Commentary Magazine


Topic: Colombia

Drama Brewing in Colombia

Imagine if Teddy Roosevelt had not run himself against his protege William Howard Taft in 1912 but had sponsored another candidate who went on to beat both Taft and Woodrow Wilson. Or alternatively imagine a presidential election in which John McCain and Mitt Romney are battling it out not in the primaries but in the general election. 

No analogy is exact but that gives you a bit of the flavor of the Colombian presidential election. The first place finisher, with 29.25 percent, was former Finance Minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga. In second place was the incumbent president, Juan Manual Santos, with 25.69 percent. Since neither man got more than 50 percent (three other candidates split the rest of the vote), they will have a second-round runoff on June 15.

The numbers do not reveal the extraordinary drama behind the campaign, which was characterized by charges of cheating and skullduggery from both campaigns. Zuluaga came from almost nowhere to run ahead of an incumbent who was widely viewed as a shoo-in for reelection not long ago. This turn of events was due almost entirely to the intervention of former President Alvaro Uribe, who left office in 2010. Santos was his former defense minister and designated successor but, like TR turning on Taft, Uribe grew disenchanted with his protege, in no small part, one suspects, because Uribe misses the limelight. 

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Imagine if Teddy Roosevelt had not run himself against his protege William Howard Taft in 1912 but had sponsored another candidate who went on to beat both Taft and Woodrow Wilson. Or alternatively imagine a presidential election in which John McCain and Mitt Romney are battling it out not in the primaries but in the general election. 

No analogy is exact but that gives you a bit of the flavor of the Colombian presidential election. The first place finisher, with 29.25 percent, was former Finance Minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga. In second place was the incumbent president, Juan Manual Santos, with 25.69 percent. Since neither man got more than 50 percent (three other candidates split the rest of the vote), they will have a second-round runoff on June 15.

The numbers do not reveal the extraordinary drama behind the campaign, which was characterized by charges of cheating and skullduggery from both campaigns. Zuluaga came from almost nowhere to run ahead of an incumbent who was widely viewed as a shoo-in for reelection not long ago. This turn of events was due almost entirely to the intervention of former President Alvaro Uribe, who left office in 2010. Santos was his former defense minister and designated successor but, like TR turning on Taft, Uribe grew disenchanted with his protege, in no small part, one suspects, because Uribe misses the limelight. 

The ostensible cause of their break were the peace talks that Santos has launched to get FARC, the long-running rebel group which has been battling the state since the mid-1960s, to finally lay down its arms. Uribe views the negotiations, which have been going on in Havana, as a sell-out to the rebels and Zuluaga has echoed his view. Santos, on the other hand, believes that the talks, which have already made progress, have the potential to bring peace.

To an outsider, it is not always easy to tell why Uribe is so worked up over talks being pursued by his former partner in the battle against FARC. The fact that peace is now possible is due in large measure to the policies that Uribe implemented while in office. But if Zuluaga wins it is likely that the peace talks will end, although Zuluaga has left himself an opening to continue negotiations if FARC shows its sincerity by stopping its armed struggle.

Whatever happens, Colombia is likely to remain Washington’s closest ally in Latin America. Indeed, while other countries in the region are seeing the emergence of anti-Yanqui leaders inspired by the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Colombia is seeing a run-off between two conservative, hawkish, pro-American candidates. That’s good news.

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The FARC is Weak; The Taliban is Strong

I recently returned from Colombia, where the armed forces continue to wage war on FARC but are now starting to look beyond this conflict to imagine what peace—or some semblance thereof—might look like. Such confidence might seem unwarranted, considering that FARC has been battling the government since the mid-1960s, making it one of the longest-running guerrilla groups in the world. Yet over the past decade FARC has suffered sharp setbacks, including the loss of senior commanders in targeted strikes, and it has agreed to come to the negotiating table.

Some see this as a cynical ploy on FARC’s part, trying to gain some breathing room to come back stronger than ever. But that’s not how senior officials in the Colombian armed forces view the situation: They think that FARC is serious about making a deal.

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I recently returned from Colombia, where the armed forces continue to wage war on FARC but are now starting to look beyond this conflict to imagine what peace—or some semblance thereof—might look like. Such confidence might seem unwarranted, considering that FARC has been battling the government since the mid-1960s, making it one of the longest-running guerrilla groups in the world. Yet over the past decade FARC has suffered sharp setbacks, including the loss of senior commanders in targeted strikes, and it has agreed to come to the negotiating table.

