justice Department’s 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies; a commitment to “protecting the rights of incarcerated persons … including the right to practice their religion”; and of course — who could ever forget? — President Obama’s hosting “a historic summit with nearly 400 tribal leaders to develop a policy agenda for Native Americans where he emphasized his commitment to regular and meaningful consultation with tribal officials regarding federal policy decisions that have tribal implications.”

Gems like these can be found on virtually every page.

The offensive element of this report is that human rights is a deeply serious matter that should be treated in a serious, scholarly way. For the Obama administration to corrupt the cause of human rights in such a flagrant, stupid manner is troubling.

It is also evidence of a particular cast of mind, one that is eager to undermine America’s moral standing in the world. That has been a consistent effort by the current administration. We have seen if from the president, who seems to take special delight in denigrating our country before the rest of the world, and those such as Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, who went out of his way to assure us that in discussions with China about human rights, the Arizona law against illegal immigration was brought up “up early and often. It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society.”

The report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, then, is of a piece. It is yet more evidence that when the president and his administration scan the world for human rights violations, they are irresistibly drawn back to the grave injustices they believe have been and are being perpetrated by America.

It is an unprecedented and alarming thing to witness — an administration that is not only unwilling to defend the United States but seems to take great joy and satisfaction in undermining her.

Read Less

Can We Move Past Engagement?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

Read Less

Hedgehogs and Foxes in the Middle East

The fox, as Isaiah Berlin wrote, knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Reagan was a hedgehog because his presidency was animated by a basic belief in the superiority of democracy and free markets to Communism. When it comes to the Middle East, President Obama is what could be called a reverse hedgehog: he is animated by one grand vision, and it is completely wrong.

In this vision, the conflicts, failures, and policy difficulties of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All roads in the Middle East, for Obama, lead back to Israel, and probably to the West Bank and the Golan Heights. As Tony Badran notes, another high-level administration official has confirmed this fixation:

This was the first time that an official openly laid out what the administration’s end game is. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who was the official testifying before the [congressional] subcommittee, outlined the administration’s conceptual framework as follows: The US is working to mitigate Iran’s regional influence, which Syria facilitates. But Syria is not Iran, and there’s a basic policy difference between them: Unlike Iran, Syria has an interest in negotiating a peace agreement with Israel. Therefore, the peace process is, in Feltman’s words, the “big game”. The administration believes that a peace deal between Damascus and Jerusalem would cure the Syria problem. …

Witness, for example, this statement by Feltman: “Syria’s relationship with Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist groups is unlikely to change absent a Middle East peace agreement.” The logic of this statement is but one step removed from justifying the arming of Hezbollah. It’s the logic that holds Syrian policy to be reactive and grievance-based.

When it comes to national leaders, hedgehogs are almost always preferable to foxes. But the worst possible scenario is the reverse hedgehog — the leader who is possessed of a grand fantasy.

The fox, as Isaiah Berlin wrote, knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Reagan was a hedgehog because his presidency was animated by a basic belief in the superiority of democracy and free markets to Communism. When it comes to the Middle East, President Obama is what could be called a reverse hedgehog: he is animated by one grand vision, and it is completely wrong.

In this vision, the conflicts, failures, and policy difficulties of the Middle East revolve around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All roads in the Middle East, for Obama, lead back to Israel, and probably to the West Bank and the Golan Heights. As Tony Badran notes, another high-level administration official has confirmed this fixation:

This was the first time that an official openly laid out what the administration’s end game is. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who was the official testifying before the [congressional] subcommittee, outlined the administration’s conceptual framework as follows: The US is working to mitigate Iran’s regional influence, which Syria facilitates. But Syria is not Iran, and there’s a basic policy difference between them: Unlike Iran, Syria has an interest in negotiating a peace agreement with Israel. Therefore, the peace process is, in Feltman’s words, the “big game”. The administration believes that a peace deal between Damascus and Jerusalem would cure the Syria problem. …

Witness, for example, this statement by Feltman: “Syria’s relationship with Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist groups is unlikely to change absent a Middle East peace agreement.” The logic of this statement is but one step removed from justifying the arming of Hezbollah. It’s the logic that holds Syrian policy to be reactive and grievance-based.

When it comes to national leaders, hedgehogs are almost always preferable to foxes. But the worst possible scenario is the reverse hedgehog — the leader who is possessed of a grand fantasy.

Read Less

War and Peace in the Levant

The dramatic scale of Hezbollah’s rearmament will not be without consequences. Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told Haaretz yesterday that “he was growing increasingly worried by reports describing the quantity and types of weapons being smuggled to the terrorist organization.” The Washington Post reports that Hezbollah has dispersed its rockets throughout Lebanon, ensuring a conflict that will engulf the entire country. Tony Badran wonders whether Bashar Assad has foolishly convinced himself that he will again be held harmless if another war breaks out.

The war calculations of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah involve an estimation of how much time the Obama administration will give Israel to fight. In 2006 — very much owing, of course, to Israel’s poor performance — the IDF fought for only a month before accepting terms from the UN. There are good reasons to believe that next time, Israel will have even less time.

