Commentary Magazine


Topic: Burma

Nuke-Free Yet?

Taking a break from the flotilla, let’s check in on how Obama’s nuke-free-world fetish is coming along. This report suggests that it is not going so well:

Burma has begun secretly acquiring key components for a nuclear weapons program, including specialized equipment used to make uranium metal for nuclear bombs, according to a report that cites documents and photos from a Burmese army officer who recently fled the country. The smuggled evidence shows Burma’s military rulers taking concrete steps toward obtaining atomic weapons, according to an analysis co-written by an independent nuclear expert.

But they are years away from getting the technology right, we are told. Unless Iran gets there first and gives it to them. Or North Korea.

But we had a cheery NPT summit and signed a START agreement. Obama said he wouldn’t nuke non-NPT signatories that hit us with chemical or biological weapons. And that didn’t impress the thugs of Burma? Hmm. But we’ve been engaging the regime, promising to welcome them into the family of nations. And that didn’t impress them either?

Obama’s policies are not simply ineffective; they are dangerous. They encourage thugocracies to pursue their own nuclear weapons and to brutalize their own people, secure in the knowledge that the U.S. will do virtually nothing to stop them. Once Iran gets the bomb, expect more like Burma to follow suit.

Taking a break from the flotilla, let’s check in on how Obama’s nuke-free-world fetish is coming along. This report suggests that it is not going so well:

Burma has begun secretly acquiring key components for a nuclear weapons program, including specialized equipment used to make uranium metal for nuclear bombs, according to a report that cites documents and photos from a Burmese army officer who recently fled the country. The smuggled evidence shows Burma’s military rulers taking concrete steps toward obtaining atomic weapons, according to an analysis co-written by an independent nuclear expert.

But they are years away from getting the technology right, we are told. Unless Iran gets there first and gives it to them. Or North Korea.

But we had a cheery NPT summit and signed a START agreement. Obama said he wouldn’t nuke non-NPT signatories that hit us with chemical or biological weapons. And that didn’t impress the thugs of Burma? Hmm. But we’ve been engaging the regime, promising to welcome them into the family of nations. And that didn’t impress them either?

Obama’s policies are not simply ineffective; they are dangerous. They encourage thugocracies to pursue their own nuclear weapons and to brutalize their own people, secure in the knowledge that the U.S. will do virtually nothing to stop them. Once Iran gets the bomb, expect more like Burma to follow suit.

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RE: Israel Can Win Every Battle but Still Lose the War

Max, I am relieved to know that you don’t consider Israel an apartheid state or the equivalent of apartheid South Africa, but I must take exception to much of your post.

First, you seem to give the Israel-hating international community a veto over Israel’s right of self-defense. The making of Israel into a pariah state will not be halted by Israel’s reticence or by withdrawal from territory or by treating activists masquerading as peace-loving souls with kid gloves. The terms of the debate — accept the international definition of proportionality or become like Burma — is wrong and inapplicable to any other nation. The notion that we can determine what is fair game (killing a Hamas “big shot”) and what is not (preserving a blockade critical to Israel’s security) is not one we are equipped to or have the right to determine. Do we let Turkey tell us: “Yes on an Afghan troop surge, but no on drones”?

Second, perhaps you know something we don’t, but I don’t see how interdicting a flotilla before it set out would have gotten Israel applause from the UN. “Israel Destroys Humanitarian Relief Effort!” the headlines would scream.

I recommend Leslie Gelb’s column in today’s Daily Beast. He cogently makes the case that Israel’s actions were fully justified, and any plan to conduct an international investigation is preposterous. He rightly scoffs at the howls from the international community, which recoils when Israeli commandos protect themselves. It is a model of clear-thinking that avoids the unwinnable debate that Israel’s enemies use to hobble the Jewish state.

Max, I am relieved to know that you don’t consider Israel an apartheid state or the equivalent of apartheid South Africa, but I must take exception to much of your post.

First, you seem to give the Israel-hating international community a veto over Israel’s right of self-defense. The making of Israel into a pariah state will not be halted by Israel’s reticence or by withdrawal from territory or by treating activists masquerading as peace-loving souls with kid gloves. The terms of the debate — accept the international definition of proportionality or become like Burma — is wrong and inapplicable to any other nation. The notion that we can determine what is fair game (killing a Hamas “big shot”) and what is not (preserving a blockade critical to Israel’s security) is not one we are equipped to or have the right to determine. Do we let Turkey tell us: “Yes on an Afghan troop surge, but no on drones”?

Second, perhaps you know something we don’t, but I don’t see how interdicting a flotilla before it set out would have gotten Israel applause from the UN. “Israel Destroys Humanitarian Relief Effort!” the headlines would scream.

I recommend Leslie Gelb’s column in today’s Daily Beast. He cogently makes the case that Israel’s actions were fully justified, and any plan to conduct an international investigation is preposterous. He rightly scoffs at the howls from the international community, which recoils when Israeli commandos protect themselves. It is a model of clear-thinking that avoids the unwinnable debate that Israel’s enemies use to hobble the Jewish state.

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Israel Can Win Every Battle but Still Lose the War

In the Wall Street Journal today, I write about the disastrous consequences of Israel’s boarding operation off Gaza. Although the Israelis were perfectly justified in trying to stop Hamas from receiving outside aid, the way they went about it resulted in a public-relations catastrophe. A friend asks me in essence, So what? Is growing international approval really a problem for Israel? I believe it is.

Israel cannot afford to become another South Africa, Burma, or North Korea. Come to think of it, even South Africa couldn’t afford to become South Africa: an international pariah regime. It was too democratic and too Western to bear such isolation indefinitely in the way that absolute dictatorships like Burma or North Korea can. The international embargo ultimately led to a crisis of confidence within Afrikaner leadership circles and to the negotiated end to the racist regime. Israel, I stress, is no South Africa: it is not an apartheid regime. It is in fact the most liberal and democratic regime in the region, offering Arabs more rights than they are offered in any of its immediate neighbors. And Israel is, mercifully, not yet subject to the kind of international opprobrium that South Africa (rightly) received. Unfortunately, it is heading in that direction.

Other CONTENTIONS bloggers have noted that liberal Gentiles long ago turned on Israel; now it’s the turn of liberal Jews. Israel already faces the most hostile administration in Washington in decades — perhaps ever. This is an ominous trend. Israel depends on trade and interaction with the rest of the world; its people are liberal and Western in their outlook — they need to feel a part of the “West.” That image is furthered when Israel joins the OECD, the club of advanced industrial countries, as it just did. But incidents such as the Gaza flotilla fight set Israel back and further the propaganda war being waged against it by its enemies. Israel cannot afford to provide its foes further ammunition.

That doesn’t mean it should refrain from legitimate acts of self-defense (such as killing Hamas big shots or retaliating for Hamas rocket strikes), but it should be ultra careful to manage public perceptions of its actions. Unfortunately, the Israeli Defense Forces have always shown more competence at tactical kinetic operations than at information operations. That deficiency was revealed during the 2006 war with Hezbollah and now more recently in the botched raid on the Gaza ships. Granted, Israel is getting better about managing the consequences of its actions; the IDF gets kudos for posting video of the raid online quickly and making some naval commandos available for interviews. But if Israel were strategically smarter, it would have avoided the raid altogether, with all the possibilities of something going wrong, and used more stealthy means to prevent the Hamas activists from reaching their objective. The IDF should be mindful of the French experience in Algeria and the American experience in Vietnam: it is possible to win every battle and still lose the war.

In the Wall Street Journal today, I write about the disastrous consequences of Israel’s boarding operation off Gaza. Although the Israelis were perfectly justified in trying to stop Hamas from receiving outside aid, the way they went about it resulted in a public-relations catastrophe. A friend asks me in essence, So what? Is growing international approval really a problem for Israel? I believe it is.

Israel cannot afford to become another South Africa, Burma, or North Korea. Come to think of it, even South Africa couldn’t afford to become South Africa: an international pariah regime. It was too democratic and too Western to bear such isolation indefinitely in the way that absolute dictatorships like Burma or North Korea can. The international embargo ultimately led to a crisis of confidence within Afrikaner leadership circles and to the negotiated end to the racist regime. Israel, I stress, is no South Africa: it is not an apartheid regime. It is in fact the most liberal and democratic regime in the region, offering Arabs more rights than they are offered in any of its immediate neighbors. And Israel is, mercifully, not yet subject to the kind of international opprobrium that South Africa (rightly) received. Unfortunately, it is heading in that direction.

Other CONTENTIONS bloggers have noted that liberal Gentiles long ago turned on Israel; now it’s the turn of liberal Jews. Israel already faces the most hostile administration in Washington in decades — perhaps ever. This is an ominous trend. Israel depends on trade and interaction with the rest of the world; its people are liberal and Western in their outlook — they need to feel a part of the “West.” That image is furthered when Israel joins the OECD, the club of advanced industrial countries, as it just did. But incidents such as the Gaza flotilla fight set Israel back and further the propaganda war being waged against it by its enemies. Israel cannot afford to provide its foes further ammunition.

That doesn’t mean it should refrain from legitimate acts of self-defense (such as killing Hamas big shots or retaliating for Hamas rocket strikes), but it should be ultra careful to manage public perceptions of its actions. Unfortunately, the Israeli Defense Forces have always shown more competence at tactical kinetic operations than at information operations. That deficiency was revealed during the 2006 war with Hezbollah and now more recently in the botched raid on the Gaza ships. Granted, Israel is getting better about managing the consequences of its actions; the IDF gets kudos for posting video of the raid online quickly and making some naval commandos available for interviews. But if Israel were strategically smarter, it would have avoided the raid altogether, with all the possibilities of something going wrong, and used more stealthy means to prevent the Hamas activists from reaching their objective. The IDF should be mindful of the French experience in Algeria and the American experience in Vietnam: it is possible to win every battle and still lose the war.

