Commentary Magazine


Topic: BBC

Measuring Obama: Their Finest Hour but Not Ours

In the wake of yet another disappointing Oval Office speech, this time about the oil spill and energy policy, the arrival today of the 70th anniversary of two of the most influential speeches by world leaders is a harsh reminder of the gap between President Barack Obama’s pedestrian yet self-aggrandizing style and the measure of genuine leadership. Measuring anyone, even someone whose supporters tend to speak of him as if he were the Messiah, against the standards set on June 18, 1940, by Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle may be unfair. But the contrast between Obama and these historical icons isn’t so much one of eloquence but their ability to see moral choices clearly, to act decisively based on those choices, and then to be able to articulate the reasoning behind them in such a way as to not only render them explicable to a general audience but also to inspire their listeners to act and sacrifice in the cause they have set forth.

Addressing the House of Commons after the collapse of the French army under the weight of the German blitzkrieg, Churchill made one of the most justly famous speeches in history. His concluding sentence still has the power to raise the hair on the back of our necks today: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”

But there was more to this speech than just a memorable phrase. He was brutally frank about the extent of the catastrophe to the Allies while urging that time not be wasted on recriminations. He spoke of the hope of victory but grounded that hope in practical policy. Most important, unlike many in the Commons as well as in his cabinet who still thought that peace with Hitler was possible and that accommodation with the reality of Nazi victory was merely common sense, Churchill was unafraid to state explicitly that such a decision would be unthinkable, because “if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Elsewhere in London that day, De Gaulle, a mere brigadier general and an undersecretary of war in the last government of France’s Third Republic, made a speech on the BBC declaring that he and not the French leaders who would soon sign an armistice and set up the Nazi puppet Vichy regime truly represented the people of France. Though almost all of his countrymen could not see past their lamentable predicament at that moment, DeGaulle, almost alone, refused to submit. Like Churchill, he saw the war as more than merely a struggle of countries but of ideas. As he put it, “Honor, common sense and the best interest of our homeland all command the free French to fight.” He asked the French to consider that when “the forces of liberty finally triumph over those of servitude, what will be the destiny of a France which submitted to the enemy.” Though most of the French passively waited out the war until they were liberated by the sacrifices of others, De Gaulle not only saved the honor of his country but also inspired many Frenchmen and others to fight on against the Nazis.

Taken together, it is easy now to see these two statements as examples of how true statesmen can react at a crucial moment of history. By contrast, today the United States may be in a far stronger position than was Britain and France in 1940, but it, too, is faced with grave threats to its security that force it to fight wars that also demand inspired leadership. But it is led by a man who prides himself above all on his cool temperament, his willingness to see the world in terms of moral equivalences, his irrepressible desire to apologize to enemies of freedom rather than to confront them, and to temporize and prevaricate and to choose half measures when faced with dilemmas rather than to act decisively and with honor.

Comparisons with historical greatness are inevitably invidious, but seen in this light, the gap between Churchill and De Gaulle on the one hand and Barack Obama on the other must force Americans to sadly admit that this is not our finest hour.

In the wake of yet another disappointing Oval Office speech, this time about the oil spill and energy policy, the arrival today of the 70th anniversary of two of the most influential speeches by world leaders is a harsh reminder of the gap between President Barack Obama’s pedestrian yet self-aggrandizing style and the measure of genuine leadership. Measuring anyone, even someone whose supporters tend to speak of him as if he were the Messiah, against the standards set on June 18, 1940, by Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle may be unfair. But the contrast between Obama and these historical icons isn’t so much one of eloquence but their ability to see moral choices clearly, to act decisively based on those choices, and then to be able to articulate the reasoning behind them in such a way as to not only render them explicable to a general audience but also to inspire their listeners to act and sacrifice in the cause they have set forth.

Addressing the House of Commons after the collapse of the French army under the weight of the German blitzkrieg, Churchill made one of the most justly famous speeches in history. His concluding sentence still has the power to raise the hair on the back of our necks today: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”

But there was more to this speech than just a memorable phrase. He was brutally frank about the extent of the catastrophe to the Allies while urging that time not be wasted on recriminations. He spoke of the hope of victory but grounded that hope in practical policy. Most important, unlike many in the Commons as well as in his cabinet who still thought that peace with Hitler was possible and that accommodation with the reality of Nazi victory was merely common sense, Churchill was unafraid to state explicitly that such a decision would be unthinkable, because “if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Elsewhere in London that day, De Gaulle, a mere brigadier general and an undersecretary of war in the last government of France’s Third Republic, made a speech on the BBC declaring that he and not the French leaders who would soon sign an armistice and set up the Nazi puppet Vichy regime truly represented the people of France. Though almost all of his countrymen could not see past their lamentable predicament at that moment, DeGaulle, almost alone, refused to submit. Like Churchill, he saw the war as more than merely a struggle of countries but of ideas. As he put it, “Honor, common sense and the best interest of our homeland all command the free French to fight.” He asked the French to consider that when “the forces of liberty finally triumph over those of servitude, what will be the destiny of a France which submitted to the enemy.” Though most of the French passively waited out the war until they were liberated by the sacrifices of others, De Gaulle not only saved the honor of his country but also inspired many Frenchmen and others to fight on against the Nazis.

Taken together, it is easy now to see these two statements as examples of how true statesmen can react at a crucial moment of history. By contrast, today the United States may be in a far stronger position than was Britain and France in 1940, but it, too, is faced with grave threats to its security that force it to fight wars that also demand inspired leadership. But it is led by a man who prides himself above all on his cool temperament, his willingness to see the world in terms of moral equivalences, his irrepressible desire to apologize to enemies of freedom rather than to confront them, and to temporize and prevaricate and to choose half measures when faced with dilemmas rather than to act decisively and with honor.

Comparisons with historical greatness are inevitably invidious, but seen in this light, the gap between Churchill and De Gaulle on the one hand and Barack Obama on the other must force Americans to sadly admit that this is not our finest hour.

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The Irish and the Flotilla Inquiry

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

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A World Gone Mad

A CONTENTIONS reader points me to some signs of the times that aptly capture the mindset of much of the Western world. While everyone mourns the loss of those who set upon the Israeli commandos (are we in the business now of mourning everyone who attacks Israeli forces, provided they affix “peace” to their operation?), the world cares not at all when civilian casualties inevitably occur in war — so long as those doing the killing aren’t Israeli. This, from the Israel-hating BBC on the killing of al-Qaeda’s No. 3 man in Afghanistan, aptly captures the hypocrisy of the hand-wringers:

Mr Yazid, also known as Sheikh Said al-Masri, died along with his wife and three children, Islamist websites said, quoting a statement from al-Qaeda. US officials say they believe he was killed recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan in an American drone attack. … US monitoring groups said a message from al-Qaeda posted on Islamist forums on 31 May said the militant’s wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were killed.

No UN condemnation. No riots. This is war, after all. As Tom Gross notes: “No one seems to be getting hysterical about this anywhere in the world. Now imagine if Israel had been involved.”

The case of the flotilla was, of course, not one with innocent babes sleeping in their cribs. They are just as much combatants in a terror war against Israel as are the al-Qaeda forces trying to killing Americans in Afghanistan:

You see the Israelis, at first brandishing just paint-ball guns, being grabbed as they landed, dragged to the ground, and beaten brutally with pipes and clubs.

On another clip, apparently shot by protesters, a soldier is stabbed in the back, and then in the front. Another soldier is beaten and thrown over the side.

Photographs show two Israeli soldiers, one of them shot, being carried off with serious wounds. This isn’t what you’d normally expect from “peace protesters” or “humanitarian activists”, even those armed merely “with a few knives.”

These clues suggest the media — and many foolish politicians — have fallen for a brilliant propaganda coup. …

Those on board refused offers by Israel that they dock at an Israeli port so their aid could be checked and forwarded to Gaza. They rejected warnings to turn back. They prepared instead for confrontation. Arab television showed a woman exulting: “We await one of two good things — to achieve martyrdom or reach the shore of Gaza.”

She said: “These are people who wish to be martyred for the sake of Allah. As much as they want to reach Gaza, the other option is more desirable to them.”

They got just what they wanted, then, as did Hamas and its chief backer, Iran.

Iran, needing a distraction from its nuclear program, pumped out instant YouTube footage of this Israeli “atrocity.”