A new war would explode the myth that Obama’s outreach to the Arabs and pressure on Israel have set the Middle East on a new path. Israeli-Arab wars, this narrative holds, were the kind of things that happened during the Bush years, when the president ignored the peace process and alienated Muslims, and neocons imperiled world peace before breakfast. To have a war unfold in the enlightened, post-Cairo speech era, after dozens of visits by George Mitchell to the region — that would be quite an embarrassment.

How many days — much less weeks — would pass before Obama began criticizing the Israeli operation and refusing diplomatic protection at the UN?

The resistance groups are surely counting on America to enforce a short conflict that restricts the IDF’s ability to strike back forcefully at Hezbollah. But it is not clear, given Obama’s declining political fortunes, how much leverage he will have over Israel. In private, the Arabs will be telling Obama to let Israel finish the job. What Nasrallah is counting on, Obama may not be able to deliver. Or may choose not to. Or F-16s may begin sorties over Damascus. The uncertainty about where America stands is dangerous.

Obama hoped that tilting the United States away from Israel and toward the Arabs would transform America into an “honest broker” and, therefore, a trusted mediator. He has been fastidiously promoting a narrative of equal culpability. But as we have seen over the past year, this rhetoric, aside from its departure from reality, alienates Israelis while gaining nothing from the Arabs but a hardening in their belief that their intransigence will win out in the end.

To the extent that Obama’s evenhandedness is interpreted by Hezbollah as a sign that the risks associated with another attack on Israel have been lessened, there will be a heightened likelihood of conflict. America, as the ultimate guarantor of the regional order, has over the past few decades internalized a hard truth about the Middle East: be a strong ally of Israel and prevent conflict, or be an indecisive friend and invite conflict. Obama imagines that his presidency allows the United States to transcend old choices — “false choices” as he calls them — but one decision he will always have to make is where he stands between friends and enemies. Not to choose is also a choice.

The dramatic scale of Hezbollah’s rearmament will not be without consequences. Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told Haaretz yesterday that “he was growing increasingly worried by reports describing the quantity and types of weapons being smuggled to the terrorist organization.” The Washington Post reports that Hezbollah has dispersed its rockets throughout Lebanon, ensuring a conflict that will engulf the entire country. Tony Badran wonders whether Bashar Assad has foolishly convinced himself that he will again be held harmless if another war breaks out.

The war calculations of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah involve an estimation of how much time the Obama administration will give Israel to fight. In 2006 — very much owing, of course, to Israel’s poor performance — the IDF fought for only a month before accepting terms from the UN. There are good reasons to believe that next time, Israel will have even less time.

A new war would explode the myth that Obama’s outreach to the Arabs and pressure on Israel have set the Middle East on a new path. Israeli-Arab wars, this narrative holds, were the kind of things that happened during the Bush years, when the president ignored the peace process and alienated Muslims, and neocons imperiled world peace before breakfast. To have a war unfold in the enlightened, post-Cairo speech era, after dozens of visits by George Mitchell to the region — that would be quite an embarrassment.

How many days — much less weeks — would pass before Obama began criticizing the Israeli operation and refusing diplomatic protection at the UN?

The resistance groups are surely counting on America to enforce a short conflict that restricts the IDF’s ability to strike back forcefully at Hezbollah. But it is not clear, given Obama’s declining political fortunes, how much leverage he will have over Israel. In private, the Arabs will be telling Obama to let Israel finish the job. What Nasrallah is counting on, Obama may not be able to deliver. Or may choose not to. Or F-16s may begin sorties over Damascus. The uncertainty about where America stands is dangerous.

Obama hoped that tilting the United States away from Israel and toward the Arabs would transform America into an “honest broker” and, therefore, a trusted mediator. He has been fastidiously promoting a narrative of equal culpability. But as we have seen over the past year, this rhetoric, aside from its departure from reality, alienates Israelis while gaining nothing from the Arabs but a hardening in their belief that their intransigence will win out in the end.

To the extent that Obama’s evenhandedness is interpreted by Hezbollah as a sign that the risks associated with another attack on Israel have been lessened, there will be a heightened likelihood of conflict. America, as the ultimate guarantor of the regional order, has over the past few decades internalized a hard truth about the Middle East: be a strong ally of Israel and prevent conflict, or be an indecisive friend and invite conflict. Obama imagines that his presidency allows the United States to transcend old choices — “false choices” as he calls them — but one decision he will always have to make is where he stands between friends and enemies. Not to choose is also a choice.