Some see this as a cynical ploy on FARC’s part, trying to gain some breathing room to come back stronger than ever. But that’s not how senior officials in the Colombian armed forces view the situation: They think that FARC is serious about making a deal.

The latest news from Havana, where the negotiations are being conducted, suggests they may be right: FARC and the Colombian government have just reached agreement on the first, and most contentious, issue in their talks–land reform designed to benefit poor farmers. This does not guarantee the success of the talks but it is an important breakthrough. As the Wall Street Journal notes:

There are four items left on the agenda that Mr. Santos and the FARC agreed to last year as a road map for the peace talks. The next topic under discussion will be the FARC’s participation in electoral politics. Other items include getting the FARC out of the cocaine trade; reintegrating fighters into civil society; and support for victims and the need to uncover the truth about atrocities allegedly committed by the FARC.

Various Colombian officials told me, however, that land reform was the hardest issue on the table. With that out of the way, the odds of success on the other agenda items greatly increase.

Of course, even if FARC accepts a deal, that will not be binding on every guerrilla commander. Some will no doubt continue to battle on, just as IRA factions have done since the 1998 Good Friday Accord. And, considering the close links between FARC and narco-traffickers, other fighters may simply become full-time drug runners. But it would be a very big deal if the majority of FARC were to lay down its arms. It would be good news not only for Colombia but also for its most important foreign ally–the United States–which has spent considerable resources via Plan Colombia over the past decade to bring about this very outcome.

The Obama administration would love to see a similar breakthrough in talks with the Taliban but it won’t happen anytime soon, because there is a major difference between Colombia and Afghanistan: FARC has suffered far greater blows on the battlefield than the Taliban have. It is impossible to reach accord with a determined insurgency until you can convince its leaders that they will not win at gunpoint. The Taliban, however, evidently remain convinced that they can still prevail with the use of force. And with the U.S. pledging to pull all its combat troops out by the end of 2014, they may very well be right.

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Why Colombia-FARC Talks May Succeed

Colombian President Juan Manual Santos has announced that he will launch this fall into peace talks with the FARC, Colombia’s major insurgent group, which has been battling the government since the 1960s. To see why these talks make sense and may succeed (even if there will be no ceasefire yet), it helps to look at why the previous round of peace talks, from 1998 to 2002, failed. It’s simple, really: A decade ago FARC was far from beaten. It was, in fact, on the verge of taking power. President Andres Pastrana had to offer them sovereignty over an area the size of Switzerland to even lure them to the peace table and predictably those talks failed. The only outcome was to encourage right-wing death squad violence as a counter to the FARC because ordinary Colombians had little faith in the ability of the government’s security forces to protect them.

President Alvaro Uribe, who took office in 2002, adopted a different approach—one that had more in common with the counterinsurgency strategies US troops have followed in Iraq and Afghanistan than with Pastrana’s defeated approach. By pushing security forces to provide security 24/7, and by pushing them to uphold the rule of law, Uribe (along with his then-defense minister, Santos) squeezed out the right-wing paramilitaries and dealt FARC crushing setbacks which have included the freeing of their high-profile hostages and the death or capture of many of their senior leaders.

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Colombian President Juan Manual Santos has announced that he will launch this fall into peace talks with the FARC, Colombia’s major insurgent group, which has been battling the government since the 1960s. To see why these talks make sense and may succeed (even if there will be no ceasefire yet), it helps to look at why the previous round of peace talks, from 1998 to 2002, failed. It’s simple, really: A decade ago FARC was far from beaten. It was, in fact, on the verge of taking power. President Andres Pastrana had to offer them sovereignty over an area the size of Switzerland to even lure them to the peace table and predictably those talks failed. The only outcome was to encourage right-wing death squad violence as a counter to the FARC because ordinary Colombians had little faith in the ability of the government’s security forces to protect them.

President Alvaro Uribe, who took office in 2002, adopted a different approach—one that had more in common with the counterinsurgency strategies US troops have followed in Iraq and Afghanistan than with Pastrana’s defeated approach. By pushing security forces to provide security 24/7, and by pushing them to uphold the rule of law, Uribe (along with his then-defense minister, Santos) squeezed out the right-wing paramilitaries and dealt FARC crushing setbacks which have included the freeing of their high-profile hostages and the death or capture of many of their senior leaders.