Meanwhile Hamas spokesman Samil Abu Zuhri called for a global “intifada”: “We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the world.”

If we cannot recognize the enemy, we cannot defeat him. And if we prevent clear-eyed allies from doing so, we lose allies, our moral standing, and the war on our civilization.

A CONTENTIONS reader points me to some signs of the times that aptly capture the mindset of much of the Western world. While everyone mourns the loss of those who set upon the Israeli commandos (are we in the business now of mourning everyone who attacks Israeli forces, provided they affix “peace” to their operation?), the world cares not at all when civilian casualties inevitably occur in war — so long as those doing the killing aren’t Israeli. This, from the Israel-hating BBC on the killing of al-Qaeda’s No. 3 man in Afghanistan, aptly captures the hypocrisy of the hand-wringers:

Mr Yazid, also known as Sheikh Said al-Masri, died along with his wife and three children, Islamist websites said, quoting a statement from al-Qaeda. US officials say they believe he was killed recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan in an American drone attack. … US monitoring groups said a message from al-Qaeda posted on Islamist forums on 31 May said the militant’s wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were killed.

No UN condemnation. No riots. This is war, after all. As Tom Gross notes: “No one seems to be getting hysterical about this anywhere in the world. Now imagine if Israel had been involved.”

The case of the flotilla was, of course, not one with innocent babes sleeping in their cribs. They are just as much combatants in a terror war against Israel as are the al-Qaeda forces trying to killing Americans in Afghanistan:

You see the Israelis, at first brandishing just paint-ball guns, being grabbed as they landed, dragged to the ground, and beaten brutally with pipes and clubs.

On another clip, apparently shot by protesters, a soldier is stabbed in the back, and then in the front. Another soldier is beaten and thrown over the side.

Photographs show two Israeli soldiers, one of them shot, being carried off with serious wounds. This isn’t what you’d normally expect from “peace protesters” or “humanitarian activists”, even those armed merely “with a few knives.”

These clues suggest the media — and many foolish politicians — have fallen for a brilliant propaganda coup. …

Those on board refused offers by Israel that they dock at an Israeli port so their aid could be checked and forwarded to Gaza. They rejected warnings to turn back. They prepared instead for confrontation. Arab television showed a woman exulting: “We await one of two good things — to achieve martyrdom or reach the shore of Gaza.”

She said: “These are people who wish to be martyred for the sake of Allah. As much as they want to reach Gaza, the other option is more desirable to them.”

They got just what they wanted, then, as did Hamas and its chief backer, Iran.

Iran, needing a distraction from its nuclear program, pumped out instant YouTube footage of this Israeli “atrocity.”

Meanwhile Hamas spokesman Samil Abu Zuhri called for a global “intifada”: “We call on all Arabs and Muslims to rise up in front of Zionist embassies across the world.”

If we cannot recognize the enemy, we cannot defeat him. And if we prevent clear-eyed allies from doing so, we lose allies, our moral standing, and the war on our civilization.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When the New York Times and Colin Powell start taking potshots at Obama’s handling of the BP spill, you know things are dismal for the White House.

When the Obama team at least wants to get all the facts before speaking out on the flotilla incident, that’s a mild improvement. Unfortunately, he expresses no “deep regret” that Israeli soldiers were attacked. And of course, Israel’s enemies and supposed European friends are not so circumspect in condemning Israel.

When will the Obama team speak up about this? “Ten thousand Turks marched in protest from the Israeli consulate to a main square on Monday afternoon, chanting, ‘Murderous Israel you will drown in the blood you shed!’ The protesters had earlier tried to storm the consulate building but were blocked by police. Earlier on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned the seizure of the Gaza flotilla ship, Mavi Marmara, as ‘state terrorism,’ saying that Israel had violated international law and shown that it does not want peace in the region. The Mavi Marmara was flying a Turkish flag and most of the activists injured on board were Turkish members of the Islamic NGO IHH, which Israeli officials have said is linked to terrorist organizations.”

When the BBC runs amok and the world is at Israel’s throat, Melanie Phillips explains what’s afoot: “And now we can see that the real purpose of this invasion — backed by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a radical Islamic organization outlawed by Israel in 2008 for allegedly serving as a major component in Hamas’s global fund-raising machine — was to incite a violent uprising in the Middle East and across the Islamic world. As I write, reports are coming in of Arab rioting in Jerusalem. The notion — uncritically swallowed by the lazy, ignorant and bigoted BBC and other western media — that the flotilla organisers are ‘peace activists’ is simply ludicrous.”

When the world is at Israel’s throat and its soldiers are attacked, Jeffrey Goldberg wrings his hands.

When Ron Paul sends out a fundraising plea for Rand, it doesn’t help the son shake the rap that he is as politically extreme as his father.

When the Obama team is saying the worst is behind us, “Sixty-eight percent (68%) believe the U.S. economy is in a recession.”

When we are approaching the one-year anniversary of  Obama’s noxious Cairo speech, Michael Rubin writes: “As we near the first anniversary of President Obama’s Cairo speech, the Middle East is heading to hell in a handbag. The core of the Obama doctrine is that ‘if we say what our enemies want to hear and if they like us, then our strategic objectives will naturally fall in line. ‘This of course is naïve in the extreme, but it has been at the core of the Obama administration’s foreign policy for the past year. … If Obama decides it is in America’s interest to make an example of Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident in order to win goodwill in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran, and Ankara, then he must also recognize that the leadership in Jerusalem is going to conclude that it cannot trust the United States to safeguard its security, and that therefore it must take matters into its own hands on any number of issues, not the least of which is Iran’s nuclear program.”

When the New York Times and Colin Powell start taking potshots at Obama’s handling of the BP spill, you know things are dismal for the White House.

When the Obama team at least wants to get all the facts before speaking out on the flotilla incident, that’s a mild improvement. Unfortunately, he expresses no “deep regret” that Israeli soldiers were attacked. And of course, Israel’s enemies and supposed European friends are not so circumspect in condemning Israel.

When will the Obama team speak up about this? “Ten thousand Turks marched in protest from the Israeli consulate to a main square on Monday afternoon, chanting, ‘Murderous Israel you will drown in the blood you shed!’ The protesters had earlier tried to storm the consulate building but were blocked by police. Earlier on Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned the seizure of the Gaza flotilla ship, Mavi Marmara, as ‘state terrorism,’ saying that Israel had violated international law and shown that it does not want peace in the region. The Mavi Marmara was flying a Turkish flag and most of the activists injured on board were Turkish members of the Islamic NGO IHH, which Israeli officials have said is linked to terrorist organizations.”

When the BBC runs amok and the world is at Israel’s throat, Melanie Phillips explains what’s afoot: “And now we can see that the real purpose of this invasion — backed by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a radical Islamic organization outlawed by Israel in 2008 for allegedly serving as a major component in Hamas’s global fund-raising machine — was to incite a violent uprising in the Middle East and across the Islamic world. As I write, reports are coming in of Arab rioting in Jerusalem. The notion — uncritically swallowed by the lazy, ignorant and bigoted BBC and other western media — that the flotilla organisers are ‘peace activists’ is simply ludicrous.”

When the world is at Israel’s throat and its soldiers are attacked, Jeffrey Goldberg wrings his hands.

When Ron Paul sends out a fundraising plea for Rand, it doesn’t help the son shake the rap that he is as politically extreme as his father.

When the Obama team is saying the worst is behind us, “Sixty-eight percent (68%) believe the U.S. economy is in a recession.”

When we are approaching the one-year anniversary of  Obama’s noxious Cairo speech, Michael Rubin writes: “As we near the first anniversary of President Obama’s Cairo speech, the Middle East is heading to hell in a handbag. The core of the Obama doctrine is that ‘if we say what our enemies want to hear and if they like us, then our strategic objectives will naturally fall in line. ‘This of course is naïve in the extreme, but it has been at the core of the Obama administration’s foreign policy for the past year. … If Obama decides it is in America’s interest to make an example of Israel after the Gaza flotilla incident in order to win goodwill in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran, and Ankara, then he must also recognize that the leadership in Jerusalem is going to conclude that it cannot trust the United States to safeguard its security, and that therefore it must take matters into its own hands on any number of issues, not the least of which is Iran’s nuclear program.”

