Commentary Magazine


Topic: brother-in-law

Campbell’s Al-Arian Letter Surfaces

During Friday’s Republican Senate debate, Tom Campbell defended his receipt of campaign funds from Sami Al-Arian as well as the letter Campbell wrote in defense of Al-Arian, after the latter was fired by the University of South Florida. In the debate Campbell claimed the letter was written before Al-Arian’s controversial appearance on the Bill O’Reilly program. But that claim seems to be false and a new round of controversy has begun.

The letter that Campbell wrote on January 22, 2002, in support of Sami Al-Arian, who had been fired by the University of South Florida (and who pleaded guilty in 2006 to terrorism charges), is now circulating. Contrary to Campbell’s protestations, according to which there was nothing generally known about Al-Arian at the time (He said in the debate: “There is one other point to be raised, and that is that he was a professor, and he was terminated from his position at the University of South Florida before any of this evidence came out”), by 2000 much was known of Al-Arian’s activities. However, that did not dissuade Campbell from taking campaign money from him for his race that year, or — in 2002 — from sending a letter defending Al-Arian. He wrote in January 2002:

During my time in Congress, I served, inter alia, on the International Relations Committee and the Judiciary Committee.  In those capacities, I came to know of the practice of using secret evidence against non-citizens in keeping them in detention even when they were not a security risk to the United States, and even when they were not soon to be deported.  I introduced legislation to stop this practice, and worked hard to achieve that end.  In this effort, I came to know Professor Sami Al-Arian, whose brother-in-law had been subjected to this practice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wish you to know that, after we came to know each other, Professor Al-Arian helped me raise funds for my campaign for U.S. Senate, an effort which, nevertheless, did not succeed.

Moreover, contrary to his statement in the debate, Campbell conceded in the letter that he was aware of Al-Arian’s 2001 appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show: “I read a transcript of the O’Reilly Factor interview last autumn, and I did not see anything whereby Professor Al-Arian attempted to claim he was representing the views of the University of South Florida.” So let the professor keep his spot, Campbell argued, because he wasn’t saying all those awful things as a representative of the university.

The O’Reilly interview from the fall of 2001 is an eye-opener. This sequence is especially instructive:

O’REILLY: In — in 1988, you did a little speaking engagement in Cleveland, and you were quoted as saying, “Jihad is our path. Victory to Islam. Death to Israel. Revolution. Revolution until victory. Rolling to Jerusalem.” Did you say that?

AL-ARIAN: Let me just put it into context. When resident Bush talked about crusade, we understand what he meant here. The Muslim world thought he is going to carry a cross and go invade the Muslim world and turn them into Christians. We have to understand the context. When you say “Death to Israel,” you mean death to occupation, death to apartheid, death to oppression, death to…

O’REILLY: But not death to any human being?

AL-ARIAN: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not.

O’REILLY: No.

AL-ARIAN: Absolutely not.

O’REILLY: All right. So now what we have here is you saying death to Israel. You’re bringing a guy over here who gets paid by the good citizens of Florida and then goes back and becomes one of the lieutenants or generals of the Islamic jihad, but you don’t know nothing about it. Another guy sets up an interview with Osama bin Laden for ABC, and you don know anything about that.

You know, Doctor, it looks to me like there’s something wrong down there at the University of South Florida. Am I getting — am I getting the wrong impression here?

AL-ARIAN: You’re getting completely wrong impression because you can pick and choose and interpret it, you know, different ways.

The fact of the matter is we have been involved in intellectual-type activity. We brought dozens of people. All of them are intellectual type.  You’re going to get the apple — a bad apple or two, but that — if you focus on them, you get one conclusion.

The fact of the matter is that we’ve been investigated by the FBI for many years…

O’REILLY: Correct.

AL-ARIAN: …and there has been no wrongdoing whatsoever even suggested.

So this was the man from whom Campbell accepted funds and for whose sake he went out of his way to plead with the university that he be kept on staff. It seems as though Campbell never met an Israel-bashing, Islamic jihadist who raised any concerns, even after 9/11.