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No Room for Human Rights

Jackson Diehl notices that in introducing the administration’s National Security Strategy, Obama omits one big item:

Nowhere in that long sentence, in the introduction to his new national security strategy, does Obama suggest that the international “engagement” he proposes should serve to combat tyranny or oppression, or promote democracy. In that sense, it is typical of the first comprehensive account Obama has offered of his administration’s goals in the world. In theory — as in the practice of his first year — human rights come second. …

The White House’s left-leaning “realists” — who seek to limit U.S. foreign engagements, shift resources to domestic programs and jettison the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush — seem to have won all of the big arguments. Definitions of strategy throughout the report, from how to defeat al-Qaeda to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to dealing with North Korea and Iran, exclude any mention of democracy or human rights.

As Diehl observes, there is no indication as to why the administration has taken this tact. There are several explanations.

Obama and his advisers may believe that this is the path of least resistance with despots and thugs. He hopes by not bringing up subjects disagreeable to them — the murder, imprisonment, brutalization, and oppression of their citizens — he will induce their cooperation. But there is now, after a year and a half, overwhelming evidence that this is not so, and indeed the thugs’ aggression and brutality increases in proportion to our quietude and attempts at appeasement. Iran, Syria, China, Burma, Egypt, Russia, and Sudan have all become more brazen, not less so. If this was the intention, what explains the fixation with a losing policy?

There are at least two explanations for that. First, as Obama has repeatedly demonstrated, he perceives America as deeply flawed and responsible for many of the world’s ills. Who are we, then, to promote and insist upon other nations’ adhering to a basic standard of decency and respect for their citizens? Then there is Obama’s infatuation with the international community, multilateralism, and consensus (which one presumes is to take the place of American power). Since most of these bodies are populated by human rights abusers, one isn’t going to fit into the “club” and gain their approval if one insists on pointing out their most disagreeable aspects.

Pundits can weigh these explanations and combinations of them to explain Obama’s approach to the world. But at some level, the why matters less than the result. We have signaled to despots that they have a free pass, demoralized activists and democracy protesters, betrayed friends, and weakened our own standing as the leader of free and democratic nations. When electing a president with zero experience in foreign policy, the country risks that it will elect someone with poor judgment or a flawed worldview or faulty executive skills. In Obama we have all three.

Jackson Diehl notices that in introducing the administration’s National Security Strategy, Obama omits one big item:

Nowhere in that long sentence, in the introduction to his new national security strategy, does Obama suggest that the international “engagement” he proposes should serve to combat tyranny or oppression, or promote democracy. In that sense, it is typical of the first comprehensive account Obama has offered of his administration’s goals in the world. In theory — as in the practice of his first year — human rights come second. …

The White House’s left-leaning “realists” — who seek to limit U.S. foreign engagements, shift resources to domestic programs and jettison the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush — seem to have won all of the big arguments. Definitions of strategy throughout the report, from how to defeat al-Qaeda to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to dealing with North Korea and Iran, exclude any mention of democracy or human rights.

As Diehl observes, there is no indication as to why the administration has taken this tact. There are several explanations.

Obama and his advisers may believe that this is the path of least resistance with despots and thugs. He hopes by not bringing up subjects disagreeable to them — the murder, imprisonment, brutalization, and oppression of their citizens — he will induce their cooperation. But there is now, after a year and a half, overwhelming evidence that this is not so, and indeed the thugs’ aggression and brutality increases in proportion to our quietude and attempts at appeasement. Iran, Syria, China, Burma, Egypt, Russia, and Sudan have all become more brazen, not less so. If this was the intention, what explains the fixation with a losing policy?

There are at least two explanations for that. First, as Obama has repeatedly demonstrated, he perceives America as deeply flawed and responsible for many of the world’s ills. Who are we, then, to promote and insist upon other nations’ adhering to a basic standard of decency and respect for their citizens? Then there is Obama’s infatuation with the international community, multilateralism, and consensus (which one presumes is to take the place of American power). Since most of these bodies are populated by human rights abusers, one isn’t going to fit into the “club” and gain their approval if one insists on pointing out their most disagreeable aspects.

Pundits can weigh these explanations and combinations of them to explain Obama’s approach to the world. But at some level, the why matters less than the result. We have signaled to despots that they have a free pass, demoralized activists and democracy protesters, betrayed friends, and weakened our own standing as the leader of free and democratic nations. When electing a president with zero experience in foreign policy, the country risks that it will elect someone with poor judgment or a flawed worldview or faulty executive skills. In Obama we have all three.

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RE: The National Security Strategy of 2010. Or 2006. Whatever.

If Max is with his former boss in being underwhelmed by the 2010 NSS, then I’m with Max. His comparison to Bush’s 2002 NSS is the first one that came to my mind: like it or loathe it, that NSS took the risk of actually saying something clear, bold, and controversial. Of course, Bush paid the price for that, which is why Obama — as every future administration will do — ensured that he fulfilled the legal requirement to produce an NSS in the most boring, committee-driven, toss-a-bone-to-everyone way.

Of course there is, to put it charitably, something a touch eccentric in the idea that we should publish our actual security strategy for enemy consumption. But the fashion is spreading. Britain, heaven help us, now produces an NSS too. And instead of updating it every four years, it is aiming for annual updates, which will turn an increasingly pointless quadrennial marathon into a continuous plod. The really painful thing is that Britain’s 2009 strategy is even more obviously an omnibus than Obama’s: it weighs in at 112 pages, almost double the size of its 2008 edition. A strategy of 60 pages is no strategy. A strategy of 112 is even less of one.

But I will disagree, just slightly, with Max’s take that this is Bush 2006 redux, said more nicely. There is more to it than that. First, this is the third major strategy document the administration has published in recent months: first there was the Quadrennial Defense Review, then the Nuclear Posture Review, and now the NSS. What stands out for me is that none of these documents did what it promised to do on the front cover. The QDR was crafted to justify policies that had already been selected before the review process concluded. The NPR was designed not as a serious assessment of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy but rather as an essay in nonproliferation by public diplomacy.

And while the NSS may in substance have a lot in common with Bush 2006, it tries very hard to avoid admitting that, which means the strategy is ultimately at war with itself. Perhaps this is what we have to expect when an engagement- and soft-power-minded administration comes up against the realities of the world and the legal requirement to produce strategic reviews, but that does not make the results any more impressive.

Second, in its more forthright areas, the NSS has almost nothing to do with the administration’s actual policies. There is a promise of “seamless coordination among Federal, state, and local govern­ments to prevent, protect against, and respond to threats and natural disasters.” Seamless coordination, meet the Gulf oil spill. There is the inevitable nod toward creating an international system where “nations have incentives to act responsibly, while facing consequences when they do not.” Consequences, meet Iran, Venezuela, Burma, and Sudan. And there is the “if it wasn’t so serious I’d be laughing” claim that “our commitment to deficit reduction will discipline us to make hard choices, and to avoid overreach.” Deficit reduction, meet President Obama.

And third — and to me most troubling — while the NSS lists a great many problems, it is a good deal less adept at explaining why they exist. Al-Qaeda “are not religious leaders, they are killers.” Fine: but Islamism is an ideology, and simply denying that it has any religious content at all achieves nothing. “For decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has endangered the security of the region and the United States and failed to live up to its international responsibilities.” True: but this is not because its leaders are dense, or have had no opportunities to change their ways. It’s because they have both an ideology and an interest in preserving their regime. In Russia, “We support efforts … to promote the rule of law, accountable government, and universal values.” Great: but that has nothing at all to do with Vladimir Putin’s vision for Russia.

The fundamental problem with the NSS isn’t that it’s warmed-over Bush. It’s that at its core it has an incoherent model of the world, and especially of the state system and the international order built on it. For the NSS, problems exist, but they are not caused by ideologies. They are caused by governments that for some reason will not cooperate, or movements that mysteriously want to kill people, or global forces that for some reason have sprung into being. Indeed, the NSS’s only mention of ideology is to claim that it is an irrelevant, old-fashioned concept that no longer causes wars. This is ridiculous. Ideology — and the regime interests the hostile ideologies define — is what makes engagement a fallacy and the NSS’s vision of a renewed international order a non-starter: if every state really wanted the existing order to work, it would do so.

The NSS’s approach is, in the end, both solipsistic and contradictory: by claiming that everyone has moved beyond ideology, it ignores reality and presents a vision that is actually deeply ideological. And that makes it a pretty fair summary of the Obama administration’s approach to the world.

If Max is with his former boss in being underwhelmed by the 2010 NSS, then I’m with Max. His comparison to Bush’s 2002 NSS is the first one that came to my mind: like it or loathe it, that NSS took the risk of actually saying something clear, bold, and controversial. Of course, Bush paid the price for that, which is why Obama — as every future administration will do — ensured that he fulfilled the legal requirement to produce an NSS in the most boring, committee-driven, toss-a-bone-to-everyone way.

Of course there is, to put it charitably, something a touch eccentric in the idea that we should publish our actual security strategy for enemy consumption. But the fashion is spreading. Britain, heaven help us, now produces an NSS too. And instead of updating it every four years, it is aiming for annual updates, which will turn an increasingly pointless quadrennial marathon into a continuous plod. The really painful thing is that Britain’s 2009 strategy is even more obviously an omnibus than Obama’s: it weighs in at 112 pages, almost double the size of its 2008 edition. A strategy of 60 pages is no strategy. A strategy of 112 is even less of one.

