Commentary Magazine


Topic: Brussels

A Policy That Pleases No One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Responding to John Derbyshire (Again)

John Derbyshire has responded to my post in which I took him to task for his criticisms of President Bush’s initiative to fight AIDS in Africa. Here are a few reactions to what Derbyshire writes:

1. One way to judge a debate is by how much ground the other party concedes. With that in mind, Derbyshire began by saying this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

He is now saying this:

“22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years.” Possibly so; but does this have anything to do with PEPFAR, which is the subject under discussion?

So Derbyshire has shifted from saying that thanks to the generous efforts of America, Africans are “continu[ing] in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits,” to conceding that, as UNAIDS reports, HIV infections have significantly declined in the past decade. Derbyshire is now arguing whether PEPFAR deserves credit for the decline. That’s progress of a sort, I suppose. Read More

John Derbyshire has responded to my post in which I took him to task for his criticisms of President Bush’s initiative to fight AIDS in Africa. Here are a few reactions to what Derbyshire writes:

1. One way to judge a debate is by how much ground the other party concedes. With that in mind, Derbyshire began by saying this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

He is now saying this:

“22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years.” Possibly so; but does this have anything to do with PEPFAR, which is the subject under discussion?

So Derbyshire has shifted from saying that thanks to the generous efforts of America, Africans are “continu[ing] in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits,” to conceding that, as UNAIDS reports, HIV infections have significantly declined in the past decade. Derbyshire is now arguing whether PEPFAR deserves credit for the decline. That’s progress of a sort, I suppose.

(For those interested in the most relevant findings of the UNAIDS report, I would recommend page 11 [Figure 1.3], which shows drops in people aged 15–25 years who had sex before age 15 years and who had multiple partners in the past 12 months; page 22, which shows AIDS-related deaths by region, 1990-2009; page 27 [Figure 2.8], which shows the number of people newly infected with HIV as well as adult and child deaths due to AIDS; and page 28, which reports, “With an estimated 5.6 million … people living with HIV in 2009, South Africa’s epidemic remains the largest in the world. New indications show a slowing of HIV incidence amid some signs of a shift towards safer sex among young people. The annual HIV incidence among 18-year-olds declined sharply from 1.8% in 2005 to 0.8% in 2008, and among women 15–24 years old it dropped from 5.5% in 2003–2005 to 2.2% in 2005–2008.”)

So did PEPFAR have measurable effects? Drs. Eran Bendavid and Jayanta Bhattacharya evaluated the program’s outcomes in the Annals of Internal Medicine last year. They found that the program was responsible for a decrease of more than 10 percent in “deaths due to HIV or AIDS.” Millions of lives were saved thanks to “improved treatment and care of HIV-infected persons,” especially “the greater availability of highly active antiretroviral therapy,” which was an important focus of the program.

Admittedly, the prevalence of HIV infection in the population did not decline — precisely because people who would have died because of the virus were instead still living thanks to the drugs they received. But in the long run (as Drs. Julio Montaner, Viviane Lima, and Brian Williams note, also in the Annals), there is good reason to believe that “expanded antiretroviral therapy coverage may play a significant role in curbing the spread of HIV.”

More research will be necessary to fully determine the effects of PEPFAR, especially over the long term. But surveying the scientific literature to date, we can now reasonably conclude, I think, that while PEPFAR certainly isn’t solely responsible for the positive changes we’ve seen in Africa, it has contributed to them. And it has certainly not, as Derbyshire originally contended, made things worse.

2. Mr. Derbyshire writes:

There is then some argument that PEPFAR helps promote orderliness in poor nations. On this, I don’t have anything to add to what I said in my December 2 post. Mr. Wehner’s remarks are anyway just a chain of unjustified, unreferenced assertions. Some of them are contradicted by the much more knowledgeable Princeton N. Lyman and Stephen B. Wittels in the Foreign Affairs paper that was the hinge of my original post.

Mr. Wehner has nothing to say about that paper.

I thought my original piece was plenty long enough, but since Derbyshire insists on raising the topic: I have indeed read the essay by Lyman and Wittels that Derbyshire calls the “hinge” of his original post. The authors argue that, among other things, the U.S.’s commitment to helping treat HIV patients is limiting Washington’s leverage over recipient countries. But what I will tell you, which Derbyshire does not, is that Lyman and Wittels strongly support PEPFAR. But let them speak for themselves:

None of these issues [raised in the essay] should be allowed to undermine the commitment to treat all HIV/AIDS patients. This undertaking [PEPFAR and associated international programs] is one of the greatest humanitarian gestures in history and a statement by the developed countries that they refuse to deny life-saving treatments readily available in rich states to the millions elsewhere who need them. But the full implications of this commitment need to be addressed before they become a more serious problem.

Messrs. Lyman and Wittels are in fact offering steps that will “help sustain this major undertaking.” So the very essay on which Derbyshire rests his anti-PEPFAR case describes PEPFAR as “one of the greatest humanitarian gestures in history.” How inconvenient for Derbyshire.

3. Derbyshire writes, “If [Wehner] has read [the Lyman and Wittels essay] he will know how spurious is his comparison of PEPFAR — an ever-increasing permanent welfare commitment — to the 2004 tsunami relief effort, a one-off rescue mission.”

Actually, my comparison is not at all spurious. Remember, in his original post, Derbyshire wrote, “There is, however, no virtue in a government official spending your money and mine unless for some reason demonstrably connected to our national interest.”

My point is a simple one: even if you don’t believe that helping the victims of the tsunami was in the “national interest,” it still might be a good thing to do. Derbyshire’s argument, taken literally, denies such a thing. But when pressed on this, Derbyshire backs away from his original position. In fact, he now seems to favor “one-off disaster relief efforts in remote places.” Again, this is progress of a sort.

4. Derbyshire can’t seem to comprehend why I quoted Lincoln. Let me see if I can help him out. The quote articulates Lincoln’s view about the inherent dignity of all human beings, a belief that is relevant to this discussion since it touches on why we should care about people from other continents and other cultures — a sentiment that Derbyshire’s writings are arrestingly free of. Speaking of which: in reaction to my citing his 2006 comment that “I don’t care about Egyptians,” made after learning that around 1,000 Egyptians had perished in a tragic ferry accident at sea, Derbyshire writes this:

The rest is just more low ad hominem sneering. Goodness, how the man does sneer! He says that I am “eager to celebrate [my] callousness,” and quotes in support something I wrote in early 2006. Since I write roughly a hundred thousand words of fugitive journalism a year, that is around half a million words ago. I don’t see much “eagerness” there. If I were to mention, say, Brussels sprouts once every five years, would Mr. Wehner accuse me of being obsessed with that vegetable?

Let’s set aside the obvious irony — obvious to everyone but Derbyshire, that is — of having Derbyshire lecture anyone about sneering. I never said Derbyshire was “obsessed” with this matter — but clearly he was eager to express his views about his utter indifference to the death of many innocent people. Derbyshire now implies that his lack of compassion for Egyptians was because citizens like him were “so busy working for a living, caring for their families and friends, and worrying about the condition of their country that they have nothing to spare for the misfortunes of people in remote, unimportant places.”

Of course he was. Derbyshire’s empathy and mercy tank is empty; there is nothing to spare. Compassion fatigue takes a toll on us all.

5. Then there’s the matter of the Derbyshire put-downs like (but not limited to) this one:

Then there are some impertinent speculations concerning what I do and do not care about. I shall surrender here to the temptation that always comes over me when I am the target of sanctimonious bullying by self-congratulating prigs: Bite me, pal.

Perhaps at some point, Derbyshire will learn to distinguish crude, adolescent insults from witty ones. I would simply point out that Kathryn Lopez, Derbyshire’s colleague at National Review Online, rendered this carefully understated verdict on Derbyshire’s pieces: “I think the thread on President Bush, AIDS, and Africa took another unfortunate and unnecessary tonal turn this morning.”

John Derbyshire seems to have settled on a pattern. He makes bad arguments in callous ways and calls it conservatism. There are many things that might explain why Derbyshire says what he says; conservatism is not one of them.

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An Exceptional Life

I admit to being a fan of obituaries, not only those of the most famous or infamous but also of those whose lives were not played out in daily headlines. They are tiny history lessons and morality tales. They are vivid reminders that ordinary people are capable of doing remarkable things, and they prod us to ask: what would I have done?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a gem. We learn:

Shortly after German troops invaded Belgium in 1940, Gaston Vandermeerssche, a Belgian university student, bicycled 800 miles to the south of France and became a spy.

Mr. Vandermeerssche, who died Nov. 1 at age 89 in Milwaukee, joined the resistance and ferried microfilm documents over the Pyrenees to Spain, where intermediaries sent the information on to London.

