Commentary Magazine


Topic: bargaining chip

Morning Commentary

The U.S. Department of State may drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a bargaining chip to push the Sudanese government to recognize the south’s independence: “’Should the referendum be carried out successfully and the results are recognized by the government, President Obama would indicate his intention to begin the process of removing them,’ Princeton Lyman, the lead US negotiator with Sudan, told AFP.”

Time magazine reports that Hilary Clinton had to persuade Gulf Arab leaders not to ease Iranian sanctions on Sunday, after Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, predicted that Iran wouldn’t acquire a nuclear weapon until 2015.

Reason’s Mike Moynihan describes the origins of the term “eliminationism,” which appears to be the left’s new catchphrase after the Arizona shooting: “For a media so obsessed with the pernicious effects of radical political speech, it’s odd that no one has asked the anti-’eliminationist’ pundits to define their terms. As I pointed out on this website last year, the word ‘eliminationism’ is a recent coinage, a word employed by writer Daniel Jonah Goldhagen to describe the particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism that gripped Germany in the years leading up to the Holocaust.”

Newsweek wonders whether Arizona shooter Jared Loughner could have been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility before he went on his murderous rampage last weekend. And interestingly, Arizona is apparently one of the states where it’s easiest to force someone into psychological counseling without his consent.

American Jewish groups have outlined their new legislative goals for the Republican-led Congress. One of their main focuses is on funding for Israel, which may be moved out of foreign spending in order to protect it from budget cuts: “Some leading Republicans, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the new chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, say Congress could separate funding for Israel from overall foreign spending, allowing conservatives to maintain current levels for Israel while slashing foreign spending for countries they don’t see as friendly or programs they oppose.”

Don’t tell Iran, but the Elder of Zion blog appears to have obtained some sort of booklet exposing the identities of key Mossad agents.

The U.S. Department of State may drop Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a bargaining chip to push the Sudanese government to recognize the south’s independence: “’Should the referendum be carried out successfully and the results are recognized by the government, President Obama would indicate his intention to begin the process of removing them,’ Princeton Lyman, the lead US negotiator with Sudan, told AFP.”

Time magazine reports that Hilary Clinton had to persuade Gulf Arab leaders not to ease Iranian sanctions on Sunday, after Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, predicted that Iran wouldn’t acquire a nuclear weapon until 2015.

Reason’s Mike Moynihan describes the origins of the term “eliminationism,” which appears to be the left’s new catchphrase after the Arizona shooting: “For a media so obsessed with the pernicious effects of radical political speech, it’s odd that no one has asked the anti-’eliminationist’ pundits to define their terms. As I pointed out on this website last year, the word ‘eliminationism’ is a recent coinage, a word employed by writer Daniel Jonah Goldhagen to describe the particularly virulent strain of anti-Semitism that gripped Germany in the years leading up to the Holocaust.”

Newsweek wonders whether Arizona shooter Jared Loughner could have been involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility before he went on his murderous rampage last weekend. And interestingly, Arizona is apparently one of the states where it’s easiest to force someone into psychological counseling without his consent.

American Jewish groups have outlined their new legislative goals for the Republican-led Congress. One of their main focuses is on funding for Israel, which may be moved out of foreign spending in order to protect it from budget cuts: “Some leading Republicans, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the new chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, say Congress could separate funding for Israel from overall foreign spending, allowing conservatives to maintain current levels for Israel while slashing foreign spending for countries they don’t see as friendly or programs they oppose.”

Don’t tell Iran, but the Elder of Zion blog appears to have obtained some sort of booklet exposing the identities of key Mossad agents.

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Assange Now Blackmailing the U.S. Government

Some Julian Assange supporters have dismissed the potential national-security risk of WikiLeaks as an unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of the fight for more government transparency. But now Assange has taken his “crusade” a step further, by threatening to release even more dangerous documents if government leaders make any attempt to shut down his website or detain him. This is essentially blackmail:

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has circulated across the internet an encrypted “poison pill” cache of uncensored documents suspected to include files on BP and Guantanamo Bay.

One of the files identified this weekend by The Sunday Times — called the “insurance” file — has been downloaded from the WikiLeaks website by tens of thousands of supporters, from America to Australia.

Assange warns that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.

There’s a reason why this batch of information is being used as a bargaining chip:

[Assange] has suggested the contents are unredacted, posing a possible security risk for coalition partners around the world.

If Assange were merely a proponent of open government, as he has portrayed himself, he would have released all the documents at the same time — including the “insurance file” — along with the necessary redactions. What is the point of leaking the files so strategically if there wasn’t a broader strategy to inflict as much destruction on the U.S. as possible?