But I will disagree, just slightly, with Max’s take that this is Bush 2006 redux, said more nicely. There is more to it than that. First, this is the third major strategy document the administration has published in recent months: first there was the Quadrennial Defense Review, then the Nuclear Posture Review, and now the NSS. What stands out for me is that none of these documents did what it promised to do on the front cover. The QDR was crafted to justify policies that had already been selected before the review process concluded. The NPR was designed not as a serious assessment of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy but rather as an essay in nonproliferation by public diplomacy.

And while the NSS may in substance have a lot in common with Bush 2006, it tries very hard to avoid admitting that, which means the strategy is ultimately at war with itself. Perhaps this is what we have to expect when an engagement- and soft-power-minded administration comes up against the realities of the world and the legal requirement to produce strategic reviews, but that does not make the results any more impressive.

Second, in its more forthright areas, the NSS has almost nothing to do with the administration’s actual policies. There is a promise of “seamless coordination among Federal, state, and local govern­ments to prevent, protect against, and respond to threats and natural disasters.” Seamless coordination, meet the Gulf oil spill. There is the inevitable nod toward creating an international system where “nations have incentives to act responsibly, while facing consequences when they do not.” Consequences, meet Iran, Venezuela, Burma, and Sudan. And there is the “if it wasn’t so serious I’d be laughing” claim that “our commitment to deficit reduction will discipline us to make hard choices, and to avoid overreach.” Deficit reduction, meet President Obama.

And third — and to me most troubling — while the NSS lists a great many problems, it is a good deal less adept at explaining why they exist. Al-Qaeda “are not religious leaders, they are killers.” Fine: but Islamism is an ideology, and simply denying that it has any religious content at all achieves nothing. “For decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has endangered the security of the region and the United States and failed to live up to its international responsibilities.” True: but this is not because its leaders are dense, or have had no opportunities to change their ways. It’s because they have both an ideology and an interest in preserving their regime. In Russia, “We support efforts … to promote the rule of law, accountable government, and universal values.” Great: but that has nothing at all to do with Vladimir Putin’s vision for Russia.

The fundamental problem with the NSS isn’t that it’s warmed-over Bush. It’s that at its core it has an incoherent model of the world, and especially of the state system and the international order built on it. For the NSS, problems exist, but they are not caused by ideologies. They are caused by governments that for some reason will not cooperate, or movements that mysteriously want to kill people, or global forces that for some reason have sprung into being. Indeed, the NSS’s only mention of ideology is to claim that it is an irrelevant, old-fashioned concept that no longer causes wars. This is ridiculous. Ideology — and the regime interests the hostile ideologies define — is what makes engagement a fallacy and the NSS’s vision of a renewed international order a non-starter: if every state really wanted the existing order to work, it would do so.

The NSS’s approach is, in the end, both solipsistic and contradictory: by claiming that everyone has moved beyond ideology, it ignores reality and presents a vision that is actually deeply ideological. And that makes it a pretty fair summary of the Obama administration’s approach to the world.

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Obama Not Interested in Religious Freedom

Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Freedom (which recently issued a report on religious oppression and discrimination), in an interesting interview explains what has escaped the grasp of Obama:

Promoting the freedom of religion or belief promotes stability and security by reducing resentment, tension, hostility, and extremism. Countries that discriminate against and harass religious minorities, and that enforce blasphemy and other repressive laws, tend to embolden extremists who seek to impose their own orthodoxy. Countries that look the other way when religious minorities are being attacked by private individuals foster a climate of impunity, which similarly creates space for extremism. And, countries that crack down on peaceable religious practices of non-majority faiths create feelings of resentment on the part of oppressed minorities, which in turn can drive young men in those minority faiths to separatist movements and terrorist training camps.

Leo is emphatic that “the U.S. government must do more to make the promotion of freedom of religion a more central feature or objective of our foreign-policy agenda” but diplomatically declines to compare the Obama administration with the Bush team.

He does note, however, that it would be a good idea to fill the position of ambassador for International Religious Freedom. And he focuses on  countries whose lack of religious freedom has gone unaddressed by Obama: “The impunity of Nigeria and Egypt, the use of religion to stoke civil war in places like Sudan, the imposition in countries such as Pakistan of blasphemy laws that result in public punishment of and private violence against dissenters and minorities — these are among the chilling reminders of how fragile human dignity is elsewhere in the world.”

Most telling is the administration’s reaction to the commission’s report: “There hasn’t been much of a response yet.” That’s par for the course. It is not a topic that interests Obama; indeed the calls from religious and political human-rights activists for Obama to step up to the plate in defense of those fighting political and religious oppression (in Iran, China, Sudan, Burma, Egypt, and elsewhere) are no doubt an annoyance to a president whose foreign policy is built on ingratiating himself with despots. Leo advises:

The administration should make freedom of religion an integral part of the negotiations that are taking place with countries such as China, Iran, and North Korea. And, in the close bilateral relations we have with countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we must send the message that we expect more and better from them. All too often, freedom-of-religion issues either are ignored altogether or are not linked into a broader strategic dialogue respecting stability, security, development, and peace.

Don’t expect this to change until there is a new president.

Leonard Leo, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Freedom (which recently issued a report on religious oppression and discrimination), in an interesting interview explains what has escaped the grasp of Obama:

Promoting the freedom of religion or belief promotes stability and security by reducing resentment, tension, hostility, and extremism. Countries that discriminate against and harass religious minorities, and that enforce blasphemy and other repressive laws, tend to embolden extremists who seek to impose their own orthodoxy. Countries that look the other way when religious minorities are being attacked by private individuals foster a climate of impunity, which similarly creates space for extremism. And, countries that crack down on peaceable religious practices of non-majority faiths create feelings of resentment on the part of oppressed minorities, which in turn can drive young men in those minority faiths to separatist movements and terrorist training camps.

Leo is emphatic that “the U.S. government must do more to make the promotion of freedom of religion a more central feature or objective of our foreign-policy agenda” but diplomatically declines to compare the Obama administration with the Bush team.

He does note, however, that it would be a good idea to fill the position of ambassador for International Religious Freedom. And he focuses on  countries whose lack of religious freedom has gone unaddressed by Obama: “The impunity of Nigeria and Egypt, the use of religion to stoke civil war in places like Sudan, the imposition in countries such as Pakistan of blasphemy laws that result in public punishment of and private violence against dissenters and minorities — these are among the chilling reminders of how fragile human dignity is elsewhere in the world.”

Most telling is the administration’s reaction to the commission’s report: “There hasn’t been much of a response yet.” That’s par for the course. It is not a topic that interests Obama; indeed the calls from religious and political human-rights activists for Obama to step up to the plate in defense of those fighting political and religious oppression (in Iran, China, Sudan, Burma, Egypt, and elsewhere) are no doubt an annoyance to a president whose foreign policy is built on ingratiating himself with despots. Leo advises:

The administration should make freedom of religion an integral part of the negotiations that are taking place with countries such as China, Iran, and North Korea. And, in the close bilateral relations we have with countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we must send the message that we expect more and better from them. All too often, freedom-of-religion issues either are ignored altogether or are not linked into a broader strategic dialogue respecting stability, security, development, and peace.

Don’t expect this to change until there is a new president.

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Mia Farrow Speaks Up Again

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

Mia Farrow has been sounding the alarm about Sudan and risking the ire of her movie pals by calling out Obama for his abominable human rights record. She is at it again:

Last week U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that although he remains supportive of “international efforts” to bring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to justice, the Obama administration is also pursuing “locally owned accountability and reconciliation mechanisms in light of the recommendations made by the African Union’s high-level panel on Darfur.” … Perversely, Mr. Gration has now thrown U.S. government support to a [African Union] tribunal that does not and probably will never exist. Even if it did, the “locally owned accountability” he refers to is not feasible under prevailing political conditions, as any Sudan-based court will be controlled by the perpetrators themselves.

This is a far cry from candidate Obama. And Farrow isn’t shy about reminding her readers that Obama has badly let down human rights activists — and more important, the suffering 3 million Sudanese:

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, hope abounded, even in Darfur’s bleak refugee camps. Darfuris believed this son of Africa could understand their suffering, end the violence that has taken so much from them, and bring Mr. Bashir to justice. The refugees hoped that “Yes we can” was meant for them too. They believed President Obama would bring peace and protection to Darfur and would settle for nothing less than true justice. … Such hopes did not last long.

Her advice is clear-headed and equally applicable to many rogue regimes that continue to brutalize their people: “lead a diplomatic offensive to convince the world to isolate [war criminal Omar] al-Bashir as a fugitive from justice.” (I’m not a fan of the International Criminal Court, in which she suggests trying him, but in this case, there may be no alternative.) But the Obama team is not in the isolating business. Rather, Obama engages thugs, sends envoys hither and yon to accomplish nothing, and leaves the oppressed to their own devices. Obama’s academic exercise in “smart diplomacy” has failed, and in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Eygpt, China, and elsewhere, the despots cheer.

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The Ongoing Korean War

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

Having just visited South Korea, I felt as if I were in a time warp. It’s not that South Korea itself is out of date; if anything, it is ultra-modern — at the cutting edge of technology, culture, and social and economic development. But its neighbor to the north seems never to have passed out of its Stalinist phase. In addition to starving and repressing its own people, and proliferating weapons technology, counterfeit currency, and other illegal substances, North Korea keeps on threatening the south.

The latest manifestation was of course the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, which occurred back in March and which killed 46 sailors. It is now generally agreed that the culprit was a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine. This is a bit out of the norm, but not wildly so. Every few years, North Korea commits some provocation along those lines. This is actually fairly mild compared with the bomb blast back in 1983, which killed a number of top Korean officials while they were on a visit to Rangoon.