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The War in Afghanistan: Where We Are Now

We have reached a key juncture in the Afghanistan war. Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have spent the last year getting the right “inputs” in place, meaning getting the structures right, putting the best leaders in charge, developing the right concepts, providing the authority and resources necessary, and so forth. We are now at the very early stages of the “output” phase, with a counterinsurgency (COIN) offensive in Helmand province that began in February and a forthcoming offensive in Kandahar. This campaign will unfold over the next 18 months or so and will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the war.

As we enter this new phase of the war — with, for the first time, a properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy in place — it’s important to understand the situation on the ground, including public sentiment, which is a crucial component of a successful COIN strategy.

A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “Shaping the War in Afghanistan: The Situation in the Spring of 2010,” provides useful information, much of it culled from other recent reports and surveys (like the Department of Defense’s April report on progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan and an analysis of public opinion in Afghanistan conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD).

Among the encouraging data points:

  • After steep declines in recent years there’s been a 30-point advance in views that the country is headed in the right direction; 70 percent now say so, the most since 2005. Afghans’ expectations that their own lives will be better a year from now have jumped by 20 points, to 71 percent, a new high. And there’s been a 14-point rise in expectations that the next generation will have a better life, to 61 percent.
  • Seventy (70) percent say living conditions are better now than they were under the Taliban.
  • Sixty-eight (68) percent of Afghans continue to support the presence of U.S. forces in their country – and nearly as many, 61 percent, favor the coming surge of Western troops initiated by President Obama.
  • There’s been a 14-point gain from last year, to 83 percent, in the view among Afghans that it was right for the United States to invade and overthrow the Taliban just more than eight years ago. And the number of Afghans who say attacking Western forces can be justified has dropped sharply, from 25 percent a year ago to 8 percent, a new low. (It jumps to 22 percent in the South – but that’s half of what it was there a year ago.)
  • President Karzai’s performance rating is only 40 percent in Helmand but 72 percent in the rest of the country – making him, by my count, more popular in Afghanistan than President Obama is in America.
  • Afghans confidence in their government reached a new high (since polling started in September 2008). Between September and March of 2009, Afghan confidence in the national administration increased by six percentage points to 45 percent, confidence in the provincial governor increased by five percentage points to 47 percent, and confidence in the district governors increased by six percentage points to 44 percent. When asked if the government was heading in the right direction, 59 percent of Afghans responded “yes.” This represents an increase of eight percent over the previous September 2009.
  • In March 2010, 30 percent of Afghans believed that the government was less corrupt than one year prior while 24 percent believed that it was more corrupt.

On the other side of the ledger:

  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)
  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.)
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)

It’s quite a mixed picture, then — but since the beginning of 2009, a low-water mark, we’ve seen an increase in the performance ratings of the Afghan army, the Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

The CSIS report also documents the rising intensity of the fighting, the increase in IED attacks, opium-poppy-cultivation trends, the growth in the (licit) GDP, and the growing strength of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (the ANA has largely exceeded its recruiting goals between 2009 and 2010 and now includes more than 112,000 Afghans; the ANP now counts more than 102,000 Afghans in its ranks). And according to the most recent Department of Defense report, 52 percent of Afghans believe insurgents are the greatest source of insecurity, while only 1 percent believes the National Army/Police are primarily to blame. In the words of the DoD report: “This perception provides an opportunity for the Afghan Government, with the support of the international community, to improve its legitimacy and enhance popular perception of the government.”

In the end, increasing the legitimacy of the government will be key as to whether the war has a successful outcome. Nobody understands this better than David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.

Stay tuned.

We have reached a key juncture in the Afghanistan war. Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal have spent the last year getting the right “inputs” in place, meaning getting the structures right, putting the best leaders in charge, developing the right concepts, providing the authority and resources necessary, and so forth. We are now at the very early stages of the “output” phase, with a counterinsurgency (COIN) offensive in Helmand province that began in February and a forthcoming offensive in Kandahar. This campaign will unfold over the next 18 months or so and will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the war.

As we enter this new phase of the war — with, for the first time, a properly resourced counterinsurgency strategy in place — it’s important to understand the situation on the ground, including public sentiment, which is a crucial component of a successful COIN strategy.

A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “Shaping the War in Afghanistan: The Situation in the Spring of 2010,” provides useful information, much of it culled from other recent reports and surveys (like the Department of Defense’s April report on progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan and an analysis of public opinion in Afghanistan conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD).

Among the encouraging data points:

  • After steep declines in recent years there’s been a 30-point advance in views that the country is headed in the right direction; 70 percent now say so, the most since 2005. Afghans’ expectations that their own lives will be better a year from now have jumped by 20 points, to 71 percent, a new high. And there’s been a 14-point rise in expectations that the next generation will have a better life, to 61 percent.
  • Seventy (70) percent say living conditions are better now than they were under the Taliban.
  • Sixty-eight (68) percent of Afghans continue to support the presence of U.S. forces in their country – and nearly as many, 61 percent, favor the coming surge of Western troops initiated by President Obama.
  • There’s been a 14-point gain from last year, to 83 percent, in the view among Afghans that it was right for the United States to invade and overthrow the Taliban just more than eight years ago. And the number of Afghans who say attacking Western forces can be justified has dropped sharply, from 25 percent a year ago to 8 percent, a new low. (It jumps to 22 percent in the South – but that’s half of what it was there a year ago.)
  • President Karzai’s performance rating is only 40 percent in Helmand but 72 percent in the rest of the country – making him, by my count, more popular in Afghanistan than President Obama is in America.
  • Afghans confidence in their government reached a new high (since polling started in September 2008). Between September and March of 2009, Afghan confidence in the national administration increased by six percentage points to 45 percent, confidence in the provincial governor increased by five percentage points to 47 percent, and confidence in the district governors increased by six percentage points to 44 percent. When asked if the government was heading in the right direction, 59 percent of Afghans responded “yes.” This represents an increase of eight percent over the previous September 2009.
  • In March 2010, 30 percent of Afghans believed that the government was less corrupt than one year prior while 24 percent believed that it was more corrupt.

On the other side of the ledger:

  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)
  • Just 38 percent rate the work of the United States in Afghanistan positively – up 6 points in the past year, but far below its peak, 68 percent, in 2005. (NATO’s ratings are as low, and flat.) Fifty-one (51) percent have a favorable view of the United States overall – vastly below its high point, 83 percent, in 2005. And U.S. favorability drops to 35 percent in the East and 29 percent in the South (vs. 59 percent in the rest of the country) – again, plummeting where the United States is most actively engaged in combat.
  • Just 42 percent in the South and East support the presence of U.S. forces in their area, compared with 78 percent in the rest of the country.
  • More Afghans say the United States and NATO are doing worse, not better, in avoiding civilian casualties, by 43-24 percent. (This may reflect dismay over widely publicized individual incidents, such as the bombing of a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in September that killed scores of civilians in Kunduz province.)
  • Nearly all Afghans – 95 percent – say official corruption is a problem in their area, up 23 points since 2007. Seventy-six (76) percent say it’s a big problem; both are new highs.
  • Only 29 percent of Afghans had a very good or good opinion of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), with an additional 34 percent reporting a neutral rating.
  • We are focusing on 121 districts that have been deemed as critical to success. Of those 121, there are just 29 (24 percent) in which the population sympathizes with the Afghan government. While doubts about Afghan governance, writ large, doesn’t translate directly into support for the Taliban, which is still much-hated, it certainly doesn’t help matters. (In addition, the data for the 121 districts are not necessarily indicative of all of Afghanistan, especially given that they are the focus of the COIN campaign precisely because of the level of threats within them.)

It’s quite a mixed picture, then — but since the beginning of 2009, a low-water mark, we’ve seen an increase in the performance ratings of the Afghan army, the Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

The CSIS report also documents the rising intensity of the fighting, the increase in IED attacks, opium-poppy-cultivation trends, the growth in the (licit) GDP, and the growing strength of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police (the ANA has largely exceeded its recruiting goals between 2009 and 2010 and now includes more than 112,000 Afghans; the ANP now counts more than 102,000 Afghans in its ranks). And according to the most recent Department of Defense report, 52 percent of Afghans believe insurgents are the greatest source of insecurity, while only 1 percent believes the National Army/Police are primarily to blame. In the words of the DoD report: “This perception provides an opportunity for the Afghan Government, with the support of the international community, to improve its legitimacy and enhance popular perception of the government.”