The Carly Fiorina campaign is calling for Campbell to correct the record and change his website: “Tom Campbell has refused to release this letter despite repeated calls for him to do so. Now we know why. The content of the letter itself, and the date on which it was written reveal that what Tom Campbell told voters in Friday’s debate about his relationship with Al-Arian—and just as importantly, what he knew about him at the time—is quite simply false.” A Fiorina aide goes further, telling me: “Tom Campbell flat out lied in the debate about what he knew and when he knew it, and he flat out lies on his new Campbell ‘facts’ website — it’s so brazen you have to wonder he’s convinced himself that he doesn’t have a terrorism problem.”

Suffice it to say, we are off to the races on this latest revelation.

UPDATE: Chuck DeVore’s Communications Director has chimed in with a statement including this: “We’ve known from the start that Tom Campbell has a problematic past with Islamist radicals, and this just fills in some details. What’s troubling is that two of the three Republicans running for US Senate in California this year have a troubling history in this regard. While Campbell was a darling of the anti-Israel set, Carly Fiorina was presiding over illegal technology transfers to Iran, and delivering paeans to Islamic civilization while the fires at the World Trade Center were still smoldering.” Fiorina has denied any illegal technology transfers occured to Iran during her tenure at Hewlett Packard.

During Friday’s Republican Senate debate, Tom Campbell defended his receipt of campaign funds from Sami Al-Arian as well as the letter Campbell wrote in defense of Al-Arian, after the latter was fired by the University of South Florida. In the debate Campbell claimed the letter was written before Al-Arian’s controversial appearance on the Bill O’Reilly program. But that claim seems to be false and a new round of controversy has begun.

The letter that Campbell wrote on January 22, 2002, in support of Sami Al-Arian, who had been fired by the University of South Florida (and who pleaded guilty in 2006 to terrorism charges), is now circulating. Contrary to Campbell’s protestations, according to which there was nothing generally known about Al-Arian at the time (He said in the debate: “There is one other point to be raised, and that is that he was a professor, and he was terminated from his position at the University of South Florida before any of this evidence came out”), by 2000 much was known of Al-Arian’s activities. However, that did not dissuade Campbell from taking campaign money from him for his race that year, or — in 2002 — from sending a letter defending Al-Arian. He wrote in January 2002:

During my time in Congress, I served, inter alia, on the International Relations Committee and the Judiciary Committee.  In those capacities, I came to know of the practice of using secret evidence against non-citizens in keeping them in detention even when they were not a security risk to the United States, and even when they were not soon to be deported.  I introduced legislation to stop this practice, and worked hard to achieve that end.  In this effort, I came to know Professor Sami Al-Arian, whose brother-in-law had been subjected to this practice.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wish you to know that, after we came to know each other, Professor Al-Arian helped me raise funds for my campaign for U.S. Senate, an effort which, nevertheless, did not succeed.

Moreover, contrary to his statement in the debate, Campbell conceded in the letter that he was aware of Al-Arian’s 2001 appearance on the Bill O’Reilly show: “I read a transcript of the O’Reilly Factor interview last autumn, and I did not see anything whereby Professor Al-Arian attempted to claim he was representing the views of the University of South Florida.” So let the professor keep his spot, Campbell argued, because he wasn’t saying all those awful things as a representative of the university.

The O’Reilly interview from the fall of 2001 is an eye-opener. This sequence is especially instructive:

O’REILLY: In — in 1988, you did a little speaking engagement in Cleveland, and you were quoted as saying, “Jihad is our path. Victory to Islam. Death to Israel. Revolution. Revolution until victory. Rolling to Jerusalem.” Did you say that?

AL-ARIAN: Let me just put it into context. When resident Bush talked about crusade, we understand what he meant here. The Muslim world thought he is going to carry a cross and go invade the Muslim world and turn them into Christians. We have to understand the context. When you say “Death to Israel,” you mean death to occupation, death to apartheid, death to oppression, death to…

O’REILLY: But not death to any human being?

AL-ARIAN: No, absolutely not. Absolutely not.

O’REILLY: No.

AL-ARIAN: Absolutely not.

O’REILLY: All right. So now what we have here is you saying death to Israel. You’re bringing a guy over here who gets paid by the good citizens of Florida and then goes back and becomes one of the lieutenants or generals of the Islamic jihad, but you don’t know nothing about it. Another guy sets up an interview with Osama bin Laden for ABC, and you don know anything about that.

You know, Doctor, it looks to me like there’s something wrong down there at the University of South Florida. Am I getting — am I getting the wrong impression here?