More often, of course, the North-South standoff results not in actual fighting but in tensions along the DMZ, or demilitarized zone — a misnomer for one of the most heavily armed places on earth. Along with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations, I visited Panmunjom, the area in the DMZ where negotiations with the north are conducted, and found a surreal scene, with North Korean guards peering at us through the windows of a hut as if we were animals at the zoo. Meanwhile tense South Korean soldiers in sunglasses and shiny helmets stood around, fists clenched, in what is called the “ROK Ready” position. Don’t dare open the back door, we were told; a soldier who made that mistake was snatched by the North Koreans.

There seems scant hope of ending this standoff anytime soon — not unless the bizarre North Korean regime collapses. It is certainly dysfunctional enough to come to an end at any time, but it could just as easily last for decades as impoverished dictatorships still do in Burma and Cuba. The ultimate objective for American and South Korean policy should be to encourage the north’s peaceful implosion, and that in turn means reducing outside support for the regime. That’s something South Korea, under a more conservative government led by Lee Myung-bak, has already been doing lately. Ultimately, though, the north relies for life support on China, and there seems scant prospect that Beijing will do anything that might undermine the Kim Jong-Il regime. There is nothing that Chinese leaders fear more than an implosion on their border, leading to huge refugee flows and possibly the establishment of a unified Korea aligned with the West, not with China.

So in practical terms, South Korea and its American allies will have no choice but to continue preparing for the resumption of the war that was suspended in 1953. That task is increasingly being taken up by the Republic of Korea, which has 655,000 active-duty military personnel and 3 million reservists — the sixth-largest military in the world. The U.S. still maintains 28,000 troops in the south, but they are increasingly being pulled back from Seoul and from the DMZ toward a new base farther south, away from any major population center. Their role is not to so much to contribute ground combat power as to help in the naval and air operations against North Korea while, critically, providing a tripwire that will guarantee American nuclear protection against North Korea’s nukes.

South Korean generals already exercise full control of their forces in peacetime, but if war were to break out, their military would revert to the control of the Combined Forces Command, run by an American four-star. That is due to change in 2012, when “opcon” (operational control) is supposed to revert to the Koreans even in wartime, but South Korean officials we spoke to said they want to move that date back by several years. Not only are they still lacking confidence that they can exercise the same kind of command and control as U.S. officers, but they also think it would be a bad signal of disengagement to the north at a dangerous time. Of course, on the Korean Peninsula, every moment since 1950 has been a dangerous one.

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Can We Move Past Engagement?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

By now the pattern is clear. The Obama team declares that the policy of George W. Bush toward [fill in the blank with the name of a despotic regime] was “shortsighted” and failed to appreciate that only by engagement and discussion can we discern what [name of despotic regime] really wants. Now we send a special envoy, offer talks, decline to discuss human rights with any vigor, and ease up on sanctions. And lo and behold, the regime gets worse. Curious, isn’t it, that unilateral gestures and reticence to assert American values doesn’t pay off?

This report details the latest example:

The United States is deeply disappointed by Myanmar’s preparations for rare elections and wants “immediate steps” to address fears they will lack legitimacy, a top US diplomat said Monday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell issued his strongly-worded statement after meeting government officials and opposition leaders including detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

“What we have seen to date leads us to believe that these elections will lack international legitimacy,” Campbell said of the junta‘s plans to stage a vote later this year that would be the first in two decades.

“We urge the regime to take immediate steps to open the process in the time remaining before the elections,” he said.

US President Barack Obama‘s administration launched dialogue with Myanmar‘s military rulers last year after concluding that Western attempts to isolate the regime had produced little success.

Campbell says the U.S. is “profoundly disappointed” — which might be more than “deeply concerned” but certainly less than the condemnation issued to Israel on building in its own capital. What do the human-rights advocates have to say?

Suu Kyi did not speak to reporters but Win Tin, a former political prisoner and senior NLD member, said other top opposition figures had called on Washington to put more pressure on the junta in separate talks with Campbell.

“We think the approach of the US is very soft in relation to this military government,” Win Tin said.

“We asked for tougher political or economic action. There is no position to begin credible elections as the world asks,” he told reporters. “We reiterated (our request) not to acknowledge the coming result of the election.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling for tough sanctions. That seems to be a wise course, and not only for Burma. Obama has had his “experiment” in engagement. It has proved a failure everywhere it has been tried. Can we move on?

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So Much for Syrian Engagement

Obama is batting .000 in the engagement-of-despotic-regimes department. Iran, China, Sudan, and Burma have not responded to kind words, bows, or promises of future good relations with the U.S. And now Syria has officially — according to Obama — rebuffed us as well. This report explains:

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday he would extend a national state of emergency over Syria for another year, citing the Arab state’s continuing support for terrorists and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Obama’s decision means that despite Washington’s recent attempts to ease tensions with Damascus, United States economic sanctions against Syria, introduced in May 2004, will remain in force.

“While the Syrian government has made some progress in suppressing networks of foreign fighters bound for Iraq, its actions and policies, including continuing support for terrorist organizations and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” Obama said in a statement.

So the administration has now admitted failure — really, how could the Obami do otherwise? Even left-wing Haaretz must concede:

The Obama administration’s strategy of engagement has so far produced disappointing results, with Assad this year hosting Iran’s virulently anti-American President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a high-profile Damascus summit, alongside leaders of the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah – both on the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

In April tensions soared further following Israeli claims that Syria had supplied Hezbollah militants in Lebanon with advanced Scud missiles capable of inflicting heavy damage on Israel’s major cities – an accusation Damascus denies.

So what now — will the Obami decide to forget about returning an ambassador to Damascus? That, at least, would make the administration’s stance less incoherent. But the real issue remains — what will we do to replace the failed engagement gambit? Come to think of ,it that’s the dilemma with all the regimes that have slapped the open hand.

Obama is batting .000 in the engagement-of-despotic-regimes department. Iran, China, Sudan, and Burma have not responded to kind words, bows, or promises of future good relations with the U.S. And now Syria has officially — according to Obama — rebuffed us as well. This report explains:

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday he would extend a national state of emergency over Syria for another year, citing the Arab state’s continuing support for terrorists and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Obama’s decision means that despite Washington’s recent attempts to ease tensions with Damascus, United States economic sanctions against Syria, introduced in May 2004, will remain in force.

“While the Syrian government has made some progress in suppressing networks of foreign fighters bound for Iraq, its actions and policies, including continuing support for terrorist organizations and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” Obama said in a statement.

So the administration has now admitted failure — really, how could the Obami do otherwise? Even left-wing Haaretz must concede:

The Obama administration’s strategy of engagement has so far produced disappointing results, with Assad this year hosting Iran’s virulently anti-American President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a high-profile Damascus summit, alongside leaders of the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah – both on the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

In April tensions soared further following Israeli claims that Syria had supplied Hezbollah militants in Lebanon with advanced Scud missiles capable of inflicting heavy damage on Israel’s major cities – an accusation Damascus denies.

So what now — will the Obami decide to forget about returning an ambassador to Damascus? That, at least, would make the administration’s stance less incoherent. But the real issue remains — what will we do to replace the failed engagement gambit? Come to think of ,it that’s the dilemma with all the regimes that have slapped the open hand.

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Human Rights Under the Bus — Again

It’s no secret that Obama is not enamored of democracy promotion or human rights advocacy. He has done as little as possible to aid the Green Movement in Iran, and in fact has cut funding to groups promoting democracy and documenting human rights abuses. His Sudan envoy is reviled by human rights advocates. He has engaged despotic governments in Burma and Syria, been largely mute on the atrocities against women in the “Muslim World,” and shoved human rights aside in hopes China would agree to sanctions against Iran. He has shown no interest in promoting religious freedom. Now he’s giving the back of the hand to Egyptian and Jordanian democracy advocates:

President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.

Washington’s cuts over the past year — amounting to around 50 percent — have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change. …

The administration has made similar cuts in democracy aid to Jordan, another U.S. ally.

It is not merely that “Obama has moved away from his predecessor George W. Bush’s aggressive push to democratize the regimes of the Middle East”; it is that Obama sees democracy and human rights as afterthoughts or, worse, impediments to his smooth dealings with the world’s despots. The erosion of America’s moral standing won’t easily be reversed, nor will despotic regimes be restrained in abusing their own people (at least not until there is a less-indifferent Oval Office occupant). Obama has not used his vaunted eloquence or his supposed international popularity to advocate for the repressed around the world. To the contrary, he has enabled and encouraged oppressors, who for now need not fear that they will suffer any adverse consequences from the American president.

It’s no secret that Obama is not enamored of democracy promotion or human rights advocacy. He has done as little as possible to aid the Green Movement in Iran, and in fact has cut funding to groups promoting democracy and documenting human rights abuses. His Sudan envoy is reviled by human rights advocates. He has engaged despotic governments in Burma and Syria, been largely mute on the atrocities against women in the “Muslim World,” and shoved human rights aside in hopes China would agree to sanctions against Iran. He has shown no interest in promoting religious freedom. Now he’s giving the back of the hand to Egyptian and Jordanian democracy advocates:

President Barack Obama has dramatically cut funds to promote democracy in Egypt, a shift that could affect everything from anti-corruption programs to the monitoring of elections.

Washington’s cuts over the past year — amounting to around 50 percent — have drawn accusations that the Obama administration is easing off reform pressure on the autocratic government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to ensure its support on Mideast policy, including the peace process with Israel.

