Commentary Magazine


Topic: Bush

Bin Laden and the Bush Years

The Pew Research Center released a poll showing support for Osama bin Laden had waned considerably among Muslims around the world. That’s not terribly surprising a year after his death. But what is worth calling attention to is that bin Laden’s popularity decreased substantially during the Bush years and the “war on terrorism.”

Why point this out at all? Because there was a popular theory advanced by foreign policy analysts like Peter Bergen, which (in 2007) sounded like this:

America’’s most formidable foe– once practically dead– is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling al-Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s’ resurgence –and its continued ability to harm us– we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it.

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The Pew Research Center released a poll showing support for Osama bin Laden had waned considerably among Muslims around the world. That’s not terribly surprising a year after his death. But what is worth calling attention to is that bin Laden’s popularity decreased substantially during the Bush years and the “war on terrorism.”

Why point this out at all? Because there was a popular theory advanced by foreign policy analysts like Peter Bergen, which (in 2007) sounded like this:

America’’s most formidable foe– once practically dead– is back. This is one of the most historically significant legacies of President Bush. At nearly every turn, he has made the wrong strategic choices in battling al-Qaeda. To understand the terror network’s’ resurgence –and its continued ability to harm us– we need to reexamine all the ways in which the administration has failed to crush it.

Bergen also believed the war in Iraq gave new life to al-Qaeda; in fact, the war ended up dealing a devastating blow to al-Qaeda.

Bergen’s premise, as well as his analysis, were deeply flawed. The Bush years were very bad ones for bin Laden and for what Bergen called “America’s most formidable foe.” It’s worth adding, I suppose, that they weren’t good years for Bergen’s credibility as a commentator on world events.

 

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Appeasing Russia

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the “only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

“Reset” in our relations with Russia has proved an abject failure. Robert Kagan makes a key point in his must-read column: relations with Russia are no better than during the Bush administration, arguably worse, and we’ve paid handsomely for this:

Given that history, few accomplishments have been more oversold than the Obama administration’s “success” in getting Russia to agree, for the fourth time in five years, to another vacuous U.N. Security Council resolution. It is being trumpeted as a triumph of the administration’s “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship, the main point of which was to get the Russians on board regarding Iran. All we’ve heard in recent months is how the Russians finally want to work with us on Iran and genuinely see the Iranian bomb as a threat — all because Obama has repaired relations with Russia that were allegedly destroyed by Bush.

Kagan allows that this resolution might be marginally more productive than the last three but at a steep price. (“The latest draft resolution tightens sanctions in some areas around the margins, but the administration was forced to cave to some Russian and Chinese demands.”) In sum, Russia’s behavior is no different than it has been, and the “only thing that has changed is the price the United States has been willing to pay.” We’ve sold out Poland and the Czech Republic, undermined our own sanctions effort, and in essence thrown in the towel on opposing the Russian occupation of Georgian territory (“Obama has officially declared that Russia’s continued illegal military occupation of Georgia is no ‘obstacle’ to U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation”).

No wonder Europe is jittery, Russia has inked a deal for a naval base in the Ukraine (suggesting that’s the next former Soviet state to fall back under Russian domination), and the mullahs “are laughing up their sleeves — along with the men in Moscow.” And remarkably, there’s been very little fuss — from Congress or from mainstream Jewish groups. But we are in an election season, and Republicans would be wise to raise the issue of the Obama Russian appeasement. Opposition to Obama’s failing Iran policy, failing Israel policy, failing China policy, and failing Russia policy (yes, there is a pattern here) is good policy and good politics. And those who make it an issue in 2010 and 2012 will have a mandate to do something about it.

Obama officials must assume that no one will bother to check the record (as, so far, none of the journalists covering the story has). The fact is, the Russians have not said or done anything in the past few months that they didn’t do or say during the Bush years. In fact, they sometimes used to say and do more.

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RE: Why Israel Can’t Rely on American Jewish “Leaders”

Rabbi Jack Moline in an online bulletin board has this to say about my post from yesterday:

My argument with the piece is not disagreement but its gratuitous nastiness. That is especially true because the author elected not to go to the source (my contact info is part of what was distributed), a distressing choice being made by ideologues on both sides of many issues.

Most amusing has been the responses of some contrary colleagues (not only Conservative). It boils down to: the meetings should never have taken place and I should have been invited.

First, Moline offers no substantive response to my post, no indication that it misrepresented his original report, and no reason to believe he can engage successfully in a battle of ideas. He has “no disagreement with it,” and he has no real bone to pick with Obama’s Iran policy. Huh? Well, this only serves to confirm the take of one of my readers, who concluded that the rabbis “were out of their league.” Second, he’s “amused” by his colleagues who think the meeting should never have taken place. Such contempt for colleagues — from a rabbi no less! And bravo for the savvy contrary colleagues, who were just the type Moline no doubt screened out from the meeting. Those who questioned the value of the meeting were right that the attendees were enabling the president and his policies, which are inimical to the interests of Israel.

In reply to the outpouring of condescension from Moline, one rabbi responded with this:

I did not want my comments to be amusing but rather challenging and thought provoking. … I served as advisor to the Governor of New Jersey and as legislative assistant to the ranking Senator in New York, as well as a commissioner in New Jersey for six years. I mention this to let you know  I know a little about the game of politics. When Rabbis meet as a group with the president, Governor, Senator,  Congressman, etc. it is because the presidents’ advisors feel comfortable with those who were invited. I know I will be criticized by saying this, but it is the way I see it. I arranged enough meetings for clergy of all faiths to know how the game is played. I had and have no wish to meet with Pres. Obama unless I know I can make a difference. I am not jealous but I am curious if the President left feeling informed or if he felt he used the guests in attendance — and won them over. I did meet a number of times with Presidents Bush, father and son. Not bragging. They were happy to use me. This is the game of politics.

Well that rabbi at least understands what Moline does not — that Moline was being used. More than that, Moline is using his position not to represent his community and confront the president but rather to give comfort and aid to the only president to condemn Israel and to attempt to reorient American policy away from its democratic ally and toward the Muslim despots who threaten the Jewish state. Did Moline try to extract a promise from Obama to use military force to remove an existential threat to Israel if other options failed? Did he take the opportunity to demand that Obama vow to resupply Israel if need be in a military confrontation with Iran? Did he quiz the president on why he has snubbed and undermined the Green Movement (by defunding Iranian human rights groups and engaging their oppressors)? Did he ask Obama why we have tolerated the transfer of missiles to Hezbollah? No.

Moline is quite concerned about his own critics and those of the administration, whom he dismisses as “nasty.” These critics are not nearly as harsh as history will be to those who failed to stand up for Israel in its moment of need.

Rabbi Jack Moline in an online bulletin board has this to say about my post from yesterday:

My argument with the piece is not disagreement but its gratuitous nastiness. That is especially true because the author elected not to go to the source (my contact info is part of what was distributed), a distressing choice being made by ideologues on both sides of many issues.

Most amusing has been the responses of some contrary colleagues (not only Conservative). It boils down to: the meetings should never have taken place and I should have been invited.

First, Moline offers no substantive response to my post, no indication that it misrepresented his original report, and no reason to believe he can engage successfully in a battle of ideas. He has “no disagreement with it,” and he has no real bone to pick with Obama’s Iran policy. Huh? Well, this only serves to confirm the take of one of my readers, who concluded that the rabbis “were out of their league.” Second, he’s “amused” by his colleagues who think the meeting should never have taken place. Such contempt for colleagues — from a rabbi no less! And bravo for the savvy contrary colleagues, who were just the type Moline no doubt screened out from the meeting. Those who questioned the value of the meeting were right that the attendees were enabling the president and his policies, which are inimical to the interests of Israel.

In reply to the outpouring of condescension from Moline, one rabbi responded with this:

I did not want my comments to be amusing but rather challenging and thought provoking. … I served as advisor to the Governor of New Jersey and as legislative assistant to the ranking Senator in New York, as well as a commissioner in New Jersey for six years. I mention this to let you know  I know a little about the game of politics. When Rabbis meet as a group with the president, Governor, Senator,  Congressman, etc. it is because the presidents’ advisors feel comfortable with those who were invited. I know I will be criticized by saying this, but it is the way I see it. I arranged enough meetings for clergy of all faiths to know how the game is played. I had and have no wish to meet with Pres. Obama unless I know I can make a difference. I am not jealous but I am curious if the President left feeling informed or if he felt he used the guests in attendance — and won them over. I did meet a number of times with Presidents Bush, father and son. Not bragging. They were happy to use me. This is the game of politics.