AL-ARIAN: You’re getting completely wrong impression because you can pick and choose and interpret it, you know, different ways.

The fact of the matter is we have been involved in intellectual-type activity. We brought dozens of people. All of them are intellectual type.  You’re going to get the apple — a bad apple or two, but that — if you focus on them, you get one conclusion.

The fact of the matter is that we’ve been investigated by the FBI for many years…

O’REILLY: Correct.

AL-ARIAN: …and there has been no wrongdoing whatsoever even suggested.

So this was the man from whom Campbell accepted funds and for whose sake he went out of his way to plead with the university that he be kept on staff. It seems as though Campbell never met an Israel-bashing, Islamic jihadist who raised any concerns, even after 9/11.

The Carly Fiorina campaign is calling for Campbell to correct the record and change his website: “Tom Campbell has refused to release this letter despite repeated calls for him to do so. Now we know why. The content of the letter itself, and the date on which it was written reveal that what Tom Campbell told voters in Friday’s debate about his relationship with Al-Arian—and just as importantly, what he knew about him at the time—is quite simply false.” A Fiorina aide goes further, telling me: “Tom Campbell flat out lied in the debate about what he knew and when he knew it, and he flat out lies on his new Campbell ‘facts’ website — it’s so brazen you have to wonder he’s convinced himself that he doesn’t have a terrorism problem.”

Suffice it to say, we are off to the races on this latest revelation.

UPDATE: Chuck DeVore’s Communications Director has chimed in with a statement including this: “We’ve known from the start that Tom Campbell has a problematic past with Islamist radicals, and this just fills in some details. What’s troubling is that two of the three Republicans running for US Senate in California this year have a troubling history in this regard. While Campbell was a darling of the anti-Israel set, Carly Fiorina was presiding over illegal technology transfers to Iran, and delivering paeans to Islamic civilization while the fires at the World Trade Center were still smoldering.” Fiorina has denied any illegal technology transfers occured to Iran during her tenure at Hewlett Packard.

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Tom Campbell’s Record and the GOP Senate Primary

The headline in the Jewish Journal on the California Republican Senate primary bizarrely reads: “Campbell’s Pro-Israel Stance Could Be His Undoing in Run for U.S. Senate.” Well, actually it’s his anti-Israel and pro-Muslim record and associations that are at issue. The article does accurately recount that Campbell’s record has reached the attention of the mainstream media and become a key issue in the race. It also provides a useful reminder that this is not only a matter of his Israel stance but also of Campbell’s record on terrorism and Muslim extremism:

Long before [Campbell donor Sami] Al-Arian went to jail for supporting terror, he was a professor at the University of South Florida (USF) and a political activist with high-level contacts among American politicians. His brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was imprisoned pending deportation based on secret evidence. Campbell took up the cause, visiting Al-Najjar in jail and introducing legislation critical of the government’s practice.

Campbell found himself on the side of Muslim-American civil rights groups. “The community that was most interested in this was the Muslim American community,” Campbell said in an interview last week, because 26 of the 28 people in jail under the secret evidence rule were Muslim. As a result of Campbell’s work, Al-Arian made campaign contributions totaling $1,300 to Campbell’s 2000 U.S. Senate run against Dianne Feinstein.

On May 23, 2000, Campbell testified before Congress in support of the “Secret Evidence Repeal Act,” mentioning Al-Najjar by name. Campbell shot down the government’s argument that barring secret evidence in immigration cases would lead to the release of terrorists, because the government would only need to forgo its use in immigration hearings. In his professorial style, Campbell compared the issue to other Constitutional abuses: “Why not give [suspected terrorists] truth serum, as long as they are in jail? If, like me, your stomach revolts at that thought, it must be because something in this Constitution prevents it.” That fall, Campbell lost the Senate election and left public office.

And, of course, Campbell then went on to write a letter on behalf of Al-Arian when the University of South Florida fired him. Campbell now claims it came at a time when he really was unaware of Al-Arian’s terrorist activities. (“‘A fellow law professor asked me as a matter of academic freedom to express concern about [Al-Arian],’ Campbell told The Jewish Journal. Campbell says that although he knew Al-Arian was an activist with controversial views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he had no idea Al-Arian actually was under criminal investigation by the FBI.”)