“Obama wants change that won’t make the Egyptian government angry,” said Ahmed Samih, head of a Cairo-based organization that in 2005 used U.S. funds to monitor parliament elections. And in the Egyptian context, that means there will be no change. …

The administration has made similar cuts in democracy aid to Jordan, another U.S. ally.

It is not merely that “Obama has moved away from his predecessor George W. Bush’s aggressive push to democratize the regimes of the Middle East”; it is that Obama sees democracy and human rights as afterthoughts or, worse, impediments to his smooth dealings with the world’s despots. The erosion of America’s moral standing won’t easily be reversed, nor will despotic regimes be restrained in abusing their own people (at least not until there is a less-indifferent Oval Office occupant). Obama has not used his vaunted eloquence or his supposed international popularity to advocate for the repressed around the world. To the contrary, he has enabled and encouraged oppressors, who for now need not fear that they will suffer any adverse consequences from the American president.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Barone explains young Americans’ economic outlook in the Obama era: “The programs of the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership will increase government’s share of the economy and will tend to choke off private sector economic growth. We’ve already lost 8 million private sector jobs but no public sector jobs. We’ll probably create more public sector jobs. … But a nation with an ever larger public sector and an inhibited-growth private sector is a nation with fewer openings for people who want work that will benefit others. Fewer opportunities for young people who want to choose their future, just as they choose their iPod playlists and Facebook friends. Fewer opportunities for people to choose their future.”

Bill Kristol explains the economic-growth outlook in the Obama era: “Can you have a serious recovery when your — when taxes are being raised quite a lot, interest rates are going up, and the regulatory burden’s getting heavier? Those are just facts. I mean, taxes are going up. Interest rates are going up, intermediate and long-term rates, and they’re going to keep on going up because of the deficit. And the regulatory burden is getting heavier. That — I don’t know what economic theory tells you get good growth with those things going on.”

The farce of nuclear disarmament in the Obama era: “Iran said on Sunday it will host a nuclear disarmament conference this month to be attended by China, which has been resisting new sanctions against Tehran over its atomic ambitions. ‘This is an international conference and Iran, which advocates nuclear disarmament, is calling on all nations to disarm,’ Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told the official IRNA news agency.”

Syria-Israel relations in the Obama era (which look an awful lot like they always have): “A report submitted a few weeks ago to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by two of his top diplomats concludes that there is no chance to renew substantial negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future, Haaretz has learned. The officials had visited the Middle East recently to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two countries.” Agreeing to return our ambassador to Damascus apparently accomplished nothing.

Non-leadership on human rights in the Obama era: “Other nations should make clear that Burma would indeed be welcomed back — but only if it frees all political prisoners and ceases its war crimes against national minorities. … Together, these nations could exert real influence. They could tighten financial sanctions to really pinch top leaders and the entities they control; they could push the machinery of the United Nations to investigate the regime’s crimes, such as forced labor and mass rape. Now would be a good moment, in other words, to unite and use the leverage that is lying unused on the table.”

Another competitive Blue State in the Obama era: “As soon as former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that he was running for governor, the race was seen by national Republicans as another possible high-profile pickup, a view almost immediately shared by political prognosticators. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report adjusted its rating of the race Thursday from solidly Democratic to one short of ‘Toss Up’ — saying Ehrlich is expected to run a ‘competitive’ contest against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).”

Another prominent Blue State Democratic governor is in trouble in the Obama era: “Few politicians are as close to Obama as the Massachusetts Democratic governor, or have deeper ties to the president and his core team of advisers. And almost no one faces a tougher re-election battle this year than [Deval] Patrick, whose disapproval ratings would be considered near-terminal if not for the three-way race that he currently finds himself in.”

Not-at-all-smart diplomacy in the Obama era: “Barack Obama is in danger of reversing all the progress his predecessors, including George W. Bush, made in forging closer U.S. ties with India. Preoccupied with China and the Middle East, the Obama administration has allotted little room on its schedule for India, and failed to get much done in the short time it did make. Hosting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the November state visit, the administration managed to produce cordial photo ops, but the agreements reached on education, energy cooperation, and the like dealt with trivia.”

The voice of sanity in the Obama era: “The head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that several domestic threats against the government are “real” but not as great as dangers posed by foreign terrorists. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emphasized that the government is taking seriously the arrest of militia members and threats to lawmakers and governors but cautioned that people should not ‘overstate’ them.”

Michael Barone explains young Americans’ economic outlook in the Obama era: “The programs of the Obama administration and the Democratic congressional leadership will increase government’s share of the economy and will tend to choke off private sector economic growth. We’ve already lost 8 million private sector jobs but no public sector jobs. We’ll probably create more public sector jobs. … But a nation with an ever larger public sector and an inhibited-growth private sector is a nation with fewer openings for people who want work that will benefit others. Fewer opportunities for young people who want to choose their future, just as they choose their iPod playlists and Facebook friends. Fewer opportunities for people to choose their future.”

Bill Kristol explains the economic-growth outlook in the Obama era: “Can you have a serious recovery when your — when taxes are being raised quite a lot, interest rates are going up, and the regulatory burden’s getting heavier? Those are just facts. I mean, taxes are going up. Interest rates are going up, intermediate and long-term rates, and they’re going to keep on going up because of the deficit. And the regulatory burden is getting heavier. That — I don’t know what economic theory tells you get good growth with those things going on.”

The farce of nuclear disarmament in the Obama era: “Iran said on Sunday it will host a nuclear disarmament conference this month to be attended by China, which has been resisting new sanctions against Tehran over its atomic ambitions. ‘This is an international conference and Iran, which advocates nuclear disarmament, is calling on all nations to disarm,’ Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told the official IRNA news agency.”

Syria-Israel relations in the Obama era (which look an awful lot like they always have): “A report submitted a few weeks ago to French President Nicolas Sarkozy by two of his top diplomats concludes that there is no chance to renew substantial negotiations between Israel and Syria in the near future, Haaretz has learned. The officials had visited the Middle East recently to investigate the possibility of French mediation between the two countries.” Agreeing to return our ambassador to Damascus apparently accomplished nothing.

Non-leadership on human rights in the Obama era: “Other nations should make clear that Burma would indeed be welcomed back — but only if it frees all political prisoners and ceases its war crimes against national minorities. … Together, these nations could exert real influence. They could tighten financial sanctions to really pinch top leaders and the entities they control; they could push the machinery of the United Nations to investigate the regime’s crimes, such as forced labor and mass rape. Now would be a good moment, in other words, to unite and use the leverage that is lying unused on the table.”

Another competitive Blue State in the Obama era: “As soon as former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that he was running for governor, the race was seen by national Republicans as another possible high-profile pickup, a view almost immediately shared by political prognosticators. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report adjusted its rating of the race Thursday from solidly Democratic to one short of ‘Toss Up’ — saying Ehrlich is expected to run a ‘competitive’ contest against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).”

Another prominent Blue State Democratic governor is in trouble in the Obama era: “Few politicians are as close to Obama as the Massachusetts Democratic governor, or have deeper ties to the president and his core team of advisers. And almost no one faces a tougher re-election battle this year than [Deval] Patrick, whose disapproval ratings would be considered near-terminal if not for the three-way race that he currently finds himself in.”

Not-at-all-smart diplomacy in the Obama era: “Barack Obama is in danger of reversing all the progress his predecessors, including George W. Bush, made in forging closer U.S. ties with India. Preoccupied with China and the Middle East, the Obama administration has allotted little room on its schedule for India, and failed to get much done in the short time it did make. Hosting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the November state visit, the administration managed to produce cordial photo ops, but the agreements reached on education, energy cooperation, and the like dealt with trivia.”

The voice of sanity in the Obama era: “The head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee said Sunday that several domestic threats against the government are “real” but not as great as dangers posed by foreign terrorists. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) emphasized that the government is taking seriously the arrest of militia members and threats to lawmakers and governors but cautioned that people should not ‘overstate’ them.”

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Allies Be Wary

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

Robert Kagan says Israel shouldn’t take it personally:

Israelis shouldn’t feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the “special relationship” with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security.

And that’s just the beginning of the scorned-ally list. As Kagan notes, the Obami are infatuated with engaging foes — Iran, China, Russia, and a hodge-podge of despotic regimes. He explains:

The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria and Burma without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus or Rangoon. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute — and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.

This may be the one great innovation of Obama foreign policy. While displaying more continuity than discontinuity in his policies toward Afghanistan, Iraq and the war against terrorism, and garnering as a result considerable bipartisan support for those policies, Obama appears to be departing from a 60-year-old American grand strategy when it comes to allies.

It is therefore not purely a matter of Middle East policy when Obama kicks Israel in the shins. It is a emblematic of and further warning to our allies around the globe that they are dispensable and vulnerable. And the message to our foes? Hang in there — the Obami may deliver precisely what you want. Just make a very big fuss. It’s what passes for smart diplomacy. It’s what makes for a dangerous world.

The ironies are plentiful. Obama was to “restore our place in the world,” but our allies are learning not to trust us. As Kagan notes, Obama is a “multilateralism” fan but lays none of the groundwork to forge meaningful alliances among democratic powers. Obama was the one with the “superior temperament” but reacts in highly personalized terms and angrily — feigned or not, is a matter of speculation — when it suits his purposes. The Obami are enamored of “international law” but choose not to abide by our commitments to allies (Eastern Europe on missile defense, Israel on settlements) nor to enforce in any meaningful way those international agreements and resolutions that rogue states ignore. Hypocrisy? Perhaps.