Well that rabbi at least understands what Moline does not — that Moline was being used. More than that, Moline is using his position not to represent his community and confront the president but rather to give comfort and aid to the only president to condemn Israel and to attempt to reorient American policy away from its democratic ally and toward the Muslim despots who threaten the Jewish state. Did Moline try to extract a promise from Obama to use military force to remove an existential threat to Israel if other options failed? Did he take the opportunity to demand that Obama vow to resupply Israel if need be in a military confrontation with Iran? Did he quiz the president on why he has snubbed and undermined the Green Movement (by defunding Iranian human rights groups and engaging their oppressors)? Did he ask Obama why we have tolerated the transfer of missiles to Hezbollah? No.

Moline is quite concerned about his own critics and those of the administration, whom he dismisses as “nasty.” These critics are not nearly as harsh as history will be to those who failed to stand up for Israel in its moment of need.

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No Virtue in Specter’s Self-Centered “Bipartisanship”

Regarding Arlen Specter, Dana Milbank writes:

He is ornery, vain, disloyal and a brazen opportunist. He lacks a discernible ideology, puts his finger to the political winds before casting a vote and in the end does what is good for Arlen Specter.

But Milbank is going to miss him, because “whatever his faults, he fought the forces of party unity and ideological purity that are pulling the country apart.”

This is wrong for multiple reasons. First, why is party disloyalty for the sake of doing “what is good” for a pol (i.e., his own perpetual re-election) a noble thing? Sacrificing party loyalty for a principled stance is a different matter. Joe Lieberman is the quintessential example — casting aside partisan loyalty to advocate a robust foreign policy and the promotion of American values. We can say the same of pro-life Democrats when they cast aside party loyalty to uphold their core beliefs (not very often as Bart Stupak showed). Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter are simply opportunists, sniffing out the most expedient position at the moment. Even Milbank concedes: “His Democratic primary opponent, Joe Sestak, finished off the hopelessly contorted Specter with an ad showing him receiving Bush’s endorsement in 2004 and playing Specter’s boast that ‘my change in party will enable me to be reelected.’ Specter will probably be remembered for that unprincipled quote. I’d prefer to remember him for something else.” Yes, because it demonstrates how disdainful is a philosophy built purely around a pol’s self-preservation.

Milbank is also off-base, because there is nothing wrong with offering voters a rather stark ideological choice. Big government or smaller? Human rights promotion or appeasement to dictators? High or low taxes? One gains a governing majority by presenting a well-thought-out vision on both domestic and foreign policy, getting voters to agree, and then going to Washington with a mandate to govern. And if a politician misrepresents what he is about during the campaign or overreaches (as Obama has done), then a new choice, a new election, and a new mandate will follow.

And finally, the country is not being “pulled apart.” We have a revival of grassroots politics, a new crop of candidates, and a vibrant debate about the role of government and America’s role in the world. How is that bad? And why shouldn’t we see this as an affirmation of the health of our democracy and of the benefits of new media that can assist organizers and facilitate a robust debate between competing philosophies?

In sum, bipartisanship, if conducted on a principled basis for good and honorable ends (e.g., defense of the country), is to be cherished. But bipartisanship without any purpose other than self-preservation or for destructive goals is no virtue. And that’s why Arlen Specter’s defeat is to be celebrated.

Regarding Arlen Specter, Dana Milbank writes:

He is ornery, vain, disloyal and a brazen opportunist. He lacks a discernible ideology, puts his finger to the political winds before casting a vote and in the end does what is good for Arlen Specter.

But Milbank is going to miss him, because “whatever his faults, he fought the forces of party unity and ideological purity that are pulling the country apart.”

This is wrong for multiple reasons. First, why is party disloyalty for the sake of doing “what is good” for a pol (i.e., his own perpetual re-election) a noble thing? Sacrificing party loyalty for a principled stance is a different matter. Joe Lieberman is the quintessential example — casting aside partisan loyalty to advocate a robust foreign policy and the promotion of American values. We can say the same of pro-life Democrats when they cast aside party loyalty to uphold their core beliefs (not very often as Bart Stupak showed). Charlie Crist and Arlen Specter are simply opportunists, sniffing out the most expedient position at the moment. Even Milbank concedes: “His Democratic primary opponent, Joe Sestak, finished off the hopelessly contorted Specter with an ad showing him receiving Bush’s endorsement in 2004 and playing Specter’s boast that ‘my change in party will enable me to be reelected.’ Specter will probably be remembered for that unprincipled quote. I’d prefer to remember him for something else.” Yes, because it demonstrates how disdainful is a philosophy built purely around a pol’s self-preservation.

Milbank is also off-base, because there is nothing wrong with offering voters a rather stark ideological choice. Big government or smaller? Human rights promotion or appeasement to dictators? High or low taxes? One gains a governing majority by presenting a well-thought-out vision on both domestic and foreign policy, getting voters to agree, and then going to Washington with a mandate to govern. And if a politician misrepresents what he is about during the campaign or overreaches (as Obama has done), then a new choice, a new election, and a new mandate will follow.

And finally, the country is not being “pulled apart.” We have a revival of grassroots politics, a new crop of candidates, and a vibrant debate about the role of government and America’s role in the world. How is that bad? And why shouldn’t we see this as an affirmation of the health of our democracy and of the benefits of new media that can assist organizers and facilitate a robust debate between competing philosophies?

In sum, bipartisanship, if conducted on a principled basis for good and honorable ends (e.g., defense of the country), is to be cherished. But bipartisanship without any purpose other than self-preservation or for destructive goals is no virtue. And that’s why Arlen Specter’s defeat is to be celebrated.

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Egypt Gets Rewarded for Repression

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

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RE: The Shocking Rashad Hussain Interview

No doubt alarmed by the Rashad Hussain interview, the State Department has provided a transcript and an audio recording of the interview that departs in significant respects from the interview that was printed at the Asharq Al-Awsat website. As a preliminary matter, one has to wonder whether there is utility in speaking to such publications if the words of our special envoy are simply converted to anti-American and pro-Palestinian talking points. It is not clear whether the State Department will be requesting a retraction/correction.

What is different? Most clearly Hussain does not bash the Bush administration. In fact, when asked about overcoming hostility caused by the Bush administration, he says:

What we are really concerned about and moving forward on is implementing new areas of cooperation. Just to give you an example, to be fair to the previous administration, the envoy to the OIC was something that President Bush announced towards the end of his administration, so we are looking to go forward and really build on that and to make sure that the cooperation between the envoy and Muslim communities around the world is based on a whole range of issues, and some of those I’ve discussed with you.

However, as I indicated in my earlier post, the premise of the question — that the U.S. is responsible for hostility — is nowhere rebutted by Hussain, who is supposed to be representing the U.S., after all.

The Palestinian-Israeli question, however, is still the focus of Hussain’s pitch in the State Department version of the transcript. When asked what can be done about criticism of the U.S. “for its standing by Israel,” Hussain does not assert that Israel is an ally nor suggest that there is any other cause of hostility. (Iran perhaps? Syria?) He praises George Mitchell and coos about the two-state solution. His answer as to how to “renew the Islamic world’s confidence in the USA” is a bit strange:

The main thing which is going to improve relations between the United States and Muslims around the world is first of all when we make it clear that we have created a framework of cooperation and that our cooperation will not simply be based on one or two issues such as violent extremism, and that the United States makes it clear that we recognize that this is an issue where Muslims reject violent extremism and terrorism. That is the first step. But another step will be to really show results in a number of areas and those include working towards solving the political conflicts. The United States is working to get out of Iraq and the same thing we can say about Afghanistan. The United States is working tirelessly on a solution with the parties involved on the Middle East issue, but we’ve also implemented programs in the area of education where we’ve increased exchanges, in the area of health, we’re working on polio eradication, we’ve cooperated before Hajj on H1N1.  The President just held an entrepreneurship summit as you know, and we have many forums for interfaith dialogue. So we think that as we continue to develop these areas and Muslims and all people around the world see progress, then we’ll have a good basis for restoring positive relations.