Well, as others have detailed, there was much in the public record at the time about an investigation into Al-Arian’s terrorist activities. Campbell’s defense of carelessness — “If I’m asked to write a letter on behalf of a professor, I should find out all I can about him” — doesn’t sound at all like the smart, methodical academic his boosters claim him to be.  The Journal quotes Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks: “If he’s offering a mea culpa, then I think that’s a signal to the Jewish community that he maybe would have done things differently. … It’s up to the voters to decide whether to accept his change of heart or not.”

Additionally, voters will have to consider what Campbell truly believes when it comes to anti-terrorism policies. He claims now to “strongly favor keeping Guantanamo and keeping enemy combatants under a prisoner-of-war status until the war on terror is over” and says he now actually would support the position that “enemy combatants and their supporters do not have Miranda rights or the right to confront the evidence against them.” That’s quite a change of heart for the former congressman who carried water for Al-Arian at a congressional hearing.

Voters will decide if Campbell has had a few too many changes of heart and whether his willingness to turn a blind eye toward the views of people like Israel-basher Alison Weir and Muslim extremists in the 1990s are disqualifying factors. Should he win the primary, his general-election opponent will certainly make the case that they are.

The headline in the Jewish Journal on the California Republican Senate primary bizarrely reads: “Campbell’s Pro-Israel Stance Could Be His Undoing in Run for U.S. Senate.” Well, actually it’s his anti-Israel and pro-Muslim record and associations that are at issue. The article does accurately recount that Campbell’s record has reached the attention of the mainstream media and become a key issue in the race. It also provides a useful reminder that this is not only a matter of his Israel stance but also of Campbell’s record on terrorism and Muslim extremism:

Long before [Campbell donor Sami] Al-Arian went to jail for supporting terror, he was a professor at the University of South Florida (USF) and a political activist with high-level contacts among American politicians. His brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, was imprisoned pending deportation based on secret evidence. Campbell took up the cause, visiting Al-Najjar in jail and introducing legislation critical of the government’s practice.

Campbell found himself on the side of Muslim-American civil rights groups. “The community that was most interested in this was the Muslim American community,” Campbell said in an interview last week, because 26 of the 28 people in jail under the secret evidence rule were Muslim. As a result of Campbell’s work, Al-Arian made campaign contributions totaling $1,300 to Campbell’s 2000 U.S. Senate run against Dianne Feinstein.

On May 23, 2000, Campbell testified before Congress in support of the “Secret Evidence Repeal Act,” mentioning Al-Najjar by name. Campbell shot down the government’s argument that barring secret evidence in immigration cases would lead to the release of terrorists, because the government would only need to forgo its use in immigration hearings. In his professorial style, Campbell compared the issue to other Constitutional abuses: “Why not give [suspected terrorists] truth serum, as long as they are in jail? If, like me, your stomach revolts at that thought, it must be because something in this Constitution prevents it.” That fall, Campbell lost the Senate election and left public office.

And, of course, Campbell then went on to write a letter on behalf of Al-Arian when the University of South Florida fired him. Campbell now claims it came at a time when he really was unaware of Al-Arian’s terrorist activities. (“‘A fellow law professor asked me as a matter of academic freedom to express concern about [Al-Arian],’ Campbell told The Jewish Journal. Campbell says that although he knew Al-Arian was an activist with controversial views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he had no idea Al-Arian actually was under criminal investigation by the FBI.”)

Well, as others have detailed, there was much in the public record at the time about an investigation into Al-Arian’s terrorist activities. Campbell’s defense of carelessness — “If I’m asked to write a letter on behalf of a professor, I should find out all I can about him” — doesn’t sound at all like the smart, methodical academic his boosters claim him to be.  The Journal quotes Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks: “If he’s offering a mea culpa, then I think that’s a signal to the Jewish community that he maybe would have done things differently. … It’s up to the voters to decide whether to accept his change of heart or not.”

Additionally, voters will have to consider what Campbell truly believes when it comes to anti-terrorism policies. He claims now to “strongly favor keeping Guantanamo and keeping enemy combatants under a prisoner-of-war status until the war on terror is over” and says he now actually would support the position that “enemy combatants and their supporters do not have Miranda rights or the right to confront the evidence against them.” That’s quite a change of heart for the former congressman who carried water for Al-Arian at a congressional hearing.