At the heart of this a fundamental lack of seriousness and attention — in time, thought, and resources — to evaluate the world as it is and plot out a strategic course to get us from Point A to Point B. So we have a series of failed gambits, left strewn by the side of the road — engagement with Iran, reset with Russia, bullying with Israel. In none have we perceived correctly the motives of those involvement or devised realistic policies designed to further our interests. It is one herky-jerky stunt after another, leaving allies confused and foes emboldened.

The Obami were desperate, we are told, to preserve the proximity talks, given their meager record on foreign policy. But in their desperation, they have amply demonstrated why that record is so meager and why we are quickly losing credibility with friends and enemies alike.

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Burma Mocks the Obami

The administration’s predictably fruitless engagement of Burma is again proving to be an embarrassment. The Washington Post editors explain Burma’s answer to the Obami’s outreach:

This week the regime delivered its answer: Get lost. The government promulgated rules that make clear that an election planned for this year will be worse than meaningless. That had always been the fear, given laws that guaranteed the military a decisive role in parliament, no matter who won the election. But the new rules make it official: Burma’s leading democratic party and its leader, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will not be permitted to take part.

As the editors note, even the Foggy Bottom team could not hide its dismay, declaring that the move “makes a mockery of the democratic process and ensures that the upcoming elections will be devoid of credibility.” But it also makes a mockery of Obama’s obsession with engagement. There are more constructive things the administration could be doing to aid the cause of democracy and reestablish our standing in its defense. The editors suggest: “It needs to pursue financial sanctions that target Burma’s ruling generals and their corruptly amassed wealth. It needs to rally the European Union and Burma’s enablers, such as Singapore, to take similar actions. And it needs to take more seriously the security challenge posed by the regime’s intensifying wars against minority nationalities and the resulting refugee crises.”

Will we? Well, that’s always the question with the Obama team: in the face of ample evidence that what they are doing is ineffective or counterproductive, will a course change be made? So far, the answer — from Russia to China to Burma and beyond — is no.

The administration’s predictably fruitless engagement of Burma is again proving to be an embarrassment. The Washington Post editors explain Burma’s answer to the Obami’s outreach:

This week the regime delivered its answer: Get lost. The government promulgated rules that make clear that an election planned for this year will be worse than meaningless. That had always been the fear, given laws that guaranteed the military a decisive role in parliament, no matter who won the election. But the new rules make it official: Burma’s leading democratic party and its leader, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will not be permitted to take part.

As the editors note, even the Foggy Bottom team could not hide its dismay, declaring that the move “makes a mockery of the democratic process and ensures that the upcoming elections will be devoid of credibility.” But it also makes a mockery of Obama’s obsession with engagement. There are more constructive things the administration could be doing to aid the cause of democracy and reestablish our standing in its defense. The editors suggest: “It needs to pursue financial sanctions that target Burma’s ruling generals and their corruptly amassed wealth. It needs to rally the European Union and Burma’s enablers, such as Singapore, to take similar actions. And it needs to take more seriously the security challenge posed by the regime’s intensifying wars against minority nationalities and the resulting refugee crises.”

Will we? Well, that’s always the question with the Obama team: in the face of ample evidence that what they are doing is ineffective or counterproductive, will a course change be made? So far, the answer — from Russia to China to Burma and beyond — is no.

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Keeping the Boot Off

Bret Stephens loudly and appropriately cheers the latest demonstration of Iraqi democracy, a historic achievement he notes was arrived at “first by force of American arms, next by dint of Iraqi will.” And he reminds us of the words of journalist Michael Kelly, killed in 2003 covering the war:

Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face.

I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?

At what should be a moment of triumph — for the American military, the Iraqi people, and freedom itself — the administration is oddly and painfully muted. It is not simply in Iraq where the impulse to leave seems now to outweigh the desire to ensure the “boot” does not return. (We hear: “Mr. Obama, with the polls barely closed and no votes counted, promptly declares the election makes it possible that ‘by the end of next year, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq.’”) It is that democracy promotion more generally as an objective in our foreign policy has been downgraded. Democracy and human rights are simply items to be traded away for the sake of getting along with those who oppress their people and threaten our quietude. We’ll turn a blind eye to Syrian brutality, re-engage Burma and Sudan, turn down the volume on criticism of China and Russia, and accept the Iranian regime as the legitimate and inevitable victor in the battle with its people. And for what? If anything, our relations with all of these regimes have worsened and the despots’ behavior has become more outrageous.

There is a price to be paid by systematically ignoring and downplaying human rights and shunting aside the victims of despotic regimes. The immediate victims, of course, are the imprisoned and the oppressed who lose hope and who lack the material and assistance to keep up their resistance. The immediate beneficiaries are those regimes who are emboldened to tighten their chokehold at home and engage in mischief beyond their borders, secure in the knowledge that they’ll suffer few consequences, if any. But the harm to our collective memory and our moral antennae is not inconsequential. We are dimly aware that these are unpleasant regimes, but the extent of the brutality and the horror faced by their victims fades. We tolerate what was intolerable by averting our eyes and sloughing off the details. When we do not document and condemn atrocities, we accept dictatorships an inevitable and “normal.” And we lose our own bearings and sense of moral indignation.

If we continue on this path, the world will be less safe and free, and America will be less respected as a result. The triumph in Iraq should remind us what is at stake and help reaffirm American’s unique role in the world. Will it? One suspects not so long as Obama occupies the White House. This administration is very big on engagement, not so enamored of drawing sharp lines or making open-ended commitments — which are precisely what are required to keep the boot off the faces of millions upon millions of people around the world.

Bret Stephens loudly and appropriately cheers the latest demonstration of Iraqi democracy, a historic achievement he notes was arrived at “first by force of American arms, next by dint of Iraqi will.” And he reminds us of the words of journalist Michael Kelly, killed in 2003 covering the war:

Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face.

I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as a liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?

At what should be a moment of triumph — for the American military, the Iraqi people, and freedom itself — the administration is oddly and painfully muted. It is not simply in Iraq where the impulse to leave seems now to outweigh the desire to ensure the “boot” does not return. (We hear: “Mr. Obama, with the polls barely closed and no votes counted, promptly declares the election makes it possible that ‘by the end of next year, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq.’”) It is that democracy promotion more generally as an objective in our foreign policy has been downgraded. Democracy and human rights are simply items to be traded away for the sake of getting along with those who oppress their people and threaten our quietude. We’ll turn a blind eye to Syrian brutality, re-engage Burma and Sudan, turn down the volume on criticism of China and Russia, and accept the Iranian regime as the legitimate and inevitable victor in the battle with its people. And for what? If anything, our relations with all of these regimes have worsened and the despots’ behavior has become more outrageous.

There is a price to be paid by systematically ignoring and downplaying human rights and shunting aside the victims of despotic regimes. The immediate victims, of course, are the imprisoned and the oppressed who lose hope and who lack the material and assistance to keep up their resistance. The immediate beneficiaries are those regimes who are emboldened to tighten their chokehold at home and engage in mischief beyond their borders, secure in the knowledge that they’ll suffer few consequences, if any. But the harm to our collective memory and our moral antennae is not inconsequential. We are dimly aware that these are unpleasant regimes, but the extent of the brutality and the horror faced by their victims fades. We tolerate what was intolerable by averting our eyes and sloughing off the details. When we do not document and condemn atrocities, we accept dictatorships an inevitable and “normal.” And we lose our own bearings and sense of moral indignation.

If we continue on this path, the world will be less safe and free, and America will be less respected as a result. The triumph in Iraq should remind us what is at stake and help reaffirm American’s unique role in the world. Will it? One suspects not so long as Obama occupies the White House. This administration is very big on engagement, not so enamored of drawing sharp lines or making open-ended commitments — which are precisely what are required to keep the boot off the faces of millions upon millions of people around the world.

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Consistently Rotten Results

You have to give the Obami credit. They have doggedly applied their engagement tactic to a variety of regimes – and gotten remarkably similar results. It so happens that the result has been to embolden our adversaries. In response to our efforts to ingratiate ourselves with the mullahs and pipe down about democracy, we have been scorned and snubbed. In response to our decision to redeploy our ambassador to Syria, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran and joined in the pummeling of the U.S. In response to our suck-uppery, the Chinese have become ever bolder, continuing their opposition to sanctions and their despotic treatment of dissidents. The same is true, we now learn, of Burma.

This report explains:

The Obama administration, concerned that Burma is expanding its military relationship with North Korea, has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Burma’s junta to stop buying North Korean military technology, U.S. officials said.

Concerns about the relationship — which encompass the sale of small arms, missile components and technology possibly related to nuclear weapons — in part prompted the Obama administration in October to end the George W. Bush-era policy of isolating the military junta, said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

But we’ve been having meetings with them and engaging them! Some now fret that this is getting us nowhere:

Congress and human rights organizations are increasingly criticizing and questioning the administration’s new policy toward the Southeast Asian nation, which is also known as Myanmar. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and generally a supporter of the administration’s foreign policy, recently called for the administration to increase the pressure on Burma, including tightening sanctions on the regime.

“Recent events have raised the profile of humanitarian issues there,” Berman said Friday. “Support is growing for more action in addition to ongoing efforts.”

There is good reason to conclude that things are moving in the wrong direction. (“On Feb. 10, a Burmese court sentenced a naturalized Burmese American political activist from Montgomery County to three years of hard labor; he was allegedly beaten, denied food and water, and placed in isolation in a tiny cell with no toilet. Burma recently snubbed the United Nations’ special envoy on human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, denying him a meeting with Suu Kyi and access to Burma’s senior leadership.”) As one expert succinctly put it, “The bad behavior has increased.”

This will no doubt disappoint Sen. Jim Webb, who has been leading the charge to lessen Burma’s “isolation.” As the report notes, “Webb’s trip to Burma in August — the first by a member of Congress in a decade — has been credited with giving the Obama administration the political cover to open up talks with the junta.” Credited, indeed.