In the end, increasing the legitimacy of the government will be key as to whether the war has a successful outcome. Nobody understands this better than David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal.

Stay tuned.

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The League of Totalitarians

As a coda to my earlier post on the flocking together of the far left and the far right under the banner of the Palestinian Telegraph, you should read Nick Cohen’s superb piece in Standpoint magazine, which explores in painful detail the unwillingness of the BBC to tell the truth about recently deceased actor Corin Redgrave. The BBC memorialized him as a fighter against “all forms of injustice and oppression.”

Redgrave was actually a devotee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist cult led by Gerry Healy, who reveled in what 26 of his female followers described as “cruel and systematic debauchery.”  Naturally, Healy, as a born totalitarian, took money from Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, spied on Iraqi dissidents, and adopted the anti-Semitism of the far right as his own.  Redgrave — like another devotee, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone — stuck by Healy through it all.

The dangers and stupidities of this far-left/far-right alliance, centered on anti-Semitism and admiration for foreign tyrannies of all varieties, are what Oliver Kamm, among others, has been banging on about brilliantly for years. It is, of course, sinister enough on its own demerits. But it also has an amazing capacity to fool people, including quite a few who should know better.

For example, the day the Iraq war began, I was speaking at a private and very elite prep school in Connecticut. I was amazed to find the hallways festooned with signs from the ANSWER coalition. When I pointed out to my host that ANSWER was an outgrowth of the Workers World Party, the hardest of hard-line Communists who defended the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and today support North Korea, she was astonished. The word “peace” was all the proof she needed that it was on the side of human rights. The BBC’s memorial to Redgrave is the kind of journalism that makes that confidence trick work.

As a coda to my earlier post on the flocking together of the far left and the far right under the banner of the Palestinian Telegraph, you should read Nick Cohen’s superb piece in Standpoint magazine, which explores in painful detail the unwillingness of the BBC to tell the truth about recently deceased actor Corin Redgrave. The BBC memorialized him as a fighter against “all forms of injustice and oppression.”

Redgrave was actually a devotee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, a Trotskyist cult led by Gerry Healy, who reveled in what 26 of his female followers described as “cruel and systematic debauchery.”  Naturally, Healy, as a born totalitarian, took money from Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, spied on Iraqi dissidents, and adopted the anti-Semitism of the far right as his own.  Redgrave — like another devotee, the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone — stuck by Healy through it all.

The dangers and stupidities of this far-left/far-right alliance, centered on anti-Semitism and admiration for foreign tyrannies of all varieties, are what Oliver Kamm, among others, has been banging on about brilliantly for years. It is, of course, sinister enough on its own demerits. But it also has an amazing capacity to fool people, including quite a few who should know better.

For example, the day the Iraq war began, I was speaking at a private and very elite prep school in Connecticut. I was amazed to find the hallways festooned with signs from the ANSWER coalition. When I pointed out to my host that ANSWER was an outgrowth of the Workers World Party, the hardest of hard-line Communists who defended the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and today support North Korea, she was astonished. The word “peace” was all the proof she needed that it was on the side of human rights. The BBC’s memorial to Redgrave is the kind of journalism that makes that confidence trick work.

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Cheering Their Failed Israel Policy

The Washington Post headline — “Experts question whether U.S. has a real Israel strategy or ‘talking points’” – suggests the disarray in the Obami’s approach and the general consternation that has greeted their bully-boyism directed at the Jewish state. Indeed, the Post can find no one but George Mitchell’s lackey Martin Indyk (more on him later) who agrees with Hillary Clinton’s obnoxious claim that the staged hissy fit with Israel is “paying off.” (And if it were bearing fruit, then we are back to amateur hour when Hillary announces as much, and on the Israel-hating BBC, of all places). Elliott Abrams dryly notes: “It has made life harder and has made negotiations harder for the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Certainly taunting one side in public has that effect.

We are now in a fencing match. Hillary demands some concessions; Bibi tries to serve up some small gesture or soothing platitude so Hillary and company can climb down off the roof on which they have perched themselves to impress their Palestinian friends. But all we have to show for this is Palestinian stone-throwing, a dead Thai worker, a strained but not yet broken relationship with Israel, and further reason for Palestinians to do what they do best — play victim and demand unilateral concessions.

But nothing is more telling than the comments of Indyk, an adviser to Mitchell, who presumably channels the Obami’s thinking:

Martin S. Indyk, vice president for foreign studies at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to Mitchell, said the administration in the past 10 days has made the Israeli government “supersensitive” to the issue of Jerusalem. He praised the administration for not revealing its demands and said U.S. officials adroitly turned down the heat as quickly as they turned it up.

“I think they handled it quite well,” he said.

Supersensitive about their eternal capital? Well, that’s one way — a particularly nasty and undiplomatic way – to express it but also a telling admission of how the administration picked a fight on the one issue that unites Israelis and that no government could, short of a final-status deal, compromise on housing. And his boast of adroitness — does that include the BBC bragging? The onslaught of condemnations? And three cheers, Indyk is leading, for the attempt to wring out of our ally even more concessions!

You see the problem: the members of this crew are high-fiving themselves for continuing, albeit in quieter tones, the same losing strategy they’ve been pursuing from the get-go. So do they have a real strategy? Definitely — the most counterproductive and dangerous one imaginable.

The Washington Post headline — “Experts question whether U.S. has a real Israel strategy or ‘talking points’” – suggests the disarray in the Obami’s approach and the general consternation that has greeted their bully-boyism directed at the Jewish state. Indeed, the Post can find no one but George Mitchell’s lackey Martin Indyk (more on him later) who agrees with Hillary Clinton’s obnoxious claim that the staged hissy fit with Israel is “paying off.” (And if it were bearing fruit, then we are back to amateur hour when Hillary announces as much, and on the Israel-hating BBC, of all places). Elliott Abrams dryly notes: “It has made life harder and has made negotiations harder for the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Certainly taunting one side in public has that effect.

We are now in a fencing match. Hillary demands some concessions; Bibi tries to serve up some small gesture or soothing platitude so Hillary and company can climb down off the roof on which they have perched themselves to impress their Palestinian friends. But all we have to show for this is Palestinian stone-throwing, a dead Thai worker, a strained but not yet broken relationship with Israel, and further reason for Palestinians to do what they do best — play victim and demand unilateral concessions.

But nothing is more telling than the comments of Indyk, an adviser to Mitchell, who presumably channels the Obami’s thinking:

Martin S. Indyk, vice president for foreign studies at the Brookings Institution and an adviser to Mitchell, said the administration in the past 10 days has made the Israeli government “supersensitive” to the issue of Jerusalem. He praised the administration for not revealing its demands and said U.S. officials adroitly turned down the heat as quickly as they turned it up.

“I think they handled it quite well,” he said.

Supersensitive about their eternal capital? Well, that’s one way — a particularly nasty and undiplomatic way – to express it but also a telling admission of how the administration picked a fight on the one issue that unites Israelis and that no government could, short of a final-status deal, compromise on housing. And his boast of adroitness — does that include the BBC bragging? The onslaught of condemnations? And three cheers, Indyk is leading, for the attempt to wring out of our ally even more concessions!

You see the problem: the members of this crew are high-fiving themselves for continuing, albeit in quieter tones, the same losing strategy they’ve been pursuing from the get-go. So do they have a real strategy? Definitely — the most counterproductive and dangerous one imaginable.

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Hillary Boasts of Her Success

This report suggests that the Obami have learned exactly nothing from the smash-up with Israel over the Jerusalem housing expansion:

In an interview with the BBC’s Kim Ghattas today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the toughness of the U.S. reaction to the Israeli government’s East Jerusalem housing announcement last week is “paying off” as the U.S. now expects negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to resume.

She also said that contrary to some reports, the U.S. is not interested in forcing a shuffle in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. She said, however, that it’s Netanyahu’s responsibility to “make sure that he brings in everyone else” in his government he needs to to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians.

Hillary seems positively delighted with the crimp put in U.S.-Israeli relations. Do you think she’ll repeat that at her AIPAC appearance Monday morning? Or is boasting about roughing up Bibi just a morsel for consumption by the Israel-bashing BBC? Meanwhile, one wonders whether Hillary considers this among her successes:

While a tense calm has prevailed in the capital since rioting rocked its eastern neighborhoods Tuesday, Jerusalem Police on Thursday announced that the deployment of more than 3,000 police officers throughout the Old City and east Jerusalem would continue Friday, and access to the Temple Mount would be restricted, amid fears that prayers there could give way to renewed clashes.

