Commentary Magazine


Topic: Britain

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.

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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.

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Peace Studies and the Historical Profession

I don’t say this very often — heck, I’m not sure I’ve ever said it — but the latest issue of Perspectives on History, the American Historical Association’s monthly newsmagazine, contains an interesting article. In fact, it contains two of them, both of which gain additional interest when coupled with a piece in the latest Economist on “The Disposable Academic.” The only question is whether the Economist is describing reality or offering a preference.

The lead article in Perspectives is by Prof. Charles Howlett of Molloy College in New York on “American Peace History Since the Vietnam War.” It’s mostly a lengthy — and very useful — catalog of reasonably recent (in the world of history, this means less than 50 years old) books on the subject. But, as Prof. Howlett recognizes in his opening sentence — “What is peace history?” — the genre itself is not particularly well-defined, even in the minds of the AHA’s highly specialized audience.

Prof. Howlett’s answer to his question has the merit of clarity. Peace history, he answers, is “the historical study of nonviolent efforts for peace and social justice,” and many peace historians “see themselves as engaged scholars who are not only involved in the study of peace and war but also in efforts to eliminate or, at least, restrict armaments, conscription, nuclear proliferation, colonialism, racism, sexism, and war.” As such, peace history studies “the causes of war” and highlights “those whose attempts have been directed at peaceful coexistence in an interdependent global setting,” frequently seeking “the transformation of society.”

In short, peace history is thoroughly and explicitly political, and politicized. This does not surprise me — I spent 17 years at an American university — but it does depress me, mostly because, in spite of all logic, evidence, common sense, and reason, I continue to hope for the best from American higher education. What strikes me most forcefully about Prof. Howlett’s list, in spite of its length, is just how one-sided an affair “peace history” actually is. Read More

I don’t say this very often — heck, I’m not sure I’ve ever said it — but the latest issue of Perspectives on History, the American Historical Association’s monthly newsmagazine, contains an interesting article. In fact, it contains two of them, both of which gain additional interest when coupled with a piece in the latest Economist on “The Disposable Academic.” The only question is whether the Economist is describing reality or offering a preference.

The lead article in Perspectives is by Prof. Charles Howlett of Molloy College in New York on “American Peace History Since the Vietnam War.” It’s mostly a lengthy — and very useful — catalog of reasonably recent (in the world of history, this means less than 50 years old) books on the subject. But, as Prof. Howlett recognizes in his opening sentence — “What is peace history?” — the genre itself is not particularly well-defined, even in the minds of the AHA’s highly specialized audience.

Prof. Howlett’s answer to his question has the merit of clarity. Peace history, he answers, is “the historical study of nonviolent efforts for peace and social justice,” and many peace historians “see themselves as engaged scholars who are not only involved in the study of peace and war but also in efforts to eliminate or, at least, restrict armaments, conscription, nuclear proliferation, colonialism, racism, sexism, and war.” As such, peace history studies “the causes of war” and highlights “those whose attempts have been directed at peaceful coexistence in an interdependent global setting,” frequently seeking “the transformation of society.”

In short, peace history is thoroughly and explicitly political, and politicized. This does not surprise me — I spent 17 years at an American university — but it does depress me, mostly because, in spite of all logic, evidence, common sense, and reason, I continue to hope for the best from American higher education. What strikes me most forcefully about Prof. Howlett’s list, in spite of its length, is just how one-sided an affair “peace history” actually is.

The books on his list are all, exclusively, about peace activists and peace movements. Not one of them is actually concerned with “the causes of war.” It is not quite fair to say that all the books are also laudatory, but that is certainly very much their tendency. It is as if I had set out to compile a list of books about alcohol and ended up with a collection of studies of temperance movements, most of them supportive. Such movements are certainly  legitimate subjects for study, but no legitimate field defines itself so narrowly. And it is entirely unfair to imply that the only people seriously interested in alcohol, or war, are the activist movements against them.

Prof. Howlett’s list not only omits classics on the causes of war (such as Thucydides, to start at the beginning). It omits works like Jeremi Suri’s recent Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente. More damagingly, it also omits works like Prof. Sir Michael Howard’s The Invention of Peace, though I can understand why this one got a pass: its demonstration that the very concept of “peace” is a modern invention cuts to the heart of Prof. Howlett’s complaint that peace activism has not received much attention in the long run of history. (Full disclosure: I studied under Sir Michael and was a colleague of Prof. Suri’s.) Perhaps the real fault of these works, though, is that they are not sufficiently keen on “the transformation of society” to merit inclusion in the canon of “peace studies.”

