Commentary Magazine


Topic: Britain

Britain’s “Isolation”

One of the minor mysteries of the Euro crisis is why markets have been so eager to be taken in by the latest European effort to kick the can down the road. Every time it gets harder to kick the can a reasonable distance, and every time the interval between kicks gets shorter. This time, the interval between the creation of a so-called fiscal union in Europe and a renewed loss of market confidence was barely 72 hours. It’s like a Godzilla movie where the army steadily deploys bigger and bigger weapons, only to find that even an atomic bomb barely slows the monster down. And at some point, you can’t escalate any further.

I understand why the Europeans keep on kicking – as long as they’re alive, they’re not dead, and giving up on the Euro means giving up on the European project and the world view that goes along with it. What I don’t understand is why markets buy for a moment the idea that manipulation of EU structures can solve the underlying economic, monetary, and fiscal problems that have created the crisis. Similarly, the argument that the ECB or Germany should step in and settle everyone else’s tab ignores the minor but possibly relevant fact that neither actually have the resources to do so, and the further relevant fact that the ECB’s legal authorities are as limited as the German people’s patience.

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One of the minor mysteries of the Euro crisis is why markets have been so eager to be taken in by the latest European effort to kick the can down the road. Every time it gets harder to kick the can a reasonable distance, and every time the interval between kicks gets shorter. This time, the interval between the creation of a so-called fiscal union in Europe and a renewed loss of market confidence was barely 72 hours. It’s like a Godzilla movie where the army steadily deploys bigger and bigger weapons, only to find that even an atomic bomb barely slows the monster down. And at some point, you can’t escalate any further.

I understand why the Europeans keep on kicking – as long as they’re alive, they’re not dead, and giving up on the Euro means giving up on the European project and the world view that goes along with it. What I don’t understand is why markets buy for a moment the idea that manipulation of EU structures can solve the underlying economic, monetary, and fiscal problems that have created the crisis. Similarly, the argument that the ECB or Germany should step in and settle everyone else’s tab ignores the minor but possibly relevant fact that neither actually have the resources to do so, and the further relevant fact that the ECB’s legal authorities are as limited as the German people’s patience.

Another small mystery is why David Cameron’s rejection of the fiscal union has touched off such a firestorm of contempt among the intelligentsia. “Britain isolated!” shriek the FT, the New York Times, and virtually ever other organ of the wise and the great, who in their smug wisdom declared the Euro a sure thing a decade ago. These claims about isolation are, frankly, nonsense. Britain is no more isolated than Canada. Britain is a member of the world’s foremost security alliance, NATO, and of its foremost trading organization, the WTO, as well as a myriad of other institutions. It is obviously less “isolated” than Norway or Switzerland. The only way Britain is isolated is if the EU is the world, which gives you a pretty clear sense of how Europhiles think about Brussels. What’s less clear is why anyone else should adopt that delusion.

The paradox of David Cameron is that, having devoted the better part of a decade to trying to get the Tory Party to shut up about Europe, at the cost of considerable unhappiness among a lot of Tory MPs, he now finds his popularity soaring because he stood up to Europe. The bounce in the YouGov polling from December 7 to December 13 is a nine point swing, about the same as Obama got when bin Laden was killed. There’s a slogan for you: “The EU: Now as popular in Britain as Osama!” Unfortunately, Cameron has never understood that Europe is not an issue merely because crazy Tories talk about it. It’s an issue because Europe is, actually, an issue. It’s not frequently a salient issue, and there is something to be said for Cameron’s belief that rambling on about Europe at all times is not the way to win elections, but if there was ever a moment for Cameron to tack right and hold a referendum repatriating powers from Brussels, this is that moment.

To me, the funniest – and most revealing – part of the entire affair is the argument that Britain will suffer for its “isolation.” The nicer version of the argument holds that the EU is about to make a lot of rules – or, to be more exact, about to make even more rules – that will be bad for Britain, and Britain needs to be at the table to mitigate the damage they’ll do. The less nice version of the argument is that the EU, long generous and forbearing towards an ever-wayward Britain, will now lose patience and wreak a mighty vengeance upon it. Given the EU’s current difficulties, this makes me chuckle. No matter which version of the argument is proffered, though, it comes down to the underlying assumption that the EU is akin to a hostage-taker who punishes disobedience by his captives. That may be so. But if it is so, why stick around at all?

Because Britain needs to keep on contributing a net billions of pounds to the EU? Because, in a WTO world, it fears trade discrimination? Because Europe, desperate to sell its debt and attract investment, is going to shut out the City of London? Because Britain needs the regulatory burden the EU imposes, or wants to be part of Europe’s mini-reset with Russia? The problem with the semi-disguised threats the EU’s self-proclaimed friends in Britain (and the U.S.) are now dispensing is they tend to suggest that Cameron has not yet gone nearly far enough.

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The Good Old Days? No Thanks.

Two weeks ago, I posted about a chart that plotted fertility against life expectancy over the past 50 years. It showed how the former dropped sharply in most countries as the latter increased, one reason why the “population explosion” that was supposed to turn the world into Bangladesh isn’t going to happen.

Here’s another animated chart. This one plots life expectancy against per capita income over the past 200 years for 200 countries around the world. In 1810, the whole world was poor and died young. Life, in Thomas Hobbes’s famous phrase, was “nasty, brutish, and short.” Even Britain, the richest country in the world at the time, was, by modern standards, very poor.

But over the past 200 years, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, which greatly accelerated the rate of economic growth, the world has gotten much richer, and that wealth has spread across the socioeconomic spectrum. Thanks to vastly improved public health and medical technology — funded by the new wealth — life expectancy has greatly increased. At first, these trends were confined to the West. But especially in the past 50 years, they have spread to more and more countries, and the percentage of people still living Hobbesian lives has greatly declined.

The phrase “the good old days” was coined in the 1840s, just as the Industrial Revolution was kicking into high gear, and the remembered past, at least for the elderly, began to differ markedly from the present for the first time in human history. The great New York diarist Philip Hone, then in his 60s, wrote in 1844 that “this world is going too fast. Improvements, politics, reform, religion — all fly. Railroads, steamers, packets, race against time and beat it hollow. Flying is dangerous. By and by we shall have balloons and pass over to Europe between sun and sun. Oh, for the good old days of heavy post-coaches and speed at the rate of six miles an hour!”

As the chart shows, the change that Hone felt threatened by has been overwhelmingly for the good for nearly everyone. The good old days he nostalgically looked back on were not so good.

Two weeks ago, I posted about a chart that plotted fertility against life expectancy over the past 50 years. It showed how the former dropped sharply in most countries as the latter increased, one reason why the “population explosion” that was supposed to turn the world into Bangladesh isn’t going to happen.

Here’s another animated chart. This one plots life expectancy against per capita income over the past 200 years for 200 countries around the world. In 1810, the whole world was poor and died young. Life, in Thomas Hobbes’s famous phrase, was “nasty, brutish, and short.” Even Britain, the richest country in the world at the time, was, by modern standards, very poor.