Read Less

It Was Not a Deadline, It Was a Point on a Calendar

Jonathan, even before Obama’s December 31 deadline got thrown down the memory hole, the administration signaled that it was not a deadline. At the December 22 daily press conference, Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley had this colloquy with reporters:

QUESTION: … Come the beginning of the year, are you going to move towards imposing new sanctions against Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t put a particular date or deadline on this. This is an ongoing process. … I would think at some point, we would be in a position to take some action with our partners through the various fora that are available to us.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, could you just — can you just kind of specify or put a finer point on “at some point?” … I understand that on January 1st you’re not going to have sanctions to impose, but you keep saying at some point down the road, at some point down the road. …

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, this is where it’s always been, which is we have a two-track strategy. One track is engagement, one track is pressure. And these have never been mutually exclusive. …

QUESTION: Given that this deadline seems to be a little bit soft, do you think in the future you’ll —

MR. CROWLEY: Let me just — Andy, sorry to interrupt you, but what we have always said throughout the year was that at the end of the year we would assess where we are. But that’s not a deadline; it’s a point in a calendar at which the President said, okay, where are we and what are the steps that are available to us.

The nature of a deadline is that if action is not taken by that point in a calendar, something happens or something is lost: an offer previously made is taken off the table, or a consequence established for inaction takes effect as promised. Deadlines are, as Obama memorably said in another context, the only way to get things done.

For the Obama administration, however, neither aspect of a deadline applies when it comes to Iran. Even though December 31 has passed, Iran is still free to accept the administration’s offer at any time. It thus can, if it chooses (and why would it not choose?), simply wait and watch to see if the administration can get its threatened sanctions formulated; or if formulated, agreed upon by allies; or if agreed upon by allies, agreed upon by both Russia and China; or if agreed upon by everyone “in principle,” actually enacted in practice; or if actually enacted, actually enforced; or if actually enforced, actually be effective — all before Iran passes the nuclear threshold. With no real deadline, Iran has no real reason to decide.

Nor will the second aspect of a deadline apply: there will be no significant consequences for Iran’s failure to act over a period now approaching a year. Iran will not even receive a new “deadline.” The president will just say, “Okay, where are we?” And it is not even clear how serious he is about that — he has not yet even scheduled any seminars.

Iran can see that one hand will remain outstretched indefinitely, whether its fist remains clenched or not, and that in Obama’s other hand is . . . nothing. His deadline was only a point on a calendar.

Jonathan, even before Obama’s December 31 deadline got thrown down the memory hole, the administration signaled that it was not a deadline. At the December 22 daily press conference, Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley had this colloquy with reporters:

QUESTION: … Come the beginning of the year, are you going to move towards imposing new sanctions against Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: I wouldn’t put a particular date or deadline on this. This is an ongoing process. … I would think at some point, we would be in a position to take some action with our partners through the various fora that are available to us.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, could you just — can you just kind of specify or put a finer point on “at some point?” … I understand that on January 1st you’re not going to have sanctions to impose, but you keep saying at some point down the road, at some point down the road. …

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, this is where it’s always been, which is we have a two-track strategy. One track is engagement, one track is pressure. And these have never been mutually exclusive. …

QUESTION: Given that this deadline seems to be a little bit soft, do you think in the future you’ll —

MR. CROWLEY: Let me just — Andy, sorry to interrupt you, but what we have always said throughout the year was that at the end of the year we would assess where we are. But that’s not a deadline; it’s a point in a calendar at which the President said, okay, where are we and what are the steps that are available to us.

The nature of a deadline is that if action is not taken by that point in a calendar, something happens or something is lost: an offer previously made is taken off the table, or a consequence established for inaction takes effect as promised. Deadlines are, as Obama memorably said in another context, the only way to get things done.

For the Obama administration, however, neither aspect of a deadline applies when it comes to Iran. Even though December 31 has passed, Iran is still free to accept the administration’s offer at any time. It thus can, if it chooses (and why would it not choose?), simply wait and watch to see if the administration can get its threatened sanctions formulated; or if formulated, agreed upon by allies; or if agreed upon by allies, agreed upon by both Russia and China; or if agreed upon by everyone “in principle,” actually enacted in practice; or if actually enacted, actually enforced; or if actually enforced, actually be effective — all before Iran passes the nuclear threshold. With no real deadline, Iran has no real reason to decide.

Nor will the second aspect of a deadline apply: there will be no significant consequences for Iran’s failure to act over a period now approaching a year. Iran will not even receive a new “deadline.” The president will just say, “Okay, where are we?” And it is not even clear how serious he is about that — he has not yet even scheduled any seminars.

Iran can see that one hand will remain outstretched indefinitely, whether its fist remains clenched or not, and that in Obama’s other hand is . . . nothing. His deadline was only a point on a calendar.

Read Less

Negotiating the Conditions for Negotiations Without Preconditions

In a press conference Friday with the Jordanian foreign minister, Hillary Clinton said the U.S. wants new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations “as soon as possible without preconditions.” She repeated word-for-word her November 25 statement that the U.S. believes negotiations can end the conflict and reconcile (1) “the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps,” with (2) “the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

At a press conference later in the day, a reporter asked Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley about a word omitted from Clinton’s statement:

QUESTION: The [Jordanian] foreign minister also used the word, when he talked about the creation of a separate Palestinian state, one that is contiguous. I noticed the Secretary did not use that word. Where is the – what is the U.S.’s position on contiguous in terms of somehow uniting the West Bank and Gaza?