Later in the war he helped organize the Dutch underground, which came to comprise hundreds of agents and safe houses. After his network was penetrated by the Germans, he tried to escape, but was arrested near the Spanish border. He spent 24 months being interrogated in prison, but by his own account never broke.

The details of his exploits are eye-popping. (“He became a courier, making weekly trips from Brussels to Toulouse to Barcelona. The last leg involved trudging over snowy passes in the Pyrenees by moonlight. The microfilms he carried bore information collected by members of the underground on shipyards, gun emplacements and the like.”) But it is also the details of his very unextraordinary life — the son of a furniture maker who ended life in the U.S. as an executive of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. — that remind us of the innate decency and capacity for greatness that ordinary people possess. Indeed, it was Vandermeerssche’s unexceptionalness that confounded his captors:

Mr. Vandermeerssche was arrested in Perpignan, France, in 1943 with a cache of microfilm stuffed into butter tubs. His German interrogators suspected his role in the Dutch underground, but couldn’t prove it.

“I was so young, the Germans did not believe that this kid was the head of that large network,” he said in the oral history. “And I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I couldn’t have done this.’ ”

Months of brutal interrogation and solitary confinement failed to break Mr. Vandermeerssche’s will. He was betrayed by another member of the underground, and was sentenced to death in a military trial. But he was freed by American troops near the end of the war.

Although shattered by his experiences in prison—he said he couldn’t eat or sleep normally for a decade—Mr. Vandermeerssche resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in physics.

You can understand my fondness for obits.

I admit to being a fan of obituaries, not only those of the most famous or infamous but also of those whose lives were not played out in daily headlines. They are tiny history lessons and morality tales. They are vivid reminders that ordinary people are capable of doing remarkable things, and they prod us to ask: what would I have done?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a gem. We learn:

Shortly after German troops invaded Belgium in 1940, Gaston Vandermeerssche, a Belgian university student, bicycled 800 miles to the south of France and became a spy.

Mr. Vandermeerssche, who died Nov. 1 at age 89 in Milwaukee, joined the resistance and ferried microfilm documents over the Pyrenees to Spain, where intermediaries sent the information on to London.

Later in the war he helped organize the Dutch underground, which came to comprise hundreds of agents and safe houses. After his network was penetrated by the Germans, he tried to escape, but was arrested near the Spanish border. He spent 24 months being interrogated in prison, but by his own account never broke.

The details of his exploits are eye-popping. (“He became a courier, making weekly trips from Brussels to Toulouse to Barcelona. The last leg involved trudging over snowy passes in the Pyrenees by moonlight. The microfilms he carried bore information collected by members of the underground on shipyards, gun emplacements and the like.”) But it is also the details of his very unextraordinary life — the son of a furniture maker who ended life in the U.S. as an executive of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. — that remind us of the innate decency and capacity for greatness that ordinary people possess. Indeed, it was Vandermeerssche’s unexceptionalness that confounded his captors:

Mr. Vandermeerssche was arrested in Perpignan, France, in 1943 with a cache of microfilm stuffed into butter tubs. His German interrogators suspected his role in the Dutch underground, but couldn’t prove it.

“I was so young, the Germans did not believe that this kid was the head of that large network,” he said in the oral history. “And I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I couldn’t have done this.’ ”

Months of brutal interrogation and solitary confinement failed to break Mr. Vandermeerssche’s will. He was betrayed by another member of the underground, and was sentenced to death in a military trial. But he was freed by American troops near the end of the war.

Although shattered by his experiences in prison—he said he couldn’t eat or sleep normally for a decade—Mr. Vandermeerssche resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in physics.

You can understand my fondness for obits.

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Planting the Flag: Starting Gun in the Race to Jerusalem

If you need proof that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to plant the Revolutionary Iranian flag in Jerusalem, consider this. A replica of the Al-Aqsa mosque is being constructed by Iran in southern Lebanon as a prop for Ahmadinejad’s visit next week. The Iranian president will officially open the mosque for business and be photographed in front of it throwing stones toward Israel. And the mosque, according to Israeli reports, has the flag of Iran flying over it.

Hezbollah has flown Iranian flags in southern Lebanon for some time. The terrorists operate an Iran-sponsored fiefdom there; UNIFIL has been unable for months to conduct patrols in towns denied to it by Hezbollah, a pattern repeated this past weekend when the UN force sought to investigate a Hezbollah weapons cache in its patrol zone.

But Iran and Hezbollah have chosen to take advantage until now of the minimal independent news coverage in southern Lebanon. Little gets into the Western press about the situation there, and when it does, it doesn’t come from Hezbollah or Iran. What Ahmadinejad plans to do next week, with media coverage and pointed images, marks a major “informational” break. It’s a plan to draw back the veil and clarify Hezbollah’s loyalties and Iran’s involvement. And the central theme is the Iranian flag symbolically aloft over Jerusalem.

This blatant signal is something Ahmadinejad should be prevented from sending. It will be as much a shot across Saudi Arabia’s bow as across Israel’s: a symbolic announcement that the “race to Jerusalem” is on. As discussed here, the Saudis — default leaders of the Arab world — already show signs of preparing to compete in that race.

Unfortunately, the fecklessness of the UN extends beyond an impotent UNIFIL. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, British diplomat Michael Williams, met with an Iranian envoy last week to discuss the visit by Ahmadinejad and approved it as a “significant event.” He went on to hail “Tehran’s balanced approach and inclusive relations with all political and religious parties in [Lebanon].” The UN will not be a source of responsible diplomacy; neither will Russia, which is positioning itself to back the winner of the race to Jerusalem. The EU remains mired in domestic constituency tending, and therefore focused on the legal status of Gaza flotillas and the arguing of anti-Israel resolutions in Brussels.

Among the Middle East Quartet, only the U.S. retains such a posture as would make it possible to take action against the beginning of a “race to Jerusalem.” The pressure point is the government in Beirut, which, if it accepts Ahmadinejad’s visit, must exercise its formal sovereignty over the southern territory and ensure that no Iranian flags are flown over anything but Ahmadinejad’s official convoy. Israel is pressing the Lebanese to cancel the visit; if the U.S. cannot bring itself to do that, our diplomats should at least embolden the Lebanese to get the Iranian flags out of there. This is not meaningless symbolism. The fact that it’s Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah who feel emboldened at present is the most meaningful one of all.

If you need proof that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to plant the Revolutionary Iranian flag in Jerusalem, consider this. A replica of the Al-Aqsa mosque is being constructed by Iran in southern Lebanon as a prop for Ahmadinejad’s visit next week. The Iranian president will officially open the mosque for business and be photographed in front of it throwing stones toward Israel. And the mosque, according to Israeli reports, has the flag of Iran flying over it.

Hezbollah has flown Iranian flags in southern Lebanon for some time. The terrorists operate an Iran-sponsored fiefdom there; UNIFIL has been unable for months to conduct patrols in towns denied to it by Hezbollah, a pattern repeated this past weekend when the UN force sought to investigate a Hezbollah weapons cache in its patrol zone.

But Iran and Hezbollah have chosen to take advantage until now of the minimal independent news coverage in southern Lebanon. Little gets into the Western press about the situation there, and when it does, it doesn’t come from Hezbollah or Iran. What Ahmadinejad plans to do next week, with media coverage and pointed images, marks a major “informational” break. It’s a plan to draw back the veil and clarify Hezbollah’s loyalties and Iran’s involvement. And the central theme is the Iranian flag symbolically aloft over Jerusalem.

This blatant signal is something Ahmadinejad should be prevented from sending. It will be as much a shot across Saudi Arabia’s bow as across Israel’s: a symbolic announcement that the “race to Jerusalem” is on. As discussed here, the Saudis — default leaders of the Arab world — already show signs of preparing to compete in that race.

Unfortunately, the fecklessness of the UN extends beyond an impotent UNIFIL. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, British diplomat Michael Williams, met with an Iranian envoy last week to discuss the visit by Ahmadinejad and approved it as a “significant event.” He went on to hail “Tehran’s balanced approach and inclusive relations with all political and religious parties in [Lebanon].” The UN will not be a source of responsible diplomacy; neither will Russia, which is positioning itself to back the winner of the race to Jerusalem. The EU remains mired in domestic constituency tending, and therefore focused on the legal status of Gaza flotillas and the arguing of anti-Israel resolutions in Brussels.

Among the Middle East Quartet, only the U.S. retains such a posture as would make it possible to take action against the beginning of a “race to Jerusalem.” The pressure point is the government in Beirut, which, if it accepts Ahmadinejad’s visit, must exercise its formal sovereignty over the southern territory and ensure that no Iranian flags are flown over anything but Ahmadinejad’s official convoy. Israel is pressing the Lebanese to cancel the visit; if the U.S. cannot bring itself to do that, our diplomats should at least embolden the Lebanese to get the Iranian flags out of there. This is not meaningless symbolism. The fact that it’s Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah who feel emboldened at present is the most meaningful one of all.