The heightened police presence has been in effect since last Friday, when tensions in the area began to build and sporadic clashes erupted inside the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud.

I’m sure an imaginary condemnation is sure to follow.

This report suggests that the Obami have learned exactly nothing from the smash-up with Israel over the Jerusalem housing expansion:

In an interview with the BBC’s Kim Ghattas today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the toughness of the U.S. reaction to the Israeli government’s East Jerusalem housing announcement last week is “paying off” as the U.S. now expects negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians to resume.

She also said that contrary to some reports, the U.S. is not interested in forcing a shuffle in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. She said, however, that it’s Netanyahu’s responsibility to “make sure that he brings in everyone else” in his government he needs to to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians.

Hillary seems positively delighted with the crimp put in U.S.-Israeli relations. Do you think she’ll repeat that at her AIPAC appearance Monday morning? Or is boasting about roughing up Bibi just a morsel for consumption by the Israel-bashing BBC? Meanwhile, one wonders whether Hillary considers this among her successes:

While a tense calm has prevailed in the capital since rioting rocked its eastern neighborhoods Tuesday, Jerusalem Police on Thursday announced that the deployment of more than 3,000 police officers throughout the Old City and east Jerusalem would continue Friday, and access to the Temple Mount would be restricted, amid fears that prayers there could give way to renewed clashes.

The heightened police presence has been in effect since last Friday, when tensions in the area began to build and sporadic clashes erupted inside the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud.

I’m sure an imaginary condemnation is sure to follow.

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The Big Bang Bust

Last year I conveyed the news that the Big Bang redux had been delayed due to a naughty Frenchman from the future. Well, the Large Hadron Collider, which will smash atoms with such tremendous force that, well, I’ll let the BBC tell it (everything sounds better with a British accent anyway):

The ultimate aim is to collide particles head on at 14TeV to recreate the conditions in the moments after the Big Bang.

Scientists hope they will see new subatomic particles in the debris and gain insights into how the universe came into being, billions of years ago.

By the way, “14TeV” is scientific notation for “one more thing I have to look up on Wikipedia.”

Anyway, the collider thingee is on the fritz again, and will be taken off-line or off-bang at the end of 2011, delaying the project at least two more years.

As every German schoolchild knows, the universe is 13.75 billion years old, and is a Scorpio. Now had the real big bang been so clumsily handled by chance, it would have taken twice as long just to cook up a decent listeria monocytogenes, never mind Cleveland.

In other news, a South Korean man has married his pillow.

Don’t judge.

I think some intrepid reporter should ask President Obama just where he stands on the man-bedding marriage issue. I mean, it’s 2010 already. Free your mind! Is the love that dare not speak its name to be kept in the linen closet forever?

And yes, I agree, semaphore would have been more useful than those subtitles…

Last year I conveyed the news that the Big Bang redux had been delayed due to a naughty Frenchman from the future. Well, the Large Hadron Collider, which will smash atoms with such tremendous force that, well, I’ll let the BBC tell it (everything sounds better with a British accent anyway):

The ultimate aim is to collide particles head on at 14TeV to recreate the conditions in the moments after the Big Bang.

Scientists hope they will see new subatomic particles in the debris and gain insights into how the universe came into being, billions of years ago.

By the way, “14TeV” is scientific notation for “one more thing I have to look up on Wikipedia.”

Anyway, the collider thingee is on the fritz again, and will be taken off-line or off-bang at the end of 2011, delaying the project at least two more years.

As every German schoolchild knows, the universe is 13.75 billion years old, and is a Scorpio. Now had the real big bang been so clumsily handled by chance, it would have taken twice as long just to cook up a decent listeria monocytogenes, never mind Cleveland.

In other news, a South Korean man has married his pillow.

Don’t judge.

I think some intrepid reporter should ask President Obama just where he stands on the man-bedding marriage issue. I mean, it’s 2010 already. Free your mind! Is the love that dare not speak its name to be kept in the linen closet forever?

And yes, I agree, semaphore would have been more useful than those subtitles…

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Digging Deeper into Those Afghanistan Poll Numbers

The latest poll of Afghan opinion by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD of Germany — their fifth since 2005 — contains both good news and bad. Naturally the BBC account accentuates the negative: “People in Afghanistan have far less confidence in the direction their country is taking than four years ago, a new BBC/ABC opinion poll suggests.” But dig a little deeper in the full poll results and you find that, while more Afghans than ever before think their country is headed in the “wrong direction” (38 percent, up from 24 percent in 2007), due primarily to lack of security, only 4 percent would like to be ruled by the Taliban; 82 percent prefer the current government. Hamid Karzai’s popularity rating has slipped; today he is rated as “excellent” by only 16 percent, down from 26 percent in 2007 and a whopping 45 percent in 2005. But if you combine the number who still rate him as an “excellent,” “good,” or “fair” leader, you still get to 81 percent of the population; only 18 percent describe him as a “poor” president.

Moreover, while support for the U.S. has fallen, largely, I suspect, because U.S. troops haven’t delivered security for most people, 63 percent still support the presence of U.S. troops (36 percent oppose), and 69 percent think the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 was a good thing. By contrast, Taliban fighters are supported by just 8 percent of the population and opposed by 90 percent. Moreover, when asked who is to blame for the violence occurring in their country, only 18 percent blame the U.S.; 49 percent blame the Taliban or foreign jihadists.

In short, this polls suggests that, though the U.S. has its work cut out for it in Afghanistan, there is a considerable base of public support that our troops can tap into — and more important, public revulsion against the enemy they are fighting, the Taliban. The Russians in the 1980s had nowhere near this level of support. If NATO forces do a better job of beating back the Taliban, expect their support to go from merely high, which it is today, back to the stellar levels recorded in 2005, when 68 percent gave the U.S. forces good or excellent marks for their job performance (now down to 32 percent).

The latest poll of Afghan opinion by ABC News, the BBC, and ARD of Germany — their fifth since 2005 — contains both good news and bad. Naturally the BBC account accentuates the negative: “People in Afghanistan have far less confidence in the direction their country is taking than four years ago, a new BBC/ABC opinion poll suggests.” But dig a little deeper in the full poll results and you find that, while more Afghans than ever before think their country is headed in the “wrong direction” (38 percent, up from 24 percent in 2007), due primarily to lack of security, only 4 percent would like to be ruled by the Taliban; 82 percent prefer the current government. Hamid Karzai’s popularity rating has slipped; today he is rated as “excellent” by only 16 percent, down from 26 percent in 2007 and a whopping 45 percent in 2005. But if you combine the number who still rate him as an “excellent,” “good,” or “fair” leader, you still get to 81 percent of the population; only 18 percent describe him as a “poor” president.

Moreover, while support for the U.S. has fallen, largely, I suspect, because U.S. troops haven’t delivered security for most people, 63 percent still support the presence of U.S. troops (36 percent oppose), and 69 percent think the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 was a good thing. By contrast, Taliban fighters are supported by just 8 percent of the population and opposed by 90 percent. Moreover, when asked who is to blame for the violence occurring in their country, only 18 percent blame the U.S.; 49 percent blame the Taliban or foreign jihadists.

In short, this polls suggests that, though the U.S. has its work cut out for it in Afghanistan, there is a considerable base of public support that our troops can tap into — and more important, public revulsion against the enemy they are fighting, the Taliban. The Russians in the 1980s had nowhere near this level of support. If NATO forces do a better job of beating back the Taliban, expect their support to go from merely high, which it is today, back to the stellar levels recorded in 2005, when 68 percent gave the U.S. forces good or excellent marks for their job performance (now down to 32 percent).

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Unilateral Moves and Countermoves

Interviewed by BBC Arabic this weekend, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denied reports that he would seek UN Security Council approval for unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state. Rather, he said, “We will turn to the United Nations and the Security Council to strengthen what has been agreed on in the road map and approved by the Security Council, a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders.”

That may sound innocuous. But in fact, Security Council acquiescence to this proposal would both radically alter the current international position and demolish the already faltering principle that the talks’ outcome should not be prejudiced by unilateral action.