It was a significant question (for reasons noted here) — but Crowley dodged it:

CROWLEY: This is a – this is the fundamental challenge of a negotiation, which is to determine the borders of a state. We recognize that any state that would be formed for the Palestinians has to be viable and it has to be based on agreed upon borders. So the foreign minister at his formulation, the Secretary at her formulation – what we really want to do is get the parties back into a negotiation where you can actually put these questions before them.

The next paragraph of Crowley’s answer indicated, however, that the U.S. may answer the question later on:

The United States will continue to play a role. At various times, we may offer our own insights as to how to resolve these very kinds of questions. But let’s get to that negotiation. That’s why we’re continuing to push as hard as we can to get this started as quickly as possible.

The administration strategy is apparently to get negotiations started, assuring both sides that their goals can be met, and then later “offer our own insights as to how to resolve these very kinds of questions.”

Once the process begins, however, it is likely to involve more than insights. In his January 7 interview with Charlie Rose, George Mitchell was asked if he had any “sticks” he could use in the negotiating process (his answer: “Oh, sure”). Pressed to give an example (“You sit there and you say to Israel, look, if you don’t do this — what?”), Mitchell noted the possibility of withholding loan guarantees: “That’s one mechanism that’s been publicly discussed. There are others, and you have to keep open whatever options.”

Mitchell travels to Europe and then the Middle East next week and is expected to bring with him letters of “guarantees” to persuade both sides that their goals can be met in new negotiations. The conditions for the negotiations “without preconditions,” in other words, are being negotiated now.

It will be important to see whether the letter given to the Palestinians includes the word contiguous. As for Israel’s letter, the question will be whether the U.S. will honor the assurances of “defensible borders” given by both the Clinton and Bush administrations — or whether that issue will be relegated to a question for later American “insights” (and “options” in case of disagreement).

In a press conference Friday with the Jordanian foreign minister, Hillary Clinton said the U.S. wants new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations “as soon as possible without preconditions.” She repeated word-for-word her November 25 statement that the U.S. believes negotiations can end the conflict and reconcile (1) “the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps,” with (2) “the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

At a press conference later in the day, a reporter asked Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley about a word omitted from Clinton’s statement:

QUESTION: The [Jordanian] foreign minister also used the word, when he talked about the creation of a separate Palestinian state, one that is contiguous. I noticed the Secretary did not use that word. Where is the – what is the U.S.’s position on contiguous in terms of somehow uniting the West Bank and Gaza?

It was a significant question (for reasons noted here) — but Crowley dodged it:

CROWLEY: This is a – this is the fundamental challenge of a negotiation, which is to determine the borders of a state. We recognize that any state that would be formed for the Palestinians has to be viable and it has to be based on agreed upon borders. So the foreign minister at his formulation, the Secretary at her formulation – what we really want to do is get the parties back into a negotiation where you can actually put these questions before them.

The next paragraph of Crowley’s answer indicated, however, that the U.S. may answer the question later on:

The United States will continue to play a role. At various times, we may offer our own insights as to how to resolve these very kinds of questions. But let’s get to that negotiation. That’s why we’re continuing to push as hard as we can to get this started as quickly as possible.

The administration strategy is apparently to get negotiations started, assuring both sides that their goals can be met, and then later “offer our own insights as to how to resolve these very kinds of questions.”

Once the process begins, however, it is likely to involve more than insights. In his January 7 interview with Charlie Rose, George Mitchell was asked if he had any “sticks” he could use in the negotiating process (his answer: “Oh, sure”). Pressed to give an example (“You sit there and you say to Israel, look, if you don’t do this — what?”), Mitchell noted the possibility of withholding loan guarantees: “That’s one mechanism that’s been publicly discussed. There are others, and you have to keep open whatever options.”

Mitchell travels to Europe and then the Middle East next week and is expected to bring with him letters of “guarantees” to persuade both sides that their goals can be met in new negotiations. The conditions for the negotiations “without preconditions,” in other words, are being negotiated now.

It will be important to see whether the letter given to the Palestinians includes the word contiguous. As for Israel’s letter, the question will be whether the U.S. will honor the assurances of “defensible borders” given by both the Clinton and Bush administrations — or whether that issue will be relegated to a question for later American “insights” (and “options” in case of disagreement).

Read Less

A Losing Season

This report explains that the newly elected president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, is being widely recognized after fair elections with high turnout. However, it hasn’t been easy:

While the U.S. wanted to pressure the government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti into allowing Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term, analysts say Washington decided the vote was the most pragmatic solution.

“Elections were the escape belt,” says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, a U.S. trade group. “It was the way to put Zelaya and Micheletti into the history books. We didn’t support either of those guys.”

But, of course, this is spectacularly inaccurate. We did strenuously support Zelaya and only reluctantly realized that this was a dead end. And it seems that some on the Obama team are still intent on throwing their weight around:

Arturo Valenzuela, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also kept the pressure on the provisional government to reconcile with Mr. Zelaya, saying more needs to be done to restore full democracy.