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Obama’s Iran Policy in Shambles

The Obama team keeps telling us that its foreign-policy gurus have successfully “isolated” Iran and are proceeding with serious sanctions. Neither is true. The Washington Post reports:

A year ago, Iran was on its way to becoming a pariah state. Dozens of governments accused Iranian leaders of stealing the presidential election and condemned the brutal crackdown on protesters that followed. The country faced sanctions and international scorn over its controversial nuclear program.

Now, even as the U.N. Security Council prepares to impose its fourth round of sanctions on Iran with a vote slated for Wednesday, Tehran is demonstrating remarkable resilience, insulating some of its most crucial industries from U.S.-backed financial restrictions and building a formidable diplomatic network that should help it withstand some of the pressure from the West. Iranian leaders are meeting politicians in world capitals from Tokyo to Brussels. They are also signing game-changing energy deals, increasing their economic self-sufficiency and even gaining seats on international bodies.

As for those sanctions, the Post reveals just how ineffective they are:

But in another sign of the fragile nature of Washington’s anti-Iran alliance, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran convened a regional security summit Tuesday to emphasize the realignment of military power in the region. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who backs U.N. sanctions, said the measures should not “be excessive” or impose undue hardship on the Iranian leadership or the Iranian people.

The new U.S.-backed measures have been watered down enough that Tehran’s crucial oil sector will probably be spared, and Russia’s and China’s business dealings with Iran will go largely untouched.

Meanwhile, members of Congress shuffle their collective feet, Jewish groups remain mum, and the Obama administration congratulates itself on its “success.” Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, says the administration’s moves won’t hobble Iran’s nuclear ambitions. (“The horse is out of the stable.”) At every turn — engagement, “reset” with Russia, quietude on the June 12 uprising, downplaying the Qom revelation, fashioning anemic sanctions, and abusing our ally Israel — the Obama team has made fundamental errors. This leaves two options: Israeli military action or a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is undesirable, but the latter is catastrophic. That we face this dilemma is solely the result of Obama’s grievous errors. History will not be kind.

The Obama team keeps telling us that its foreign-policy gurus have successfully “isolated” Iran and are proceeding with serious sanctions. Neither is true. The Washington Post reports:

A year ago, Iran was on its way to becoming a pariah state. Dozens of governments accused Iranian leaders of stealing the presidential election and condemned the brutal crackdown on protesters that followed. The country faced sanctions and international scorn over its controversial nuclear program.

Now, even as the U.N. Security Council prepares to impose its fourth round of sanctions on Iran with a vote slated for Wednesday, Tehran is demonstrating remarkable resilience, insulating some of its most crucial industries from U.S.-backed financial restrictions and building a formidable diplomatic network that should help it withstand some of the pressure from the West. Iranian leaders are meeting politicians in world capitals from Tokyo to Brussels. They are also signing game-changing energy deals, increasing their economic self-sufficiency and even gaining seats on international bodies.

As for those sanctions, the Post reveals just how ineffective they are:

But in another sign of the fragile nature of Washington’s anti-Iran alliance, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran convened a regional security summit Tuesday to emphasize the realignment of military power in the region. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who backs U.N. sanctions, said the measures should not “be excessive” or impose undue hardship on the Iranian leadership or the Iranian people.

The new U.S.-backed measures have been watered down enough that Tehran’s crucial oil sector will probably be spared, and Russia’s and China’s business dealings with Iran will go largely untouched.

Meanwhile, members of Congress shuffle their collective feet, Jewish groups remain mum, and the Obama administration congratulates itself on its “success.” Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, says the administration’s moves won’t hobble Iran’s nuclear ambitions. (“The horse is out of the stable.”) At every turn — engagement, “reset” with Russia, quietude on the June 12 uprising, downplaying the Qom revelation, fashioning anemic sanctions, and abusing our ally Israel — the Obama team has made fundamental errors. This leaves two options: Israeli military action or a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is undesirable, but the latter is catastrophic. That we face this dilemma is solely the result of Obama’s grievous errors. History will not be kind.

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Something Must Be Done

A.A. Gill’s much-forwarded piece in the Times on Britain’s election is a delightfully readable mixture of wrong-headedness, error, and sputtering confusion, with some sensible ideas and superb acidity mixed in. There is a case to be made that the House of Commons is too big — though reducing it would only mean larger constituencies, and thus an even more tenuous connection between MPs and those constituencies. And there is an even better case to be made that, as the expenses scandal revealed, the Commons has been far too concerned with feathering its own nest.

On the other hand, some of his ideas are revealing in their errors. Gill’s worried about the role of the House of Lords, as if the Lords has really been a vital political issue at any point over the past 99 years. He’s angry that the constituency boundaries give Labour a substantial advantage. Actually, Labour’s built-in advantage is between six and 16 seats: it’s real, but it’s not huge. He’s angry that MPs have to concern themselves with “pointless” local matters like “potholes, traffic lights, arguments with the police and admissions to schools and hospitals,” as if these kinds of concerns are beneath the dignity of democratic politics.

And he’s annoyed that he has “never covered an election in a democracy where candidates have been so reluctant to speak to the electorate through the press.” Of course, one reason for that is that public appearances by Gordon Brown tend to alienate more voters than they attract. Another, more substantial one is that political speech in Britain during an election is heavily controlled by law, a fact that sheds some useful light on the merits of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision.

But when you come right down to it, Gill’s big beef is with Britain itself. He’s wonderfully dismissive of Nick Clegg (“He speaks five languages but can’t say boo in any of them”) and Gordon Brown (“He wrestles with an Old Testament temper, and it’s said that he has no friends. Certainly, none of them have come out to contradict this”), and his dismissal of proportional representation is excellent. Like Edward VIII, he believes that “something must be done,” but he’s not clear exactly what, apart to be sure that Britain’s traditions are at the root of its problems.

This is, frankly, ridiculous. The problem in Britain isn’t too much tradition. It’s the demolition of it. The vast majority of law in Britain is now made in Brussels. Parliament is immeasurably less important to politics than it has been in the past, as evidenced by the American-style debates that Gill praises. The idea that Parliament still works today as it did in Trollope’s age doesn’t bear up under scrutiny for more than a second.

Britain’s fundamental problem is that in a parliamentary system, you need both strong support for the government (otherwise it can be gone in minutes) and strong scrutiny of government (otherwise it’s omnipotent at worst or corrupt at best). The presidentialization of politics means a weakening of parties, and the decline of the Commons means less public scrutiny of government (and of the EU), as well as all manner of petty snouts in the trough. The system is being nibbled away — or gnawed away — at both ends. And predictably, inevitably, hopelessly, the call of the commentators is for more change, faster.

A.A. Gill’s much-forwarded piece in the Times on Britain’s election is a delightfully readable mixture of wrong-headedness, error, and sputtering confusion, with some sensible ideas and superb acidity mixed in. There is a case to be made that the House of Commons is too big — though reducing it would only mean larger constituencies, and thus an even more tenuous connection between MPs and those constituencies. And there is an even better case to be made that, as the expenses scandal revealed, the Commons has been far too concerned with feathering its own nest.

On the other hand, some of his ideas are revealing in their errors. Gill’s worried about the role of the House of Lords, as if the Lords has really been a vital political issue at any point over the past 99 years. He’s angry that the constituency boundaries give Labour a substantial advantage. Actually, Labour’s built-in advantage is between six and 16 seats: it’s real, but it’s not huge. He’s angry that MPs have to concern themselves with “pointless” local matters like “potholes, traffic lights, arguments with the police and admissions to schools and hospitals,” as if these kinds of concerns are beneath the dignity of democratic politics.

And he’s annoyed that he has “never covered an election in a democracy where candidates have been so reluctant to speak to the electorate through the press.” Of course, one reason for that is that public appearances by Gordon Brown tend to alienate more voters than they attract. Another, more substantial one is that political speech in Britain during an election is heavily controlled by law, a fact that sheds some useful light on the merits of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision.

But when you come right down to it, Gill’s big beef is with Britain itself. He’s wonderfully dismissive of Nick Clegg (“He speaks five languages but can’t say boo in any of them”) and Gordon Brown (“He wrestles with an Old Testament temper, and it’s said that he has no friends. Certainly, none of them have come out to contradict this”), and his dismissal of proportional representation is excellent. Like Edward VIII, he believes that “something must be done,” but he’s not clear exactly what, apart to be sure that Britain’s traditions are at the root of its problems.

This is, frankly, ridiculous. The problem in Britain isn’t too much tradition. It’s the demolition of it. The vast majority of law in Britain is now made in Brussels. Parliament is immeasurably less important to politics than it has been in the past, as evidenced by the American-style debates that Gill praises. The idea that Parliament still works today as it did in Trollope’s age doesn’t bear up under scrutiny for more than a second.