While most of the world already believes the 1967 lines should be the final border, the formal basis for the talks remains Security Council Resolution 242, which says no such thing. This resolution purposefully required an Israeli withdrawal only from “territories” captured in 1967, not “the territories” or “all the territories.” As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted 242, explained, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” America’s then UN ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, similarly said the two omitted words “were not accidental …. the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” This was equally clear to the Soviet Union and Arab states, which is why they unsuccessfully pushed to include those extra words.

Formally, therefore, the final border is subject to negotiations: The Palestinians can seek the 1967 lines, but Israel is free to seek to retain parts of the territories. However, should the council endorse “a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders,” this would no longer be true: Instead, the world would have formally adopted the Palestinian position in a binding resolution — thereby blatantly prejudicing the outcome of the talks.

Ironically, this could force Israel to respond with accelerated unilateral action of its own: settlement construction, and perhaps even formal annexation. A major spur to continued settlement construction in recent years has been the escalating international pressure on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which led Jerusalem to conclude that its only chance of retaining areas it deems critical for its security was to put so many people there that moving them would be impossible. If this pressure switched from de facto to de jure, more aggressive Israeli countermeasures might become necessary.

In contrast, had the world really treated the border as negotiable rather than openly backed the Palestinian position, Israel could have agreed to freeze settlement construction, because creating “facts on the ground” would not have been necessary to protect its interests.

An escalating war of unilateral moves and countermoves would not be conducive to any agreement. That might not disturb Abbas, who has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for dictated rather than negotiated solutions. But it ought to disturb all those Security Council members who claim to view an Israeli-Palestinian agreement as top priority.

Interviewed by BBC Arabic this weekend, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas denied reports that he would seek UN Security Council approval for unilaterally declaring a Palestinian state. Rather, he said, “We will turn to the United Nations and the Security Council to strengthen what has been agreed on in the road map and approved by the Security Council, a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders.”

That may sound innocuous. But in fact, Security Council acquiescence to this proposal would both radically alter the current international position and demolish the already faltering principle that the talks’ outcome should not be prejudiced by unilateral action.

While most of the world already believes the 1967 lines should be the final border, the formal basis for the talks remains Security Council Resolution 242, which says no such thing. This resolution purposefully required an Israeli withdrawal only from “territories” captured in 1967, not “the territories” or “all the territories.” As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted 242, explained, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” America’s then UN ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, similarly said the two omitted words “were not accidental …. the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” This was equally clear to the Soviet Union and Arab states, which is why they unsuccessfully pushed to include those extra words.

Formally, therefore, the final border is subject to negotiations: The Palestinians can seek the 1967 lines, but Israel is free to seek to retain parts of the territories. However, should the council endorse “a two-state solution based on the June 4, 1967 borders,” this would no longer be true: Instead, the world would have formally adopted the Palestinian position in a binding resolution — thereby blatantly prejudicing the outcome of the talks.

Ironically, this could force Israel to respond with accelerated unilateral action of its own: settlement construction, and perhaps even formal annexation. A major spur to continued settlement construction in recent years has been the escalating international pressure on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines, which led Jerusalem to conclude that its only chance of retaining areas it deems critical for its security was to put so many people there that moving them would be impossible. If this pressure switched from de facto to de jure, more aggressive Israeli countermeasures might become necessary.

In contrast, had the world really treated the border as negotiable rather than openly backed the Palestinian position, Israel could have agreed to freeze settlement construction, because creating “facts on the ground” would not have been necessary to protect its interests.

An escalating war of unilateral moves and countermoves would not be conducive to any agreement. That might not disturb Abbas, who has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for dictated rather than negotiated solutions. But it ought to disturb all those Security Council members who claim to view an Israeli-Palestinian agreement as top priority.

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Map Check

The central problem in foreign press coverage of Israel is the tendency of journalists to rewrite and sensationalize current events or, more commonly, to mischaracterize them into agreement with a preferred narrative. Take the brouhaha over Gilo. Many journalists would like to incorporate the Israeli decision to add housing to this neighborhood into the larger narrative about West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements encroaching on land slated for a future Palestinian state. It would be complicated if it was acknowledged, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out, that

The building of apartments in Gilo is irrelevant to [the] eventual disposition of Jerusalem because everyone — the Americans, the Palestinians and the Israelis — knows that Gilo … will undoubtedly end up in Israel as part of a negotiated solution. … It doesn’t matter, then, if the Israelis build 900 housing units in Gilo or 900 skyscrapers: Gilo will be kept by Israel in exchange for a one-to-one land swap with Palestine.

The narrative of dispossession would be even more profoundly challenged if it was acknowledged that Gilo isn’t even in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. It’s actually in Southwest Jerusalem. Type “Gilo Jerusalem” into Google Maps if you want to see for yourself. Yet almost every single story on the Gilo controversy locates the neighborhood in a completely different region — specifically, an Arab region — of Jerusalem. What’s even more remarkable is that most of these stories are written by reporters who are stationed in Jerusalem. These sloppy characters either don’t know the geography of their own backyard or are willfully misleading their readers.

So, here’s to you, Ben Hubbard of the AP, Katya Adler of the BBC, Fox News, the BBC (again), Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, Ben Lynfield of the UK Independent, Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor, and many more.

You have all flunked Journalism 101.

The central problem in foreign press coverage of Israel is the tendency of journalists to rewrite and sensationalize current events or, more commonly, to mischaracterize them into agreement with a preferred narrative. Take the brouhaha over Gilo. Many journalists would like to incorporate the Israeli decision to add housing to this neighborhood into the larger narrative about West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements encroaching on land slated for a future Palestinian state. It would be complicated if it was acknowledged, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out, that

The building of apartments in Gilo is irrelevant to [the] eventual disposition of Jerusalem because everyone — the Americans, the Palestinians and the Israelis — knows that Gilo … will undoubtedly end up in Israel as part of a negotiated solution. … It doesn’t matter, then, if the Israelis build 900 housing units in Gilo or 900 skyscrapers: Gilo will be kept by Israel in exchange for a one-to-one land swap with Palestine.

The narrative of dispossession would be even more profoundly challenged if it was acknowledged that Gilo isn’t even in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. It’s actually in Southwest Jerusalem. Type “Gilo Jerusalem” into Google Maps if you want to see for yourself. Yet almost every single story on the Gilo controversy locates the neighborhood in a completely different region — specifically, an Arab region — of Jerusalem. What’s even more remarkable is that most of these stories are written by reporters who are stationed in Jerusalem. These sloppy characters either don’t know the geography of their own backyard or are willfully misleading their readers.

So, here’s to you, Ben Hubbard of the AP, Katya Adler of the BBC, Fox News, the BBC (again), Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, Ben Lynfield of the UK Independent, Ilene Prusher of the Christian Science Monitor, and many more.

You have all flunked Journalism 101.

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The Beeb Observes Israel’s 60th

I couldn’t help but notice the petty, passive-aggressive graphics affixed to the BBC’s online coverage of Israel’s 60th anniversary. The banner across the top of the BBC’s “special report” features a graphic that combines the Israeli and Palestinian flags. And the graphic posted on several news pages advertising the special feature is a picture of the Al-Aqsa mosque with a Star of David superimposed over it — you know, just in case you weren’t clear on the true meaning of the occasion.

I couldn’t help but notice the petty, passive-aggressive graphics affixed to the BBC’s online coverage of Israel’s 60th anniversary. The banner across the top of the BBC’s “special report” features a graphic that combines the Israeli and Palestinian flags. And the graphic posted on several news pages advertising the special feature is a picture of the Al-Aqsa mosque with a Star of David superimposed over it — you know, just in case you weren’t clear on the true meaning of the occasion.

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The Orwellian Winner of the Orwell Prize

Our friend Tom Gross notes the disgusting publication of an openly anti-Semitic article by the star columnist in The Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers:

 Last Thursday Johann Hari, the leading political columnist for the British daily The Independent, received the (previously) highly prestigious Orwell Prize for political writing. The 29-year-old Hari “celebrated” by writing a vicious attack on Israel.

In his column in The Independent this week, he writes: “Whenever I try to mouth these words [of reassurance for Israel], a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit.”

In a modern day “poisoning of the wells” blood libel, Hari accuses Israel of deliberately polluting West Bank groundwater supplies.

Continuing his sewage analogy, Hari’s concludes his piece: “Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.”