Assange may not share al-Qaeda’s tactics, but his intent is similar. All his fans who believe he’s a crusader for government transparency are fooling themselves. In fact, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell are already calling Assange a terrorist: “Information warfare is warfare, and Julian Assange is engaged in warfare. Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism,” said Gingrich. “He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”

I understand where Gingrich is coming from, but I don’t think Assange’s actions warrant the terrorism label just yet. He hasn’t purposely targeted specific groups of individuals with violence. However, WikiLeaks is making it easier for terror groups to target civilians, so terrorist abettor may be a better description.

Some Julian Assange supporters have dismissed the potential national-security risk of WikiLeaks as an unfortunate, but unavoidable, consequence of the fight for more government transparency. But now Assange has taken his “crusade” a step further, by threatening to release even more dangerous documents if government leaders make any attempt to shut down his website or detain him. This is essentially blackmail:

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has circulated across the internet an encrypted “poison pill” cache of uncensored documents suspected to include files on BP and Guantanamo Bay.

One of the files identified this weekend by The Sunday Times — called the “insurance” file — has been downloaded from the WikiLeaks website by tens of thousands of supporters, from America to Australia.

Assange warns that any government that tries to curtail his activities risks triggering a new deluge of state and commercial secrets.

There’s a reason why this batch of information is being used as a bargaining chip:

[Assange] has suggested the contents are unredacted, posing a possible security risk for coalition partners around the world.

If Assange were merely a proponent of open government, as he has portrayed himself, he would have released all the documents at the same time — including the “insurance file” — along with the necessary redactions. What is the point of leaking the files so strategically if there wasn’t a broader strategy to inflict as much destruction on the U.S. as possible?

Assange may not share al-Qaeda’s tactics, but his intent is similar. All his fans who believe he’s a crusader for government transparency are fooling themselves. In fact, Newt Gingrich and Mitch McConnell are already calling Assange a terrorist: “Information warfare is warfare, and Julian Assange is engaged in warfare. Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed, is terrorism, and Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism,” said Gingrich. “He should be treated as an enemy combatant.”

I understand where Gingrich is coming from, but I don’t think Assange’s actions warrant the terrorism label just yet. He hasn’t purposely targeted specific groups of individuals with violence. However, WikiLeaks is making it easier for terror groups to target civilians, so terrorist abettor may be a better description.

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Re: New START Treaty: Why It’s Not Much Ado About Nothing

Max, everything you say about the START treaty is sensible but one thing, and it’s the big thing. Treaties should not be entered into, or agreed to, or voted on, for reasons extraneous to the terms of the treaty itself. Which is to say: You don’t sign a binding treaty with a sovereign power governing your own conduct on military matters for decades to come because in doing so you might be able to get the other sovereign power to do something else you want. Getting the other sovereign power to do something you want is precisely what a treaty  is for — if there’s a quid pro quo for signing the treaty, it needs to be in the treaty itself or it doesn’t count. (That includes a promise from the administration to Republican senators to agree to spend money on nuclear modernization. That might happen or might not happen; the signing of the treaty is immaterial. And this shouldn’t be a bargaining chip in any case. If money is needed for nuclear modernization, Obama would be acting directly against the national interest to fail to agree to it out of pique that his treaty wasn’t properly supported. And for acting out of pique, he would be handing his opponents an issue against him.)

You don’t support a treaty for goodwill reasons. You don’t do it for conceptual reasons. It is binding law, and its imposition extends too far into the future for such trivialities. It cannot be overturned by a simple vote of the next Congress.

Nor should Republicans in the Senate vote to support it because, as Bob Kagan says, they will be accused of obstructionism if they don’t. That’s a terrible reason to sign a treaty. They should do it if they are convinced it is in the national interest. Because they are so powerful, treaties require exactly this sort of high-minded approach. That it won’t necessarily do any harm and who the hell knows, it might do a little good isn’t a good enough reason to sign a treaty — any treaty.

The best thing that can be said about this treaty is that it is basically unnecessary. The worst thing is that we are creating a parallelism between American strength and Russian strength that is a very, very bad precedent in terms of how we ourselves think about American power.

Max, everything you say about the START treaty is sensible but one thing, and it’s the big thing. Treaties should not be entered into, or agreed to, or voted on, for reasons extraneous to the terms of the treaty itself. Which is to say: You don’t sign a binding treaty with a sovereign power governing your own conduct on military matters for decades to come because in doing so you might be able to get the other sovereign power to do something else you want. Getting the other sovereign power to do something you want is precisely what a treaty  is for — if there’s a quid pro quo for signing the treaty, it needs to be in the treaty itself or it doesn’t count. (That includes a promise from the administration to Republican senators to agree to spend money on nuclear modernization. That might happen or might not happen; the signing of the treaty is immaterial. And this shouldn’t be a bargaining chip in any case. If money is needed for nuclear modernization, Obama would be acting directly against the national interest to fail to agree to it out of pique that his treaty wasn’t properly supported. And for acting out of pique, he would be handing his opponents an issue against him.)