Britain’s fundamental problem is that in a parliamentary system, you need both strong support for the government (otherwise it can be gone in minutes) and strong scrutiny of government (otherwise it’s omnipotent at worst or corrupt at best). The presidentialization of politics means a weakening of parties, and the decline of the Commons means less public scrutiny of government (and of the EU), as well as all manner of petty snouts in the trough. The system is being nibbled away — or gnawed away — at both ends. And predictably, inevitably, hopelessly, the call of the commentators is for more change, faster.

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More Like This Please

I can understand why Dubai authorities aren’t happy about the killing of Hamas senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, presumably by Israeli Mossad agents, in one of the city-state’s hotel rooms last month. More than most countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has stayed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and would rather it not wash up on the beach.

Even as European Union officials perfunctorily squawk about the use of forged passports by the assassins, few others have grounds to complain. Al-Mabhouh was a terrorist commander on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game. He would have been fair game for even an air strike if he were in Gaza. As he was, instead, in Dubai, he was taken out quietly without even alerting, let alone harming, any of the civilians around him.

If only Israel could fight all its battles this way. It would be the cleanest and least-deadly war in the history of warfare. Even some of Israel’s harshest critics should understand that.

“The Goldstone Report,” Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.”

Hamas and Hezbollah use civilians as human shields. Hezbollah uses an entire country as a vast human shield. Some critics, for various reasons, are more interested in lambasting Israel than the terrorist organizations it’s fighting. That’s easy when you live in New York or Brussels. People in the Middle East have to live with (or die because of) what happens. How Middle Easterners fight wars isn’t political or academic to me. I’ve never been inside Gaza, but I once lived in Lebanon, I travel there regularly, and there’s a real chance I’ll be there when the next war pops off. I’d rather not be used as a human shield if that’s OK with those who give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass. And I’d much rather read about Hezbollah leaders getting whacked by mysterious assassins with forged passports than dive into a Beirut bomb shelter during Israeli air raids.

But I’m not particularly concerned about my own skin here. Nobody forces me to travel to war zones. I don’t have to visit the Middle East ever again if I don’t want to. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been voluntary, and I can leave whenever I’ve had enough.

A lot of people I care about live in Lebanon, and some of them can’t leave. They never volunteered to be used as human shields by Hezbollah, and in fact had their neighborhood — my old neighborhood — shot up and blown up by Hezbollah gunmen recently. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t consult them or their elected officials on his foreign policy and would sooner shoot them than be relieved of his ability to declare war unilaterally or on the orders of Tehran.

It’s unlikely that Israel can avert the next war by assassinating its enemy’s leadership, but it’s always better to take out a high-level target in person whenever possible than with a blockbuster bomb from a distance. I can’t help but wonder if those griping about the recent hit in Dubai — assuming the Mossad actually did it — care less about the lives of real human beings than the latest excuse to bash Israel. If the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue — and it will continue — civilians on both sides should prefer combatants be taken off the board quietly while everyone else goes about their daily business in peace.

I can understand why Dubai authorities aren’t happy about the killing of Hamas senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, presumably by Israeli Mossad agents, in one of the city-state’s hotel rooms last month. More than most countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has stayed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and would rather it not wash up on the beach.

Even as European Union officials perfunctorily squawk about the use of forged passports by the assassins, few others have grounds to complain. Al-Mabhouh was a terrorist commander on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game. He would have been fair game for even an air strike if he were in Gaza. As he was, instead, in Dubai, he was taken out quietly without even alerting, let alone harming, any of the civilians around him.

If only Israel could fight all its battles this way. It would be the cleanest and least-deadly war in the history of warfare. Even some of Israel’s harshest critics should understand that.

“The Goldstone Report,” Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.”

Hamas and Hezbollah use civilians as human shields. Hezbollah uses an entire country as a vast human shield. Some critics, for various reasons, are more interested in lambasting Israel than the terrorist organizations it’s fighting. That’s easy when you live in New York or Brussels. People in the Middle East have to live with (or die because of) what happens. How Middle Easterners fight wars isn’t political or academic to me. I’ve never been inside Gaza, but I once lived in Lebanon, I travel there regularly, and there’s a real chance I’ll be there when the next war pops off. I’d rather not be used as a human shield if that’s OK with those who give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass. And I’d much rather read about Hezbollah leaders getting whacked by mysterious assassins with forged passports than dive into a Beirut bomb shelter during Israeli air raids.

But I’m not particularly concerned about my own skin here. Nobody forces me to travel to war zones. I don’t have to visit the Middle East ever again if I don’t want to. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been voluntary, and I can leave whenever I’ve had enough.

A lot of people I care about live in Lebanon, and some of them can’t leave. They never volunteered to be used as human shields by Hezbollah, and in fact had their neighborhood — my old neighborhood — shot up and blown up by Hezbollah gunmen recently. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t consult them or their elected officials on his foreign policy and would sooner shoot them than be relieved of his ability to declare war unilaterally or on the orders of Tehran.

It’s unlikely that Israel can avert the next war by assassinating its enemy’s leadership, but it’s always better to take out a high-level target in person whenever possible than with a blockbuster bomb from a distance. I can’t help but wonder if those griping about the recent hit in Dubai — assuming the Mossad actually did it — care less about the lives of real human beings than the latest excuse to bash Israel. If the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue — and it will continue — civilians on both sides should prefer combatants be taken off the board quietly while everyone else goes about their daily business in peace.

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Israel Derangement Syndrome in the British Press

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

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Re: Eurabia Debunked

Mark Steyn and Tony Blankley, both commentators for whom I have considerable respect, have responded to my “Eurabia Debunked” and a few other articles taking exception to their warnings about the Muslimization of Europe.

Mark cherry-picks data showing Muslims are supposedly 10 percent of the population in France, that one-fifth of British university students are Muslim, that Brussels’ governing socialist caucus is majority Muslim, etc. Actually, there is considerable uncertainty about these numbers because there is no definitive accounting of Muslims in Europe (or anywhere else). Consider this Pew study, which finds Muslims are only 6 percent of the French population, 5 perccent in Germany, and 2.7 percent in the United Kingdom. Overall, Europe has about 38 million Muslims, or 5 percent of the population, but most of them are concentrated in Russia, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

If there is uncertainty about how many Muslims are in Europe today, there is even greater cloudiness about how many there will be in the future. As this Newsweek article notes, the case made by Mark and other alarmists is based on the worst-case reading of long-term population projections, which are notoriously unreliable. As William Underhill writes in Newsweek:

For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that’s now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care.

That doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. Blankley is right to note the “powerful impact of even very small numbers of determined people in a host country riddled with guilt and political correctness.” David Frum makes a powerful point about how Britain has become a center of Muslim radicalization. That obviously is of great concern to us because of the easy access that British subject have to the U.S.

I agree with Steyn, Blankley, et al. that radical Muslims will continue to be a major problem in Europe. I just don’t think they will take over and turn the continent into “Eurabia.” In fact, there are already many signs of a backlash building — for instance, the Swiss banning the construction of new minarets, the French banning the veil in school and now proposing to ban burkas in public, and the British banning the radical group Islam4UK. I still see considerable resiliency in European civilization and great latent power that can and will be deployed against Muslim radicals who seriously threaten internal order.

Mark Steyn and Tony Blankley, both commentators for whom I have considerable respect, have responded to my “Eurabia Debunked” and a few other articles taking exception to their warnings about the Muslimization of Europe.

Mark cherry-picks data showing Muslims are supposedly 10 percent of the population in France, that one-fifth of British university students are Muslim, that Brussels’ governing socialist caucus is majority Muslim, etc. Actually, there is considerable uncertainty about these numbers because there is no definitive accounting of Muslims in Europe (or anywhere else). Consider this Pew study, which finds Muslims are only 6 percent of the French population, 5 perccent in Germany, and 2.7 percent in the United Kingdom. Overall, Europe has about 38 million Muslims, or 5 percent of the population, but most of them are concentrated in Russia, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

If there is uncertainty about how many Muslims are in Europe today, there is even greater cloudiness about how many there will be in the future. As this Newsweek article notes, the case made by Mark and other alarmists is based on the worst-case reading of long-term population projections, which are notoriously unreliable. As William Underhill writes in Newsweek:

For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that’s now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care.

That doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. Blankley is right to note the “powerful impact of even very small numbers of determined people in a host country riddled with guilt and political correctness.” David Frum makes a powerful point about how Britain has become a center of Muslim radicalization. That obviously is of great concern to us because of the easy access that British subject have to the U.S.