Departing from this depressing field, I turn to Robert Townsend’s piece on the production of history Ph.D.’s. But the figures here — all deriving from data from the National Research Council — are beyond grim. No matter where you look, less than 45 percent of history graduate students receive a Ph.D. after eight years, and less than 50 percent of graduates find academic employment. I would like to say that the low-ranked programs are to blame, and there is some evidence for this: they offer much less financial support and have a lower completion rate. But the fact remains that the top-rated programs produce about as many Ph.D.’s as all the other programs put together.

The Economist puts the icing on the cake by pointing out that the production of Ph.D.’s has outstripped demand, that there is no relationship between academic supply and demand (thus, the concept of a “job market” is meaningless), that this is a tremendous waste of human talent, that this oversupply is very convenient for faculty members who are more interested in research than teaching, and that the earnings premium from a Ph.D. in all subjects amounts to no more than 3 percent. I really cannot think of any other line of work that would supposedly take such care in choosing its raw materials — the admissions process is very selective — and then take over eight years to throw half of them away while watching half of the other half not gain the employment for which the system had supposedly trained them.

One result of overproduction, of course, is the need to define new kinds of expertise in order to stimulate artificial demand. That is why the number of journals in history continues to rise, in spite of the fact that no one reads them. And it probably offers some insight into the rise of fields like peace studies: it is another way to define yourself in a very crowded marketplace. Unfortunately, this academic balkanization is profoundly destructive: its specialization alienates students, and its politicization alienates everyone except the true believers.

Since the true believers control the system, that does not matter very much in the short run. But at some point, the long run arrives: the recent protests in Britain give us some insight into what happens when, finally, a government is forced to recognize that offering unconditional subsidies to a system that so palpably fails to deliver public goods of comparable worth is a game not worth the candle. The implication of the depressing reality that academics are disposable, after all, is that there should be fewer of them.

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The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

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Morning Commentary

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

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Morning Commentary

Why Ron Paul’s new role as the head of the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve is disconcerting (even to libertarians): “[W]hen you look at his speeches, he doesn’t understand anything about monetary policy. He might actually understand it less than the average member of Congress. My personal opinion is that he wastes all of his time on the House Financial Services Committee ranting crazily.”

Surprise: Michael Steele to run for a second term as Republican National Committee chair. “I come to my bosses with a record that only you can judge, based upon directions you made clear to me from the very beginning. Yes, I have stumbled along the way, but have always accounted to you for such shortcomings. No excuses. No lies. No hidden agenda. Going forward, I ask for your support and your vote for a second term,” Steele announced in an e-mail last night.

Richard Holbrooke: April 24, 1941–December 13, 2010. The New Republic has an excellent tribute to the legendary diplomat as well as a compilation of articles written about (and by) him.

European papers are reporting that the Stockholm bomber was radicalized in Britain, raising concerns about whether British universities have done enough to combat home-grown terrorism: “His parents were even a little worried that he was having too much fun. But then he went to England to study in 2001 and everything changed,” a friend of Stockholm terrorist Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly told the Telegraph. “When he came back he had grown a beard and he was very serious. He talked about Afghanistan and religion and did not want to hang out with his friends.”

Is WikiLeaks a force for good? Reason magazine spoke to four experts who gave their uncensored views on the controversial website.

Why Ron Paul’s new role as the head of the subcommittee that oversees the Federal Reserve is disconcerting (even to libertarians): “[W]hen you look at his speeches, he doesn’t understand anything about monetary policy. He might actually understand it less than the average member of Congress. My personal opinion is that he wastes all of his time on the House Financial Services Committee ranting crazily.”

Surprise: Michael Steele to run for a second term as Republican National Committee chair. “I come to my bosses with a record that only you can judge, based upon directions you made clear to me from the very beginning. Yes, I have stumbled along the way, but have always accounted to you for such shortcomings. No excuses. No lies. No hidden agenda. Going forward, I ask for your support and your vote for a second term,” Steele announced in an e-mail last night.

Richard Holbrooke: April 24, 1941–December 13, 2010. The New Republic has an excellent tribute to the legendary diplomat as well as a compilation of articles written about (and by) him.