You don’t support a treaty for goodwill reasons. You don’t do it for conceptual reasons. It is binding law, and its imposition extends too far into the future for such trivialities. It cannot be overturned by a simple vote of the next Congress.

Nor should Republicans in the Senate vote to support it because, as Bob Kagan says, they will be accused of obstructionism if they don’t. That’s a terrible reason to sign a treaty. They should do it if they are convinced it is in the national interest. Because they are so powerful, treaties require exactly this sort of high-minded approach. That it won’t necessarily do any harm and who the hell knows, it might do a little good isn’t a good enough reason to sign a treaty — any treaty.

The best thing that can be said about this treaty is that it is basically unnecessary. The worst thing is that we are creating a parallelism between American strength and Russian strength that is a very, very bad precedent in terms of how we ourselves think about American power.

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Why Israel Shouldn’t Do Foolish Things

The Palestinians’ response to the Obami-inspired 90-day settlement moratorium offer simply reinforces the foolishness of the endeavor:

An Arab League official said Monday that a possible three-month-long temporary freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank would be unlikely to be enough to prompt Palestinian and Arab support for Mideast peace talks.

“If the news is true about there being a settlement freeze that excludes Jerusalem and that takes the criticism off Israel, I cannot imagine that would be acceptable to the Palestinian side or the Arab side,” said Hesham Youssef, an official with the office of the secretary general of the Arab League.

Of course it’s not “enough.” It’s never enough. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ own refusal to recognize the Jewish state (oh yes, that) goes unremarked upon. And no, Israel will get little or zero credit for knuckling under to another incarnation of the same fundamentally flawed approach, which has not only set back the cause of peace but also has diminished whatever semblance of credibility Obama has been able to cling to.

But does Israel still get the planes? No, seriously. If the “hardware” was the reward for Bibi putting his government at risk and reducing his own credibility (when Israel says “no,” does the government really mean no?), it seems only fair that Israel should get to keep the bribe planes. And what about the promised veto of anti-Israel resolutions? Bibi has now, it seems, established the precedent that the support of  the U.S. in international bodies is a bargaining chip between the U.S. and the Jewish state.

Those cheering or excusing the latest effort to “rescue” the peace talks make a fundamental error. The U.S. is acting in foolish and desperate ways. Israel cannot afford to be either, or to convey to the Jewish state’s enemies, especially the Iranian regime, that it will be cowed by the U.S.’s pressure tactics. Israel must, even if the U.S. does not, convey that its oft-repeated positions are more than words. Call it linkage — but if Israel isn’t serious about a futile settlement extension, is it serious about more weighty matters?

Bibi, in essence, blinked –something for which he is certainly deserving of criticism. Is it hard navigating the waters with an American president as hostile as this one to the Jewish state? Sure, but indulging foolishness is not a recipe designed to help improve the security of the U.S. or Israel.

The Palestinians’ response to the Obami-inspired 90-day settlement moratorium offer simply reinforces the foolishness of the endeavor:

An Arab League official said Monday that a possible three-month-long temporary freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank would be unlikely to be enough to prompt Palestinian and Arab support for Mideast peace talks.

“If the news is true about there being a settlement freeze that excludes Jerusalem and that takes the criticism off Israel, I cannot imagine that would be acceptable to the Palestinian side or the Arab side,” said Hesham Youssef, an official with the office of the secretary general of the Arab League.

Of course it’s not “enough.” It’s never enough. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ own refusal to recognize the Jewish state (oh yes, that) goes unremarked upon. And no, Israel will get little or zero credit for knuckling under to another incarnation of the same fundamentally flawed approach, which has not only set back the cause of peace but also has diminished whatever semblance of credibility Obama has been able to cling to.

But does Israel still get the planes? No, seriously. If the “hardware” was the reward for Bibi putting his government at risk and reducing his own credibility (when Israel says “no,” does the government really mean no?), it seems only fair that Israel should get to keep the bribe planes. And what about the promised veto of anti-Israel resolutions? Bibi has now, it seems, established the precedent that the support of  the U.S. in international bodies is a bargaining chip between the U.S. and the Jewish state.

Those cheering or excusing the latest effort to “rescue” the peace talks make a fundamental error. The U.S. is acting in foolish and desperate ways. Israel cannot afford to be either, or to convey to the Jewish state’s enemies, especially the Iranian regime, that it will be cowed by the U.S.’s pressure tactics. Israel must, even if the U.S. does not, convey that its oft-repeated positions are more than words. Call it linkage — but if Israel isn’t serious about a futile settlement extension, is it serious about more weighty matters?