I agree with Steyn, Blankley, et al. that radical Muslims will continue to be a major problem in Europe. I just don’t think they will take over and turn the continent into “Eurabia.” In fact, there are already many signs of a backlash building — for instance, the Swiss banning the construction of new minarets, the French banning the veil in school and now proposing to ban burkas in public, and the British banning the radical group Islam4UK. I still see considerable resiliency in European civilization and great latent power that can and will be deployed against Muslim radicals who seriously threaten internal order.

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British Corruption

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal. Read More

Britain has fallen a notch in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruptions Perceptions Index. It now ranks 17th out of the 180 countries surveyed. Transparency said that the decline “reflects the damage to its international standing caused by the MPs’ expenses scandal and the weakness of its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery.”

The second item, the “foreign bribery” problem, relates to the long-running saga of allegations against BAE and arms sales to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Tanzania. I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of these allegations, which shed revealing light on the hypocrisy of the UK’s support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, but they are old news. It’s probable that Britain’s decline was driven by the expenses scandal.

The impact of that scandal is an illustration of John Hay’s remark that “it is curious how a concise impropriety hits the public.” But it is also small beer: New Labour has brought Britain many “improprieties” that were a good deal worse but that failed to catch Transparency’s eye. There was the 2005-07 “cash for peerages” controversy, in which it was alleged that the Labour party was selling seats in the House of Lords in exchange for donations. There was — indeed, there is — the scandal of Labour’s immigration policy, which a former Labour speechwriter confessed last month deliberately sought to deceive Parliament, the public, and its own supporters.

There is the ongoing refusal of ministers to treat Parliament with any seriousness, as witnessed by the relentless leaking of government proposals in advance of the Queen’s Speech, a formerly great occasion of state. And, above all, there is the fact that more than 90 percent of all British law is now made by the EU. Compared to this, the expenses scandal is nothing: if the MPs can’t make law for their own constituents, the money they pocket on the side by fiddling second mortgages and buying expensive wallpaper is hardly the most vital national issue. Not all government corruption is financial, and the nonmonetary kinds are by far the most vicious.

But the expenses scandal is an attention grabber nonetheless. It is a very British saga — only in the UK, and a few other countries, would the public be exercised by this kind of corruption. In too many countries, it’s taken for granted that public service is an opportunity for personal enrichment. It goes to show that, though the standards have been traduced, the British public’s view of what is right in political life still stems from the Victorian era. And in my eyes, there is no higher praise than that.

It is of course true that that era was not free from corruption. If you’re a fan of old political scandals, I recommend G.R. Searle’s superb study of “Corruption in British Politics, 1895-1930,” which proves that this century was not the first time the House of Lords has been for sale. But that era nonetheless created standards that, even if they were in part aspirational, are of real value. MPs are not supposed to seek their private good. The British armed forces are not supposed to have their budget cut in the face of the enemy. Brussels is not supposed to make British law. Yet all these things happen openly and repeatedly.

Part of the sour tone of British politics today is obviously the result of the recession. But it is more than that: it is the result of the grating divergence between basic political ideals and obvious political realities in Britain. And given how influential those ideals have been around the world, and the high expectations that people abroad still have of Britain, it is not surprising that Britain has been punished by the Transparency survey.

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Europe to Step Up?

For quite a while — for decades, in fact — it has been fashionable to predict the eclipse of American power. What’s changed over the years is the identity of the country that would knock us off the top perch. In the 1930s and for a long time afterward progressive opinion viewed the Soviet Union as the power that would rise to dominance. Then it was Japan. Now it’s China. But another popular claimant for the top spot has also been Europe, especially since European integration has gotten tighter over the course of the last decade. Many pundits expect — and no doubt hope — that the EU will supplant the U.S. as the world’s most influential actor. There are many problems with this analysis but not the least of them is the EU itself, which shows no desire to wield substantial military power and can’t even achieve much policy coherence to make use of the hard and soft power at its disposal.

The latest evidence of this chronic shortcoming is the selection of the EU’s leadership under its new constitution. As the New York Times notes, “The combination of Belgium’s prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, for the bloc’s presidential post and Catherine Ashton, the European commissioner for trade, who is British, as foreign policy chief leaves the Union without the high-profile leadership for which many had yearned.”

It would have been a very different situation if Tony Blair had been chosen for the top spot and if, say, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, had been chosen as the foreign-policy representative. They would have been a high-profile duo who could have maximized European power. So why choose instead two unknowns of little stature or influence? One suspects that the Europeans chose Van Rompuy and Ashton precisely because they are unlikely to threaten national prerogatives over foreign policy. For all their talk of unity and their actions to achieve some in economic policy, European states remain intensely nationalistic when it comes to the core prerogatives of a nation-state, such as defense and foreign policy. They have little desire to subcontract out those responsibilities to bureaucrats in Brussels. As long as that remains the dominant attitude on the continent — and it shows little sign of changing — the nations of the EU will never achieve the aggregate power that, in theory, the size of their population and economy (both larger than those of the U.S.) would entitle them.

For quite a while — for decades, in fact — it has been fashionable to predict the eclipse of American power. What’s changed over the years is the identity of the country that would knock us off the top perch. In the 1930s and for a long time afterward progressive opinion viewed the Soviet Union as the power that would rise to dominance. Then it was Japan. Now it’s China. But another popular claimant for the top spot has also been Europe, especially since European integration has gotten tighter over the course of the last decade. Many pundits expect — and no doubt hope — that the EU will supplant the U.S. as the world’s most influential actor. There are many problems with this analysis but not the least of them is the EU itself, which shows no desire to wield substantial military power and can’t even achieve much policy coherence to make use of the hard and soft power at its disposal.

The latest evidence of this chronic shortcoming is the selection of the EU’s leadership under its new constitution. As the New York Times notes, “The combination of Belgium’s prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, for the bloc’s presidential post and Catherine Ashton, the European commissioner for trade, who is British, as foreign policy chief leaves the Union without the high-profile leadership for which many had yearned.”

It would have been a very different situation if Tony Blair had been chosen for the top spot and if, say, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, had been chosen as the foreign-policy representative. They would have been a high-profile duo who could have maximized European power. So why choose instead two unknowns of little stature or influence? One suspects that the Europeans chose Van Rompuy and Ashton precisely because they are unlikely to threaten national prerogatives over foreign policy. For all their talk of unity and their actions to achieve some in economic policy, European states remain intensely nationalistic when it comes to the core prerogatives of a nation-state, such as defense and foreign policy. They have little desire to subcontract out those responsibilities to bureaucrats in Brussels. As long as that remains the dominant attitude on the continent — and it shows little sign of changing — the nations of the EU will never achieve the aggregate power that, in theory, the size of their population and economy (both larger than those of the U.S.) would entitle them.

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Live from the State Department, It’s Friday Afternoon Live!

State Department spokesman Robert Wood began this afternoon’s press conference by providing an update on the P-5+1 meeting from earlier in the day in Brussels. He reread the statement that the P-5+1 had issued on September 23 — in which they had anticipated that the October 1 meeting with Iran would provide an opportunity to seek a “comprehensive, long-term, and appropriate” solution (great adjectives). But unfortunately:

Iran has not engaged in an intensified dialogue and, in particular, has refused to have a new meeting before the end of October to discuss nuclear issues. Iran has not responded positively to the IAEA proposed agreement for the provision of nuclear fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

Given the absence of an intensified dialogue, the refusal to hold a new meeting, and the failure to respond to the IAEA proposal, Wood wanted to convey the U.S. position that Iran should . . . “reconsider the opportunity.”

Message: “Give it to us straight, Mahmoud!”

Wood also announced that the U.S. had agreed that the P-5+1 would hold another meeting shortly to decide about the next steps. One of the reporters mistakenly thought this might be a serious moment, that this might finally be it:

QUESTION: But it sounds like this is a very serious moment then, because you were saying one more meeting, that’s it.

MR. WOOD: No, I didn’t say that at all. I didn’t mean to say that that was it. I said at the next meeting we would take a look at – based on Iran’s response, up until that – at that time, or lack thereof, and take a look and see what new measures we may have to take. But I’m not saying that the next meeting is it – that’s it and then we start moving to the pressure track.

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are – we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. …

At the next meeting, the P-5+1 may decide that the next step is to ask Mahmoud to give it to them straight.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood began this afternoon’s press conference by providing an update on the P-5+1 meeting from earlier in the day in Brussels. He reread the statement that the P-5+1 had issued on September 23 — in which they had anticipated that the October 1 meeting with Iran would provide an opportunity to seek a “comprehensive, long-term, and appropriate” solution (great adjectives). But unfortunately:

Iran has not engaged in an intensified dialogue and, in particular, has refused to have a new meeting before the end of October to discuss nuclear issues. Iran has not responded positively to the IAEA proposed agreement for the provision of nuclear fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

Given the absence of an intensified dialogue, the refusal to hold a new meeting, and the failure to respond to the IAEA proposal, Wood wanted to convey the U.S. position that Iran should . . . “reconsider the opportunity.”