Do all Muslims really reject “violent extremism and terrorism”? Why isn’t Hussain making a pitch to defend Muslims, who are the primary victims of Islamic terror? And is the message for Afghanistan — recall that we are now in the business of reassuring President Karzai — really like the one for  Iraq, i.e., that we are “getting out”?

But it is his answer on Sami Al-Arian that remains the most questionable:

You know in that case that I said very clearly on the panel that I wasn’t commenting on any of the specific allegations on him but I was making a comment about the process that was used in that case. And I think that in many of the cases which I’ve talked about, for example Chaplain Yee, the case of Brandon Mayfield, that the outcomes that have resulted in the United States, for example in both of those cases resulting in the two that were accused of being freed for example, that the justice system has fairly resolved the outcome in those cases. And I think that in America we have one of the most — we have the most just and process-oriented legal systems in the world, and I am very confident that we’ll continue in this way and we’ll continue to produce just outcomes.

This version is arguably worse than the original one. Here he seems to be reiterating that the prosecution was tainted in some respect. What is he saying about “the process used in that case”? Again, he doesn’t deny that such an allegation is shameful.

It is fair to exonerate Hussain of Bush-bashing. But this version remains problematic for the reasons stated earlier. Hussain seems to that think his job is to conceal the relationship with Israel, downplay our war in Afghanistan, minimize the focus on terrorism, and be utterly silent on Iran. This is the message we are transmitting to the “Muslim World.”

No doubt alarmed by the Rashad Hussain interview, the State Department has provided a transcript and an audio recording of the interview that departs in significant respects from the interview that was printed at the Asharq Al-Awsat website. As a preliminary matter, one has to wonder whether there is utility in speaking to such publications if the words of our special envoy are simply converted to anti-American and pro-Palestinian talking points. It is not clear whether the State Department will be requesting a retraction/correction.

What is different? Most clearly Hussain does not bash the Bush administration. In fact, when asked about overcoming hostility caused by the Bush administration, he says:

What we are really concerned about and moving forward on is implementing new areas of cooperation. Just to give you an example, to be fair to the previous administration, the envoy to the OIC was something that President Bush announced towards the end of his administration, so we are looking to go forward and really build on that and to make sure that the cooperation between the envoy and Muslim communities around the world is based on a whole range of issues, and some of those I’ve discussed with you.

However, as I indicated in my earlier post, the premise of the question — that the U.S. is responsible for hostility — is nowhere rebutted by Hussain, who is supposed to be representing the U.S., after all.

The Palestinian-Israeli question, however, is still the focus of Hussain’s pitch in the State Department version of the transcript. When asked what can be done about criticism of the U.S. “for its standing by Israel,” Hussain does not assert that Israel is an ally nor suggest that there is any other cause of hostility. (Iran perhaps? Syria?) He praises George Mitchell and coos about the two-state solution. His answer as to how to “renew the Islamic world’s confidence in the USA” is a bit strange:

The main thing which is going to improve relations between the United States and Muslims around the world is first of all when we make it clear that we have created a framework of cooperation and that our cooperation will not simply be based on one or two issues such as violent extremism, and that the United States makes it clear that we recognize that this is an issue where Muslims reject violent extremism and terrorism. That is the first step. But another step will be to really show results in a number of areas and those include working towards solving the political conflicts. The United States is working to get out of Iraq and the same thing we can say about Afghanistan. The United States is working tirelessly on a solution with the parties involved on the Middle East issue, but we’ve also implemented programs in the area of education where we’ve increased exchanges, in the area of health, we’re working on polio eradication, we’ve cooperated before Hajj on H1N1.  The President just held an entrepreneurship summit as you know, and we have many forums for interfaith dialogue. So we think that as we continue to develop these areas and Muslims and all people around the world see progress, then we’ll have a good basis for restoring positive relations.

Do all Muslims really reject “violent extremism and terrorism”? Why isn’t Hussain making a pitch to defend Muslims, who are the primary victims of Islamic terror? And is the message for Afghanistan — recall that we are now in the business of reassuring President Karzai — really like the one for  Iraq, i.e., that we are “getting out”?

But it is his answer on Sami Al-Arian that remains the most questionable:

You know in that case that I said very clearly on the panel that I wasn’t commenting on any of the specific allegations on him but I was making a comment about the process that was used in that case. And I think that in many of the cases which I’ve talked about, for example Chaplain Yee, the case of Brandon Mayfield, that the outcomes that have resulted in the United States, for example in both of those cases resulting in the two that were accused of being freed for example, that the justice system has fairly resolved the outcome in those cases. And I think that in America we have one of the most — we have the most just and process-oriented legal systems in the world, and I am very confident that we’ll continue in this way and we’ll continue to produce just outcomes.

This version is arguably worse than the original one. Here he seems to be reiterating that the prosecution was tainted in some respect. What is he saying about “the process used in that case”? Again, he doesn’t deny that such an allegation is shameful.

It is fair to exonerate Hussain of Bush-bashing. But this version remains problematic for the reasons stated earlier. Hussain seems to that think his job is to conceal the relationship with Israel, downplay our war in Afghanistan, minimize the focus on terrorism, and be utterly silent on Iran. This is the message we are transmitting to the “Muslim World.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

In case you had any doubt about her political views: “Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan has given at least $12,050 over the past decade to Democratic candidates and causes — including to the president who nominated her and a sitting senator who will get to vote on her nomination — according to federal campaign finance records.”

In case you had any doubt how indebted Obama is to Big Labor: “The National Mediation Board issued its final rule Monday that changed how workers could unionize at companies covered by the Railway Labor Act. Originally, a majority of workers at a company covered by the law had to vote for a union while those not voting were counted as ‘no’ votes. Under the new rule made final on Monday, if a majority of workers who cast votes said they wanted to form a union, the company would be unionized. Workers who fail to vote will not count for either side.”

In case you had any doubt that Michael Steele is nothing but a problem for the RNC (from Abigail Thernstrom): “Mr. Steele (and RNC staff), just as a little experiment, you might try thinking before you speak. In a tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall shortly before his death, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan quoted our first black Justice as having said the Constitution as originally conceived and drafted was ‘defective.’ ‘Does Kagan Still View Constitution “As Originally Drafted And Conceived” As “Defective”?’ the RNC now asks. A litmus test for Kagan, it implies. But of course the answer should be, yes. Might the Three-Fifths Clause have been a wee bit of a defect?”

In case you had any doubt about the nature of the Cuban thugocracy, check out this interview with Cuban bloggers.

In case you had any doubt how vapid the left’s foreign-policy vision is, Rep. Gary Ackerman argues that it’s all Bush’s fault that the Middle East is a mess and that sending an ambassador to Syria doesn’t signify much of anything. Sigh.

In case you had any doubt, there are good reasons to oppose Moses for the Supreme Court. For example, there’s the lack of transparency: “Moses went up Mount Sinai only to return with two tablets which he referred to as the Ten Commandments. These commandments were developed behind closed doors without any input from the people.”

In case you had any doubt that nothing much has changed with the “proximity talks”: “Construction of new housing for Jews in east Jerusalem will press forward, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser illustrated in a statement on Monday. This drew Palestinian accusations that the plans could undermine newly relaunched peace talks.” Are we making progress yet?

In case you had any doubt that Charles Krauthammer is the greatest pundit of his time, he sums up our economic peril and the Supreme Court nomination in one brief sentence: “Long after America goes bankrupt, she’ll still be on the court.”

In case you had any doubt about her political views: “Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan has given at least $12,050 over the past decade to Democratic candidates and causes — including to the president who nominated her and a sitting senator who will get to vote on her nomination — according to federal campaign finance records.”

In case you had any doubt how indebted Obama is to Big Labor: “The National Mediation Board issued its final rule Monday that changed how workers could unionize at companies covered by the Railway Labor Act. Originally, a majority of workers at a company covered by the law had to vote for a union while those not voting were counted as ‘no’ votes. Under the new rule made final on Monday, if a majority of workers who cast votes said they wanted to form a union, the company would be unionized. Workers who fail to vote will not count for either side.”

In case you had any doubt that Michael Steele is nothing but a problem for the RNC (from Abigail Thernstrom): “Mr. Steele (and RNC staff), just as a little experiment, you might try thinking before you speak. In a tribute to Justice Thurgood Marshall shortly before his death, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan quoted our first black Justice as having said the Constitution as originally conceived and drafted was ‘defective.’ ‘Does Kagan Still View Constitution “As Originally Drafted And Conceived” As “Defective”?’ the RNC now asks. A litmus test for Kagan, it implies. But of course the answer should be, yes. Might the Three-Fifths Clause have been a wee bit of a defect?”