Bibi, in essence, blinked –something for which he is certainly deserving of criticism. Is it hard navigating the waters with an American president as hostile as this one to the Jewish state? Sure, but indulging foolishness is not a recipe designed to help improve the security of the U.S. or Israel.

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Empty Promises to Bibi

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

Josh Rogin reports on the non-progress in restoring the non-peace talks:

Special Envoy George Mitchell is back in the U.S. after a tour through the Middle East that included stop in Qatar, Egypt and Jordan. No progress reported on saving the peace talks and the key meeting of the Arab League where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak has been postponed until Friday. Clinton phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

[State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley couldn’t and therefore didn’t answer persistent questions coming from one press corps member seeking to know when was the last time the U.S. failed to back up Israel at the U.N. The questioner was ostensibly referencing reports that the administration was trying to convince the Israelis to extend the settlement freeze by promising to veto any future attacks on Israel in international fora. “I’m not sure that is a question that can possibly be answered,” Crowley said.

Actually, reports during the Obami’s temper tantrum over housing permits in Jerusalem suggested that the administration was threatening not to veto such resolutions in the future. So we actually did have such a situation in March. But the Obami said they were “confused” and couldn’t  manage to veto a statement singling out Israel that surely would have been vetoed under the Bush and Clinton administrations.

So to put this in context, the administration is trying to lure Bibi into extending a freeze with the promise not to do (refrain from anti-Israel vetoes) what previously would never have been done — and therefore would never have been considered a bargaining chip. You can understand why Bibi is not jumping at the offer.

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Does Sestak Agree with His J Street Backers?

Joe Sestak should be nervous. His record on Israel is spotty at best (he has signed on for a Iran sanctions bill and a pro-Israel resolution here and there but refused to sign on to numerous letters supporting Israel and backing sanctions, which the majority of his colleagues did) – and horrid at worst (signing on to the infamous Gaza blockade letter along with 53 of the most anti-Israel leftists in the House). This report notes that like many of Israel’s harshest critics, he swears he’s a friend of the Jewish state and proclaims “Their security is important to our security.” But his voting record is going to be hard to explain:

[Pat] Toomey last week said he wouldn’t join the “blame Israel first crowd.” Sestak has come under some criticism for signing onto a letter that called for easing restrictions on humanitarian aide into the Gaza Strip during the most recent war, but has also been critical of tensions between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. Toomey’s campaign is hoping to make significant inroads into the suburban Jewish community this year.

Sestak’s supposed concern about the “tensions between the Israeli government and the Obama administration” might have been hard to spot. He has had to play defense on his Gaza position:

The letter I signed concerning Gaza reflects another primary interest we have — humanitarian interests. Currently, Hamas is using the suffering of the Palestinian people as a recruiting tool for terrorists and a bargaining chip with foreign powers, and they should be held to account. I believe humanitarian aid — with the appropriate oversight and safeguards — will over time lessen, not increase, the capacity of Hamas to threaten Israel.

If that sounds a lot like the J Street line, you shouldn’t be surprised. J Street backed Sestak for the House and is vigorously doing the same in his Senate run.

His other associations are quite odd for such a fan of Israel. He fancied CAIR — appearing as the group’s keynote speaker in 2007. (“One of the featured speakers at the event is Muslim activist Rafael Narbaez, who has made a number of controversial comments about Israel. During a July 2006 speech at a Detroit mosque, Narbaez said Zionists have ‘the same racist ideology that the Nazis of Germany had.’”)

On Gaza this time around, Sestak has changed his tune quite a bit:

Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself. In this case, it appears that the ship carrying humanitarian and construction supplies attempted to break a naval blockade of Gaza despite clear warnings that that they would be denied entry. While the Palestinians have a right to humanitarian assistance, we must not forget that there remain radicals, fueled by organizations like Hamas, who wish Israel’s destruction and have no intention of recognizing its right to exist. Israel must maintain its right to protect itself from them and thwart their attacks, including by preventing dangerous materials from getting into the wrong hands.

So why did he sign the Gaza 54 letter?

Sestak also tries to fudge his position and that of the administration. His statement declares:

In the short-term, I support the recommendation of the United States for the Israeli government to quickly appoint an independent commission to review the circumstances that surrounded the event so that the latest round of peace talks toward a sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can proceed without interruption, and not let this unfortunate incident delay such talks.

Not quite. The Obama team has never said that only Israel should run the review. On the contrary, it went along with the UN Security Council’s statement. (“The Security Council takes note of the statement of the United Nations Secretary-General on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and it calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”) That sounds like Goldstone, not an IDF inquiry.