But over the past 200 years, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, which greatly accelerated the rate of economic growth, the world has gotten much richer, and that wealth has spread across the socioeconomic spectrum. Thanks to vastly improved public health and medical technology — funded by the new wealth — life expectancy has greatly increased. At first, these trends were confined to the West. But especially in the past 50 years, they have spread to more and more countries, and the percentage of people still living Hobbesian lives has greatly declined.

The phrase “the good old days” was coined in the 1840s, just as the Industrial Revolution was kicking into high gear, and the remembered past, at least for the elderly, began to differ markedly from the present for the first time in human history. The great New York diarist Philip Hone, then in his 60s, wrote in 1844 that “this world is going too fast. Improvements, politics, reform, religion — all fly. Railroads, steamers, packets, race against time and beat it hollow. Flying is dangerous. By and by we shall have balloons and pass over to Europe between sun and sun. Oh, for the good old days of heavy post-coaches and speed at the rate of six miles an hour!”

As the chart shows, the change that Hone felt threatened by has been overwhelmingly for the good for nearly everyone. The good old days he nostalgically looked back on were not so good.

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A Policy That Pleases No One

In a private meeting with British MEPs on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman is reported to have said: “Washington wants a clearer British commitment to remain in the EU. … [A]ll key issues must run through Europe.” He was not expressing a personal preference. He was reiterating the administration’s policy. After all, it was the vice president who last May described Brussels as “the capital of the free world.” But this is not a policy that is likely to achieve results satisfactory to anyone.

I wrote my doctoral thesis on the first British application to the EEC in 1961 and, more broadly, on the European issue in British politics from 1956 to 1963, so I’ve had 10 painful years of slogging through thousands of pages of public and private documents on this subject. The reactions of the British people to the negotiations to enter the EEC in 1961 to 1963 are particularly relevant to the ambassador’s statement and the administration’s policy. Harold Macmillan’s government took these reactions so seriously that it carried out a secret survey of public opinion — surveying the public in this way was then a rather novel idea — to figure out if it was winning or losing, and why. (As it happened, it was losing,)

The survey found that opposition to joining the EEC centered, first, on loyalty to kith and kin in the Commonwealth. Second came the somewhat parochial concerns of the farmers, who were worried (and how wrong they turned out to be) that the Common Agricultural Policy wouldn’t ship enough money their way. Less significant than both of these sentiments, but still important, came the belief that Britain was only entering Europe because the U.S. had ordered it to do so and that the U.S. was collaborating with the EEC in an attack on British sovereignty. As a matter of fact, this was not fully true. The U.S. did strongly support British entry, but Macmillan wasn’t simply being ordered around. He had his own reasons for his policy. Indeed, he had so many reasons that it is almost impossible to answer the seeming simple question “Why did Britain apply for entry?” Read More

In a private meeting with British MEPs on Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman is reported to have said: “Washington wants a clearer British commitment to remain in the EU. … [A]ll key issues must run through Europe.” He was not expressing a personal preference. He was reiterating the administration’s policy. After all, it was the vice president who last May described Brussels as “the capital of the free world.” But this is not a policy that is likely to achieve results satisfactory to anyone.

I wrote my doctoral thesis on the first British application to the EEC in 1961 and, more broadly, on the European issue in British politics from 1956 to 1963, so I’ve had 10 painful years of slogging through thousands of pages of public and private documents on this subject. The reactions of the British people to the negotiations to enter the EEC in 1961 to 1963 are particularly relevant to the ambassador’s statement and the administration’s policy. Harold Macmillan’s government took these reactions so seriously that it carried out a secret survey of public opinion — surveying the public in this way was then a rather novel idea — to figure out if it was winning or losing, and why. (As it happened, it was losing,)

The survey found that opposition to joining the EEC centered, first, on loyalty to kith and kin in the Commonwealth. Second came the somewhat parochial concerns of the farmers, who were worried (and how wrong they turned out to be) that the Common Agricultural Policy wouldn’t ship enough money their way. Less significant than both of these sentiments, but still important, came the belief that Britain was only entering Europe because the U.S. had ordered it to do so and that the U.S. was collaborating with the EEC in an attack on British sovereignty. As a matter of fact, this was not fully true. The U.S. did strongly support British entry, but Macmillan wasn’t simply being ordered around. He had his own reasons for his policy. Indeed, he had so many reasons that it is almost impossible to answer the seeming simple question “Why did Britain apply for entry?”

The problem with the Obama administration’s policy — which has basically been the policy of most U.S. administrations since 1961, with the partial exception of the more Euroskeptic tenure of George W. Bush — is that it raises these concerns about American bullying all over again, and raises them in a uniquely unhelpful way. Let us suppose for a moment that you desire — as I do not — that Britain should remain in the EU. U.S. declarations to this effect do nothing to convince those skeptical of this policy, because they suggest that the U.S. is cooperating with the EU to destroy British sovereignty, which is precisely why the skeptics are opposed to EU membership in the first place. Americans who desire Britain to stay in will best achieve this aim by not talking about it.

On the other hand, if you favor British withdrawal, it is regrettably true that the ambassador’s statements will anger the Euroskeptics — who tend to be more pro-American — and damage the Special Relationship by suggesting that the Americans have more or less given up on the idea of Britain as a sovereign and self-governing partner. The result is not to encourage strong Anglo-American relations; it is to encourage weaker British relations with both Europe and the U.S. Paradoxically, again, Americans who believe Britain should leave the EU have little to gain from statements like the ambassador’s, no matter how much public uproar they cause in Britain.

I am tempted to say it’s amazing that the administration has come upon a policy in this realm that will not achieve good results for anyone, no matter what they believe. But, as events in other parts of the world are illustrating, they seem to have a positive knack for this kind of thing.

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Is It 1848 in the Arab World?

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

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Churchill, Edward VIII, and ‘Arms and the Covenant’

Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like The King’s Speech. Not because of its cinematic qualities, which he appreciates, but because of its political ones. According to him, the movie is a “a gross falsification of history” because it shows Churchill as “generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication” and because it neglects to portray Edward VIII as “a firm admirer of the Third Reich” and George VI as an appeaser and anti-Churchill.

When I first read Hitchens’s piece, my mind flashed back to an article Hitchens contributed to the Atlantic in July/August 2002, an article that, as the subtitle puts it, “takes the Great Man down a peg or two.” It occasioned a characteristically understated and effective response from my adviser Paul Kennedy, who pointed out the “misinformation” that Hitchens appeared to be circulating. Not at all abashed, Hitchens continues to regret that “it seems we shall never reach a time when the Churchill cult is open for honest inspection.”

It’s curious that Hitchens both criticizes the “Churchill cult” for supporting the Great Man, and George VI for supposedly failing to do so. But Hitchens is shooting at several targets simultaneously: Churchill for being a monarchist, and the monarchy for existing. When coupled with his opposition to appeasement, the result is not always convincing.

Of Edward VIII, let us say little. Hitchens may be putting it too strongly when he characterizes him as firmly committed to the Third Reich — Edward was too self-centered and witless to be firmly committed to anything but his own desires, which was why he didn’t last long on the throne — but there’s no doubt he was an embarrassment and a liability. Fortunately, his ability to do mischief was seriously limited by the fact that he was a constitutional monarch. And, regrettably, his opinions were far from unique: in mid-1930s Britain, they were held by many people whose views mattered a good deal more than his.