The Obami conclude from all of this that they must redouble their efforts — engage more! They seem never to learn from experience — never to examine the motives and conduct of our foes as a means of assessing whether our policies are working. For a group that declared ideology to be “so yesterday,” they seem to be trapped in the the grips of their own. They are convinced that despotic regimes will respond to unilateral gestures and American obsequiousness. Repeated failure seems not to impact their analysis. Too bad there aren’t any realists to be found.

You have to give the Obami credit. They have doggedly applied their engagement tactic to a variety of regimes – and gotten remarkably similar results. It so happens that the result has been to embolden our adversaries. In response to our efforts to ingratiate ourselves with the mullahs and pipe down about democracy, we have been scorned and snubbed. In response to our decision to redeploy our ambassador to Syria, Bashar al-Assad has moved ever closer to Iran and joined in the pummeling of the U.S. In response to our suck-uppery, the Chinese have become ever bolder, continuing their opposition to sanctions and their despotic treatment of dissidents. The same is true, we now learn, of Burma.

This report explains:

The Obama administration, concerned that Burma is expanding its military relationship with North Korea, has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Burma’s junta to stop buying North Korean military technology, U.S. officials said.

Concerns about the relationship — which encompass the sale of small arms, missile components and technology possibly related to nuclear weapons — in part prompted the Obama administration in October to end the George W. Bush-era policy of isolating the military junta, said a senior State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

But we’ve been having meetings with them and engaging them! Some now fret that this is getting us nowhere:

Congress and human rights organizations are increasingly criticizing and questioning the administration’s new policy toward the Southeast Asian nation, which is also known as Myanmar. Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and generally a supporter of the administration’s foreign policy, recently called for the administration to increase the pressure on Burma, including tightening sanctions on the regime.

“Recent events have raised the profile of humanitarian issues there,” Berman said Friday. “Support is growing for more action in addition to ongoing efforts.”

There is good reason to conclude that things are moving in the wrong direction. (“On Feb. 10, a Burmese court sentenced a naturalized Burmese American political activist from Montgomery County to three years of hard labor; he was allegedly beaten, denied food and water, and placed in isolation in a tiny cell with no toilet. Burma recently snubbed the United Nations’ special envoy on human rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, denying him a meeting with Suu Kyi and access to Burma’s senior leadership.”) As one expert succinctly put it, “The bad behavior has increased.”

This will no doubt disappoint Sen. Jim Webb, who has been leading the charge to lessen Burma’s “isolation.” As the report notes, “Webb’s trip to Burma in August — the first by a member of Congress in a decade — has been credited with giving the Obama administration the political cover to open up talks with the junta.” Credited, indeed.

The Obami conclude from all of this that they must redouble their efforts — engage more! They seem never to learn from experience — never to examine the motives and conduct of our foes as a means of assessing whether our policies are working. For a group that declared ideology to be “so yesterday,” they seem to be trapped in the the grips of their own. They are convinced that despotic regimes will respond to unilateral gestures and American obsequiousness. Repeated failure seems not to impact their analysis. Too bad there aren’t any realists to be found.

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Another Despot, Another Leverett Bouquet

The Leveretts are branching out. After all, one can not write soley on the marvels of the University of Tehran or the sage political wisdom of Ahmadinejad. Now Flynt and Hillary Leverett are touting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At their blog they coo that, of course, al-Assad is a canny operator, fully justified in his embrace of the Iranian regime:

Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic seems increasingly strategic in character. Over the past year, key advisers to President Assad have told us as much; one of them went so far as to describe Syrian-Iranian relations with the French adjective, “intime.” If the Obama Administration is unable or unwilling to acknowledge this reality and the regional dynamics that have given rise to it, the already limited effectiveness of American diplomacy in the Middle East will be further undermined.

Now implicit in all this, of course, is the criticisim of the Obami, that they are on a fools errand trying to split up the Syria-Iran lovefest. But then perhaps if the Obami whacked Israel a little harder, that would endear Assad to us. (“For real ‘peace’, according to President Assad, Israel will need to negotiate a comprehensive settlement, including on the Palestinian track.”)

But in case you doubted their affection, if not admiration for the Syrian despot, the Leveretts throw a final smooch his way:

Bashar al-Assad has weathered the storm unleashed in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and has emerged as a masterful player of the regional game.  It is striking that many of the people who argued in 2005 that the Syrian leadership was internally conflicted and uniquely vulnerable to external pressure are now making the same arguments about the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were wrong then; they are wrong now.

One wonders what other regimes could benefit from inclusion in the Leveretts’ portfolio. Maureen Dowd seems to have cornered the market on shilling for the Saudis. But, heck, lots of despotic regimes could use this sort of help — Cuba, North Korea, Somalia, and Burma perhaps. A visit arranged and supervised by the regime, a cozy interview with the  Great Leader, nary a word on the political prisioners, a fluffy justification of the regime’s self-interested behavior, and then a fawning series of posts and speeches. Not a bad deal for the butchers of the world. And certainly a handsome arrangement for the Leveretts.

The Leveretts are branching out. After all, one can not write soley on the marvels of the University of Tehran or the sage political wisdom of Ahmadinejad. Now Flynt and Hillary Leverett are touting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At their blog they coo that, of course, al-Assad is a canny operator, fully justified in his embrace of the Iranian regime:

Syria’s relationship with the Islamic Republic seems increasingly strategic in character. Over the past year, key advisers to President Assad have told us as much; one of them went so far as to describe Syrian-Iranian relations with the French adjective, “intime.” If the Obama Administration is unable or unwilling to acknowledge this reality and the regional dynamics that have given rise to it, the already limited effectiveness of American diplomacy in the Middle East will be further undermined.

Now implicit in all this, of course, is the criticisim of the Obami, that they are on a fools errand trying to split up the Syria-Iran lovefest. But then perhaps if the Obami whacked Israel a little harder, that would endear Assad to us. (“For real ‘peace’, according to President Assad, Israel will need to negotiate a comprehensive settlement, including on the Palestinian track.”)

But in case you doubted their affection, if not admiration for the Syrian despot, the Leveretts throw a final smooch his way:

Bashar al-Assad has weathered the storm unleashed in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination and has emerged as a masterful player of the regional game.  It is striking that many of the people who argued in 2005 that the Syrian leadership was internally conflicted and uniquely vulnerable to external pressure are now making the same arguments about the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were wrong then; they are wrong now.

One wonders what other regimes could benefit from inclusion in the Leveretts’ portfolio. Maureen Dowd seems to have cornered the market on shilling for the Saudis. But, heck, lots of despotic regimes could use this sort of help — Cuba, North Korea, Somalia, and Burma perhaps. A visit arranged and supervised by the regime, a cozy interview with the  Great Leader, nary a word on the political prisioners, a fluffy justification of the regime’s self-interested behavior, and then a fawning series of posts and speeches. Not a bad deal for the butchers of the world. And certainly a handsome arrangement for the Leveretts.

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Google’s Moral Triumph

Google’s virile decision to stop cooperation with Chinese censors struck a pretty contrast yesterday with Hillary Clinton’s near-simultaneous speech at the East-West Center. While Google bluntly called out a moral conflict, Ms. Clinton’s speech conveniently sidestepped ideology. But those divergent morals and ideas are both powerful and problematic.

Clinton spent her speech focusing on the other sources of power — economic, political, and military. It was diplomatically savvy of her. But while morality and ideology can be approached with subtlety, they are the substance that underwrites American diplomacy. They do not need to be stridently asserted, but if they disappear altogether, America has made the biggest concession of all.

Clinton referred to the “principles that will define America’s continued engagement and leadership in the region” — but her principles seemed grounded in utility rather than moral or ideological commitment. Even her brief bone-toss to human rights fell short: she “applauds” the flaccid ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, in which even Burma has veto power. And without irony, in the subsequent sentence, she advanced her “principle” that “our institutions must be effective and be focused on delivering results.”

Compare that with the lancing statement from Google’s news-making blog. After discovering a hacking attempt that targeted Chinese human-rights activists, Google announced its decision publicly “not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.” Furthermore, Google wrote, “We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially all our offices in China.”

That was a gutsy statement, and it forces China to take Google seriously. Like the U.S., Google knows it may suffer greatly from impaired relations with China. And like American statesmen and diplomats, the Google executives have rightly attempted for years to uphold both their ethics and their interests.

However, when totalitarian China sits in the same room as democratic America or freedom-reliant business, there are underlying and fundamental differences in ideology and morality. Temporary agreements about specific details of the relationship — though often necessary and even good — do not mean that those conflicts have disappeared. Google’s stand against the Chinese Goliath has only increased its international reputation. Hopefully, if the United States is faced with a similar immediate quandary, Hillary Clinton will respond with the same moxie.

Google’s virile decision to stop cooperation with Chinese censors struck a pretty contrast yesterday with Hillary Clinton’s near-simultaneous speech at the East-West Center. While Google bluntly called out a moral conflict, Ms. Clinton’s speech conveniently sidestepped ideology. But those divergent morals and ideas are both powerful and problematic.

Clinton spent her speech focusing on the other sources of power — economic, political, and military. It was diplomatically savvy of her. But while morality and ideology can be approached with subtlety, they are the substance that underwrites American diplomacy. They do not need to be stridently asserted, but if they disappear altogether, America has made the biggest concession of all.

Clinton referred to the “principles that will define America’s continued engagement and leadership in the region” — but her principles seemed grounded in utility rather than moral or ideological commitment. Even her brief bone-toss to human rights fell short: she “applauds” the flaccid ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, in which even Burma has veto power. And without irony, in the subsequent sentence, she advanced her “principle” that “our institutions must be effective and be focused on delivering results.”