It seems that Sestak — like Obama — is trying to have it both ways. In the glare of an election race, he embraces Israel. When under less intense scrutiny, he runs with J Street and CAIR. Peter King’s resolution should prove a clarifying moment: will Sestak agree that the U.S. needs to get out of the UN Human Rights Council, block a UN witch hunt of Israel, and give Israel unqualified support? And if he does so with a wink and a nod to his J Street backers, will Pennsylvania voters fall for it?

After all, Obama made some very pretty speeches to AIPAC as a candidate. Maybe voters should look at Sestak’s record and associations. Had they done that with Obama before the 2008 election, many pro-Israel voters might not have been conned.

Joe Sestak should be nervous. His record on Israel is spotty at best (he has signed on for a Iran sanctions bill and a pro-Israel resolution here and there but refused to sign on to numerous letters supporting Israel and backing sanctions, which the majority of his colleagues did) – and horrid at worst (signing on to the infamous Gaza blockade letter along with 53 of the most anti-Israel leftists in the House). This report notes that like many of Israel’s harshest critics, he swears he’s a friend of the Jewish state and proclaims “Their security is important to our security.” But his voting record is going to be hard to explain:

[Pat] Toomey last week said he wouldn’t join the “blame Israel first crowd.” Sestak has come under some criticism for signing onto a letter that called for easing restrictions on humanitarian aide into the Gaza Strip during the most recent war, but has also been critical of tensions between the Israeli government and the Obama administration. Toomey’s campaign is hoping to make significant inroads into the suburban Jewish community this year.

Sestak’s supposed concern about the “tensions between the Israeli government and the Obama administration” might have been hard to spot. He has had to play defense on his Gaza position:

The letter I signed concerning Gaza reflects another primary interest we have — humanitarian interests. Currently, Hamas is using the suffering of the Palestinian people as a recruiting tool for terrorists and a bargaining chip with foreign powers, and they should be held to account. I believe humanitarian aid — with the appropriate oversight and safeguards — will over time lessen, not increase, the capacity of Hamas to threaten Israel.

If that sounds a lot like the J Street line, you shouldn’t be surprised. J Street backed Sestak for the House and is vigorously doing the same in his Senate run.

His other associations are quite odd for such a fan of Israel. He fancied CAIR — appearing as the group’s keynote speaker in 2007. (“One of the featured speakers at the event is Muslim activist Rafael Narbaez, who has made a number of controversial comments about Israel. During a July 2006 speech at a Detroit mosque, Narbaez said Zionists have ‘the same racist ideology that the Nazis of Germany had.’”)

On Gaza this time around, Sestak has changed his tune quite a bit:

Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself. In this case, it appears that the ship carrying humanitarian and construction supplies attempted to break a naval blockade of Gaza despite clear warnings that that they would be denied entry. While the Palestinians have a right to humanitarian assistance, we must not forget that there remain radicals, fueled by organizations like Hamas, who wish Israel’s destruction and have no intention of recognizing its right to exist. Israel must maintain its right to protect itself from them and thwart their attacks, including by preventing dangerous materials from getting into the wrong hands.

So why did he sign the Gaza 54 letter?

Sestak also tries to fudge his position and that of the administration. His statement declares:

In the short-term, I support the recommendation of the United States for the Israeli government to quickly appoint an independent commission to review the circumstances that surrounded the event so that the latest round of peace talks toward a sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can proceed without interruption, and not let this unfortunate incident delay such talks.

Not quite. The Obama team has never said that only Israel should run the review. On the contrary, it went along with the UN Security Council’s statement. (“The Security Council takes note of the statement of the United Nations Secretary-General on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and it calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”) That sounds like Goldstone, not an IDF inquiry.

It seems that Sestak — like Obama — is trying to have it both ways. In the glare of an election race, he embraces Israel. When under less intense scrutiny, he runs with J Street and CAIR. Peter King’s resolution should prove a clarifying moment: will Sestak agree that the U.S. needs to get out of the UN Human Rights Council, block a UN witch hunt of Israel, and give Israel unqualified support? And if he does so with a wink and a nod to his J Street backers, will Pennsylvania voters fall for it?

After all, Obama made some very pretty speeches to AIPAC as a candidate. Maybe voters should look at Sestak’s record and associations. Had they done that with Obama before the 2008 election, many pro-Israel voters might not have been conned.

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Syriana

When anything of international importance happens in or around Syria, there predictably follows a salivating at the prospect of “flipping” the Assad regime — of a peace deal with Israel, a renaissance in relations with the U.S., and a Syria that abandons, finally, its role as the Grand Central Station of terrorism in the Levant. After Jimmy Carter’s visits to Damascus and with Hamas, and then the embarrassing disclosure last week of a Syrian-North Korean nuclear program, peace-processors everywhere again caught a case of Damascus fever, the only prescription for which is more diplomacy.