In case you had any doubt about the nature of the Cuban thugocracy, check out this interview with Cuban bloggers.

In case you had any doubt how vapid the left’s foreign-policy vision is, Rep. Gary Ackerman argues that it’s all Bush’s fault that the Middle East is a mess and that sending an ambassador to Syria doesn’t signify much of anything. Sigh.

In case you had any doubt, there are good reasons to oppose Moses for the Supreme Court. For example, there’s the lack of transparency: “Moses went up Mount Sinai only to return with two tablets which he referred to as the Ten Commandments. These commandments were developed behind closed doors without any input from the people.”

In case you had any doubt that nothing much has changed with the “proximity talks”: “Construction of new housing for Jews in east Jerusalem will press forward, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser illustrated in a statement on Monday. This drew Palestinian accusations that the plans could undermine newly relaunched peace talks.” Are we making progress yet?

In case you had any doubt that Charles Krauthammer is the greatest pundit of his time, he sums up our economic peril and the Supreme Court nomination in one brief sentence: “Long after America goes bankrupt, she’ll still be on the court.”

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RE: Newsweek Squeak

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

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Olbermann Tries to Pass for Sane

What could be more ludicrous than selling Newsweek as an objective news journal? Selling Keith Olbermann as a serious talk-show analyst. His ratings are tumbling, so he’s out to convince people he’s not a raving lunatic. Tom Bevan tells us that Olbermann’s new promos show Olbermann in a whole new light:

Olbermann tells viewers his show is meant to “illuminate” not to “throw off heat” and that it means to “add to your knowledge” of a given subject. Olbermann also tries to take the edge off his “Worst Persons in the World” feature, saying it’s not meant to be a mean-spirited ad hominem thing, but rather an effort to “blow raspberries” at people in the spirit of an old George Carlin joke.

This might itself be a whole other Saturday Night Live skit. But it does suggest that there is only so much mileage to be gotten out of Bush-hating, conservative-bashing, and unhinged vitriol. Come to think of it, the same might be said of the entire Democratic Party and the liberal chattering class. There is a bit of the “dog caught the bus” syndrome — having inveighed against Bush, beaten John McCain, and captured the White House, what is going to lift their spirits now? Apparently not Keith Olbermann.

What could be more ludicrous than selling Newsweek as an objective news journal? Selling Keith Olbermann as a serious talk-show analyst. His ratings are tumbling, so he’s out to convince people he’s not a raving lunatic. Tom Bevan tells us that Olbermann’s new promos show Olbermann in a whole new light:

Olbermann tells viewers his show is meant to “illuminate” not to “throw off heat” and that it means to “add to your knowledge” of a given subject. Olbermann also tries to take the edge off his “Worst Persons in the World” feature, saying it’s not meant to be a mean-spirited ad hominem thing, but rather an effort to “blow raspberries” at people in the spirit of an old George Carlin joke.

This might itself be a whole other Saturday Night Live skit. But it does suggest that there is only so much mileage to be gotten out of Bush-hating, conservative-bashing, and unhinged vitriol. Come to think of it, the same might be said of the entire Democratic Party and the liberal chattering class. There is a bit of the “dog caught the bus” syndrome — having inveighed against Bush, beaten John McCain, and captured the White House, what is going to lift their spirits now? Apparently not Keith Olbermann.

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Obey Retirement Puts Another Democratic Seat at Risk

The Cook Political Report tells us (subscription required):

Without Appropriations Chair and 20-term Democratic Rep. Dave Obey on the ballot, GOP Ashland County prosecutor Sean Duffy suddenly has a more realistic shot at a seat in Congress than any other reality TV contestant-turned-candidate before him (which, we know, isn’t saying much). In the current political environment, any heavily working-class seat that falls close to the national partisan average (PVI D+3) isn’t the type of open seat Congressional Democrats want to defend. President Bush came within one percent of carrying this seat in 2004.

As a result, this is no longer a “Likely Democratic Seat.” Instead, “the current enthusiasm gap between the parties and the competitiveness of this district at the national level warrant moving WI-07 from the Likely Democratic column to the Toss Up column.”

And we will soon get a preview from a formerly sure-bet Democratic district: “The most important district to watch over the next month continues to be PA-12, where the May 18th special election will tell us something about voter intensity and attitudes in blue-collar areas Democrats have represented for a long time.” It seems that the Democrats’ problems are snowballing — with each resignation, others are considering heading for the hills, more seats come into play, and more vulnerable members must be defended. This is how wave elections come about.

The Cook Political Report tells us (subscription required):

Without Appropriations Chair and 20-term Democratic Rep. Dave Obey on the ballot, GOP Ashland County prosecutor Sean Duffy suddenly has a more realistic shot at a seat in Congress than any other reality TV contestant-turned-candidate before him (which, we know, isn’t saying much). In the current political environment, any heavily working-class seat that falls close to the national partisan average (PVI D+3) isn’t the type of open seat Congressional Democrats want to defend. President Bush came within one percent of carrying this seat in 2004.

As a result, this is no longer a “Likely Democratic Seat.” Instead, “the current enthusiasm gap between the parties and the competitiveness of this district at the national level warrant moving WI-07 from the Likely Democratic column to the Toss Up column.”

And we will soon get a preview from a formerly sure-bet Democratic district: “The most important district to watch over the next month continues to be PA-12, where the May 18th special election will tell us something about voter intensity and attitudes in blue-collar areas Democrats have represented for a long time.” It seems that the Democrats’ problems are snowballing — with each resignation, others are considering heading for the hills, more seats come into play, and more vulnerable members must be defended. This is how wave elections come about.

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RE: The Nasty Presidential Comic

Jake Tapper follows up on a presidential joke from the Correspondents’ Association dinner that is raising eyebrows and hackles, especially among liberals:

At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Saturday night, President Obama noted that in the audience were the Jonas brothers.

“Sasha and Malia are huge fans,” he said, “but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming.”

The audience laughed approvingly but in the following days the joke has been met with a rising chorus of criticism — mainly from the Left.

After all, unmanned predator drone strikes have killed innocent civilians in Pakistan.

A sample of the reaction:

“Let’s be honest, fellow progressives,” the Philadelphia Daily News’ Will Bunch tweeted, “we’d be all over Bush if he made the same ‘predator drone’ joke Obama told last night.”

Wrote Salon’s Alex Pareene: “It’s funny because predator drone strikes in Pakistan have killed literally hundreds of completely innocent civilians, and now the president is evincing a casual disregard for those lives he is responsible for ending by making a lighthearted joke about killing famous young celebrities for the crime of attempting to sleep with his young daughters.”

At the very least, it does suggest two things. First, the “don’t go there!” joke warning system (recall James Jones’s Jewish-merchant joke, for which he had to apologize) is apparently not in operation at this White House. In the atmosphere of smugness and general disdain for critics that pervades this administration, there are few voices, it seems, willing to raise a red flag when officials cross the boundaries of good taste. Second, the press no longer bothers to deny the double standard applied to Obama. “Oh gosh, yes, we’re giving him a free ride again” is now the order of the day.

Obama is unlikely to be moved by critics of his humor. He’s shown that he cares and reflects very little on adverse opinion. Perhaps if he cared more about what others think, his jokes would be funnier, his agenda would be less radical, and his poll numbers would be higher.

Jake Tapper follows up on a presidential joke from the Correspondents’ Association dinner that is raising eyebrows and hackles, especially among liberals:

At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Saturday night, President Obama noted that in the audience were the Jonas brothers.

“Sasha and Malia are huge fans,” he said, “but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming.”

The audience laughed approvingly but in the following days the joke has been met with a rising chorus of criticism — mainly from the Left.

After all, unmanned predator drone strikes have killed innocent civilians in Pakistan.

A sample of the reaction:

“Let’s be honest, fellow progressives,” the Philadelphia Daily News’ Will Bunch tweeted, “we’d be all over Bush if he made the same ‘predator drone’ joke Obama told last night.”

Wrote Salon’s Alex Pareene: “It’s funny because predator drone strikes in Pakistan have killed literally hundreds of completely innocent civilians, and now the president is evincing a casual disregard for those lives he is responsible for ending by making a lighthearted joke about killing famous young celebrities for the crime of attempting to sleep with his young daughters.”