Hari has a track record of slanderous anti-Israel opinion pieces. For example, he referred to the Virgin Mary (who was, of course, Jewish) as a “Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem”.

(In 2007, Hari was also named “Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He has also written for The New York Times and Le Monde.)

Hari’s “shit” piece this week is apparently considered so brilliant by other news editors that in the last two days it has been reproduced in The Canberra Times (in Australia) and The Irish Independent, as well on dozens of extreme left and extreme-right anti-Israel websites.

One would be tempted to ignore The Guardian and The Independent but they are overwhelmingly the papers of choice subscribed to by other journalists, particularly staff at the BBC and Reuters in London, and also by school teachers and university professors in the UK and elsewhere.

Our friend Tom Gross notes the disgusting publication of an openly anti-Semitic article by the star columnist in The Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers:

 Last Thursday Johann Hari, the leading political columnist for the British daily The Independent, received the (previously) highly prestigious Orwell Prize for political writing. The 29-year-old Hari “celebrated” by writing a vicious attack on Israel.

In his column in The Independent this week, he writes: “Whenever I try to mouth these words [of reassurance for Israel], a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit.”

In a modern day “poisoning of the wells” blood libel, Hari accuses Israel of deliberately polluting West Bank groundwater supplies.

Continuing his sewage analogy, Hari’s concludes his piece: “Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.”

Hari has a track record of slanderous anti-Israel opinion pieces. For example, he referred to the Virgin Mary (who was, of course, Jewish) as a “Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem”.

(In 2007, Hari was also named “Newspaper Journalist of the Year” by Amnesty International. He has also written for The New York Times and Le Monde.)

Hari’s “shit” piece this week is apparently considered so brilliant by other news editors that in the last two days it has been reproduced in The Canberra Times (in Australia) and The Irish Independent, as well on dozens of extreme left and extreme-right anti-Israel websites.

One would be tempted to ignore The Guardian and The Independent but they are overwhelmingly the papers of choice subscribed to by other journalists, particularly staff at the BBC and Reuters in London, and also by school teachers and university professors in the UK and elsewhere.

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Nothing to See Here

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

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Iran’s at War . . . with Us

General Petraeus has told the BBC that Iran was behind the mortar and rocket fire that fell on the Green Zone on Sunday. When are we going to wake up to the fact that Iran is waging war on us? And, alas, being pretty effective in doing so.

You can make the case that the way to deal with Iran is to appease it. That’s not the tack I would take (and in fact I would argue that the accomodationist policy of outgoing Centcom commander Fox Fallon was taken as a sign of weakness by the Iranians). But it’s one possible policy choice.

But whatever we choose to do, let’s at least be honest about what Iran is up to. Many refuse to look squarely at the facts. Thus too often we hear that, notwithstanding the copious evidence of Iranian-orchestrated attacks on coalition forces in Iraq, there is no “proof” that the senior leadership in Tehran knows what’s going on. The only way the mullahs could miss it is if they don’t listen to the BBC and don’t receive reports on what the BBC is saying. That’s really stretching credulity a bit too far.

General Petraeus has told the BBC that Iran was behind the mortar and rocket fire that fell on the Green Zone on Sunday. When are we going to wake up to the fact that Iran is waging war on us? And, alas, being pretty effective in doing so.

You can make the case that the way to deal with Iran is to appease it. That’s not the tack I would take (and in fact I would argue that the accomodationist policy of outgoing Centcom commander Fox Fallon was taken as a sign of weakness by the Iranians). But it’s one possible policy choice.

But whatever we choose to do, let’s at least be honest about what Iran is up to. Many refuse to look squarely at the facts. Thus too often we hear that, notwithstanding the copious evidence of Iranian-orchestrated attacks on coalition forces in Iraq, there is no “proof” that the senior leadership in Tehran knows what’s going on. The only way the mullahs could miss it is if they don’t listen to the BBC and don’t receive reports on what the BBC is saying. That’s really stretching credulity a bit too far.

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Tibet Aflame

Is Tibet burning? It is, literally and figuratively, especially in Lhasa, the capital of China’s so-called Tibet Autonomous Region. There, hundreds of monks and others fought with police today and have, according to the BBC, succeeded in taking control of the center of the city. Deaths have been reported. The Chinese government has effectively imposed martial law. Nonetheless, Tibetans continue to attack any symbol of the Chinese presence in what they consider their homeland. There are reports of disturbances in other Tibetan parts of China, such as Gansu province.

The Lhasa demonstrations began on Monday to mark the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. The disturbances are the biggest in the Tibetan capital since the pro-independence protests of 1989.

The American response has been uninspiring. “We believe Beijing needs to respect Tibetan culture,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto this morning at a press gaggle aboard Air Force One. “They need to respect multi-ethnicity in their society.” What the Chinese really need to do is immediately end their program of forced assimilation and political repression, what many have called a campaign of “cultural genocide.” Eventually, they need to leave traditional Tibetan lands. It is a tragedy that the Chinese misrule themselves; it is a crime they insist on ruining Tibet.

Predictably, Western governments have been calling on Beijing to have a “dialogue” with the Dalai Lama. Chinese leaders have not done that, despite His Holiness making significant concessions to pave the way for conversations. After years of Beijing’s intransigence on Tibet, the White House should have known that its words would have no effect on Chinese leaders.

Western nations cannot, as a practical matter, stop the Chinese from killing Tibetans in their capital. Yet Americans and others can show revulsion for Beijing’s goals and abhorrence of its tactics by downgrading their contacts with the modern Chinese state—preferably starting this afternoon. The White House should, among other things, cancel the President’s ill-advised trip to the Beijing Olympics this August. Our State Department should reverse Tuesday’s inexplicable decision to drop China from the list of the world’s ten worst human rights abusers. And if President Bush really means what he says about freedom and self-rule, it’s time for him to realize that this is where the rest of his legacy can be made or lost.

Is Tibet burning? It is, literally and figuratively, especially in Lhasa, the capital of China’s so-called Tibet Autonomous Region. There, hundreds of monks and others fought with police today and have, according to the BBC, succeeded in taking control of the center of the city. Deaths have been reported. The Chinese government has effectively imposed martial law. Nonetheless, Tibetans continue to attack any symbol of the Chinese presence in what they consider their homeland. There are reports of disturbances in other Tibetan parts of China, such as Gansu province.

The Lhasa demonstrations began on Monday to mark the anniversary of the failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. The disturbances are the biggest in the Tibetan capital since the pro-independence protests of 1989.

The American response has been uninspiring. “We believe Beijing needs to respect Tibetan culture,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto this morning at a press gaggle aboard Air Force One. “They need to respect multi-ethnicity in their society.” What the Chinese really need to do is immediately end their program of forced assimilation and political repression, what many have called a campaign of “cultural genocide.” Eventually, they need to leave traditional Tibetan lands. It is a tragedy that the Chinese misrule themselves; it is a crime they insist on ruining Tibet.

Predictably, Western governments have been calling on Beijing to have a “dialogue” with the Dalai Lama. Chinese leaders have not done that, despite His Holiness making significant concessions to pave the way for conversations. After years of Beijing’s intransigence on Tibet, the White House should have known that its words would have no effect on Chinese leaders.

Western nations cannot, as a practical matter, stop the Chinese from killing Tibetans in their capital. Yet Americans and others can show revulsion for Beijing’s goals and abhorrence of its tactics by downgrading their contacts with the modern Chinese state—preferably starting this afternoon. The White House should, among other things, cancel the President’s ill-advised trip to the Beijing Olympics this August. Our State Department should reverse Tuesday’s inexplicable decision to drop China from the list of the world’s ten worst human rights abusers. And if President Bush really means what he says about freedom and self-rule, it’s time for him to realize that this is where the rest of his legacy can be made or lost.

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Europe’s Wavering . . .

The BBC has released a survey of public opinion in 31 countries on Iran’s nuclear program and how to confront it. Conducted after the release of the NIE, its findings are what one would expect. Support for tougher measures against Iran has dropped in all but four countries: Turkey, South Korea, Israel and China. And in only three countries was support for tougher measures higher than support for diplomacy or no action at all: Israel, South Korea, and the U.S.

Of all the swings in opinion across the world, it is the picture in Europe that gives most reasons to worry. German support for softer measures jumped from 48 to 61 percent of respondents. In Great Britain the swing was from 53 to 57 percent. In Spain it went from 49 to 54 percent. In Italy support for a softer approach shifted slightly, from 55 to 56 percent. In France it remained steady at 54 percent.