As Jimmy Carter wrote in the NYT, “Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has expressed eagerness to begin negotiations with Israel to end the impasse on the Golan Heights.” And the nuclear program? Daniel Levy thinks it was just a bargaining chip to be used in future peace talks — because that’s how badly Syria wants to get into the good graces of Israel and the U.S.

The timing of the White House’s release of intelligence about Israel’s airstrike — it happened on the same day that Syria disclosed it had been secretly negotiating with Israel by way of Turkey — fueled the idea that perhaps there was some kind of grand breakthrough in the making. And remember the Mugniyah assassination a couple of months ago? Maybe Assad pulled it off as a demonstration to the world that he is running the show in Damascus and can deal with Hezbollah and the Iranians if he wishes.

So why would Assad be talking to Israel about peace if he wasn’t serious about peace? There are an abundance of good reasons: to deflect international outrage over the disclosure of his nuclear program; to make his Iranian patron ever-so-slightly nervous and thus extract more favorable terms from Tehran; to undermine international unity on the Hariri tribunal (Daniel Levy, for example, has already called for “flexibility” on the tribunal in exchange for Syrian good behavior in other areas); to placate those in Washington who wish to return to the comparatively warmer relations of the 1990′s; to make credulous liberals swoon and fill their blogs and op-ed pages with hopeful predictions of a breakthrough (see links above). And, the overarching reason — because Assad finds himself under acute pressure. As David Schenker recently said on NPR, “These diplomatic signals of Syrian willingness for peace, they’re almost routine now — you can almost plot it on a graph. At moments of maximum pressure, the Syrians are always mentioning the idea of peace with Israel.”

If you take a moment and think about this situation from the perspective of Syria, you’ll quickly understand why no breakthrough is in the offing.

If you are Bashar Assad, you’re in the enviable position of being the only Arab ally of Iran, which you believe will soon be the greatest regional power, and a nuclear one. You were recently forced out of Lebanon, but your ally Hezbollah is still there, growing in power, ensuring your political influence today and your return in the future. You provide aid and safe haven to Hamas, which gives you a strong hand not only in thwarting America and Israel in the peace process, but in manipulating Palestinian violence. Your minority Allawite rule is bolstered by the state of emergency that has been in effect since Israel took the Golan Heights in 1967. The only real problems you have to weather are isolation from the U.S. and Israel and some impotent resentment from the Arab states — and once Iran goes nuclear, that Arab resentment will magically turn into obsequiousness.

If you’re Bashar Assad, why would you give up your alliance to the ascendant power in the Middle East and the connections to the terror groups that ensure your ability to dominate your neighbors? For nice words from the Americans? Barack Obama might be president soon, so you’ll probably get those anyway.

When anything of international importance happens in or around Syria, there predictably follows a salivating at the prospect of “flipping” the Assad regime — of a peace deal with Israel, a renaissance in relations with the U.S., and a Syria that abandons, finally, its role as the Grand Central Station of terrorism in the Levant. After Jimmy Carter’s visits to Damascus and with Hamas, and then the embarrassing disclosure last week of a Syrian-North Korean nuclear program, peace-processors everywhere again caught a case of Damascus fever, the only prescription for which is more diplomacy.

As Jimmy Carter wrote in the NYT, “Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has expressed eagerness to begin negotiations with Israel to end the impasse on the Golan Heights.” And the nuclear program? Daniel Levy thinks it was just a bargaining chip to be used in future peace talks — because that’s how badly Syria wants to get into the good graces of Israel and the U.S.

The timing of the White House’s release of intelligence about Israel’s airstrike — it happened on the same day that Syria disclosed it had been secretly negotiating with Israel by way of Turkey — fueled the idea that perhaps there was some kind of grand breakthrough in the making. And remember the Mugniyah assassination a couple of months ago? Maybe Assad pulled it off as a demonstration to the world that he is running the show in Damascus and can deal with Hezbollah and the Iranians if he wishes.

So why would Assad be talking to Israel about peace if he wasn’t serious about peace? There are an abundance of good reasons: to deflect international outrage over the disclosure of his nuclear program; to make his Iranian patron ever-so-slightly nervous and thus extract more favorable terms from Tehran; to undermine international unity on the Hariri tribunal (Daniel Levy, for example, has already called for “flexibility” on the tribunal in exchange for Syrian good behavior in other areas); to placate those in Washington who wish to return to the comparatively warmer relations of the 1990′s; to make credulous liberals swoon and fill their blogs and op-ed pages with hopeful predictions of a breakthrough (see links above). And, the overarching reason — because Assad finds himself under acute pressure. As David Schenker recently said on NPR, “These diplomatic signals of Syrian willingness for peace, they’re almost routine now — you can almost plot it on a graph. At moments of maximum pressure, the Syrians are always mentioning the idea of peace with Israel.”