Voters will decide if Campbell has had a few too many changes of heart and whether his willingness to turn a blind eye toward the views of people like Israel-basher Alison Weir and Muslim extremists in the 1990s are disqualifying factors. Should he win the primary, his general-election opponent will certainly make the case that they are.

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Another Jab at Campbell

Chuck DeVore, the other contender in the California Senate race, has joined Carly Fiorina in taking a swing at Tom Campbell. In an e-mail to California media, his spokesman writes:

As you know, President Obama’s proposed envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conferemce, Rashad Hussain, is under fire for having misled the public about his past statements. Among them is his defense of Sami Al-Arian, convicted conspirator for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as a victim of “politically motivated persecutions.”

This is a timely issue for those of us in the California Senate race, as one of the contenders for the Republican nomination also has a history with Sami Al-Arian — having received his support, written letters in his defense, and even visited his brother-in-law (also a Palestinian Islamic Jihad figure) in prison. That contender is Tom Campbell.

Campbell now professes to be a great supporter of Israel and to favor stringent sanctions against Iran. Fair enough, but his opponents have raised serious questions about his past record. It stands out among mainstream Republicans, both in his voting record opposing aid to Israel and in his cozy relationship with CAIR. California voters will have to decide whether they believe his current campaign rhetoric or whether his past record is a more telling reflection of his actual views. One thing is certain: the Democrats will use each and every vote of Campbell’s and each and every campaign donation and association with Muslim fundamentalists as fodder in the general election, should Campbell be the nominee.

Chuck DeVore, the other contender in the California Senate race, has joined Carly Fiorina in taking a swing at Tom Campbell. In an e-mail to California media, his spokesman writes:

As you know, President Obama’s proposed envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conferemce, Rashad Hussain, is under fire for having misled the public about his past statements. Among them is his defense of Sami Al-Arian, convicted conspirator for the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as a victim of “politically motivated persecutions.”

This is a timely issue for those of us in the California Senate race, as one of the contenders for the Republican nomination also has a history with Sami Al-Arian — having received his support, written letters in his defense, and even visited his brother-in-law (also a Palestinian Islamic Jihad figure) in prison. That contender is Tom Campbell.

Campbell now professes to be a great supporter of Israel and to favor stringent sanctions against Iran. Fair enough, but his opponents have raised serious questions about his past record. It stands out among mainstream Republicans, both in his voting record opposing aid to Israel and in his cozy relationship with CAIR. California voters will have to decide whether they believe his current campaign rhetoric or whether his past record is a more telling reflection of his actual views. One thing is certain: the Democrats will use each and every vote of Campbell’s and each and every campaign donation and association with Muslim fundamentalists as fodder in the general election, should Campbell be the nominee.

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Tom Campbell and Sami Al-Arian

Phil Klein did some further digging to confirm that, indeed, then Rep. Tom Campbell received $1,300 in campaign donations from Sami Al-Arian, who later “pleaded guilty to conspiring to help associates of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Phil observed that when the donations were made, “Al-Arian was already under investigation by the government in 2000 and his publicly radical views were known.”

Campbell then responded and shockingly revealed “not only that Al-Arian donated money to his campaign, but that he visited Al-Arian’s brother-in-law (himself associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad) in prison.” And if that were not enough, he confirms “that when Al-Arian was fired from the University of South Florida (after controversy generated by a Bill O’Reilly report on Al-Arian’s terrorist ties), he sent a letter to the school protesting the action.”

At least we know where Campbell stands on these issues and for whom he chooses to go to bat. Campbell’s opponents have yet to comment on any of this, but if Campbell should make it through the primary, one thing is certain: Sen. Barbara Boxer will certainly beat him over the head with this.

Phil Klein did some further digging to confirm that, indeed, then Rep. Tom Campbell received $1,300 in campaign donations from Sami Al-Arian, who later “pleaded guilty to conspiring to help associates of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Phil observed that when the donations were made, “Al-Arian was already under investigation by the government in 2000 and his publicly radical views were known.”

Campbell then responded and shockingly revealed “not only that Al-Arian donated money to his campaign, but that he visited Al-Arian’s brother-in-law (himself associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad) in prison.” And if that were not enough, he confirms “that when Al-Arian was fired from the University of South Florida (after controversy generated by a Bill O’Reilly report on Al-Arian’s terrorist ties), he sent a letter to the school protesting the action.”