Message: “Give it to us straight, Mahmoud!”

Wood also announced that the U.S. had agreed that the P-5+1 would hold another meeting shortly to decide about the next steps. One of the reporters mistakenly thought this might be a serious moment, that this might finally be it:

QUESTION: But it sounds like this is a very serious moment then, because you were saying one more meeting, that’s it.

MR. WOOD: No, I didn’t say that at all. I didn’t mean to say that that was it. I said at the next meeting we would take a look at – based on Iran’s response, up until that – at that time, or lack thereof, and take a look and see what new measures we may have to take. But I’m not saying that the next meeting is it – that’s it and then we start moving to the pressure track.

QUESTION: Then why stretch it out? I mean, isn’t it quite clear that they’re not going to do this?

MR. WOOD: Look, we are – we have said from the beginning, we’re willing to go the extra mile with regard to diplomacy. The President and the Secretary have been very clear about that. …

At the next meeting, the P-5+1 may decide that the next step is to ask Mahmoud to give it to them straight.

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Islamist Feminism

Consider the ways in which exposure to Western values could transform Europe’s Muslim community. Seeing the everyday fruits of democracy might foster an appreciation for consensual government, perhaps. Or rubbing up against neighborly folks of varying backgrounds might, over time, serve to break xenophobic habits of mind.

Or, on the other hand, witnessing female contributions to liberal societies might pave the way for women looking to take a more active role in jihad.

There’s a story in today’s New York Times about Malika El Aroud, the Gloria Steinem of al Qaeda. El Aroud, widow of an Afghanistan suicide bomber, is a prominent “internet jihadist.” She and her second husband (martyr’s widows are like supermodels in these circles) were convicted of running pro-al Qaeda websites, so–EU borders and law enforcement being what they are–she hopped over to Brussels, where she now blogs about killing infidels. Here’s the Times:

The changing role of women in the movement is particularly apparent in Western countries, where Muslim women have been educated to demand their rights and Muslim men are more accustomed to treating them as equals.

Ms. El Aroud reflects that trend. “Normally in Islam the men are stronger than the women, but I prove that it is important to fear God – and no one else,” she said. “It is important that I am a woman. There are men who don’t want to speak out because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Even when I get into trouble, I speak out.”

What trouble? This is Europe, where you’re simultaneously a terror suspect and a welfare recipient.

Now, even as Ms. El Aroud remains under constant surveillance, she is back home rallying militants on her main Internet forum and collecting more than $1,100 a month in government unemployment benefits.

The Times quotes an El Aroud supporter as saying, “Malika is a source of inspiration for women because she is telling women to stop sleeping and open their eyes.” Who will tell Europe to do the same?

Consider the ways in which exposure to Western values could transform Europe’s Muslim community. Seeing the everyday fruits of democracy might foster an appreciation for consensual government, perhaps. Or rubbing up against neighborly folks of varying backgrounds might, over time, serve to break xenophobic habits of mind.

Or, on the other hand, witnessing female contributions to liberal societies might pave the way for women looking to take a more active role in jihad.

There’s a story in today’s New York Times about Malika El Aroud, the Gloria Steinem of al Qaeda. El Aroud, widow of an Afghanistan suicide bomber, is a prominent “internet jihadist.” She and her second husband (martyr’s widows are like supermodels in these circles) were convicted of running pro-al Qaeda websites, so–EU borders and law enforcement being what they are–she hopped over to Brussels, where she now blogs about killing infidels. Here’s the Times:

The changing role of women in the movement is particularly apparent in Western countries, where Muslim women have been educated to demand their rights and Muslim men are more accustomed to treating them as equals.

Ms. El Aroud reflects that trend. “Normally in Islam the men are stronger than the women, but I prove that it is important to fear God – and no one else,” she said. “It is important that I am a woman. There are men who don’t want to speak out because they are afraid of getting into trouble. Even when I get into trouble, I speak out.”

What trouble? This is Europe, where you’re simultaneously a terror suspect and a welfare recipient.

Now, even as Ms. El Aroud remains under constant surveillance, she is back home rallying militants on her main Internet forum and collecting more than $1,100 a month in government unemployment benefits.

The Times quotes an El Aroud supporter as saying, “Malika is a source of inspiration for women because she is telling women to stop sleeping and open their eyes.” Who will tell Europe to do the same?

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Russia to the West: Please Don’t Defend Yourself

Russia and the United States are no closer to agreement on a missile shield for Europe after a high-level meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. “On the matter of principle the positions of our two sides have not changed,” said Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. There has not been much movement on details either. Serdyukov made his remarks after conferring with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Russia’s Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov.

In order to allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has offered to allow Russian inspection of the Polish and Czech sites for the shield and agreed not to switch on the system until Iran more fully develops its missile-launch capabilities. Moreover, the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland reported today that Rice and Gates this month delivered to the Kremlin a “Strategic Framework Declaration” offering participation in both existing missile defenses and future development of defensive technology.

The fundamental question is why the Bush administration, at this late date, is still seeking Russian approval of our efforts to defend ourselves. The American plan of ten interceptors to be based in Poland poses no practical threat to Moscow’s 800 missiles. Even with qualitative and quantitative improvements in the American-designed system, there is no possibility that, during the lifetime of any living Russian, interceptors will be able to destroy sufficient number of missiles in flight so as to eliminate the deterrent effect of Moscow’s arsenal.

The Russians can, if they want, convince the West not to deploy any missile defense system in Europe. How? They can cooperate with Washington and Brussels in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To date, however, the Kremlin’s leaders are intent on helping Tehran build its horrible instruments of destruction while complaining about Washington’s efforts to protect Europe. Russians are building Iran’s first nuclear generating station, supplying the uranium fuel to Tehran, selling air-defense systems to protect Iranian nuclear sites, providing underpinning to the failing Iranian economy, and giving Tehran crucial diplomatic support in the United Nations Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So what is the United States doing in response? On Wednesday, the White House announced that President Bush had accepted a last-minute invitation to go to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with President Vladimir Putin after next week’s NATO summit in Bucharest and his visit to Croatia. The American leader is expected to try to obtain the Kremlin’s cooperation on, among other things, missile defense. “I’m optimistic we can reach accord on very important matters,” Bush said on Wednesday at a meeting with foreign reporters in Washington.

Let’s not complicate things, Mr. President. You don’t need to go all the way to Putin’s dacha in Sochi next month. Get on the phone today and tell the Russian this: “We will take all steps to defend ourselves and our allies as long as you help arm an adversary that threatens the international community.” It should be as simple as that.

Russia and the United States are no closer to agreement on a missile shield for Europe after a high-level meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. “On the matter of principle the positions of our two sides have not changed,” said Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. There has not been much movement on details either. Serdyukov made his remarks after conferring with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Russia’s Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov.

In order to allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has offered to allow Russian inspection of the Polish and Czech sites for the shield and agreed not to switch on the system until Iran more fully develops its missile-launch capabilities. Moreover, the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland reported today that Rice and Gates this month delivered to the Kremlin a “Strategic Framework Declaration” offering participation in both existing missile defenses and future development of defensive technology.

The fundamental question is why the Bush administration, at this late date, is still seeking Russian approval of our efforts to defend ourselves. The American plan of ten interceptors to be based in Poland poses no practical threat to Moscow’s 800 missiles. Even with qualitative and quantitative improvements in the American-designed system, there is no possibility that, during the lifetime of any living Russian, interceptors will be able to destroy sufficient number of missiles in flight so as to eliminate the deterrent effect of Moscow’s arsenal.

The Russians can, if they want, convince the West not to deploy any missile defense system in Europe. How? They can cooperate with Washington and Brussels in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To date, however, the Kremlin’s leaders are intent on helping Tehran build its horrible instruments of destruction while complaining about Washington’s efforts to protect Europe. Russians are building Iran’s first nuclear generating station, supplying the uranium fuel to Tehran, selling air-defense systems to protect Iranian nuclear sites, providing underpinning to the failing Iranian economy, and giving Tehran crucial diplomatic support in the United Nations Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So what is the United States doing in response? On Wednesday, the White House announced that President Bush had accepted a last-minute invitation to go to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with President Vladimir Putin after next week’s NATO summit in Bucharest and his visit to Croatia. The American leader is expected to try to obtain the Kremlin’s cooperation on, among other things, missile defense. “I’m optimistic we can reach accord on very important matters,” Bush said on Wednesday at a meeting with foreign reporters in Washington.

Let’s not complicate things, Mr. President. You don’t need to go all the way to Putin’s dacha in Sochi next month. Get on the phone today and tell the Russian this: “We will take all steps to defend ourselves and our allies as long as you help arm an adversary that threatens the international community.” It should be as simple as that.