This means that all the European countries most involved diplomatically and economically in efforts to dissuade Iran from pursuing its uranium enrichment program are the ones where the public’s appetite for tougher action–never too strong in the first place–has shrunk considerably. Given intelligence assessments of how close Iran may be to the point of no return, this is bad news. Governments will find it hard to make a case for more sanctions, let alone the possibility of military action if sanctions fail. It leaves the burden of action on those countries where governments and people agree on the threat that Iran poses-the U.S. and Israel.

But it also raises a question about the failure of governments to educate their public to the strategic environment they confront or the success of influential media outlets to obfuscate it. The BBC’s commentary on its own poll is a case in point. The organization preferred to say that “the U.S. government says it still sees Iran as a significant danger, and Israel says it believes it is aiming to build nuclear weapons.” The fact is that the U.S and Israel are far from being the only ones concerned about the true nature of Iran’s nuclear aims. Former French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy denounced Iran’s nuclear activities as a cover for a “clandestine weapons program” two years ago. And as late as last week, the EU-3 (France, Germany and Great Britain) questioned Iran’s responses to the IAEA because of evidence-based concerns that Iran is studying “how to weaponize nuclear materials.”

And as shown by growing support for tougher sanctions in Turkey, Iran’s neighbor, and South Korea, a country threatened by its nuclear neighbor, there is still serious international belief in the threat posed by Iran’s enrichment aims. But the BBC prefers to suggest that Israel and the U.S. are disingenuous warmongers, that Iran’s program is presented by these two countries as a threat but is in fact harmless. No wonder that public opinion in Europe is shifting.

The BBC has released a survey of public opinion in 31 countries on Iran’s nuclear program and how to confront it. Conducted after the release of the NIE, its findings are what one would expect. Support for tougher measures against Iran has dropped in all but four countries: Turkey, South Korea, Israel and China. And in only three countries was support for tougher measures higher than support for diplomacy or no action at all: Israel, South Korea, and the U.S.

Of all the swings in opinion across the world, it is the picture in Europe that gives most reasons to worry. German support for softer measures jumped from 48 to 61 percent of respondents. In Great Britain the swing was from 53 to 57 percent. In Spain it went from 49 to 54 percent. In Italy support for a softer approach shifted slightly, from 55 to 56 percent. In France it remained steady at 54 percent.

This means that all the European countries most involved diplomatically and economically in efforts to dissuade Iran from pursuing its uranium enrichment program are the ones where the public’s appetite for tougher action–never too strong in the first place–has shrunk considerably. Given intelligence assessments of how close Iran may be to the point of no return, this is bad news. Governments will find it hard to make a case for more sanctions, let alone the possibility of military action if sanctions fail. It leaves the burden of action on those countries where governments and people agree on the threat that Iran poses-the U.S. and Israel.

But it also raises a question about the failure of governments to educate their public to the strategic environment they confront or the success of influential media outlets to obfuscate it. The BBC’s commentary on its own poll is a case in point. The organization preferred to say that “the U.S. government says it still sees Iran as a significant danger, and Israel says it believes it is aiming to build nuclear weapons.” The fact is that the U.S and Israel are far from being the only ones concerned about the true nature of Iran’s nuclear aims. Former French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy denounced Iran’s nuclear activities as a cover for a “clandestine weapons program” two years ago. And as late as last week, the EU-3 (France, Germany and Great Britain) questioned Iran’s responses to the IAEA because of evidence-based concerns that Iran is studying “how to weaponize nuclear materials.”

And as shown by growing support for tougher sanctions in Turkey, Iran’s neighbor, and South Korea, a country threatened by its nuclear neighbor, there is still serious international belief in the threat posed by Iran’s enrichment aims. But the BBC prefers to suggest that Israel and the U.S. are disingenuous warmongers, that Iran’s program is presented by these two countries as a threat but is in fact harmless. No wonder that public opinion in Europe is shifting.

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The Politics of Cynicism

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

Two revelations in the past couple of weeks have raised the question of whether Barack Obama’s “politics of hope” is transmogrifying into the politics of cynicism.

First we learned that Austan Goolsbee, Obama’s chief economic adviser, was cited in a memo by a Canadian consular official in Chicago as saying in a private meeting that Obama’s vocal opposition to NAFTA doesn’t reflect his real views. Rather, according to the memo, Obama’s arguments are based on political positioning. (Goolsbee disputes the characterization of the memo.) We then we learned that Samantha Power, at the time a key Obama foreign policy adviser (she has since resigned for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”), said on the BBC TV show Hardtalk said that Obama’s commitment to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months is simply a “best-case scenario.”

The Hardtalk host asked, “So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn’t a commitment?”

Power went on to tell the New Statesman in an interview:

You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.

The Obama campaign reacted by saying that his commitment to withdraw combat troops within 16 months is “rock solid.”

As it happens, I hope both Goolsbee and Power are right in what they say about Senator Obama’s true views on both NAFTA and Iraq. Their positions are certainly more responsible than the positions Senator Obama has taken on the campaign trail.

At the same time, Obama is running as a candidate who will transcend the usual politics. He’s spoken out forcefully against cynicism and fashioned himself as the candidate of “hope” and “change”–someone whom we can believe in, someone whose words and commitments can be counted on. So when two top aides are essentially saying that we shouldn’t take all that seriously what Obama is saying on two key issues, it raises question marks about his authenticity and candor. As the New York Times put it on Saturday, “[the Power controversy] is the second time in two weeks that the actions of a top aide have forced Mr. Obama to defend the idea that he means what he says–hardly the ideal situation for a candidate who asks voters to trust his judgment and integrity.”

Obama is apparently making promises that he knows will be problematic to keep if he were to win the presidency. But by putting forward the belief that he is something different, and something better, than most politicians, he’s creating problems for himself. The best thing for Obama to do is to run his campaign in an honest manner, one in which he says what he believes and qualifies what deserves qualification. Among the advantages of this approach is that it wouldn’t require him to say one thing now, for public (liberal) consumption, and plan to do something different if he were elected president.

In a powerful 1991 speech the playwright Vaclav Havel, then president of Czechoslovakia, spoke about the temptations of political power. In his remarks Havel said

I am one of those people who consider their term in political office as an expression of responsibility and duty toward the whole community, and even as a sort of sacrifice. But, observing other politicians whom I know very well and who make the same claim, I feel compelled again and again to examine my own motives and ask whether I am not beginning to deceive myself . . . Those who claim that politics is a dirty business are lying to us. Politics is work of a kind that requires especially pure people, because it is especially easy to become morally tainted. So easy, in fact, that a less vigilant spirit may not notice it happening at all.

I’ve had favorable things to say about Senator Obama, who has struck me as a fairly admirable, if left-leaning, figure. But it’s fair to ask now, in light of what we’re learning about Senator Obama, whether the Audacity of hope is gradually giving way to the audacity of politics.

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Re: No Great Shakes Either

Samantha Power has resigned, but not before she was caught telling the BBC “never mind” about Obama’s promise to pull out of Iraq in 16 months. It appears to be a full time job for Barack Obama’s advisers, like Power and Austan Goolsbee, to tell people around the world that their candidate does not mean what he says.

On one hand, this could be good news: Obama might not really favor ripping up NAFTA and may not really mean to yank American troops out of Iraq immediately and without regard to the conditions on the ground. However, I suspect the Obama team will quickly come rushing forward to say, “No! No! We really do believe in economic and military retreat as an article of American foreign policy.” John McCain must be rubbing that lucky penny he keeps in his pocket. Political gifts like this don’t come along every day.

Samantha Power has resigned, but not before she was caught telling the BBC “never mind” about Obama’s promise to pull out of Iraq in 16 months. It appears to be a full time job for Barack Obama’s advisers, like Power and Austan Goolsbee, to tell people around the world that their candidate does not mean what he says.

On one hand, this could be good news: Obama might not really favor ripping up NAFTA and may not really mean to yank American troops out of Iraq immediately and without regard to the conditions on the ground. However, I suspect the Obama team will quickly come rushing forward to say, “No! No! We really do believe in economic and military retreat as an article of American foreign policy.” John McCain must be rubbing that lucky penny he keeps in his pocket. Political gifts like this don’t come along every day.

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