At least we know where Campbell stands on these issues and for whom he chooses to go to bat. Campbell’s opponents have yet to comment on any of this, but if Campbell should make it through the primary, one thing is certain: Sen. Barbara Boxer will certainly beat him over the head with this.

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Kerry’s Endorsement Stings Hillary

Once again Obama out-Clintons the Clintons. John Kerry’s obvious snubbing of former running mate John Edwards is nothing compared to the frustration Hillary feels at having lost out on the Kerry endorsement. At Time.com Karen Tumulty reports: “a source close to Kerry tells me that the person who had been working hardest to get [Kerry’s endorsement] was Hillary Clinton–to the point where her husband had personally lobbied Kerry’s brother Cam and his former brother-in-law David Thorne.”

Tumulty explains that Kerry isn’t terribly fond of the Clintons, as they were pretty tepid in their support of him in 2004. The truth is, not many people have rubbed up against Bill and Hillary and walked away feeling particularly good about it; whereas most Democrats will stand in line to bask in Obama’s reflective glow. The unseemly after-effect of the personal Clinton encounter can be thought of as the flipside to the public Clinton cult—and it’s a campaign liability. It seems a lot of top Dems are waiting on the sidelines hoping to avoid a pro-Clinton stance. We haven’t heard much from Ted Kennedy, for example. And David Roberts at the environmental blog Gristmill suspects that, if it comes down to it, Gore would declare himself an Obama man.

There were a great many people persuaded by Hillary’s tears. She can’t expect many of her former associates to be among them.

Once again Obama out-Clintons the Clintons. John Kerry’s obvious snubbing of former running mate John Edwards is nothing compared to the frustration Hillary feels at having lost out on the Kerry endorsement. At Time.com Karen Tumulty reports: “a source close to Kerry tells me that the person who had been working hardest to get [Kerry’s endorsement] was Hillary Clinton–to the point where her husband had personally lobbied Kerry’s brother Cam and his former brother-in-law David Thorne.”

Tumulty explains that Kerry isn’t terribly fond of the Clintons, as they were pretty tepid in their support of him in 2004. The truth is, not many people have rubbed up against Bill and Hillary and walked away feeling particularly good about it; whereas most Democrats will stand in line to bask in Obama’s reflective glow. The unseemly after-effect of the personal Clinton encounter can be thought of as the flipside to the public Clinton cult—and it’s a campaign liability. It seems a lot of top Dems are waiting on the sidelines hoping to avoid a pro-Clinton stance. We haven’t heard much from Ted Kennedy, for example. And David Roberts at the environmental blog Gristmill suspects that, if it comes down to it, Gore would declare himself an Obama man.

There were a great many people persuaded by Hillary’s tears. She can’t expect many of her former associates to be among them.

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Top Five Handshakes of 2007

The most choreographed aspect of any meeting between two heads-of-state is the handshake. Of course, some handshakes are better choreographed than others, but the essential elements are usually the same: warm smiles, tight clenches, and an eye towards the camera—no matter what the two leaders think of each other.

Given the prevalence of the handshake in international relations, most handshakes are entirely unspectacular. Yet, among the thousands of picture-perfect handshakes that leaders deliver to the media each year, some inevitably stand out as especially encouraging, disappointing, or ironic. With this in mind, I present the top five handshakes of 2007:

5. Saudi King Abdullah greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Annapolis.

5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and George H.W. Bush’s dog. Granted, this isn’t a handshake, per se. Yet the intense look on Putin’s face indicates that serious business is being accomplished. With a respected former president looking on, Putin’s meeting with the well-connected mutt has the appearance of a major diplomatic success.

4. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This handshake proves that memories are impressively short in international affairs. In 1989, Libya was implicated in the UTA 772 bombing, in which 170 people were murdered while flying to Paris; a French court found Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law, among five others, culpable. But this month, Qaddafi—having since accepted responsibility for the attack, compensated the families, and destroyed his WMD—was welcomed in Paris. It rarely gets more awkward than this, and not just because of Qaddafi’s beatnik-styled facial hair.