At the very least, it does suggest two things. First, the “don’t go there!” joke warning system (recall James Jones’s Jewish-merchant joke, for which he had to apologize) is apparently not in operation at this White House. In the atmosphere of smugness and general disdain for critics that pervades this administration, there are few voices, it seems, willing to raise a red flag when officials cross the boundaries of good taste. Second, the press no longer bothers to deny the double standard applied to Obama. “Oh gosh, yes, we’re giving him a free ride again” is now the order of the day.

Obama is unlikely to be moved by critics of his humor. He’s shown that he cares and reflects very little on adverse opinion. Perhaps if he cared more about what others think, his jokes would be funnier, his agenda would be less radical, and his poll numbers would be higher.

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Obama’s Lousy Record on Religious Freedom

In his indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, Obama has made it quite clear that his administration has little interest in protecting and promoting religious freedom. Others have noted his indifference. And he’s about to hear (well, if he bothered to listen) a blast from the U.S. Council on International Religious Freedom. In the introduction to its voluminous report, the USCIRF explains that there are “disturbing trends that threaten freedom of religion across the globe”:

There is the exportation of extremist ideology, which USCIRF has observed in Saudi Arabia’s dissemination of educational materials that instill hate and incite violence throughout the world. In Iran, the government persecutes many of its political opponents in the name of religion under blasphemy and apostasy laws, and denies all rights to one disfavored religious group, the Baha’is. There are also countless instances of state-sponsored repression of religion: Vietnam imprisons individuals for reasons related to their exercise or advocacy of freedom of religion or belief; the Egyptian government fails to provide Baha’is, Coptic Christians and other religious minorities the very basic benefits and privileges that others enjoy; North Korea bans virtually all worship and imprisons in its infamous labor camps even the grandchildren of those caught praying; and China seriously restricts religious activities, church governance, and places of worship.

Yet Obama hasn’t bothered to appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. And he has chosen not to highlight the violations of religious freedom by the top abusers — including China, Egypt, Turkey, and Cuba — but rather to shove the issue to the side. So the question remains: why is the Obama administration, as the USCIRF chair put it, “insufficiently engaged”? Well, it has another agenda, not the promotion of freedom and democracy (too Bush!), but rather cozying up to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in an attempt to “defuse tension” and improve our “standing in the world.” So if you are going to bow to the Saudi King and to the Chinese communist leaders, avoid confrontation with Iran, and generally suck up to the “Muslim World,” you really can’t be bashing them for their egregious track record on human rights, including religious freedom.

But to what end is all of this? It seems as though we have not endeared ourselves to despots, but that we have demonstrated to both the oppressors and  the oppressed that America has better things to do. The world is less free and the despots, more emboldened as a result.

In his indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, Obama has made it quite clear that his administration has little interest in protecting and promoting religious freedom. Others have noted his indifference. And he’s about to hear (well, if he bothered to listen) a blast from the U.S. Council on International Religious Freedom. In the introduction to its voluminous report, the USCIRF explains that there are “disturbing trends that threaten freedom of religion across the globe”:

There is the exportation of extremist ideology, which USCIRF has observed in Saudi Arabia’s dissemination of educational materials that instill hate and incite violence throughout the world. In Iran, the government persecutes many of its political opponents in the name of religion under blasphemy and apostasy laws, and denies all rights to one disfavored religious group, the Baha’is. There are also countless instances of state-sponsored repression of religion: Vietnam imprisons individuals for reasons related to their exercise or advocacy of freedom of religion or belief; the Egyptian government fails to provide Baha’is, Coptic Christians and other religious minorities the very basic benefits and privileges that others enjoy; North Korea bans virtually all worship and imprisons in its infamous labor camps even the grandchildren of those caught praying; and China seriously restricts religious activities, church governance, and places of worship.

Yet Obama hasn’t bothered to appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. And he has chosen not to highlight the violations of religious freedom by the top abusers — including China, Egypt, Turkey, and Cuba — but rather to shove the issue to the side. So the question remains: why is the Obama administration, as the USCIRF chair put it, “insufficiently engaged”? Well, it has another agenda, not the promotion of freedom and democracy (too Bush!), but rather cozying up to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in an attempt to “defuse tension” and improve our “standing in the world.” So if you are going to bow to the Saudi King and to the Chinese communist leaders, avoid confrontation with Iran, and generally suck up to the “Muslim World,” you really can’t be bashing them for their egregious track record on human rights, including religious freedom.

But to what end is all of this? It seems as though we have not endeared ourselves to despots, but that we have demonstrated to both the oppressors and  the oppressed that America has better things to do. The world is less free and the despots, more emboldened as a result.

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Martin Indyk Tries Out His Israel Bashing

Following the example of Robert Gibbs on how to get kudos from the Obami, Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and presumably a whisperer in George Mitchell’s ear, takes to the mainstream media to bash Israel. It’s Bibi, wacky extremist that he is, who “has made Iran’s nuclear threat to Israel’s existence the central organizing principle of his second term.” (But isn’t a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat?) It is Bibi who stiffed Obama — by not showing up to his summit where everything BUT Iran was the focus of Obama’s attention. No mention is made of Obama’s atrocious treatment of Bibi. Obama meanwhile, Indyk would have us believe, was “persuading China to join in a new round of UN sanctions against Iran.” (Really? The Chinese keep saying they haven’t agreed to anything at all.)

Indyk also repeats the Palestinian talking point, which not surprisingly happens to be Obama’s as well, that “the inability to make progress on the Palestinian issue enables Iran’s leaders to appeal a to the Arab street, claiming they are the real supporters of the Palestinian cause through sponsorship of violence and terrorism and threats to destroy Israel. The tension also gives Iran the opportunity to use Hamas and Hezbollah proxies to provoke conflict with Israel, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seen as the hero.” Really — so if we had a peace accord, Iran would give up its nuclear ambitions? (And what of the Arab leaders who continue to plead in private for the administration to do something about Iran, now?)

And Indyk goes further, repeating the Obami’s spin about the housing blowup:

For Obama, however, Netanyahu’s apology doesn’t begin to address the real problem. His envoy, George Mitchell, had been struggling for nine months to launch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The day before Biden’s visit, Mitchell had announced agreement with Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to commence “proximity talks.” The East Jerusalem building announcement came the next day, rendering those negotiations over before they had even started.

Weren’t proximity talks on the rocks before that? And wasn’t it the Obami who elevated this to a crisis point, rather than quietly handling the matter as the Bush administration had done on a similar Jerusalem builing matter? And on Indyk goes, ignoring the history of Palestinian rejectionism, the conciliatory moves Bibi has already made, the prior Bush agreement with Ariel Sharon on Jerusalem housing, and the continued incitement to violence by the PA. Is this his job application to replace George Mitchell?

Following the example of Robert Gibbs on how to get kudos from the Obami, Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and presumably a whisperer in George Mitchell’s ear, takes to the mainstream media to bash Israel. It’s Bibi, wacky extremist that he is, who “has made Iran’s nuclear threat to Israel’s existence the central organizing principle of his second term.” (But isn’t a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat?) It is Bibi who stiffed Obama — by not showing up to his summit where everything BUT Iran was the focus of Obama’s attention. No mention is made of Obama’s atrocious treatment of Bibi. Obama meanwhile, Indyk would have us believe, was “persuading China to join in a new round of UN sanctions against Iran.” (Really? The Chinese keep saying they haven’t agreed to anything at all.)

Indyk also repeats the Palestinian talking point, which not surprisingly happens to be Obama’s as well, that “the inability to make progress on the Palestinian issue enables Iran’s leaders to appeal a to the Arab street, claiming they are the real supporters of the Palestinian cause through sponsorship of violence and terrorism and threats to destroy Israel. The tension also gives Iran the opportunity to use Hamas and Hezbollah proxies to provoke conflict with Israel, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seen as the hero.” Really — so if we had a peace accord, Iran would give up its nuclear ambitions? (And what of the Arab leaders who continue to plead in private for the administration to do something about Iran, now?)

And Indyk goes further, repeating the Obami’s spin about the housing blowup:

For Obama, however, Netanyahu’s apology doesn’t begin to address the real problem. His envoy, George Mitchell, had been struggling for nine months to launch Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The day before Biden’s visit, Mitchell had announced agreement with Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to commence “proximity talks.” The East Jerusalem building announcement came the next day, rendering those negotiations over before they had even started.