George VI deserved better than he gets from Hitchens, who believes that the monarch’s supposedly shabby history “can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.” Yes, George supported Chamberlain and initially distrusted Churchill. In this, he was sadly far from unusual. What Hitchens doesn’t point out is that, once Churchill was in charge, George gave him — in the words of David Cannadine, a far from friendly historian — “loyal and increasingly admiring support throughout the war.” If Hitchens wants to call out the monarchy’s errors before May 1940, that’s fine; but there’s no “post-fabricated myth of its participation in ‘Britain’s finest hour.’” The participation was real, and if George had a bad peace, he had a good war. The same can be said of many others. Read More

Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like The King’s Speech. Not because of its cinematic qualities, which he appreciates, but because of its political ones. According to him, the movie is a “a gross falsification of history” because it shows Churchill as “generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication” and because it neglects to portray Edward VIII as “a firm admirer of the Third Reich” and George VI as an appeaser and anti-Churchill.

When I first read Hitchens’s piece, my mind flashed back to an article Hitchens contributed to the Atlantic in July/August 2002, an article that, as the subtitle puts it, “takes the Great Man down a peg or two.” It occasioned a characteristically understated and effective response from my adviser Paul Kennedy, who pointed out the “misinformation” that Hitchens appeared to be circulating. Not at all abashed, Hitchens continues to regret that “it seems we shall never reach a time when the Churchill cult is open for honest inspection.”

It’s curious that Hitchens both criticizes the “Churchill cult” for supporting the Great Man, and George VI for supposedly failing to do so. But Hitchens is shooting at several targets simultaneously: Churchill for being a monarchist, and the monarchy for existing. When coupled with his opposition to appeasement, the result is not always convincing.

Of Edward VIII, let us say little. Hitchens may be putting it too strongly when he characterizes him as firmly committed to the Third Reich — Edward was too self-centered and witless to be firmly committed to anything but his own desires, which was why he didn’t last long on the throne — but there’s no doubt he was an embarrassment and a liability. Fortunately, his ability to do mischief was seriously limited by the fact that he was a constitutional monarch. And, regrettably, his opinions were far from unique: in mid-1930s Britain, they were held by many people whose views mattered a good deal more than his.

George VI deserved better than he gets from Hitchens, who believes that the monarch’s supposedly shabby history “can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.” Yes, George supported Chamberlain and initially distrusted Churchill. In this, he was sadly far from unusual. What Hitchens doesn’t point out is that, once Churchill was in charge, George gave him — in the words of David Cannadine, a far from friendly historian — “loyal and increasingly admiring support throughout the war.” If Hitchens wants to call out the monarchy’s errors before May 1940, that’s fine; but there’s no “post-fabricated myth of its participation in ‘Britain’s finest hour.’” The participation was real, and if George had a bad peace, he had a good war. The same can be said of many others.

And then there’s Churchill. Hitchens’s main charge is that Churchill was unreasonably (even intoxicatedly) loyal to Edward, at the expense of the “Arms and the Covenant” lobby he was building “against Neville Chamberlain’s collusion with European fascism.” It’s a minor point, but at the time of the abdication crisis, Stanley Baldwin, not Neville Chamberlain, was prime minister. More important, Hitchens overrates “Arms and the Covenant” and (strangely for a man who detests the “Churchill cult”) relies on the almost hagiographic Churchill biographer William Manchester for his evidence.

But as Graham Stewart points out in his massive Burying Caesar: The Churchill-Chamberlain Rivalry, while the abdication crisis did hurt Churchill, the potential of “Arms and the Covenant” was limited. To succeed, it had to win substantial support among Tory MPs — and given the traditional loyalty of the Conservative Party to its leaders, and Churchill’s long battle against the Government of India Act, there was almost no chance of this. The left and right were soon divided by their reactions to the Spanish Civil War, and the entire movement faded when quiet seemed to return to most of the continent in early 1937. In short, there is not much reason to believe that Hitler would have been stopped in 1936-37 if only Churchill had dumped Edward.

And what of Churchill’s attitude toward Edward? He was, as Stewart puts it, “emotional and sentimental” about the monarchy. But Stewart also approvingly quotes the New Statesman’s assertion that Churchill’s advice to the king “will be found to have been impeccable from every constitutional point of view.” Churchill’s monarchism did not spring only from sentiment. It sprang also from his belief that constitutional monarchies were a force for stability and democracy. He regarded the end of the German monarchy with regret and argued that, if the German people had been allowed to keep a kaiser — not Wilhelm — as a focus for loyalty, Hitler might never have won power.

Such views are, of course, not subject to proof. But as Churchill said at the time, they are worthy of reflection. It may not be a coincidence that, in spite of the errors of those who occupied the throne, it was the British people who believed in their constitutional monarchy who stood up to Hitler, and the monarchist Churchill who led the fight. Hitchens likes the fight. What he doesn’t like is the stubborn traditionalism that made it possible.

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Oh, Man, Not Another Sputnik Moment …

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House. Read More

I keep a list of historical analogies — derived from years of grading papers — that tell me that the individual using them is (to be polite) more interested in rhetorical impact than historical accuracy. Before last night, the list began with “we need a Marshall Plan for X,” where X usually equals Africa or the Middle East, and ended with “the United States is a young country.” Both are fallacies: the Marshall Plan was a pump-priming program, not an effort to rebuild the infrastructure and remake the culture of half a continent; and while European settlement of North America is fairly recent, the U.S.’s political institutions have a longer continuous existence than those of any other country except, arguably, the United Kingdom.

Now, thanks to President Obama, I’ve got a third analogy to add to the list: “Sputnik moment.” To be fair, I should have added it years ago. The phrase, according to Google, has popped in and out of the news regularly over the past decade, with the president himself beginning to use it last June, in a speech in North Carolina. The analogy has the advantage of being an example of government spending — we now call it “investment,” I am told — that has not been utterly discredited by succeeding events. But that doesn’t make it correct.

First, as my colleague Jim Carafano pointed out back in September, Ike’s response to Sputnik’s launch wasn’t to pull out the checkbook. That was what the Gaither Report called for, but Eisenhower balked: as I noted recently, Ike was no softie on Communism, but he was also concerned by the threat to American liberties “posed not so much by big government as such, but by top-down direction of all kinds. Much of this originated in the federal government, but not at all it: there was also a risk of becoming ‘the captive of a scientific-technological elite.’ ” A striking phrase, especially in light of President Obama’s desire to expand government for the benefit of that elite.

Second, the launch of Sputnik marked a significant new national-security threat posed by a state with a hostile ideology, which we were already confronting around the world. If the USSR could orbit a satellite, it could launch a nuclear missile and vaporize an American city. If Sputnik had been orbited by, say, Britain, it would not have occasioned nearly as much angst. In other words, you can’t have a Sputnik moment absent a hostile superpower to provide the impetus for concern. I would not categorize the U.S.’s relationship with China or, certainly, India, as particularly similar to the one we had with the USSR — and the president went out of his way last night not to criticize foreign regimes (even ones like Iran, which are hostile and have, in fact, orbited a satellite). So where is the drive that will be necessary to sustain this “moment” going to come from? Certainly not from the White House.