“While the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it’s just that: It’s only a step,” Mr. Valenzuela said.

The arrogance is breathtaking, isn’t it? Well, I suspect that the Honduran government has heard quite enough about their own constitution from us. And what of the famous, unrevealed legal opinion of Harold Koh concluding that this was a coup? And the Obami who recommended this tactic? It seems that there’s some cleaning up to do in the administration. If the Notre Dame football team can clean house, certainly the Obami can. And their season has been far worse than that of the Fighting Irish.

This report explains that the newly elected president of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, is being widely recognized after fair elections with high turnout. However, it hasn’t been easy:

While the U.S. wanted to pressure the government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti into allowing Mr. Zelaya to serve out his term, analysts say Washington decided the vote was the most pragmatic solution.

“Elections were the escape belt,” says Eric Farnsworth of the Council of the Americas, a U.S. trade group. “It was the way to put Zelaya and Micheletti into the history books. We didn’t support either of those guys.”

But, of course, this is spectacularly inaccurate. We did strenuously support Zelaya and only reluctantly realized that this was a dead end. And it seems that some on the Obama team are still intent on throwing their weight around:

Arturo Valenzuela, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, also kept the pressure on the provisional government to reconcile with Mr. Zelaya, saying more needs to be done to restore full democracy.

“While the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup, it’s just that: It’s only a step,” Mr. Valenzuela said.

The arrogance is breathtaking, isn’t it? Well, I suspect that the Honduran government has heard quite enough about their own constitution from us. And what of the famous, unrevealed legal opinion of Harold Koh concluding that this was a coup? And the Obami who recommended this tactic? It seems that there’s some cleaning up to do in the administration. If the Notre Dame football team can clean house, certainly the Obami can. And their season has been far worse than that of the Fighting Irish.

Read Less

Obama’s India Blunder

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House next week, Obama and his administration would do well to employ their much-practiced skills at making nice. New Delhi rightly fears outside meddling after this week’s U.S.-China Joint Statement, which contained a sentence widely interpreted as an affront to India:

The two sides [China and the United States] welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.

The Joint Statement’s timing was particularly bad considering the recent India-China border dilemma. Both countries have reportedly increased troop presence near the blurry border, and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Indian territory that is still claimed by China did little to improve the relationship. China has emphasized that its “more pronounced” territorial issue is its border dispute with India. So New Delhi has good reason to be nervous about Chinese prying at Washington’s behest.

A spokesman from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly commented on the Joint Statement, stating that “a third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary” regarding India-Pakistan relations.

Already, both China and the United States are trying to downplay the significance of the Joint Statement reference.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied that a discussion took place between Obama and Chinese heads of state about U.S.-India nuclear cooperation, and its statement emphasized Beijing’s support of regional stability. The spokesperson added that China “values its friendly cooperation with” India and Pakistan and “hopes to see relations between the two continue … improve and grow.”

But India can hardly be blamed for frustration at the Obama administration’s mixed message. Yesterday, Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the United States welcomes China’s participation in stabilizing the India-Pakistan region. But he also added, “We have always said, in terms of Indo-Pakistan relations, that’s really up to India and Pakistan to decide how and when and the scope of that.” Also yesterday, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, declared that better relations with China do not necessarily come at the cost of India.

One can only hope that the ill-considered phrasing of the Joint Statement won’t hinder next week’s discussions. No doubt Obama will want Prime Minister Singh’s support on nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention climate change. That Singh is the first head of state to visit the Obama White House in itself highlights the importance of Indian cooperation. If the mix-up is merely linguistic, it can be overcome. But if the lack of clarity lies within Obama’s foreign policy itself, expect a rocky summit. Obama’s diplomacy and eloquence will be tested as he attempts to please both India and China.

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House next week, Obama and his administration would do well to employ their much-practiced skills at making nice. New Delhi rightly fears outside meddling after this week’s U.S.-China Joint Statement, which contained a sentence widely interpreted as an affront to India:

The two sides [China and the United States] welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.

The Joint Statement’s timing was particularly bad considering the recent India-China border dilemma. Both countries have reportedly increased troop presence near the blurry border, and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Indian territory that is still claimed by China did little to improve the relationship. China has emphasized that its “more pronounced” territorial issue is its border dispute with India. So New Delhi has good reason to be nervous about Chinese prying at Washington’s behest.

A spokesman from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly commented on the Joint Statement, stating that “a third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary” regarding India-Pakistan relations.

Already, both China and the United States are trying to downplay the significance of the Joint Statement reference.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied that a discussion took place between Obama and Chinese heads of state about U.S.-India nuclear cooperation, and its statement emphasized Beijing’s support of regional stability. The spokesperson added that China “values its friendly cooperation with” India and Pakistan and “hopes to see relations between the two continue … improve and grow.”