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The most choreographed aspect of any meeting between two heads-of-state is the handshake. Of course, some handshakes are better choreographed than others, but the essential elements are usually the same: warm smiles, tight clenches, and an eye towards the camera—no matter what the two leaders think of each other.

Given the prevalence of the handshake in international relations, most handshakes are entirely unspectacular. Yet, among the thousands of picture-perfect handshakes that leaders deliver to the media each year, some inevitably stand out as especially encouraging, disappointing, or ironic. With this in mind, I present the top five handshakes of 2007:

5. Saudi King Abdullah greets Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at Annapolis.

5. Russian President Vladimir Putin and George H.W. Bush’s dog. Granted, this isn’t a handshake, per se. Yet the intense look on Putin’s face indicates that serious business is being accomplished. With a respected former president looking on, Putin’s meeting with the well-connected mutt has the appearance of a major diplomatic success.

4. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi. This handshake proves that memories are impressively short in international affairs. In 1989, Libya was implicated in the UTA 772 bombing, in which 170 people were murdered while flying to Paris; a French court found Qaddafi’s own brother-in-law, among five others, culpable. But this month, Qaddafi—having since accepted responsibility for the attack, compensated the families, and destroyed his WMD—was welcomed in Paris. It rarely gets more awkward than this, and not just because of Qaddafi’s beatnik-styled facial hair.

3. U.S. President George W. Bush poses with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. As I noted last month, the Annapolis Conference ended with a shutout: three Olmert-Abbas-with-Bush-in-between handshakes, and zero peace-promoting accomplishments.

2. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad greets his favorite basketball player Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. I know: Syria sent its deputy foreign minister to Annapolis, so it’s entering the U.S. orbit and moving away from Iran. Apparently the Syrian president and his Iranian counterpart haven’t gotten the memo.

1. Abbas shakes hands with Hamas leaders Khalid Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Like so many Hamas-Fatah truces before it, this one started with Hamas’s reeling from Israeli strikes and political isolation and ended with Hamas stronger than it had ever been previously. Hamas now controls Gaza, and has set its sights on the West Bank. Yet, for a few moments in February, this latest Hamas-Fatah truce held so much promise—as a symbol of their unity, Abbas, Meshal, and Haniyeh had even coordinated their outfits. It doesn’t get more choreographed than that.

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“Arab Street,” U.S.A.

An article in today’s Los Angeles Times reports new, sordid details in the investigation of Nada Nadim Prouty, a Lebanese woman—an illegal immigrant—who was nevertheless employed by the FBI and CIA(!), and is accused of stealing top-secret documents for Hizballah. Her brother-in-law, the paper reports, is a “suspected major fund-raiser” for Hizballah.

If that’s not shocking enough, the penultimate paragraph in the L.A. Times article contains very worrisome information, presumably placed in the article as background. “Hizballah is popular with many Lebanese Americans because of its humanitarian efforts and Middle East political activities.”

I thought the bit about Hizballah’s popularity was hyperbole, and I tried to find polling data that might back the statement up one way or another. Instead, I found this NPR story from last year. In the summer of 2006, it turns out, 15,000 Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, held a demonstration to declare their loyalties. When the crowd cheered “Who is your army?” The response was “Hizballah!” The editor of America’s largest Arab newspaper, the Arab-American News, chimed in that “the terrorist here is the Bush administration.” At the rally, swastikas were imprinted onto Israeli flags.

The second half of the sentence in the Los Angeles Times piece is terrifying for a different reason: its attempt at “objectivity.” Hizballah’s “political activities”? The old saying is that “war is politics by other means.” For Hizballah, an organization responsible for as many terror attacks against Americans as al Qaeda, terror is not simply “political activities” as other means, it is their only politics and their only means.

An article in today’s Los Angeles Times reports new, sordid details in the investigation of Nada Nadim Prouty, a Lebanese woman—an illegal immigrant—who was nevertheless employed by the FBI and CIA(!), and is accused of stealing top-secret documents for Hizballah. Her brother-in-law, the paper reports, is a “suspected major fund-raiser” for Hizballah.

If that’s not shocking enough, the penultimate paragraph in the L.A. Times article contains very worrisome information, presumably placed in the article as background. “Hizballah is popular with many Lebanese Americans because of its humanitarian efforts and Middle East political activities.”