Weren’t proximity talks on the rocks before that? And wasn’t it the Obami who elevated this to a crisis point, rather than quietly handling the matter as the Bush administration had done on a similar Jerusalem builing matter? And on Indyk goes, ignoring the history of Palestinian rejectionism, the conciliatory moves Bibi has already made, the prior Bush agreement with Ariel Sharon on Jerusalem housing, and the continued incitement to violence by the PA. Is this his job application to replace George Mitchell?

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Ya’alon Unloads on Obami

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

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A Rare Glimpse of Ground Truth

There are two points to make about the New York Times story concerning the “secret” Bob Gates memo on Iran strategy. One is that Gates forwarded the memo in January. That was about the time it was becoming clear that we were losing accountability on the amount of refined uranium in Iran – and that our certainty about the amount of enriched uranium could be in question as well.

Iran increased indigenous uranium mining dramatically in late 2008 and continued at a rapid pace throughout 2009. The mining activities are not inspected by IAEA. Nor has there been a reported influx of new material to the processing sites that are inspected. There is a growing amount of uranium unaccounted for. Over the past 15 months, Iran has also acquired enough low-enriched uranium to produce a weapon and has proceeded to higher-level enrichment. Iranian’s regime reported success last week with enriching a fresh batch of uranium to 20 percent purity.

The situation has changed since Obama took office, and that puts Gates’s concern in an informative light. Military plans that would have been suitable for the conditions of late 2008 are outdated now. We are not as certain today of where all the refined or enriched uranium is. Moreover, because Iran has made substantial progress during this period, it’s now more important than it was two years ago to strike key research facilities in and around heavily populated Tehran. We can’t be sure today of effectively interdicting the weapons program by hitting only the uranium-processing sites. With the passage of time, the importance of hitting other targets – targets for which the political cost of a strike is much higher – has increased. Unfortunately, as Gates’s comments imply, the activities that would cue us at these sites are also less visible and more ambiguous than at the uranium-processing sites. We will be less certain when significant events have started or culminated at them.

Pundits are looking for a political motive behind the timing of this leak, but my sense about it is different. This is the second thing worth noting about the New York Times story: its absence of apparent spin. There is no subtle attempt to discredit Gates, to question his motive for the memo, or even to help the leaker(s) drive home a policy point. It’s a very different “leak story,” in other words, from previous ones about Obama’s policy in Afghanistan or Bush’s policy in the war on terror.

It’s almost as if the New York Times, itself, has run out of spin: as if it isn’t sure what it wants readers to think about this. That is as heartening, in its way, as the article is evidence that Secretary Gates recognizes how our military planning has fallen behind the pace of events. The piece gives us a glimpse – rare for the mainstream media – of ground truth about a policy situation. And what it shows us is a “bounded” problem: one for which there are pragmatic, relevant options. If Obama chooses to ignore Gates’s warning, even the New York Times may decline to cooperate in spinning that feckless course.

There are two points to make about the New York Times story concerning the “secret” Bob Gates memo on Iran strategy. One is that Gates forwarded the memo in January. That was about the time it was becoming clear that we were losing accountability on the amount of refined uranium in Iran – and that our certainty about the amount of enriched uranium could be in question as well.

Iran increased indigenous uranium mining dramatically in late 2008 and continued at a rapid pace throughout 2009. The mining activities are not inspected by IAEA. Nor has there been a reported influx of new material to the processing sites that are inspected. There is a growing amount of uranium unaccounted for. Over the past 15 months, Iran has also acquired enough low-enriched uranium to produce a weapon and has proceeded to higher-level enrichment. Iranian’s regime reported success last week with enriching a fresh batch of uranium to 20 percent purity.

The situation has changed since Obama took office, and that puts Gates’s concern in an informative light. Military plans that would have been suitable for the conditions of late 2008 are outdated now. We are not as certain today of where all the refined or enriched uranium is. Moreover, because Iran has made substantial progress during this period, it’s now more important than it was two years ago to strike key research facilities in and around heavily populated Tehran. We can’t be sure today of effectively interdicting the weapons program by hitting only the uranium-processing sites. With the passage of time, the importance of hitting other targets – targets for which the political cost of a strike is much higher – has increased. Unfortunately, as Gates’s comments imply, the activities that would cue us at these sites are also less visible and more ambiguous than at the uranium-processing sites. We will be less certain when significant events have started or culminated at them.

Pundits are looking for a political motive behind the timing of this leak, but my sense about it is different. This is the second thing worth noting about the New York Times story: its absence of apparent spin. There is no subtle attempt to discredit Gates, to question his motive for the memo, or even to help the leaker(s) drive home a policy point. It’s a very different “leak story,” in other words, from previous ones about Obama’s policy in Afghanistan or Bush’s policy in the war on terror.

It’s almost as if the New York Times, itself, has run out of spin: as if it isn’t sure what it wants readers to think about this. That is as heartening, in its way, as the article is evidence that Secretary Gates recognizes how our military planning has fallen behind the pace of events. The piece gives us a glimpse – rare for the mainstream media – of ground truth about a policy situation. And what it shows us is a “bounded” problem: one for which there are pragmatic, relevant options. If Obama chooses to ignore Gates’s warning, even the New York Times may decline to cooperate in spinning that feckless course.

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Obama’s Priorities

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

Obama’s dismal record on human rights and democracy promotion is increasingly evident to those on the Right and the Left. It extends from major policy decisions (indifference and hostility to the Green Movement) to appointments, or lack thereof. For example, 15 months into his term, he has yet to name an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom despite the pleas of advocacy groups. We know that anti-Semitic incidents doubled last year and Christian advocacy groups have likewise tracked “a surge in incidents of violence against Christians.” Obama did however appoint an envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. But the post of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom goes unfilled.

Writing last month, Thomas Farr explained:

Almost 14 months into the Obama presidency, the ambassador at large for international religious freedom — a position mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act — has not been named, even though other positions of less weight and importance to our national interests have long been filled.

The leading candidate for the religious freedom job is said to be a highly intelligent and charismatic pastor, an author and a thoroughly good person who has the friendship of Secretary Hillary Clinton. Those are important attributes. Indeed, having the trust of the Secretary is vital. But more is needed. To be successful, this ambassador at large needs foreign policy experience. Without it, it will be extremely difficult to succeed within Foggy Bottom’s notoriously thorny bureaucracy, let alone deal with foreign officials who believe (as many do) that U.S. international religious freedom policy is a vehicle of cultural imperialism.

Worse, it appears that the new ambassador will be demoted before she is even nominated. Like her predecessors under Presidents Clinton and Bush, she will not be treated as an ambassador at large at all, but will report to a lower ranking official – the assistant secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Her placement alone will signal to American diplomats and foreign governments that they need not take U.S. religious freedom policy seriously.

And then there is the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the National Holocaust Museum. General David Petraeus spoke at the National Day of Remembrance sponsored by the museum. (His moving speech is worth reading in full here.) But Obama has yet to fill open slots on the Council, an informed observer tells me. Again, the disinterest in the organization is hard to miss.

Presidents make policy both by affirmative action as well as by signaling what is of little or no importance. When it comes to religious freedom and the Jewish community in particular, Obama’s actions and lack thereof are unmistakable, running from indifferent to hostile. So much for his campaign effort to make headway in the “faith based community.” One would have to show some dedication to the community he holds dear in order to do that.

UPDATE: A Council spokesman tells me there have been ten openings for four months.

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RE: Gray Lady Foreign Policy PR Effort Falls Short

The New York Times is at is again — spinning the Obami foreign policy so as to minimize the abject failures and heightened tensions it leaves in its wake. The subject is the Middle East. The shift the Gray Lady explains is that now Obama sees resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a “vital national security interest of the United States.” There are two problems with this — first it’s not true, and second it’s not what the Obami are doing.

As to the first, the Times trots out Martin Indyk (who has George Mitchell’s ear and is a good barometer of silly things the Obami believe) who proclaims, “‘In the past, the problem of who drinks out of whose well in Nablus has not been a strategic interest of the United States’ … He said there was an interest now because of the tens of thousands of troops fighting Islamist insurgencies abroad at the same time that the United States was trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ‘Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything?’ Mr. Indyk said. ‘No. But will it help us get there? Yes.'”