Third, and most basically, I sometimes get the sense that the left doesn’t realize that 1890-2010 has already happened. A rule of life is that you can only do things for the first time once. We’ve tried the Progressive, administrative state, and have been trying it for years: its deficiencies are not going to be fixed by pretending in an “Ah ha!” moment that what we need is more administration. We’ve been trying Keynesianism almost continuously since the 1940s and even before the recession were at levels of government spending that Keynes experienced only during World War II: the idea that Keynes offers some sort of untried miracle cure is, to be nice about it, a fantasy. Since 1970, as Andrew Coulson points out, federal spending adjusted for inflation has increased by 190 percent, with no gains in reading, math, or science scores to show for it. None of these ideas are new. On the contrary: they are very, very old.

Leaving all this aside, I have to ask — does the proclamation of a new “Sputnik moment” work even as rhetoric? It certainly leaves me cold. The reason for that is, partly, because it’s not great history. But, more fundamentally, it’s because it’s so obviously instrumental. The president wants to look like he’s cutting the budget but also wants to spend more money. So he grabs at the NASA argument, the Sputnik analogy, the Internet analogy, and anything else that comes to hand. Rhetoric that’s shaped by this kind of desperation comes across as insincere. It might be more effective for the president to simply state his belief that we need to spend more money on education. He’d be wrong on the merits, but at least he wouldn’t be compounding the error with dubious grab-bag analogies.

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Lebanon: An Inflection Point for the Status Quo

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. Read More

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

But the days when the Western navies had plenty of carriers to move around from crisis to crisis are behind us. Two carriers may be in the Mediterranean shortly, but not because they were urgently dispatched. Abraham Lincoln is tethered to our requirements in Southwest Asia; USS Enterprise, on the way to relieve Lincoln on-station, is transiting through the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, has been scheduled since her deployment in October to return home in February.

NATO’s non-U.S. carrier force is razor thin. Charles de Gaulle’s departure from France last fall was marred by a breakdown that delayed this very rare deployment by several weeks. Britain, once a reliable dispatcher of aircraft carriers, is in worse shape: just this weekend, the Royal Navy sent its last fighter-jet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, to be decommissioned. Britain won’t have a carrier that can deploy fighter jets again until 2020. In this capability, Italy now outstrips Britain: the Italians have two carriers that can each transport eight Harrier jump-jets. Spain has one.

For the U.S., as for France, putting a carrier off Lebanon entails rigorously prioritizing crises: either leaving some unattended or accepting schedule gaps down the road. With enough effort, the U.S. and France could still seek to affect the outcome in Lebanon with an offshore show of force. But the regional expectation implied by the Arab press rumor — the sense that Western navies can easily bring overwhelming force to a crisis — is outdated today.

Margin and latitude in our force options are casualties of the extended post–Cold War drawdown. At a juncture evocative of previous dilemmas for U.S. presidents, Obama would do better to take his cue from Harry Truman in the late 1940s than from Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. One way or another, this crisis in Lebanon will have a disproportionate impact on the future.

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Palestine Papers: 99 Percent Hype, 1 Percent News

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

You wouldn’t expect Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper in Britain to do anything but spin the “Palestine Papers” — the leaked transcripts of late Bush administration negotiations between Israeli, Palestinian, and American officials — to the max. And so they have, today, with shocked responses from foreign-policy types. Indeed, an editor at Foreign Policy magazine went so far as to declare on Twitter that the “two state solution is dead” as a result.

But the reality of the papers themselves turns out to be incredibly boring. Yes, during the months surrounding the Annapolis summit in 2008, there were negotiations. Yes, these negotiations concerned issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, and settlements. Yes, the two sides discussed land swaps that would enable Israel to retain major settlement blocs. Yes, in private, the Palestinians acknowledged that the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem is not going to be handed over to them and that Israel will not consent to being flooded with millions of Arab refugees. Yes, in private, the negotiators treated each other with respect and even graciousness. No, the talks did not succeed. This is news?

The Palestine Papers, however, come off badly for the leader of Israel’s opposition, Tzipi Livni, who was then-PM Ehud Olmert’s foreign minister at the time and one of the dramatis personae of the negotiations. Livni’s political liability is that too many Israelis think she isn’t tough enough to be prime minister. She has a tendency to denigrate her own side as a way of ingratiating herself to hostile audiences. To this day, she forcefully criticizes her own country and government while abroad and in front of audiences who have little affection for Israel (see her recent appearance with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour). She seems to think this wins her points for impartiality.

The Palestine Papers show her doing much the same in private, offering to collude with the Palestinians to invent pretexts for letting terrorists out of jail and dismissing Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights (“We’re giving up the Golan”). These indulgences may stick in voters’ minds in Israel and make it that much harder for her to dispel the fear that if awarded the premiership, she’ll give the store away.

But the biggest loser in the Palestine Papers is someone who was not even on the scene at the time. That is President Obama, who chose to make Israeli settlements the centerpiece of the peace process. The papers show that one of the only areas on which the sides had come close to an agreement was the acceptability of land swaps as a solution to the settlements controversy. Today, at Obama’s behest, the Palestinians insist on a complete settlement freeze before they’ll even talk — including in areas that just two years ago they had agreed were already de facto Israeli. Thus did Obama turn back the clock on one of the only points of relative consensus and progress between the two sides. The opener to this Jerusalem Post story captures the absurdity of the situation:

With the Palestinian Authority making an international incident over every plan to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem beyond the Green Line, a cache of some 1,600 documents—mostly form [sic] the Palestinian Negotiating Unit—shows that in 2008 the PA was willing to recognize eventual Israeli control over all those neighborhoods, with the exception of Har Homa.

This is actually unfair to the Palestinians. They didn’t make construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem an “international incident.” That was Obama, who has criticized construction in these neighborhoods repeatedly. There is not much news in the Palestine Papers to anyone familiar with the Annapolis-era negotiations. But they do provide another example of how badly the Obama administration has handled the peace process.

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British Pol Echoes CAIR Talking Point About Islamists

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

Those wondering just how far gone Britain is on the question of the influence of Islamism got another shock this week when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the co-chair of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, asserted that Islamophobia has gone mainstream there. But rather than merely issuing a call for more tolerance, Warsi’s speech last night at the University of Leicester sought to cast aspersions not only on those who espouse religious prejudice but also on those who have differentiated between moderate peaceful Muslims and radical Islamists.

The speech, which has caused quite a stir in the United Kingdom, contains this curious formulation: “The notion that all followers of Islam can be described either as ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ can fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.” She goes on to complain that the designation of some Muslims as moderate is inherently invidious.