European papers are reporting that the Stockholm bomber was radicalized in Britain, raising concerns about whether British universities have done enough to combat home-grown terrorism: “His parents were even a little worried that he was having too much fun. But then he went to England to study in 2001 and everything changed,” a friend of Stockholm terrorist Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly told the Telegraph. “When he came back he had grown a beard and he was very serious. He talked about Afghanistan and religion and did not want to hang out with his friends.”

Is WikiLeaks a force for good? Reason magazine spoke to four experts who gave their uncensored views on the controversial website.

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WikiLeaks, Treason, and Plot

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime. Read More

You can’t make any WikiLeaks-related calendar date fit the Gunpowder Plot ditty:

Remember, remember the fifth of November:
Gunpowder, treason, and plot!

But as yet another historical analogy, the Gunpowder Plot has illuminating features. WikiLeaks plays a role similar to that of gunpowder in the Gunpowder Plot. Like the 36 barrels of gunpowder deployed by Guy Fawkes under the House of Lords in 1605, WikiLeaks is a fascinating agent — the iconic tool of its technological age — giving unique shape and unprecedented scope to a treasonous impulse. And as with the Gunpowder Plot, the real story with WikiLeaks and the Web isn’t the technological agent; it’s the treason.

In this regard, I endorse the related point made on Friday by “Zombie” at Pajamas Media. The criminal act in the case of the WikiLeaks data dumps was committed by the person with the government clearance who made unauthorized copies of classified documents and turned them over to WikiLeaks. The individual charged with these crimes is Private First Class Bradley Manning, formerly an Army intelligence analyst. He is being held in the Quantico brig until his court-martial date in 2011.

Unsavory as Julian Assange is, it’s not clear that he has committed a crime with his WikiLeaks publications. He has never held a U.S. government clearance. He’s not even an American citizen. It’s not at all certain that he could legitimately be prosecuted for failing to protect U.S. government information. European nations — Britain, Sweden — could reasonably balk at extraditing him for prosecution in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Americans should think hard about how much Web oversight we want to cede to the federal government (or to foreign governments) in response to the WikiLeaks disclosures. The Internet certainly accelerates and amplifies the effects of the crime in this case. There is a sense in which the prospect of Internet publication justifies calling this treason, rather than merely a disclosure crime (which is what Manning is charged with). The managers of WikiLeaks are not themselves known to be agents of an enemy government; it is Manning’s pursuit of damaging, high-profile Web publication that makes it clear he intended to act against his country’s interests in wartime.

But we should note that the military already has an elaborate set of rules for information security. The problem in this case, if Manning’s own account is valid, is that some of those rules were not being enforced in his work facility in Iraq. There is nothing unusual about junior personnel having access to secret information; intelligence analysts need it to do their jobs. But Manning says he took writable CDs into a secure area and pretended to listen to music from them while copying files to them on a secret-level computer. Everything about this is a breach of sound security policy, and the military is well aware of that.

I signed a dozen oaths in my 20 years in Naval Intelligence to never do — on pain of severe penalties — what Bradley Manning is charged with doing. The rules to prevent it have long been in place. The apparent systemic failures in this case were the poor IT security at Manning’s former command and the inattention of supervisors to the red flags in Manning’s personnel profile, such as his propensity to get into fights with other soldiers. Better application of prudent policy guidelines could well have prevented the whole incident.

Expanding government supervision and control of the Internet, however, would be a disproportionate and mistargeted response. As with gunpowder, the inherent nature of the tool can’t be altered; it can only be made the pretext for restrictions and limitations on the human users. And as with 17th-century England’s prohibitions on the ownership of gunpowder by Catholics, such regulatory prophylaxis invites invidious application.

Criminalizing the role of Julian Assange, meanwhile, could easily carry unintended consequences. We in the liberal nations are not always aligned against the disclosers of government secrets. Should Iran or Cuba be able to demand extradition of a foreigner who publishes their governments’ secrets? Should Russia or China? There is the real danger of a misapplied remedy here. Bluster from our senators is about as close as we need to get to making bad law on the basis of a hard case.

The gunpowder analogy isn’t perfect. But the last two lines of the Gunpowder Plot ditty frame the correct priority for addressing the WikiLeaks Plot:

I see no reason why Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

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