If you take a moment and think about this situation from the perspective of Syria, you’ll quickly understand why no breakthrough is in the offing.

If you are Bashar Assad, you’re in the enviable position of being the only Arab ally of Iran, which you believe will soon be the greatest regional power, and a nuclear one. You were recently forced out of Lebanon, but your ally Hezbollah is still there, growing in power, ensuring your political influence today and your return in the future. You provide aid and safe haven to Hamas, which gives you a strong hand not only in thwarting America and Israel in the peace process, but in manipulating Palestinian violence. Your minority Allawite rule is bolstered by the state of emergency that has been in effect since Israel took the Golan Heights in 1967. The only real problems you have to weather are isolation from the U.S. and Israel and some impotent resentment from the Arab states — and once Iran goes nuclear, that Arab resentment will magically turn into obsequiousness.

If you’re Bashar Assad, why would you give up your alliance to the ascendant power in the Middle East and the connections to the terror groups that ensure your ability to dominate your neighbors? For nice words from the Americans? Barack Obama might be president soon, so you’ll probably get those anyway.

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He Does Not Get It, Or His Lawyer Does

Eliot Spitzer, with his wife in her new role as “sympathy prop,” has resigned. But he showed no sign that he’s aware of the depth of his offense. Twice referring to his sins as “private,” he doled out a large helping of self-congratulation for the work he did as governor. Is he that dense, not to realize his actions are criminal? That his offense is an abuse of the public’s trust? Maybe. He may, with his world-class ego, simply be unwilling to accept the fact that he is a common criminal like so many he has prosecuted.

The other explanation is that he understands all too well that he is in deep trouble. Standing guard at Spitzer’s side was Ted Wells, criminal defense lawyer supreme (Scooter Libby was a client), who no doubt has been trying to work out a plea deal for his newest client. The feds apparently did not value Spitzer’s resignation as much of a bargaining chip, and the prospect of prosecution under multiple felony statutes still looms over him. So it is, for now, better for him to cop to “private” sins than to public, criminal ones.

Eliot Spitzer, with his wife in her new role as “sympathy prop,” has resigned. But he showed no sign that he’s aware of the depth of his offense. Twice referring to his sins as “private,” he doled out a large helping of self-congratulation for the work he did as governor. Is he that dense, not to realize his actions are criminal? That his offense is an abuse of the public’s trust? Maybe. He may, with his world-class ego, simply be unwilling to accept the fact that he is a common criminal like so many he has prosecuted.

The other explanation is that he understands all too well that he is in deep trouble. Standing guard at Spitzer’s side was Ted Wells, criminal defense lawyer supreme (Scooter Libby was a client), who no doubt has been trying to work out a plea deal for his newest client. The feds apparently did not value Spitzer’s resignation as much of a bargaining chip, and the prospect of prosecution under multiple felony statutes still looms over him. So it is, for now, better for him to cop to “private” sins than to public, criminal ones.

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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.

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China’s “Nuclear Option”

In the past few days two Chinese officials have threatened to employ the “nuclear option” against the United States: selling dollars and U.S. Treasury obligations to retaliate against possible American legislation. Congress is now considering bills meant to counter Beijing’s tight control of the value of its currency, the renminbi. China possesses somewhere in the vicinity of $1.3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves. Analysts believe that the Chinese government holds about $900 billion in dollar assets.

“I personally believe we have so many foreign exchange reserves that we should be smarter in setting the issues,” said Xia Bin, one of the officials, at the end of July. “It should at least be a bargaining chip in talks.” This is the first time that a senior economic adviser to Beijing publicly has suggested using China’s reserves for political leverage. He Fan, the other official, wrote in the China Daily on Tuesday about Beijing’s causing “a mass depreciation” of the greenback.

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In the past few days two Chinese officials have threatened to employ the “nuclear option” against the United States: selling dollars and U.S. Treasury obligations to retaliate against possible American legislation. Congress is now considering bills meant to counter Beijing’s tight control of the value of its currency, the renminbi. China possesses somewhere in the vicinity of $1.3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves. Analysts believe that the Chinese government holds about $900 billion in dollar assets.

“I personally believe we have so many foreign exchange reserves that we should be smarter in setting the issues,” said Xia Bin, one of the officials, at the end of July. “It should at least be a bargaining chip in talks.” This is the first time that a senior economic adviser to Beijing publicly has suggested using China’s reserves for political leverage. He Fan, the other official, wrote in the China Daily on Tuesday about Beijing’s causing “a mass depreciation” of the greenback.