The admirable Melanie Phillips analyzes Warsi’s illogical thesis this way:

“When people fail explicitly to differentiate ‘moderate’ Muslims from ‘extremists’ they are tarred and feathered as ‘Islamophobic.’ But now Warsi says that to differentiate in this way is also ‘Islamophobic.’ Of course, that’s because what she means is that any mention of any Muslim being extreme is itself ‘Islamophobic.’ Now where have we heard that before? From just about every Muslim community spokesman every time there is an act of Islamic terrorism—two words which it is not permissible in such quarters to utter together. This tactic … is designed to intimidate people into not acknowledging reality and discussing the most pressing issue of our time — Islamic extremism and the war against the free world being waged in the name of Islam.”

It speaks volumes about the political realities of Britain that the person articulating this troubling formulation is not merely a member of the House of Lords but also a highly influential member of the country’s governing political party. While this is not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from the national co-chair of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Americans need to be on their guard against this sort of attitude seeping into own our government and political establishment. That’s because this attempt to demonize any effort to differentiate between Muslims who are loyal American citizens or British subjects and those who support the Islamists’ war on the West is the main talking point these days of groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Union. And that is why such groups, which exist to blur such important distinctions, ought not to be allowed to get away with pretending to be mainstream players rather than the extremists they actually are. Though these organizations masquerade as fighters against discrimination, they are, in fact, undermining the justified fight against religious bias just as much as they are trying to torpedo the war on terror.

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The Beginning of the End of Swiss ‘Active Neutrality’?

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

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Netanyahu’s Office Responds to Anti-Israel Time Article

If there was a bright side to Karl Vick’s Time magazine piece on Israel last week, it’s that it finally pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to issue a forceful response to the unhinged anti-Israel alarmists who’ve been claiming that the country is sliding toward fascism.

In a blunt and unapologetic letter to Time, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer called the allegations in the article “outrageous” and proceeded to tear apart the misleading and factually inaccurate statements in an expert manner. There’s too much information there to go through a blow-by-blow analysis, but check out Dermer’s letter in full here.

Dermer also gave a strong defense of Israel’s controversial new NGO law, which allows the Knesset to investigate whether certain NGOs are being funded by foreign governments. I’ve been critical of the law, but Dermer was able to skillfully convey the challenges Israel faces in addressing the growing number of foreign-funded NGOs that are working ceaselessly to undermine the country.

”What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?” wrote Dermer.

And he noted that the NGO law might not be the perfect solution, and there is still a “vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem.”

“Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth,” Dermer wrote in conclusion.

It’s sad that Israel still needs to be on the defensive on this subject. And even sadder that it has to point out that it’s worthy of being called a democracy.

But the letter was definitely necessary. Part of the reason the anti-Israel misinformation campaign has been so successful in the past few months is because Netanyahu’s office has not been quick enough to correct false reports and outright lies about controversial legislation. I hope this stronger public-relations effort continues.

If there was a bright side to Karl Vick’s Time magazine piece on Israel last week, it’s that it finally pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to issue a forceful response to the unhinged anti-Israel alarmists who’ve been claiming that the country is sliding toward fascism.

In a blunt and unapologetic letter to Time, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer called the allegations in the article “outrageous” and proceeded to tear apart the misleading and factually inaccurate statements in an expert manner. There’s too much information there to go through a blow-by-blow analysis, but check out Dermer’s letter in full here.

Dermer also gave a strong defense of Israel’s controversial new NGO law, which allows the Knesset to investigate whether certain NGOs are being funded by foreign governments. I’ve been critical of the law, but Dermer was able to skillfully convey the challenges Israel faces in addressing the growing number of foreign-funded NGOs that are working ceaselessly to undermine the country.

”What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?” wrote Dermer.

And he noted that the NGO law might not be the perfect solution, and there is still a “vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem.”

“Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth,” Dermer wrote in conclusion.

It’s sad that Israel still needs to be on the defensive on this subject. And even sadder that it has to point out that it’s worthy of being called a democracy.

But the letter was definitely necessary. Part of the reason the anti-Israel misinformation campaign has been so successful in the past few months is because Netanyahu’s office has not been quick enough to correct false reports and outright lies about controversial legislation. I hope this stronger public-relations effort continues.

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Time for Our Allies to Ante Up in Funding Afghan Security Forces

It’s good to hear that the Afghan government and the international community are signing off on a plan to increase the size of the Afghan Security Forces from today’s level of 266,000 soldiers and police up to 378,000 by October 2012. Such an increase is vital if Afghan forces are to have any hope of controlling their own territory. A good rule of thumb, laid out in the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual, is that it takes one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians to defeat an insurgency. Given that Afghanistan has a population of 30 million, that suggests the need for 600,000 security personnel — a milestone that Iraq has already passed.

Even with 378,000 personnel, the Afghan security forces will still fall short, but remember that there are also 140,000 foreign troops in the country. Their presence (assuming that current force levels don’t fall) will bring the total to 518,000 — within shooting distance of the benchmark. That should be more than enough, at least for the time being, considering that the insurgency is isolated among the Pashtuns, who make up less than 50 percent of the population. Of course, if foreign force levels fall by the fall of 2012, the anti-Taliban coalition will find itself  hard-pressed to continue recent battlefield gains, which is another reason why it’s important that the administration and its allies not reduce their forces prematurely.

The gains in the size and effectiveness of the Afghan Security Forces are in large measure a tribute to U.S. Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell and his superb team at the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan. They have brought newfound vigor and skill to the “train and assist” mission that had been lagging, along with the rest of the war effort, in past years. Their work isn’t cheap, as the Times notes:

[T]he planned increase will mean billions more in spending to train and maintain the security forces, and 95 percent of that cost is borne by the United States. Between 2003 and 2009, the United States spent $20 billion to finance the Afghan Army and police. A growing force, pay increases that were intended to retain soldiers and police officers, and the costs of improved training and equipment drove the total to $9 billion in 2010, and $11.6 billion is budgeted for this year.

But that’s still a lot cheaper than sending more American troops into harm’s way. What irritates me about the whole situation is that it is the U.S. that has to pick up the tab. Our troops are already doing the bulk of the fighting. Why don’t our rich allies — e.g., Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Italy, Germany, Britain — pay for more of the cost of training? Some of those countries have made sizable troop contributions; others haven’t. But the U.S. has done more than any of them in terms of fighting the Taliban directly. Why do we have to do so much more than the rest of them in financing the Afghan Security Forces too?

I should note that their failure to ante up should not be an excuse for us to walk away. This is not an act of altruism; it is very much in America’s national-security interest to have a functional and effective security force in Afghanistan to prevent a Taliban/al-Qaeda takeover. Our security perimeter runs right through the Hindu Kush. But that is also true for many of our allies who would also face severe repercussions from a Taliban takeover. They should be doing more to avert that catastrophe.

It’s good to hear that the Afghan government and the international community are signing off on a plan to increase the size of the Afghan Security Forces from today’s level of 266,000 soldiers and police up to 378,000 by October 2012. Such an increase is vital if Afghan forces are to have any hope of controlling their own territory. A good rule of thumb, laid out in the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual, is that it takes one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians to defeat an insurgency. Given that Afghanistan has a population of 30 million, that suggests the need for 600,000 security personnel — a milestone that Iraq has already passed.