Compare that with the lancing statement from Google’s news-making blog. After discovering a hacking attempt that targeted Chinese human-rights activists, Google announced its decision publicly “not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.” Furthermore, Google wrote, “We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially all our offices in China.”

That was a gutsy statement, and it forces China to take Google seriously. Like the U.S., Google knows it may suffer greatly from impaired relations with China. And like American statesmen and diplomats, the Google executives have rightly attempted for years to uphold both their ethics and their interests.

However, when totalitarian China sits in the same room as democratic America or freedom-reliant business, there are underlying and fundamental differences in ideology and morality. Temporary agreements about specific details of the relationship — though often necessary and even good — do not mean that those conflicts have disappeared. Google’s stand against the Chinese Goliath has only increased its international reputation. Hopefully, if the United States is faced with a similar immediate quandary, Hillary Clinton will respond with the same moxie.

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More Than Words?

Bill McGurn writes:

For a man whose whole appeal has been wrapped in powerful imagery, President Obama appears strikingly obtuse about the symbolism of his own actions: e.g., squeezing in a condemnation of Iran before a round of golf. With every statement not backed up by action, with every refusal to meet a leader such as the Dalai Lama, with every handshake for a Chavez, Mr. Obama is defining himself to foreign leaders who are sizing him up and have only one question in mind: How much can we get away with?

McGurn argues that Obama would do well to take a break from his “not George W. Bush” approach to everything and back up his new rhetoric with some minimal action. He might, for example, actually meet with some dissidents as Bush did:

George W. Bush also made it a point to meet with dissidents and signal which side America was on. He met with a defector who spent 10 years in the North Korean gulag. He met with persecuted Chinese Christians, marked the 20th anniversary of a famous pro-democracy uprising in Burma by meeting with Burmese dissidents in Thailand, and awarded the Medal of Freedom to a jailed Cuban political prisoner. In 2007, he even spoke to a whole conference of dissidents in Prague organized by another alumnus of the Soviet prison system: Natan Sharansky.

Obama also might fund the Iranian dissidents, sign onto legislation to help the democracy advocates evade censorship, get working on those “crippling” sanctions, and make clear we’re done engaging a regime that lacks the support of its people. But it is far from clear that Obama means to do more than sprinkle in some complimentary words for those whom he has done nothing to aid and much to undercut since the June 12 election. Absent some concrete actions, those words lack meaning and sincerity.

Bill McGurn writes:

For a man whose whole appeal has been wrapped in powerful imagery, President Obama appears strikingly obtuse about the symbolism of his own actions: e.g., squeezing in a condemnation of Iran before a round of golf. With every statement not backed up by action, with every refusal to meet a leader such as the Dalai Lama, with every handshake for a Chavez, Mr. Obama is defining himself to foreign leaders who are sizing him up and have only one question in mind: How much can we get away with?

McGurn argues that Obama would do well to take a break from his “not George W. Bush” approach to everything and back up his new rhetoric with some minimal action. He might, for example, actually meet with some dissidents as Bush did:

George W. Bush also made it a point to meet with dissidents and signal which side America was on. He met with a defector who spent 10 years in the North Korean gulag. He met with persecuted Chinese Christians, marked the 20th anniversary of a famous pro-democracy uprising in Burma by meeting with Burmese dissidents in Thailand, and awarded the Medal of Freedom to a jailed Cuban political prisoner. In 2007, he even spoke to a whole conference of dissidents in Prague organized by another alumnus of the Soviet prison system: Natan Sharansky.

Obama also might fund the Iranian dissidents, sign onto legislation to help the democracy advocates evade censorship, get working on those “crippling” sanctions, and make clear we’re done engaging a regime that lacks the support of its people. But it is far from clear that Obama means to do more than sprinkle in some complimentary words for those whom he has done nothing to aid and much to undercut since the June 12 election. Absent some concrete actions, those words lack meaning and sincerity.

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Clinton, Dictators, and Doubletalk

There are many nauseating features of Hillary Clinton’s human-rights speech. There’s the hypocrisy of touting our forthrightness in dealing with China. (Does the Dalai Lama know? Why no freewheeling interchange in China between Obama and democracy activists? Why did she tell the Chinese leaders in February that human rights wouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of the important stuff?). There’s the loathsome confession that our legal and well-founded anti-terror policies are human-rights sins to be expiated. And then there’s her discussion of Iran.

She does her best to conceal the unconcealable: that at a critical juncture, we refused to deny legitimacy to the Iranian regime and to support both rhetorically and financially the democracy advocates. So, as Hillary is wont to do, she shades and minces words — and downright lies:

We acknowledge that one size does not fit all. And when old approaches aren’t working, we won’t be afraid to attempt new ones, as we have this year by ending the stalemate of isolation and instead pursuing measured engagement with Burma. In Iran, we have offered to negotiate directly with the government on nuclear issues, but have at the same time expressed solidarity with those inside Iran struggling for democratic change. As President Obama said in his Nobel speech, “They have us on their side.”

And we will hold governments accountable for their actions, as we have just recently by terminating Millennium Challenge Corporation grants this year for Madagascar and Niger in the wake of government behavior. As the President said last week, “we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

So the Obami were on the side of the protesters? Or, rather, did they cut the legs out from under them by plunging ahead with negotiations, bestowing complete legitimacy on a regime that had stolen an election and brutalized its people? And just how did we hold Tehran “accountable” for its actions? We haven’t. Not in the least. Read More

There are many nauseating features of Hillary Clinton’s human-rights speech. There’s the hypocrisy of touting our forthrightness in dealing with China. (Does the Dalai Lama know? Why no freewheeling interchange in China between Obama and democracy activists? Why did she tell the Chinese leaders in February that human rights wouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of the important stuff?). There’s the loathsome confession that our legal and well-founded anti-terror policies are human-rights sins to be expiated. And then there’s her discussion of Iran.

She does her best to conceal the unconcealable: that at a critical juncture, we refused to deny legitimacy to the Iranian regime and to support both rhetorically and financially the democracy advocates. So, as Hillary is wont to do, she shades and minces words — and downright lies:

We acknowledge that one size does not fit all. And when old approaches aren’t working, we won’t be afraid to attempt new ones, as we have this year by ending the stalemate of isolation and instead pursuing measured engagement with Burma. In Iran, we have offered to negotiate directly with the government on nuclear issues, but have at the same time expressed solidarity with those inside Iran struggling for democratic change. As President Obama said in his Nobel speech, “They have us on their side.”

And we will hold governments accountable for their actions, as we have just recently by terminating Millennium Challenge Corporation grants this year for Madagascar and Niger in the wake of government behavior. As the President said last week, “we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

So the Obami were on the side of the protesters? Or, rather, did they cut the legs out from under them by plunging ahead with negotiations, bestowing complete legitimacy on a regime that had stolen an election and brutalized its people? And just how did we hold Tehran “accountable” for its actions? We haven’t. Not in the least.

But it’s in the Q&A that the full incoherence and abject hypocrisy of the Obami’s nonhuman-rights policy is revealed. When asked how we balance concerns about Iran’s nuclear program with human rights, Clinton gushed gibberish:

Right. Well, it is a balancing act. But the more important balancing act is to make sure that our very strong opposition to what is going on inside Iran doesn’t in any way undermine the legitimacy of the protest movement that has taken hold. Now, this is one of those very good examples of a hard call. After the election and the reaction that began almost immediately by people who felt that the election was invalid, put us in a position of seriously considering what is the best way we can support those who are putting their lives on the line by going into the streets. We wanted to convey clear support, but we didn’t want the attention shifted from the legitimate concerns to the United States, because we had nothing to do with the spontaneous reaction that grew up in response to the behavior of the Iranian Government.

So it’s been a delicate walk, but I think that the activists inside Iran know that we support them. We have certainly encouraged their continuing communication of what’s going on inside Iran. One of the calls that we made shortly after the election in the midst of the demonstrations is this unit of these very tech-savvy young people that we’ve created inside the State Department knew that there was a lot of communication going on about demonstrations and sharing information on Twitter, and that totally unconnected to what was going on in Iran, Twitter had planned some kind of lapse in service to do something on their system – you can tell I have no idea what they were doing. (Laughter.) I mean, you know, I don’t know Twitter from Tweeter, so – (laughter) – to be honest with you.

So these young tech people in the State Department called Twitter and said don’t take Twitter down right now. Whatever you’re going to do to reboot or whatever it is – (laughter) – don’t take Twitter down because people in Iran are dependent upon Twitter. So we have done that careful balancing.

Now, clearly, we think that pursuing an agenda of nonproliferation is a human rights issue. I mean, what would be worse than nuclear material or even a nuclear weapon being in the hands of either a state or a non-state actor that would be used to intimidate and threaten and even, in the worst-case scenario, destroy?

What??!! Nuclear proliferation becomes a human-rights issue. And walking a fine line means doing nothing to fund or lend aid to the protesters. As of now, the Obami have failed on both counts. Iran’s thugocracy is fully established and its nuclear program is proceeding full steam ahead. But she sort of knows what Twitter is. (Her speech doesn’t end there, by the way, and should be savored complete and unedited.)

This is what passes for “smart” diplomacy. But it’s revealing. Never does it dawn on the Obami that human rights, support for democracy, and regime change might actually enhance our objectives and afford us a solution to the problem of an Islamic fundamentalist state’s acquisition of nuclear arms. She’s in the business of walking fine lines and delivering double talk, which speaks volumes about how fundamentally unserious this group is about human rights.

Read Less




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