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Russia Threatens Europe–Again

Dmitry Medvedev, who will become Russia’s next president on May 7, warned NATO about admitting two former Soviet republics. “We are not happy about the situation around Georgia and Ukraine,” he said in an interview published yesterday in the Financial Times. “We consider that it is extremely troublesome for the existing structure of European security.”

Whether troublesome to Europe or not, the two nations want the grand alliance to grant them a Membership Action Plan, the first step to admission. The United States is in favor of taking them on board. President Bush met with his Georgian counterpart last week in Washington and will travel to Kiev before attending the NATO summit in Bucharest, scheduled for the first week of next month. Putin said he will also attend the summit, but he may back out to show displeasure if the alliance proceeds with admitting the pair.

So should we poke Russia in the eye over Georgia and Ukraine? As Medvedev said to the FT, “No state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong coming close to its borders.” Yes, Dmitry, but it’s not our fault that your nation is not a member. “NATO’s position is quite clear: democratic states in Europe have the right to aspire to, and work towards, NATO membership,” said a spokesman for the organization in Brussels. “It is their choice, not NATO’s.” Moscow is in Europe, and, if I understand the above spokesman rightly, can join. All it has to do is become a democracy—and stop threatening its neighbors. Russian admission, in short, is in the hands of the Kremlin.

Until Russia makes itself eligible for membership, NATO nations should ignore its threats and admit the two former Soviet republics. Despite what Medvedev says, it will be good for European security.

Dmitry Medvedev, who will become Russia’s next president on May 7, warned NATO about admitting two former Soviet republics. “We are not happy about the situation around Georgia and Ukraine,” he said in an interview published yesterday in the Financial Times. “We consider that it is extremely troublesome for the existing structure of European security.”

Whether troublesome to Europe or not, the two nations want the grand alliance to grant them a Membership Action Plan, the first step to admission. The United States is in favor of taking them on board. President Bush met with his Georgian counterpart last week in Washington and will travel to Kiev before attending the NATO summit in Bucharest, scheduled for the first week of next month. Putin said he will also attend the summit, but he may back out to show displeasure if the alliance proceeds with admitting the pair.

So should we poke Russia in the eye over Georgia and Ukraine? As Medvedev said to the FT, “No state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong coming close to its borders.” Yes, Dmitry, but it’s not our fault that your nation is not a member. “NATO’s position is quite clear: democratic states in Europe have the right to aspire to, and work towards, NATO membership,” said a spokesman for the organization in Brussels. “It is their choice, not NATO’s.” Moscow is in Europe, and, if I understand the above spokesman rightly, can join. All it has to do is become a democracy—and stop threatening its neighbors. Russian admission, in short, is in the hands of the Kremlin.

Until Russia makes itself eligible for membership, NATO nations should ignore its threats and admit the two former Soviet republics. Despite what Medvedev says, it will be good for European security.

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No More Carrots for Iran

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

Less than a week after the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1803, empowering EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana to meet with Iran’s officials for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran has announced that it will only talk to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran’s decision is a slap in the face not only of the Security Council, but of the Europeans, who have long advocated the use of the carrot and stick with Iran–especially the carrot. Rumor had it in Brussels that Europe was preparing a much bigger incentive package for Iran than the one Iran was offered in June 2006–a package which resolution 1803 reiterates. Regardless, for now Iran will only talk to IAEA’s director general, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

The word in Brussels is that Iran is not interested in a new European offer because it lacks U.S. backing. The biggest prize for Tehran,  European pundits reason, is an American carrot in the form of explicit security guarantees. This much may be true. But the real reason for Iran to insist on talking with ElBaradei alone, at this point, is that the Director General has shown uncommon kindness to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. His latest report is a near-total whitewash of Iran’s activities. Had it not been for critical evidence supplied to the IAEA by several member states only a few weeks before ElBaradei submitted his report, Iran might have gotten away with its program and would have received a clean bill of health from ElBaradei.

As it happens, ElBaradei–whose track record suggests he is more worried about a pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities than Iran getting nuclear weapons–managed to close just about every file of the nuclear dossier, often accepting Iran’s lame explanations at face value.

Will the IAEA’s director general give Iran another free pass in 90 days, when,  as requested by Resolution 1803, he must report again? Given that it took nearly a year for the international community to pass even a largely symbolic resolution, perhaps Iran hopes so. But this would be a mistake on their part–and on ElBaradei’s part as well. Given the evidence submitted to the IAEA and the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, a clean bill of health offered by ElBaradei will only further weaken the international resolve behind non-military pressure on Iran. Which will, of course, help to provide a case for military action to those who cannot afford to live under the shadow of Iran’s nuclear bomb.

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Bluffing Iran

Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he expected his country to be producing electricity from the atom within a year. “On the nuclear path we are moving towards the peak,” he told a crowd in Bushehr, the city where Tehran has located its Russian-built reactor. On Monday, Russia delivered the eighth and final shipment of enriched uranium to fuel the plant.

After failing to stop Moscow, President Bush last month said he supported Russia’s supplying nuclear fuel for Bushehr. “If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich,” he noted. Tehran, not surprisingly, was not buying the argument. Nor would it accept purchasing enriched uranium from an international nuclear-fuel bank. “Having this nuclear-fuel cycle is part of our right,” said Hashemi Samareh, Ahmadinejad’s chief advisor, in Davos earlier this week. “There is no reason—when we can produce something—to get it from other people.”

No reason at all, Hashemi? Suppose Washington, Brussels, Moscow, and Beijing jointly guaranteed the supply of enriched uranium indefinitely and without cost. If you insisted on spending billions of dollars to produce something that you could have for free, we might conclude that you were enriching uranium for other purposes, such as building the core of a nuclear weapon. If you replied that your nation wanted to be self-sufficient, I would ask why you are concerned that the world would cut off supply. Are you planning some abhorrent act?

At the beginning of last month, we learned that the American intelligence community had “high confidence” that Iran, in the fall of 2003, had abandoned its program to build a bomb. Whatever one may think of the National Intelligence Estimate, let’s put the Iranians to the test. Let’s see if the ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad will accept the most generous offer that the international community could ever make. If the Iranians reject it, we will have obtained the best evidence of their actual plans.

What plans? Yesterday, while speaking about scaling nuclear peaks, Ahmadinejad managed to slip in this message to the West: “I warn you to abandon the filthy Zionist entity, which has reached the end of the line.”

Yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he expected his country to be producing electricity from the atom within a year. “On the nuclear path we are moving towards the peak,” he told a crowd in Bushehr, the city where Tehran has located its Russian-built reactor. On Monday, Russia delivered the eighth and final shipment of enriched uranium to fuel the plant.

After failing to stop Moscow, President Bush last month said he supported Russia’s supplying nuclear fuel for Bushehr. “If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there’s no need for them to learn how to enrich,” he noted. Tehran, not surprisingly, was not buying the argument. Nor would it accept purchasing enriched uranium from an international nuclear-fuel bank. “Having this nuclear-fuel cycle is part of our right,” said Hashemi Samareh, Ahmadinejad’s chief advisor, in Davos earlier this week. “There is no reason—when we can produce something—to get it from other people.”

No reason at all, Hashemi? Suppose Washington, Brussels, Moscow, and Beijing jointly guaranteed the supply of enriched uranium indefinitely and without cost. If you insisted on spending billions of dollars to produce something that you could have for free, we might conclude that you were enriching uranium for other purposes, such as building the core of a nuclear weapon. If you replied that your nation wanted to be self-sufficient, I would ask why you are concerned that the world would cut off supply. Are you planning some abhorrent act?

At the beginning of last month, we learned that the American intelligence community had “high confidence” that Iran, in the fall of 2003, had abandoned its program to build a bomb. Whatever one may think of the National Intelligence Estimate, let’s put the Iranians to the test. Let’s see if the ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad will accept the most generous offer that the international community could ever make. If the Iranians reject it, we will have obtained the best evidence of their actual plans.

What plans? Yesterday, while speaking about scaling nuclear peaks, Ahmadinejad managed to slip in this message to the West: “I warn you to abandon the filthy Zionist entity, which has reached the end of the line.”

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Iran’s Law

Saeed Jalili, the Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, visited Brussels last week, to engage in dialogue with European counterparts. Little did he know that Members of the European Parliament would be particularly keen to have a candid exchange of views on the way Iran customarily hangs people from cranes in the public square. Though he did not answer, Jalili must have taken the outrage to heart, because barely a week later, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has banned all public executions unless he personally authorizes them. He has also banned photographs and films of the executions, though not the executions themselves. This is a far cry from abiding by the moratorium on public executions called for by the UN on December 18 of last year. It is just a way to avoid embarrassment of the kind suffered by Jalili last week. According to the BBC,

Correspondents say it appears Ayatollah Shahrudi wants to lower the profile of executions as Iran has been widely criticised by Western countries and international organisations.