But India can hardly be blamed for frustration at the Obama administration’s mixed message. Yesterday, Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the United States welcomes China’s participation in stabilizing the India-Pakistan region. But he also added, “We have always said, in terms of Indo-Pakistan relations, that’s really up to India and Pakistan to decide how and when and the scope of that.” Also yesterday, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, declared that better relations with China do not necessarily come at the cost of India.

One can only hope that the ill-considered phrasing of the Joint Statement won’t hinder next week’s discussions. No doubt Obama will want Prime Minister Singh’s support on nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention climate change. That Singh is the first head of state to visit the Obama White House in itself highlights the importance of Indian cooperation. If the mix-up is merely linguistic, it can be overcome. But if the lack of clarity lies within Obama’s foreign policy itself, expect a rocky summit. Obama’s diplomacy and eloquence will be tested as he attempts to please both India and China.

Read Less

Vulnerable North Korea

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Geneva late last week. Washington’s chief negotiator at the six-party talks was doing his best to show progress in the inconclusive negotiations to disarm Kim Jong Il’s abhorrent state. To date, Pyongyang has shown little inclination to provide a full accounting of its nuclear weapons programs in compliance with a prior agreement to do so by the end of last year.

A weakened Bush administration appears to be at a loss as to what to do in the face of the North’s recent intransigence. In the first week of this month, Hill imposed a March-end deadline on Pyongyang to honor its commitments, but it is apparent that the announced due date is meaningless and that the United States will impose no penalty for a failure to meet his timeline.

Diplomacy may require patience, but it certainly works best with the threat of coercion, especially where rogues armed with dangerous weapons are involved. Analysts say there is no military option against North Korea. Even if this notion is correct—which it is not—the tolerance of the President is a fundamental mistake. Events over the past several weeks show that Washington is not playing its strongest cards at an important moment.

An unseasonably warm and dry winter is adversely affecting the North’s autumn crop of wheat and barley. This abnormal weather comes on top of last August’s devastating floods. As a result, the UN’s World Food Program expects a larger-than-usual shortfall in North Korea’ harvest. Surging grain prices on global markets do not help Kim Jong Il. Moreover, both China and South Korea have substantially reduced shipments of food and fertilizer to the North Korean regime. “For Kim Jong Il, this will be his most difficult year,” says Park Syung-je of the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul.

The key is the new South Korean government. President Lee Myung-bak has announced that Seoul’s aid will be closely tied to Pyongyang’s adherence to its pledges of disarmament. Moreover, Lee, who travels to Washington in the middle of April, wants to align his North Korean polices with Washington’s. This means that the South will largely abandon the approaches of his predecessors, namely the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae Jung and the nearly identical Peace and Prosperity Policy of Roh Moo-hyun. Seoul’s new approach isolates China and makes it the sole supporter of North Korea. This permits the United States to put Beijing on the spot.

So the Bush administration has new tools to coerce Pyongyang and, more importantly, Beijing. The main issue, therefore, is whether Washington has the will to use them.

Read Less

No More Secret Promises

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he wants North Korea fully to disclose its nuclear weapons program by the end of this month. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they can certainly do,” he told reporters after a speech at Columbia University. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve already agreed to do.”

There is no question that the North Koreans failed to provide their promised declaration of nuclear activities by the end of last year. The issue is whether they have a legitimate excuse. Hill’s North Korean counterpart Kim Gye Gwan says the United States has failed to live up to its side of the bargain by not taking his country off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and keeping American trading sanctions in place. Both of these actions were covered in an agreement reached last February as a part of the so-called six-party talks.

So who is at fault? The North Koreans have been making the point that Hill has been making side deals on the pace of normalization and that Washington has not honored the commitments it has made. Although Pyongyang’s diplomats are especially proficient at lying, Kim’s charges are not entirely unbelievable this time. After all, the current flap over the terrorism-sponsorship list and trade sanctions is reminiscent of the dispute over North Korean funds held in a Macau bank last year. During that imbroglio, Hill appeared to have made a secret commitment to Pyongyang to return those monies (which the United States eventually did in an especially humiliating climbdown).

Of course, we will never know what is going on until both the United States and North Korea open their archives. Yet there is one conclusion we can reach now: we always get into trouble when we engage in secret diplomacy with Kim Jong Il’s regime. There is no legitimate reason for the North Koreans to refuse to honor their promises. Yet we hand them excuse after excuse if we make secret concessions. If Hill can’t keep the diplomatic process on track without promising too much to Pyongyang, then the six-party talks are not sustainable and are not worth maintaining.

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he wants North Korea fully to disclose its nuclear weapons program by the end of this month. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they can certainly do,” he told reporters after a speech at Columbia University. “Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve already agreed to do.”

There is no question that the North Koreans failed to provide their promised declaration of nuclear activities by the end of last year. The issue is whether they have a legitimate excuse. Hill’s North Korean counterpart Kim Gye Gwan says the United States has failed to live up to its side of the bargain by not taking his country off the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and keeping American trading sanctions in place. Both of these actions were covered in an agreement reached last February as a part of the so-called six-party talks.