Even with 378,000 personnel, the Afghan security forces will still fall short, but remember that there are also 140,000 foreign troops in the country. Their presence (assuming that current force levels don’t fall) will bring the total to 518,000 — within shooting distance of the benchmark. That should be more than enough, at least for the time being, considering that the insurgency is isolated among the Pashtuns, who make up less than 50 percent of the population. Of course, if foreign force levels fall by the fall of 2012, the anti-Taliban coalition will find itself  hard-pressed to continue recent battlefield gains, which is another reason why it’s important that the administration and its allies not reduce their forces prematurely.

The gains in the size and effectiveness of the Afghan Security Forces are in large measure a tribute to U.S. Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell and his superb team at the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan. They have brought newfound vigor and skill to the “train and assist” mission that had been lagging, along with the rest of the war effort, in past years. Their work isn’t cheap, as the Times notes:

[T]he planned increase will mean billions more in spending to train and maintain the security forces, and 95 percent of that cost is borne by the United States. Between 2003 and 2009, the United States spent $20 billion to finance the Afghan Army and police. A growing force, pay increases that were intended to retain soldiers and police officers, and the costs of improved training and equipment drove the total to $9 billion in 2010, and $11.6 billion is budgeted for this year.

But that’s still a lot cheaper than sending more American troops into harm’s way. What irritates me about the whole situation is that it is the U.S. that has to pick up the tab. Our troops are already doing the bulk of the fighting. Why don’t our rich allies — e.g., Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Italy, Germany, Britain — pay for more of the cost of training? Some of those countries have made sizable troop contributions; others haven’t. But the U.S. has done more than any of them in terms of fighting the Taliban directly. Why do we have to do so much more than the rest of them in financing the Afghan Security Forces too?

I should note that their failure to ante up should not be an excuse for us to walk away. This is not an act of altruism; it is very much in America’s national-security interest to have a functional and effective security force in Afghanistan to prevent a Taliban/al-Qaeda takeover. Our security perimeter runs right through the Hindu Kush. But that is also true for many of our allies who would also face severe repercussions from a Taliban takeover. They should be doing more to avert that catastrophe.

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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Al-Qaeda Training New Wave of Western Terrorists

Al-Qaeda is making progress on its plan to train and unleash Islamic terrorists that it’s recruited from Western countries, Asia Times Online reports today:

With the Afghan war entering its 10th year, completely undeterred by the American drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal region, al-Qaeda is putting the final touches to plans to recruit, train and launch Western Caucasians in their countries; the aim is to spread the flames of the South Asian war theater to the West.

Al-Qaeda began planning the operation in 2002, after the fall in late 2001 of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the group had been given sanctuary. Al-Qaeda had regrouped in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, and used this base to developed propaganda media structures to recruit in the West.

Taliban sources told Asia Times that there are currently 12 Canadians training in North Waziristan, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jihadis from the U.S., Britain, and Germany can also reportedly be found in the training grounds of North Waziristan.

Not only is this a discouraging bit of news for the progress in Afghanistan; it’s also another worrisome sign that NATO countries have been unable to prevent terror recruitment on their own soil:

According to available information, the Canadians joined the Egyptian militant organization Jihad al-Islami (JAI), which then helped them reach Afghanistan. The head of the group goes by the alias of Abu Shahid. The 30-year-old, who sports a golden beard, converted to Islam in 2007 and joined the JAI, with which he works to collect funds for the organization. Shahid is responsible for all of the activities of the Canadians in North Waziristan. According to Taliban sources, the 12 will remain in the tribal belt until it is felt that they are sufficiently trained to successfully carry out terror activities in Canada. Shahid apparently is confident he can recruit more Canadians.

Al-Qaeda has become extremely creative with its recruitment methods since the Sept. 11 attacks. From Anwar al-Awlaki’s YouTube videos to Inspire magazine, it’s made extensive use of online media platforms to get its message across to impressionable young people. So far, our response to this type of radicalization has been reactive, which is only useful in cases where the terrorist is caught before the attack is carried out. Stories like this one are just further evidence that we need to increase our focus on the prevention of homegrown radicalization.

Al-Qaeda is making progress on its plan to train and unleash Islamic terrorists that it’s recruited from Western countries, Asia Times Online reports today:

With the Afghan war entering its 10th year, completely undeterred by the American drone strikes in the Pakistani tribal region, al-Qaeda is putting the final touches to plans to recruit, train and launch Western Caucasians in their countries; the aim is to spread the flames of the South Asian war theater to the West.

Al-Qaeda began planning the operation in 2002, after the fall in late 2001 of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the group had been given sanctuary. Al-Qaeda had regrouped in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, and used this base to developed propaganda media structures to recruit in the West.

Taliban sources told Asia Times that there are currently 12 Canadians training in North Waziristan, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Jihadis from the U.S., Britain, and Germany can also reportedly be found in the training grounds of North Waziristan.

Not only is this a discouraging bit of news for the progress in Afghanistan; it’s also another worrisome sign that NATO countries have been unable to prevent terror recruitment on their own soil:

According to available information, the Canadians joined the Egyptian militant organization Jihad al-Islami (JAI), which then helped them reach Afghanistan. The head of the group goes by the alias of Abu Shahid. The 30-year-old, who sports a golden beard, converted to Islam in 2007 and joined the JAI, with which he works to collect funds for the organization. Shahid is responsible for all of the activities of the Canadians in North Waziristan. According to Taliban sources, the 12 will remain in the tribal belt until it is felt that they are sufficiently trained to successfully carry out terror activities in Canada. Shahid apparently is confident he can recruit more Canadians.

Al-Qaeda has become extremely creative with its recruitment methods since the Sept. 11 attacks. From Anwar al-Awlaki’s YouTube videos to Inspire magazine, it’s made extensive use of online media platforms to get its message across to impressionable young people. So far, our response to this type of radicalization has been reactive, which is only useful in cases where the terrorist is caught before the attack is carried out. Stories like this one are just further evidence that we need to increase our focus on the prevention of homegrown radicalization.

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Obama Snubs Britain Yet Again

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

He just can’t help himself. President Obama has apparently dissed Britain once again by declaring that “[w]e don’t have a stronger friend and stronger ally than Nicolas Sarkozy, and the French people” during a White House appearance with the French president. And the British press has taken notice:

Barack Obama has declared that France is America’s greatest ally, undermining Britain’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

The President risked offending British troops in Afghanistan by saying that French president Nicolas Sarkozy is a ‘stronger friend’ than David Cameron.

The remarks, during a White House appearance with Mr Sarkozy, will reinforce the widely-held view in British diplomatic circles that Mr Obama has less interest in the Special Relationship than any other recent American leader.

Whether or not Obama meant any offense by the statement, he obviously should have realized that his past coldness toward Britain has made the it highly sensitive to any perceived slights from the White House. The president previously declined to meet with former prime minister Gordon Brown, removed the bust of Winston Churchill from his office, and famously gave Queen Elizabeth an iPod with photos of himself on it as a gift. His latest amateur diplomatic slip-up has sparked a bit of anti-French bad-mouthing from both British lawmakers and foreign-policy experts in Washington:

Tory MP Patrick Mercer, a former commander of the Sherwood Foresters regiment, said: “I’m getting a bit fed up with the American President using terms like ‘best ally’ so loosely.