We should thank Xia and He for revealing the thinking in the inner circles in Beijing. They provide a useful reminder that we need to pay down our debt and rebalance our economic relations with China. Yet let’s not panic and give into the bluster of China’s autocrats. Unfortunately for them, their holding of dollars is not much of a weapon. Imagine the worst-case scenario: Beijing tries to dump all of its dollars in one day. What would happen? The Chinese would have to buy something—say, for example, euros and yen. The values of those currencies would then shoot up through the ceiling. The Europeans and the Japanese, to stabilize their currencies, would then have to buy . . . dollars. In short, there would be a great circular flow of cash in the world’s currency and debt markets.

There would be turmoil in those markets, but it would not last long—two quarters at the most, perhaps even just a few weeks. And we would end up in just the same place that we are now, except that our friends, instead of our adversary, would be holding our debt. Global markets are deep and flexible and can handle just about anything.

Hillary Clinton once said we can’t argue with our Chinese bankers. I think we can.

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Amos Oz’s Nostra Culpa

It has long been a conviction of Israeli leftists that if they bend over backward far enough, Palestinians and other Arabs will respond in kind, resigning themselves to the idea of peace with the Jewish state. If a historic reconciliation with the Arabs could not be achieved through a policy of military deterrence, might not a new start be made by taking positive steps to accommodate Arab demands? By acknowledging Israeli guilt for Arab suffering? By striving, through political and territorial concessions, to mitigate the “original sin” of the Jewish state’s very existence?

Paradoxically, for proponents of this thesis, the launch of the Palestinian war of terror in September 2000 made it more necessary than ever to cling to the idea of Jewish culpability. Speaking in June 2002, three months after Israel had experienced the bloodiest terror assault in its history, with 126 citizens massacred in near-daily suicide bombings, the novelist A.B. Yehoshua blamed Israel for having driven the Palestinians to “a situation of insanity.”

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It has long been a conviction of Israeli leftists that if they bend over backward far enough, Palestinians and other Arabs will respond in kind, resigning themselves to the idea of peace with the Jewish state. If a historic reconciliation with the Arabs could not be achieved through a policy of military deterrence, might not a new start be made by taking positive steps to accommodate Arab demands? By acknowledging Israeli guilt for Arab suffering? By striving, through political and territorial concessions, to mitigate the “original sin” of the Jewish state’s very existence?

Paradoxically, for proponents of this thesis, the launch of the Palestinian war of terror in September 2000 made it more necessary than ever to cling to the idea of Jewish culpability. Speaking in June 2002, three months after Israel had experienced the bloodiest terror assault in its history, with 126 citizens massacred in near-daily suicide bombings, the novelist A.B. Yehoshua blamed Israel for having driven the Palestinians to “a situation of insanity.”

Now, Amos Oz, perhaps Israel’s most prominent living novelist, has taken up the same theme. “The time has come to acknowledge openly that Israelis had a part in the catastrophe of the Palestinian refugees,” he wrote last Saturday in Canada’s Globe and Mail:

We do not bear sole responsibility, and we are not solely to blame, but our hands are not clean. The state of Israel is mature and strong enough to admit to its share of the blame, and to reach the necessary conclusion: It behooves us to take part in the effort to resettle the refugees, in the framework of peace agreements, and outside Israel’s future peace borders.

Oz fails to explain why Israel should be culpable for the adverse consequences of the violent attempt to destroy it at its birth. (Had there been no such attempt, there would have been no refugee problem in the first place.) Nor does he seem to realize that his proposed resettlement of the refugees “outside Israel’s future peace borders” falls far short of offers made by various Israeli governments during the past sixty years (e.g., the 1949 offer to take back 100,000 Palestinian refugees—equivalent to some 2 million refugees in today’s terms).

Why should the Palestinians settle for a worse solution than the ones they have adamantly rejected for decades? According to Oz,

Israel’s admission of its share in the blame for the Palestinian refugee catastrophe, and its expression of willingness to bear part of the burden of a solution, are capable of causing a positive shiver to run through the Palestinian side. It would be a kind of emotional breakthrough that will make further dialogue much easier.

This, frankly, strains credulity. As is well-known, the refugees have not been kept in squalid camps for decades for lack of ability to resettle them elsewhere, but as a means of besmirching Israel in the eyes of the West and arousing pan-Arab sentiments. The Palestinian government, such as it is, is not going to give up this trump card.

Indeed, throughout the 1990’s, successive academic study groups, made up of the most earnestly forthcoming Israelis and the most grudgingly tractable Palestinians, devoted themselves to formulating a compromise proposal on this issue. They all failed, and the reason for the failure is plain enough: the “right of return” is not, for the Palestinians, a bargaining chip; it is the heart of their entire political strategy.

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