But what evidence is there for this? Iran and its proxies object to the existence of Israel, not its current borders. Al-Qaeda will not cease from killing Americans if there are “proximity talks” or even a final resolution of the dispute. And frankly, it’s a dumb thing to peg American national security to an issue that plainly is not resolvable any time soon and that is a distraction from the real, vital national security interest — Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But it is the sort of thing pseudo-sophisticated foreign policy types say, and now Obama is spouting it too.

Moreover, let’s get real. The break with the Bush administration is not the level of importance placed on resolving the Palestinian conflict. To the chagrin of many of us, Bush labored long and hard in the fruitless “peace process.” The shift is Obama’s effort to reorient the U.S. away from Israel and ingratiate himself with the “Muslim World.” The Times lets on, by way of pointing out that American Jewish groups are disturbed by the new approach:

The Obama administration’s new thinking, and the tougher policies toward Israel that could flow from it, has alarmed American Jewish leaders accustomed to the Bush administration’s steadfast support. They are not used to seeing issues like Jewish housing in the West Bank or East Jerusalem linked, even by implication, to the security of American soldiers. Some fret that it raises questions about the centrality of the American alliance with Israel, which the administration flatly denies. …

Among American Jewish groups, there is less skepticism than alarm about the administration’s new direction. On Tuesday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, publicized letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, signed by 76 senators and 333 House members, that implored the administration to defuse tensions. In an open letter to Mr. Obama from the World Jewish Congress, the organization’s president, Ronald S. Lauder, asked, “Why does the thrust of this administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks?”

But the Times makes no effort to examine the very strong, indeed inescapable evidence that Obama is not simply on some high-minded effort to resolve the Palestinian dispute but rather an intentional mission to put daylight between the two countries, which is what he told a group of Jewish leaders last year. The Times bothers not at all with the Cairo Speech — an invocation of Palestinian victimology and an infamous analogy equating Palestinians to enslaved African Americans. Nor is there mention of the serial snubbing of Bibi, the “condemnation” of our ally (there’s a break from the past if they were looking for an example), and the contrived fuss over Jerusalem housing. The “paper of record” merely takes at face value the Obami denial that the administration has turned on and against our ally, leaving one with the impression that nervous Jews just don’t get the genius of Obama.

But the facts are the facts: the Obami are quite evidently taking a wrecking ball to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. One would have to be blind — or write for the New York Times — to miss what is going on.

The New York Times is at is again — spinning the Obami foreign policy so as to minimize the abject failures and heightened tensions it leaves in its wake. The subject is the Middle East. The shift the Gray Lady explains is that now Obama sees resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as a “vital national security interest of the United States.” There are two problems with this — first it’s not true, and second it’s not what the Obami are doing.

As to the first, the Times trots out Martin Indyk (who has George Mitchell’s ear and is a good barometer of silly things the Obami believe) who proclaims, “‘In the past, the problem of who drinks out of whose well in Nablus has not been a strategic interest of the United States’ … He said there was an interest now because of the tens of thousands of troops fighting Islamist insurgencies abroad at the same time that the United States was trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ‘Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything?’ Mr. Indyk said. ‘No. But will it help us get there? Yes.'”

But what evidence is there for this? Iran and its proxies object to the existence of Israel, not its current borders. Al-Qaeda will not cease from killing Americans if there are “proximity talks” or even a final resolution of the dispute. And frankly, it’s a dumb thing to peg American national security to an issue that plainly is not resolvable any time soon and that is a distraction from the real, vital national security interest — Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But it is the sort of thing pseudo-sophisticated foreign policy types say, and now Obama is spouting it too.

Moreover, let’s get real. The break with the Bush administration is not the level of importance placed on resolving the Palestinian conflict. To the chagrin of many of us, Bush labored long and hard in the fruitless “peace process.” The shift is Obama’s effort to reorient the U.S. away from Israel and ingratiate himself with the “Muslim World.” The Times lets on, by way of pointing out that American Jewish groups are disturbed by the new approach:

The Obama administration’s new thinking, and the tougher policies toward Israel that could flow from it, has alarmed American Jewish leaders accustomed to the Bush administration’s steadfast support. They are not used to seeing issues like Jewish housing in the West Bank or East Jerusalem linked, even by implication, to the security of American soldiers. Some fret that it raises questions about the centrality of the American alliance with Israel, which the administration flatly denies. …

Among American Jewish groups, there is less skepticism than alarm about the administration’s new direction. On Tuesday, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, publicized letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, signed by 76 senators and 333 House members, that implored the administration to defuse tensions. In an open letter to Mr. Obama from the World Jewish Congress, the organization’s president, Ronald S. Lauder, asked, “Why does the thrust of this administration’s Middle East rhetoric seem to blame Israel for the lack of movement on peace talks?”

But the Times makes no effort to examine the very strong, indeed inescapable evidence that Obama is not simply on some high-minded effort to resolve the Palestinian dispute but rather an intentional mission to put daylight between the two countries, which is what he told a group of Jewish leaders last year. The Times bothers not at all with the Cairo Speech — an invocation of Palestinian victimology and an infamous analogy equating Palestinians to enslaved African Americans. Nor is there mention of the serial snubbing of Bibi, the “condemnation” of our ally (there’s a break from the past if they were looking for an example), and the contrived fuss over Jerusalem housing. The “paper of record” merely takes at face value the Obami denial that the administration has turned on and against our ally, leaving one with the impression that nervous Jews just don’t get the genius of Obama.

But the facts are the facts: the Obami are quite evidently taking a wrecking ball to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. One would have to be blind — or write for the New York Times — to miss what is going on.

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RE: Nukes Don’t Kill People

As J.E. Dyer pointed out, the Obama nuclear policy seems caught in a 1970s time warp — a faint echo of the nuclear-freeze gang, which shied away from looking at the nature of the regimes that possessed nuclear weapons. After all, it is not Israel’s widely believed possession of nuclear weapons that has panicked the region; it is the mullahs’ potential nuclear capability that has Israel and Iran’s neighbors in a quandary.

It is this absorption with physical weapons and nuclear materials, rather than the geopolitical threats that confront us, that has led to the spectacle of the nuclear summit this week. Michael Anton, the policy director for Keep America Safe and who served in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, released a statement concerned the wildly irrelevant nuclear summit:

Attempts to secure nuclear materials and prevent their sale or transfer to, or theft by, terrorist groups are worthy efforts. Unfortunately, the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit’s non-binding communiqué and work plan is silent on the most pressing nuclear threat facing the world today—Iran.

Iran was barely addressed at the summit and once again dodged by President Obama at his concluding press conference. Yet another “serious discussion” of a sanctions regime with Russia and China—two countries with deep commercial, political and military ties with Iran—will go nowhere. The past several years have conclusively shown that Russia and China will agree to any sanctions guaranteed not to work and will water down or veto any sanctions that have real teeth.

We know what failure looks like. The prior two administrations tried a similar approach with North Korea. That country has since tested two nuclear weapons, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, and remains one of the world’s leading arms merchants to rogue states—including Iran.

As Anton points out, Obama has several times suggested that he knows his sanctions may well come up short. It’s high time someone started asking him: and then what? It’s not fair to duck it as a hypothetical question, for it is an answer we should be giving to the mullahs and to the rest of the world. We should also, of course, be laying out the consequences of the mullahs’ failure to come around. That we have not suggests there are no consequences.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is publicly speculating that perhaps in a year, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. When are we going to get around to a summit on that?

As J.E. Dyer pointed out, the Obama nuclear policy seems caught in a 1970s time warp — a faint echo of the nuclear-freeze gang, which shied away from looking at the nature of the regimes that possessed nuclear weapons. After all, it is not Israel’s widely believed possession of nuclear weapons that has panicked the region; it is the mullahs’ potential nuclear capability that has Israel and Iran’s neighbors in a quandary.

It is this absorption with physical weapons and nuclear materials, rather than the geopolitical threats that confront us, that has led to the spectacle of the nuclear summit this week. Michael Anton, the policy director for Keep America Safe and who served in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, released a statement concerned the wildly irrelevant nuclear summit:

Attempts to secure nuclear materials and prevent their sale or transfer to, or theft by, terrorist groups are worthy efforts. Unfortunately, the just-concluded Nuclear Security Summit’s non-binding communiqué and work plan is silent on the most pressing nuclear threat facing the world today—Iran.