“It’s Britain that has had more than 300 servicemen killed in Afghanistan, not France.

“That to my mind is a lot more powerful than any political gesture making.”

The remarks also angered conservatives in Washington.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre For Freedom at the Heritage Foundation think-tank, said: “Quite what the French have done to merit this kind of high praise from the U.S. President is difficult to fathom.

“And if the White House means what it says this represents an extraordinary sea change in foreign policy.” Dr Gardiner, a former aide to Lady Thatcher, added: “To suggest that Paris and not London is Washington’s strongest partner is simply ludicrous.

“Such a remark is not only factually wrong but insulting to Britain, not least coming just a few years after the French knifed Washington in the back over the war in Iraq.”

And it’s not hard to see why Obama’s statement provoked such a response. As the Daily Mail notes, the UK has lost nearly seven times as many troops as France in the global war on terror. I’d say that the president should choose his words more carefully next time, but in light of his numerous diplomatic flaps with Britain, I’m not sure if he has it in him.

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John Gross, 1935-2011

John Gross, one of the most delightful, literate, and civilized men in the English-speaking world, died earlier today in London at the age of 75. A literary journalist and critic of the highest order, John wrote for every publication that mattered, edited the Times Literary Supplement for seven years, and was a book critic at the New York Times for six years in the 1980s.

His writings also appeared in COMMENTARY for decades; last year he wrote a wonderful piece on those who would deny Shakespeare’s authorship — a subject of considerable interest to a man who, in 1993, literally wrote the book on Shylock and the effect of Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic character over the course of the 400 years since The Merchant of Venice was first performed. That piece, “Denying Shakespeare,” can be read in its entirety here. And here you can find his wondrous memoir of growing up as a Jew in Britain.

May his children, Tom and Susanna, be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

John Gross, one of the most delightful, literate, and civilized men in the English-speaking world, died earlier today in London at the age of 75. A literary journalist and critic of the highest order, John wrote for every publication that mattered, edited the Times Literary Supplement for seven years, and was a book critic at the New York Times for six years in the 1980s.

His writings also appeared in COMMENTARY for decades; last year he wrote a wonderful piece on those who would deny Shakespeare’s authorship — a subject of considerable interest to a man who, in 1993, literally wrote the book on Shylock and the effect of Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic character over the course of the 400 years since The Merchant of Venice was first performed. That piece, “Denying Shakespeare,” can be read in its entirety here. And here you can find his wondrous memoir of growing up as a Jew in Britain.

May his children, Tom and Susanna, be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

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Bringing Afghans Over to the Coalition Side, One Tribe at a Time

There has been much loose talk about the possibility of reaching a high-level peace deal with the Taliban. No such effort is likely to succeed, at least not in the short run, because the Taliban do not yet feel defeated. In any case, high-level Taliban leaders, safely ensconced in Pakistan, have no incentive to give up a fight in which their foot soldiers are suffering while they enjoy shelter and subsidies from the Pakistani regime. But lower-level deals to bring tribes over to the side of the coalition are likely to prove more fruitful — just as they did in Iraq.

The Marines have just announced one such deal in Sangin, the most kinetic district in all of Afghanistan. The Marines have lost 29 men since taking over this district in Helmand Province this past summer; Britain lost some 100 troops there in prior years. Now the governor of Helmand has reached an agreement with the Alikozai, one of the main tribes in the area, to stop attacking the coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan in return for development assistance, permission to form their own security forces, and the release of an Alikozai prisoner.

As this Washington Post account by ace war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes clear, this deal is the result of the Marines’ aggressive actions and also their willingness to seize political opportunities. A prior attempt by the Alikozai to reach out to the British in 2007 was rebuffed, and the Alikozai went back to fighting with the Taliban.

The dynamics changed [Chandrasekaran writes] when the Marines replaced British forces in summer 2010. They increased the tempo of offensive operations and struck back harder at the all of the insurgents, including the Alikozai. In mid-October, a Marine reconnaissance battalion swooped into the Alikozai area and conducted a blistering barrage of attacks that commanders estimate killed more than 250 insurgents.

“That convinced the elders,” said one senior Marine officer involved in the operation. “They began to see the handwriting on the wall.”

This is how counterinsurgency is supposed to work. By applying pressure on the insurgents and safeguarding the local population, a security force can change the dynamics on the ground and convince opportunists — who always make up the majority of any population — that their long-term interests lay in allying with, rather than resisting, the government. Economic aid can sweeten the deal, but what is going to make the most difference is a change in the security situation, which is what the Marines have been accomplishing by dint of hard and costly combat.

One should not make too much out of this arrangement, which may yet collapse — as have other tribal deals in Afghanistan. It may also be the case that the tribes in Afghanistan are now so weak, after decades of warfare and migration, that they do not have the power to effectively resist the Taliban. But this could also be the start of something big, possibly even a “Helmand Awakening” that will wrest this province out of insurgent hands, just as Anbar Province was wrested out of insurgent hands in 2006-2007.

There has been much loose talk about the possibility of reaching a high-level peace deal with the Taliban. No such effort is likely to succeed, at least not in the short run, because the Taliban do not yet feel defeated. In any case, high-level Taliban leaders, safely ensconced in Pakistan, have no incentive to give up a fight in which their foot soldiers are suffering while they enjoy shelter and subsidies from the Pakistani regime. But lower-level deals to bring tribes over to the side of the coalition are likely to prove more fruitful — just as they did in Iraq.

The Marines have just announced one such deal in Sangin, the most kinetic district in all of Afghanistan. The Marines have lost 29 men since taking over this district in Helmand Province this past summer; Britain lost some 100 troops there in prior years. Now the governor of Helmand has reached an agreement with the Alikozai, one of the main tribes in the area, to stop attacking the coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan in return for development assistance, permission to form their own security forces, and the release of an Alikozai prisoner.

As this Washington Post account by ace war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes clear, this deal is the result of the Marines’ aggressive actions and also their willingness to seize political opportunities. A prior attempt by the Alikozai to reach out to the British in 2007 was rebuffed, and the Alikozai went back to fighting with the Taliban.

The dynamics changed [Chandrasekaran writes] when the Marines replaced British forces in summer 2010. They increased the tempo of offensive operations and struck back harder at the all of the insurgents, including the Alikozai. In mid-October, a Marine reconnaissance battalion swooped into the Alikozai area and conducted a blistering barrage of attacks that commanders estimate killed more than 250 insurgents.

“That convinced the elders,” said one senior Marine officer involved in the operation. “They began to see the handwriting on the wall.”

This is how counterinsurgency is supposed to work. By applying pressure on the insurgents and safeguarding the local population, a security force can change the dynamics on the ground and convince opportunists — who always make up the majority of any population — that their long-term interests lay in allying with, rather than resisting, the government. Economic aid can sweeten the deal, but what is going to make the most difference is a change in the security situation, which is what the Marines have been accomplishing by dint of hard and costly combat.