So who is at fault? The North Koreans have been making the point that Hill has been making side deals on the pace of normalization and that Washington has not honored the commitments it has made. Although Pyongyang’s diplomats are especially proficient at lying, Kim’s charges are not entirely unbelievable this time. After all, the current flap over the terrorism-sponsorship list and trade sanctions is reminiscent of the dispute over North Korean funds held in a Macau bank last year. During that imbroglio, Hill appeared to have made a secret commitment to Pyongyang to return those monies (which the United States eventually did in an especially humiliating climbdown).

Of course, we will never know what is going on until both the United States and North Korea open their archives. Yet there is one conclusion we can reach now: we always get into trouble when we engage in secret diplomacy with Kim Jong Il’s regime. There is no legitimate reason for the North Koreans to refuse to honor their promises. Yet we hand them excuse after excuse if we make secret concessions. If Hill can’t keep the diplomatic process on track without promising too much to Pyongyang, then the six-party talks are not sustainable and are not worth maintaining.

Read Less

Smoking Out China

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Read More

Today, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the six-party talks to disarm North Korea could resume this month. Hill, America’s chief representative at the long-running negotiations, is in Moscow in an effort to save the Bush administration’s faltering campaign to take away Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. Kim Jong Il’s militant state failed to honor an agreement to make a declaration of all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007.

This is a particularly bad moment for Kim to stiff the international community. He is set to lose his most valuable ally, the other Korea. Elections last month ended a decade of “progressive”—actually leftist—rule in the South. A conservative, Lee Myung-bak, is set to take over on February 25. After his victory, Lee’s spokesman stated that he would review Seoul’s policies and programs that have supported its northern neighbor. The potential loss of assistance is critical because the North Korean economy largely failed to respond to a package of restructuring measures announced in July 2002, and since then aid from China and South Korea is the primary reason why the regime has remained afloat. Kim Jong Il’s one-man government appears so shaky that some American and South Korean officials think that North Korea could collapse in the near future.

These and other developments suggest that Kim should be even more amenable to giving up his arsenal for immediate financial assistance and the promise of admission into the international community. On the contrary, he is digging in his heels.

Why is he doing that? Hill provided one clue yesterday when he was in Beijing. There the American envoy told reporters that Pyongyang was delaying the issuance of its declaration because “to acknowledge certain activities would invite additional questioning on our part and further scrutiny on things.” By “certain activities,” Hill was primarily referring to North Korea’s efforts to develop a program to build nukes with uranium cores.

There is, in all probability, great concern in Beijing that a complete North Korean declaration would reveal the Chinese origin of Pyongyang’s uranium program. Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the head of a global black-market ring in nuclear weapons technology, said he began working with North Korea around 1991. Khan agreed to transfer Chinese-designed equipment to Pyongyang, and China helped him deliver it. When Khan’s proliferation activities were exposed in the early part of this decade, Beijing persuaded Islamabad to end its investigation, pardon Khan, and keep him away from American interrogators. Beijing has steadfastly professed that it has been “completely in the dark” about Kim Jong Il’s uranium program when it is clear that it had substantial knowledge.

These denials are, as intelligence analyst John Loftus notes, “a real signal of partnership.” Some speculate that the Chinese may even have developed the long-term master plan that contemplated Pyongyang giving up its visible plutonium weapons program and keeping its covert uranium one. In any event, on Monday Agence France-Presse reported that China has developed contingency plans to grab North Korea’s nukes if that is necessary. Such an exercise would, of course, eliminate evidence of Beijing’s nuclear assistance to Pyongyang. In light of all the evidence, it appears that China recently ordered North Korea not to provide its promised declaration of its nuclear activities.

Another round of six-party talks, which Christopher Hill wants, will not help persuade North Korea to give up its arsenal. Yet insisting on a complete declaration and dragging out the disarmament process may help smoke out the world’s most dangerous proliferator. And I’m not referring to North Korea.

Read Less

The Philharmonic in Pyongyang

cross-posted at About Last Night

I just got back from a press conference at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall at which the New York Philharmonic officially announced its plans to play in Pyongyang on February 26. Present were Paul Guenther, the orchestra’s chairman; Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s president and executive director; and Pak Gil Yon, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN. Christopher Hill, an assistant secretary of state in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was also supposed to be at the press conference, but sent his apologies, claiming that “responsibilities” in Washington prevented him from attending.

Highlights:

• The Philharmonic will spend two and a half days in North Korea. During that time it will give a single concert in Pyongyang in a hall seating 1,500 people. It will then fly to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to give a second concert there.

• Lorin Maazel, the orchestra’s music director, will conduct both performances.

• The Pyongyang program will consist of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, plus the national anthems of the U.S. and North Korea. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony will be played in Seoul.

• According to a statement released this morning, the orchestra is making the trip with “the encouragement and support of the U.S. Department of State.”

• Paul Guenther said that the Philharmonic’s “somewhat unusual journey” to North Korea would be a reflection of its “calling to serve, which the New York Philharmonic has never shied away from.”