Iran was barely addressed at the summit and once again dodged by President Obama at his concluding press conference. Yet another “serious discussion” of a sanctions regime with Russia and China—two countries with deep commercial, political and military ties with Iran—will go nowhere. The past several years have conclusively shown that Russia and China will agree to any sanctions guaranteed not to work and will water down or veto any sanctions that have real teeth.

We know what failure looks like. The prior two administrations tried a similar approach with North Korea. That country has since tested two nuclear weapons, built a nuclear reactor in the Syrian desert, and remains one of the world’s leading arms merchants to rogue states—including Iran.

As Anton points out, Obama has several times suggested that he knows his sanctions may well come up short. It’s high time someone started asking him: and then what? It’s not fair to duck it as a hypothetical question, for it is an answer we should be giving to the mullahs and to the rest of the world. We should also, of course, be laying out the consequences of the mullahs’ failure to come around. That we have not suggests there are no consequences.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is publicly speculating that perhaps in a year, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. When are we going to get around to a summit on that?

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Gray Lady Foreign Policy PR Effort Falls Short

The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports — with plenty of fawning quotes from foreign policy establishment types — that there is an Obama Doctrine emerging. He explains it this way:

If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baker never describes the purpose of Obama’s ditching of human rights or the values that underlie his focus on the “traditional great powers” (which presumably does not include the Brits, whom we’ve continually insulted). He describes what Obama is doing but is curiously silent about Obama’s vision of the world and America’s role in it. This isn’t Baker’s fault, of course; Obama has yet to articulate a coherent outlook and has alternated between contempt for American “triumphalism” and a more traditional defense of American power and values (at Oslo, for example). Baker does correctly perceive that human rights and democracy have been shoved under the bus (although “second-tier” is overly generous considering the Obami’s track record on these issues).

But is it “realpolitik” to ignore or pick fights with allies? To imagine that paper agreements will induce despots to give up their nukes? To sign a START treaty that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of ratification and to disclaim use of nuclear retaliation in the case of a biological or chemical attack? To pare down our own defense budget and cut spending on missile defense? All this seems to be out of the Left’s 1970’s playbook rather than the stuff of hard-headed realism, given the conduct and nature of the regimes we face. And for realpolitik players, they seem to lack the ability to size up their opponents and discern that unilateral gestures are a hindrance rather than a help (e.g. Syria).

At times the sympathetic foreign policy gurus from whom Baker solicits input have difficulty trying to come up with compliments. Richard Haass (who now favors regime change in Iran, something Obama clearly does not) manages this on Obama’s efforts to date: “These are not transformational developments … but in foreign policy it’s important to keep the ball moving down the field in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening.” On Iran? On the Middle East?

The Obama foreign policy is a hodge-podge of bad ideas (multilateralism, American un-exceptionalism, disdain for human rights) incompetently executed. It is, moreover, one that refuses to confront in a serious way the greatest challenge we face — a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state that is replacing the U.S.-Israel alliance as the dominant player in the Middle East. No matter how hard the Gray Lady tries, one is hard pressed to find a coherent, effective, and principled foreign policy coming out of this administration.

The New York Times’s Peter Baker reports — with plenty of fawning quotes from foreign policy establishment types — that there is an Obama Doctrine emerging. He explains it this way:

If there is an Obama doctrine emerging, it is one much more realpolitik than his predecessor’s, focused on relations with traditional great powers and relegating issues like human rights and democracy to second-tier concerns. He has generated much more good will around the world after years of tension with Mr. Bush, and yet he does not seem to have strong personal friendships with many world leaders.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Baker never describes the purpose of Obama’s ditching of human rights or the values that underlie his focus on the “traditional great powers” (which presumably does not include the Brits, whom we’ve continually insulted). He describes what Obama is doing but is curiously silent about Obama’s vision of the world and America’s role in it. This isn’t Baker’s fault, of course; Obama has yet to articulate a coherent outlook and has alternated between contempt for American “triumphalism” and a more traditional defense of American power and values (at Oslo, for example). Baker does correctly perceive that human rights and democracy have been shoved under the bus (although “second-tier” is overly generous considering the Obami’s track record on these issues).

But is it “realpolitik” to ignore or pick fights with allies? To imagine that paper agreements will induce despots to give up their nukes? To sign a START treaty that hasn’t a ghost of a chance of ratification and to disclaim use of nuclear retaliation in the case of a biological or chemical attack? To pare down our own defense budget and cut spending on missile defense? All this seems to be out of the Left’s 1970’s playbook rather than the stuff of hard-headed realism, given the conduct and nature of the regimes we face. And for realpolitik players, they seem to lack the ability to size up their opponents and discern that unilateral gestures are a hindrance rather than a help (e.g. Syria).

At times the sympathetic foreign policy gurus from whom Baker solicits input have difficulty trying to come up with compliments. Richard Haass (who now favors regime change in Iran, something Obama clearly does not) manages this on Obama’s efforts to date: “These are not transformational developments … but in foreign policy it’s important to keep the ball moving down the field in the right direction, and that’s what’s happening.” On Iran? On the Middle East?

The Obama foreign policy is a hodge-podge of bad ideas (multilateralism, American un-exceptionalism, disdain for human rights) incompetently executed. It is, moreover, one that refuses to confront in a serious way the greatest challenge we face — a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state that is replacing the U.S.-Israel alliance as the dominant player in the Middle East. No matter how hard the Gray Lady tries, one is hard pressed to find a coherent, effective, and principled foreign policy coming out of this administration.

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RE: Dems Not So Enthusiastic

Pete, you are right — these are scary numbers for the Democrats. Some perspective:

GOPers lead the generic Congressional ballot by 4 points, according to this week’s Gallup tracking poll as trends begin to suggest the minority party will take back the House. … According to a model developed by Emory Univ. political scientist Alan Abramowitz, the 4-point lead would be more than enough for the GOP to take back the seats they need to hold a majority. According to the model, if the election were held today, Dems would win just 210 seats, giving the GOP a 15-seat majority.

Meanwhile, Pres. Obama’s approval rating stands at 47%, according to the latest Gallup tracking survey (Pollster.com pegs Obama’s approval rating at 47.2%). Past trends show a president’s party loses an average of 40 seats if the incumbent’s approval rating is below 50%.

Historically, Dems hold a generic ballot advantage. Dems led the generic ballot by 23 points in ’06, when they swept back into power. GOPers have held advantages only a handful of times, including a 5-point edge in ’94, when the party won back the majority; and a similar margin in ’02, when they gained seats in  George W. Bush’s first midterm election.

Now, trends can change, but they usually change for a reason. A significant event would have to occur — a major economic comeback, for example — for this picture to change dramatically. That is not to say that poor candidate selection or overreach in its message or an off-putting tone could not retard Republicans’ gains. Goodness knows they have a track record of some of each. But at this point, the wind is at the backs of the Republicans, and the era of Obama is proving disastrous for his party.

Pete, you are right — these are scary numbers for the Democrats. Some perspective:

GOPers lead the generic Congressional ballot by 4 points, according to this week’s Gallup tracking poll as trends begin to suggest the minority party will take back the House. … According to a model developed by Emory Univ. political scientist Alan Abramowitz, the 4-point lead would be more than enough for the GOP to take back the seats they need to hold a majority. According to the model, if the election were held today, Dems would win just 210 seats, giving the GOP a 15-seat majority.

Meanwhile, Pres. Obama’s approval rating stands at 47%, according to the latest Gallup tracking survey (Pollster.com pegs Obama’s approval rating at 47.2%). Past trends show a president’s party loses an average of 40 seats if the incumbent’s approval rating is below 50%.

Historically, Dems hold a generic ballot advantage. Dems led the generic ballot by 23 points in ’06, when they swept back into power. GOPers have held advantages only a handful of times, including a 5-point edge in ’94, when the party won back the majority; and a similar margin in ’02, when they gained seats in  George W. Bush’s first midterm election.

Now, trends can change, but they usually change for a reason. A significant event would have to occur — a major economic comeback, for example — for this picture to change dramatically. That is not to say that poor candidate selection or overreach in its message or an off-putting tone could not retard Republicans’ gains. Goodness knows they have a track record of some of each. But at this point, the wind is at the backs of the Republicans, and the era of Obama is proving disastrous for his party.

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