One should not make too much out of this arrangement, which may yet collapse — as have other tribal deals in Afghanistan. It may also be the case that the tribes in Afghanistan are now so weak, after decades of warfare and migration, that they do not have the power to effectively resist the Taliban. But this could also be the start of something big, possibly even a “Helmand Awakening” that will wrest this province out of insurgent hands, just as Anbar Province was wrested out of insurgent hands in 2006-2007.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

It looks like President Obama has finally found some backbone in his diplomatic spat with Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan president rejected the U.S.’s choice for ambassador to Caracas and dared Obama to cut diplomatic ties with the country. Today Obama responded by kicking the Venezuelan ambassador out of the U.S.

Americans are still displaying a lack of confidence in both political parties, according to a new poll released by CNN/Opinion Research Corporation. While pundits from all parts of the political spectrum have lauded President Obama’s successes during the lame-duck session of Congress, a plurality of Americans remains skeptical about the president’s ability to push his policies, according to the survey. And even though a majority of the public agrees that GOP control of the House will benefit the country, that optimism isn’t necessarily due to increased trust in the Republican Party. Only a quarter believe that the Republicans will do a better job running Congress than the Democrats.

The U.S. State Department has come out strongly against the Palestinian Authority’s newest effort to push through a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction, suggesting that the Palestinians may be alienating the best friend they’ve had in the White House for years. However, State Department officials still haven’t commented specifically on whether the U.S. would veto the resolution.

The Huffington Post reported recently that the number of uninsured Americans has soared to “over 50 million.” But is that really the case? At the Weekly Standard, Jeffrey H. Anderson notes that the numbers come from a recent report published by the Census Bureau, which even the bureau has admitted was largely inaccurate: “The Census report also admits within its own pages that recognition of its inaccuracy led to ‘a research project to evaluate why CPS ASEC estimates of the number of people with Medicaid are lower than counts of the number of people enrolled in the program from CMS’ — in other words, to evaluate why the CPS ASEC lists millions of Americans as being uninsured while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which runs Medicaid and keeps the official tally of enrollees, says that these people are on Medicaid.”

Islamists are apparently still having trouble getting over that Danish Mohammed cartoon from six years ago. Five terror suspects were arrested in Denmark and Sweden yesterday for plotting to attack the Jyllands-Posten newspaper headquarters, which published the cartoon in 2005.

With the rest of the world unwilling to combat the growing problem of Somali pirates, the transitional federal government of Somalia has finally taken the problem into its own hands by creating a paramilitary force to fight piracy. Sources say that the militia is being funded by donors in Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

Ron Radosh joins the growing ranks of writers criticizing New Yorker editor David Remnick’s hostile rant against Israel last week. Radosh also highlights the insidious anti-Israel sentiment among today’s liberal Jewish intellectuals: “Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions  they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential [among] journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.” Jonathan Tobin discussed Remnick’s Israel problem in CONTENTIONS on Sunday.

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Further Food for Reflection

Daniel Mandel, the author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel, has a letter in the New York Times succinctly responding to an op-ed column in which Robert Wright argued that the UN “created a state six decades ago, and it can create a Palestinian state now”:

First, the United Nations didn’t “create” Israel — sovereignty was asserted by its provisional government at the termination of British authority in the territory — nor indeed was the 1947 General Assembly partition resolution even legally binding. It would have been, had both Jews and Arabs accepted it, but Arabs did not. Had Arab arms prevailed over the Jewish forces, there would have been no Israel, regardless of United Nations resolutions.

Second, despite the importance of that resolution in changing the conditions surrounding Israel’s emergence, the United Nations came onto a scene that Britain, the governing power, was vacating. In short, it filled a vacuum. There is no such vacuum today.

Third, this idea suffers from the flawed tendency to believe that creating a Palestinian state will produce peace. Yet no perusal of Palestinian sermons, statements or publications suggests that Palestinians accept the idea of a peaceful state alongside Israel. If a Palestinian state won’t bring peace, why create it?

Mandel’s third point deserves a place high on the list of peace-process topics that merit further reflection.

It has been assumed, without much evidence to support it, that a Palestinian state would bring peace. But given the Palestinian unwillingness to recognize a Jewish one, or relinquish a “right of return” (which was never a right, only a short-term recommendation in another non-binding UN resolution from 1949, which the Arab states voted against), or cease the continuous incitement that permeates Palestinian schools and civil society, or dismantle Hamas as required by Phase I of the Roadmap, or express a willingness to put an end-of-claims provision in a peace agreement, the factual basis of the assumption is unclear.

Nor is it clear that the creation of a 22nd Arab state, including a second one within the area that was promised to the Jews under the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, or the transfer of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria to create the Judenrein state the Palestinians demand, would serve American interests. After 17 years of a peace process that has produced multiple offers of a Palestinian state but no peace, the unexamined belief that such a state should continue to be a central American concern is debatable at best — and should be debated.

Unfortunately, most readers of the New York Times will not get the chance to think about Mandel’s points. His letter was posted on the Times‘s website yesterday but was not published in the national deadwood version of the Times either yesterday or today.

Daniel Mandel, the author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel, has a letter in the New York Times succinctly responding to an op-ed column in which Robert Wright argued that the UN “created a state six decades ago, and it can create a Palestinian state now”:

First, the United Nations didn’t “create” Israel — sovereignty was asserted by its provisional government at the termination of British authority in the territory — nor indeed was the 1947 General Assembly partition resolution even legally binding. It would have been, had both Jews and Arabs accepted it, but Arabs did not. Had Arab arms prevailed over the Jewish forces, there would have been no Israel, regardless of United Nations resolutions.

Second, despite the importance of that resolution in changing the conditions surrounding Israel’s emergence, the United Nations came onto a scene that Britain, the governing power, was vacating. In short, it filled a vacuum. There is no such vacuum today.

Third, this idea suffers from the flawed tendency to believe that creating a Palestinian state will produce peace. Yet no perusal of Palestinian sermons, statements or publications suggests that Palestinians accept the idea of a peaceful state alongside Israel. If a Palestinian state won’t bring peace, why create it?

Mandel’s third point deserves a place high on the list of peace-process topics that merit further reflection.

It has been assumed, without much evidence to support it, that a Palestinian state would bring peace. But given the Palestinian unwillingness to recognize a Jewish one, or relinquish a “right of return” (which was never a right, only a short-term recommendation in another non-binding UN resolution from 1949, which the Arab states voted against), or cease the continuous incitement that permeates Palestinian schools and civil society, or dismantle Hamas as required by Phase I of the Roadmap, or express a willingness to put an end-of-claims provision in a peace agreement, the factual basis of the assumption is unclear.

Nor is it clear that the creation of a 22nd Arab state, including a second one within the area that was promised to the Jews under the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, or the transfer of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes in Judea and Samaria to create the Judenrein state the Palestinians demand, would serve American interests. After 17 years of a peace process that has produced multiple offers of a Palestinian state but no peace, the unexamined belief that such a state should continue to be a central American concern is debatable at best — and should be debated.

Unfortunately, most readers of the New York Times will not get the chance to think about Mandel’s points. His letter was posted on the Times‘s website yesterday but was not published in the national deadwood version of the Times either yesterday or today.

Read Less

Honduras, Obama, and Occam’s Razor

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

Read Less




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