Since the UN moratorium, Iran has carried out 62 executions in 40 days, many of them in public, including two minors, two women and two political prisoners. More will no doubt be soon scheduled, though far from the public eye. Far from the eye, far from the heart, as they say—and the international outrage that so impedes Iran’s dialogue with Europe.

From now on, the international community will not be able to easily see the brutality of Iran’s regime as previously possible, courtesy of Iran’s official press agencies. So, before the lights go out, readers should take a look at the pictures below the jump (not for the faint of heart) and remember what Iran’s regime is truly about. (The three UNIC hangings are from a hanging on August 2, 2007 in Tehran; the hangings in the snow were public executions in Qom, on January 2.)

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Saeed Jalili, the Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran, visited Brussels last week, to engage in dialogue with European counterparts. Little did he know that Members of the European Parliament would be particularly keen to have a candid exchange of views on the way Iran customarily hangs people from cranes in the public square. Though he did not answer, Jalili must have taken the outrage to heart, because barely a week later, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary, has banned all public executions unless he personally authorizes them. He has also banned photographs and films of the executions, though not the executions themselves. This is a far cry from abiding by the moratorium on public executions called for by the UN on December 18 of last year. It is just a way to avoid embarrassment of the kind suffered by Jalili last week. According to the BBC,

Correspondents say it appears Ayatollah Shahrudi wants to lower the profile of executions as Iran has been widely criticised by Western countries and international organisations.

Since the UN moratorium, Iran has carried out 62 executions in 40 days, many of them in public, including two minors, two women and two political prisoners. More will no doubt be soon scheduled, though far from the public eye. Far from the eye, far from the heart, as they say—and the international outrage that so impedes Iran’s dialogue with Europe.

From now on, the international community will not be able to easily see the brutality of Iran’s regime as previously possible, courtesy of Iran’s official press agencies. So, before the lights go out, readers should take a look at the pictures below the jump (not for the faint of heart) and remember what Iran’s regime is truly about. (The three UNIC hangings are from a hanging on August 2, 2007 in Tehran; the hangings in the snow were public executions in Qom, on January 2.)

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Squeezing Iran

EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana is in Rome today to meet with Said Jalili, the new Iranian nuclear negotiator, and to bid farewell to Jalili’s predecessor, Ali Larijani. It is doubtful that Solana will enjoy the same quality of conversation with Jalili that he experienced with Larijani, whose profound knowledge of Western philosophy made him a valued companion for Solana, according to Brussels rumors. Jalili is expected to deliver his messages more bluntly than Larijani, and that might be a good thing. Larijani had fooled his European interlocutors into believing he was a moderate, inciting his European counterparts to budge while he held his ground. Jalili might not be as sophisticated.

But it is equally doubtful that Iran’s abrupt change of negotiator will induce Europe to shift its posture on the means to curb Iran’s nuclear program. As Italy’s weekly L’espresso reports in a lengthy and detailed piece on sanctions and their effectiveness, Iran still very much gets what it wants. Europeans are keen to circumvent sanctions and have not adopted the necessary practical measures to ensure that the sanctions regime works.

Last year’s bilateral trade volume for Italy and Iran exceeded five billion euros, making Italy the second biggest European trading partner of Iran, after Germany. L’espresso reveals that the Italian office in charge of trade inspections—a branch of the Ministry for Foreign Trade under Minister Emma Bonino—contains only twelve functionaries and four technicians. By comparison, its German equivalent, in charge of export control, has 200 people on its payroll. In practice, this means thousands of contracts annually and larger financial operations on a huge scale. The paucity of human resources invested in monitoring these activities means that almost no effective regulation of them exists. The scope for violations of all kinds is broad.

Whether Europeans will agree to a broader sanctions’ regime in weeks to come remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that what will matter ultimately is Europe’s willingness to give teeth to these measures. Without coupling UN resolutions with the practical means of putting the squeeze on Iran—like, say closely examining the huge business it does every year with Italy, or cutting off or restricting that business—even the toughest sanctions will fail.

EU foreign policy czar Javier Solana is in Rome today to meet with Said Jalili, the new Iranian nuclear negotiator, and to bid farewell to Jalili’s predecessor, Ali Larijani. It is doubtful that Solana will enjoy the same quality of conversation with Jalili that he experienced with Larijani, whose profound knowledge of Western philosophy made him a valued companion for Solana, according to Brussels rumors. Jalili is expected to deliver his messages more bluntly than Larijani, and that might be a good thing. Larijani had fooled his European interlocutors into believing he was a moderate, inciting his European counterparts to budge while he held his ground. Jalili might not be as sophisticated.

But it is equally doubtful that Iran’s abrupt change of negotiator will induce Europe to shift its posture on the means to curb Iran’s nuclear program. As Italy’s weekly L’espresso reports in a lengthy and detailed piece on sanctions and their effectiveness, Iran still very much gets what it wants. Europeans are keen to circumvent sanctions and have not adopted the necessary practical measures to ensure that the sanctions regime works.

Last year’s bilateral trade volume for Italy and Iran exceeded five billion euros, making Italy the second biggest European trading partner of Iran, after Germany. L’espresso reveals that the Italian office in charge of trade inspections—a branch of the Ministry for Foreign Trade under Minister Emma Bonino—contains only twelve functionaries and four technicians. By comparison, its German equivalent, in charge of export control, has 200 people on its payroll. In practice, this means thousands of contracts annually and larger financial operations on a huge scale. The paucity of human resources invested in monitoring these activities means that almost no effective regulation of them exists. The scope for violations of all kinds is broad.

Whether Europeans will agree to a broader sanctions’ regime in weeks to come remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that what will matter ultimately is Europe’s willingness to give teeth to these measures. Without coupling UN resolutions with the practical means of putting the squeeze on Iran—like, say closely examining the huge business it does every year with Italy, or cutting off or restricting that business—even the toughest sanctions will fail.

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Another Fundamental Mistake Involving Russia

Yesterday, Russia’s finance minister said that U.S. officials wanted to conclude discussions on the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization as quickly as possible. “I got the feeling that they are ready to push these negotiations forward,” noted Alexei Kudrin. Russia is the largest economy that is not a member of the global trading body.

And it should stay that way because the Russian Federation is not ready to trade fairly within the context of a rules-based system. For instance, last Wednesday, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson again went public with complaints of Moscow’s violation of trade agreements with Brussels. Russia’s previous responses to European complaints have been to continue and even expand aggressive trade practices. For example, Moscow has indicated that it may extend its meat-and-plant ban, which it imposed on Poland almost two years ago.

There seems to be a general feeling in Washington and Brussels that Russia will somehow reform its bad practices once it becomes a WTO member. That sentiment mirrors American and European hopes and expectations regarding China at the end of last decade. Yet, as we have seen since Beijing’s accession in 2001, the Chinese have continued non-compliant trade practices. The United States has had to file five WTO cases against China; even with these complaints we have yet to scratch the surface of Chinese trade violations.

If the experience with China is any guide, Russia will change the WTO more than the WTO changes Russia. We will not be able to say that we were not warned. In June, President Vladimir Putin called for “the creation of a new architecture of international economic relations.” The question is why should we help him wreck pillar multilateral institutions, like the World Trade Organization, from the inside?

Yesterday, Russia’s finance minister said that U.S. officials wanted to conclude discussions on the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization as quickly as possible. “I got the feeling that they are ready to push these negotiations forward,” noted Alexei Kudrin. Russia is the largest economy that is not a member of the global trading body.

And it should stay that way because the Russian Federation is not ready to trade fairly within the context of a rules-based system. For instance, last Wednesday, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson again went public with complaints of Moscow’s violation of trade agreements with Brussels. Russia’s previous responses to European complaints have been to continue and even expand aggressive trade practices. For example, Moscow has indicated that it may extend its meat-and-plant ban, which it imposed on Poland almost two years ago.

There seems to be a general feeling in Washington and Brussels that Russia will somehow reform its bad practices once it becomes a WTO member. That sentiment mirrors American and European hopes and expectations regarding China at the end of last decade. Yet, as we have seen since Beijing’s accession in 2001, the Chinese have continued non-compliant trade practices. The United States has had to file five WTO cases against China; even with these complaints we have yet to scratch the surface of Chinese trade violations.

If the experience with China is any guide, Russia will change the WTO more than the WTO changes Russia. We will not be able to say that we were not warned. In June, President Vladimir Putin called for “the creation of a new architecture of international economic relations.” The question is why should we help him wreck pillar multilateral institutions, like the World Trade Organization, from the inside?

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