• The concert will be broadcast, but as of this morning Zarin Mehta had no information on whether or how it would be heard inside North Korea, or who will be permitted to attend the performance. “I would guess they do not have the kind of system we have of advertising concerts and selling them,” he said.

• Fifty members of the international media will accompany the orchestra to Pyongyang. Mehta does not know what restrictions will be placed on them by the North Korean government.

• The orchestra wants to give master classes in Pyongyang for “music students and other professionals,” but so far no final arrangements have been made to do so.

• Ambassador Pak dodged the question of whether news of the concert has been released by North Korea’s state-controlled media as of this hour.

• Asked whether the concert would be a propaganda coup for North Korea, Mehta replied, “We’re not going to do any propaganda.”

• More quotes from Mehta:

“One small symphony is a giant leap.”

“All we can do is show the way that music can unite people.”

“We’re going there to create some joy.”

* * *

To read “Serenading a Tyrant,” my original October 27 Wall Street Journal column on the Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang, go here.

cross-posted at About Last Night

I just got back from a press conference at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall at which the New York Philharmonic officially announced its plans to play in Pyongyang on February 26. Present were Paul Guenther, the orchestra’s chairman; Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s president and executive director; and Pak Gil Yon, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN. Christopher Hill, an assistant secretary of state in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was also supposed to be at the press conference, but sent his apologies, claiming that “responsibilities” in Washington prevented him from attending.

Highlights:

• The Philharmonic will spend two and a half days in North Korea. During that time it will give a single concert in Pyongyang in a hall seating 1,500 people. It will then fly to Seoul, the capital of South Korea, to give a second concert there.

• Lorin Maazel, the orchestra’s music director, will conduct both performances.

• The Pyongyang program will consist of Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, plus the national anthems of the U.S. and North Korea. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony will be played in Seoul.

• According to a statement released this morning, the orchestra is making the trip with “the encouragement and support of the U.S. Department of State.”

• Paul Guenther said that the Philharmonic’s “somewhat unusual journey” to North Korea would be a reflection of its “calling to serve, which the New York Philharmonic has never shied away from.”

• The concert will be broadcast, but as of this morning Zarin Mehta had no information on whether or how it would be heard inside North Korea, or who will be permitted to attend the performance. “I would guess they do not have the kind of system we have of advertising concerts and selling them,” he said.

• Fifty members of the international media will accompany the orchestra to Pyongyang. Mehta does not know what restrictions will be placed on them by the North Korean government.

• The orchestra wants to give master classes in Pyongyang for “music students and other professionals,” but so far no final arrangements have been made to do so.

• Ambassador Pak dodged the question of whether news of the concert has been released by North Korea’s state-controlled media as of this hour.

• Asked whether the concert would be a propaganda coup for North Korea, Mehta replied, “We’re not going to do any propaganda.”

• More quotes from Mehta:

“One small symphony is a giant leap.”

“All we can do is show the way that music can unite people.”

“We’re going there to create some joy.”

* * *

To read “Serenading a Tyrant,” my original October 27 Wall Street Journal column on the Philharmonic’s trip to Pyongyang, go here.

Read Less

The List

Yesterday, North Korea, after talks with the United States in Geneva, said that Washington had decided to take it off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Today, Washington denied that it had agreed to do so. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington’s chief negotiator in the six-party disarmament negotiations, stated: “Getting off the list will depend on further denuclearization.”

Hill must have misspoken. The State Department does not maintain a list of states possessing nuclear weapons, but of states that sponsor terrorism. Inclusion on the list depends, simply, on sponsorship or non-sponsorship of terrorism. There is evidence suggesting that North Korea should be on the list. But its possession of nukes should not be a factor.

Pyongyang wants to be taken off the list, and Washington obviously is using this matter as a bargaining chip in the long and agonized negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programs. This may be smart diplomacy in the short run, but it’s a fundamental mistake nonetheless. Cynical maneuvering should not define our approach to diplomacy. Veteran diplomats may laugh at that statement, but maintaining our global reputation for fair dealing will eliminate many of the problems we face today—and make the remaining ones easier to solve.

Yesterday, North Korea, after talks with the United States in Geneva, said that Washington had decided to take it off the State Department’s list of terrorism-sponsoring states. Today, Washington denied that it had agreed to do so. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington’s chief negotiator in the six-party disarmament negotiations, stated: “Getting off the list will depend on further denuclearization.”

Hill must have misspoken. The State Department does not maintain a list of states possessing nuclear weapons, but of states that sponsor terrorism. Inclusion on the list depends, simply, on sponsorship or non-sponsorship of terrorism. There is evidence suggesting that North Korea should be on the list. But its possession of nukes should not be a factor.

Pyongyang wants to be taken off the list, and Washington obviously is using this matter as a bargaining chip in the long and agonized negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear programs. This may be smart diplomacy in the short run, but it’s a fundamental mistake nonetheless. Cynical maneuvering should not define our approach to diplomacy. Veteran diplomats may laugh at that statement, but maintaining our global reputation for fair dealing will eliminate many of the problems we face today—and make the remaining ones easier to solve.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.