I thought the bit about Hizballah’s popularity was hyperbole, and I tried to find polling data that might back the statement up one way or another. Instead, I found this NPR story from last year. In the summer of 2006, it turns out, 15,000 Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Michigan, held a demonstration to declare their loyalties. When the crowd cheered “Who is your army?” The response was “Hizballah!” The editor of America’s largest Arab newspaper, the Arab-American News, chimed in that “the terrorist here is the Bush administration.” At the rally, swastikas were imprinted onto Israeli flags.

The second half of the sentence in the Los Angeles Times piece is terrifying for a different reason: its attempt at “objectivity.” Hizballah’s “political activities”? The old saying is that “war is politics by other means.” For Hizballah, an organization responsible for as many terror attacks against Americans as al Qaeda, terror is not simply “political activities” as other means, it is their only politics and their only means.

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Obama’s Diplomacy Gap

Barack Obama claims to understand uniquely how the world’s perceptions of the United States have changed in recent years. For starters, Obama lived in Indonesia from the ages of six to ten, making him the only presidential candidate to have spent any substantial period of time in the Muslim world. Moreover, as he’s eager to tell us, Obama is deeply connected with other cultures, with a grandmother living in Kenya, a half-Indonesian sister, and a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law. In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub explores how Obama’s biography has influenced his vision for American foreign policy:

[Obama] returns again and again to the question of what America means to the rest of the world…. Obama would like to restore the era when people in capitals all over the world could go to the local American cultural center to read books and magazines, the way he could in Jakarta—though now he would add English lessons and vocational training, and “stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country.”

Obama is correct that the United States should more aggressively reach out to Muslim publics. However, restoring America’s reputation will require more than emphasizing those values that Americans share with the Muslim world—which the presence of a strong, domestic Muslim-American community certainly symbolizes. Indeed, the true challenge of public diplomacy lies in frankly addressing those issues on which the United States and the Muslim world differ, including the war in Iraq, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, support for Israel, and the drive to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities.

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Barack Obama claims to understand uniquely how the world’s perceptions of the United States have changed in recent years. For starters, Obama lived in Indonesia from the ages of six to ten, making him the only presidential candidate to have spent any substantial period of time in the Muslim world. Moreover, as he’s eager to tell us, Obama is deeply connected with other cultures, with a grandmother living in Kenya, a half-Indonesian sister, and a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law. In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub explores how Obama’s biography has influenced his vision for American foreign policy:

[Obama] returns again and again to the question of what America means to the rest of the world…. Obama would like to restore the era when people in capitals all over the world could go to the local American cultural center to read books and magazines, the way he could in Jakarta—though now he would add English lessons and vocational training, and “stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country.”

Obama is correct that the United States should more aggressively reach out to Muslim publics. However, restoring America’s reputation will require more than emphasizing those values that Americans share with the Muslim world—which the presence of a strong, domestic Muslim-American community certainly symbolizes. Indeed, the true challenge of public diplomacy lies in frankly addressing those issues on which the United States and the Muslim world differ, including the war in Iraq, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, support for Israel, and the drive to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities.

In explaining the U.S.’s interest on these critical issues, Obama is ill-prepared. He prides himself on having opposed the Iraq war since 2002, and would likely reinforce the perception of many in the Muslim world that the war was the product of “exaggerated fears.”

Obama further appears unsuited to explaining the U.S.-Israel relationship, which he has supported publicly. He is advised by former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has defended the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that this relationship is the product of Jewish pressure, not strategic interest—a theory that has contributed to the proliferation of popular anti-Semitism on the “Arab street.” Indeed, Brzezinski is a huge liability if Obama hopes to convince Americans of his ability to sell American foreign policy. Brzezinski recently signed a letter demanding dialogue with Hamas, a move that would turn our backs on the one Arab constituency still nominally receptive to American aims—liberal Arabs. Of course, this letter was consistent with Obama’s own belief that the U.S. should talk with Iran’s leaders—a move that similarly would alienate Iran’s younger generation, widely thought to be liberal and pro-American.

If Obama hopes to prove that his version of “soft power” is truly powerful, he must explain how he will broaden America’s appeal among opponents in the Middle East without alienating allies. Distributing State Department-approved copies of Muhammad Ali’s biography and providing free English lessons simply won’t cut it.

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