FARC continues to receive life support from Venezuela but it is at least possible now to imagine that the group may actually decide to give up the armed struggle as the FMLN did in El Salvador in 1992, as the IRA did in Northern Ireland in 1998, and as other insurgent groups have done. If it were to come about, peace would be made possible for the most obvious of reasons: the FARC has been essentially defeated militarily. Having no chance of shooting its way into power, it must now negotiate instead.

Those conditions, one might add, do not yet apply in Afghanistan, where the Taliban and Haqqanis have been battered but are far from defeated—hence there is little prospect of peace negotiations going anywhere in that country in the near term, notwithstanding all the loose chatter one hears in Washington on that subject.

 

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An Unfair Attack on the Administration

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, writing about the prostitution scandal in Colombia, where reports are that as many as 21 Secret Service agents and military personnel paid for sex before President Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas on Friday, said this:

When the White House says its job is to “conduct [itself] with the utmost dignity and probity,” it seems somewhat contradictory to the culture of permissiveness this administration has created here at home. When you relentlessly attack moral principles, as this White House has done over the course of three years, it becomes increasingly difficult for the administration to call these actions wrong. …

The United States, under this administration, is a country that increasingly celebrates sexual indulgence. Is it any wonder this country is suffering from an ethical identity crisis? This is what comes of an administration that systematically destroys the moral foundations of our military, government service, and public schools. On one hand, the administration has tried to force our military to embrace homosexuality by making unnatural and immoral sex legal–and on the other, it’s outraged that its military is engaging in another form of legal but immoral sex. (Prostitution is permissible in Colombia’s “tolerated zones.”) Both behaviors are inappropriate, unhealthy, and destructive. Yet only one seems to incense government officials.

If this seems a bit muddled, that’s because it is. But this culture of moral confusion is inevitable when American leaders push a radical social policy that arbitrarily gives sexual license to some and condemns it from others.

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Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, writing about the prostitution scandal in Colombia, where reports are that as many as 21 Secret Service agents and military personnel paid for sex before President Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas on Friday, said this:

When the White House says its job is to “conduct [itself] with the utmost dignity and probity,” it seems somewhat contradictory to the culture of permissiveness this administration has created here at home. When you relentlessly attack moral principles, as this White House has done over the course of three years, it becomes increasingly difficult for the administration to call these actions wrong. …

The United States, under this administration, is a country that increasingly celebrates sexual indulgence. Is it any wonder this country is suffering from an ethical identity crisis? This is what comes of an administration that systematically destroys the moral foundations of our military, government service, and public schools. On one hand, the administration has tried to force our military to embrace homosexuality by making unnatural and immoral sex legal–and on the other, it’s outraged that its military is engaging in another form of legal but immoral sex. (Prostitution is permissible in Colombia’s “tolerated zones.”) Both behaviors are inappropriate, unhealthy, and destructive. Yet only one seems to incense government officials.

If this seems a bit muddled, that’s because it is. But this culture of moral confusion is inevitable when American leaders push a radical social policy that arbitrarily gives sexual license to some and condemns it from others.

Let’s examine Perkins’s arguments in turn.

The notion that the Obama administration is “systematically destroy[ing] the moral foundation of our military” strikes me as intemperate and unfair. Most (though not all) senior members of the military, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus, believed that the time had come to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). So did then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Are they part of the systematic effort to destroy the moral foundation of the military as well?

The core of this debate is whether unit morale would suffer if gays were open about their sexual orientation. There is evidence that because of shifting sexual mores, including attitudes towards gays, unit morale would not suffer. (The Department of Defense’s Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” indicates that there was low risk of service disruptions because of repeal of the ban.) It’s important to note that other countries that allow openly gay people to serve in the military (like Israel) haven’t experienced combat readiness, unit cohesion or morale problems. In reviewing the many countries that permit gays and lesbians to serve openly in their military, the Defense Department’s report found that, “Uniformly, these nations reported that they were aware of no units that had a degradation of cohesion or combat effectiveness, and that the presence of gay men and lesbians in combat units had not been raised as an issue by any of their units deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.” (Page 89 of the Defense Department report shows that at the time it was issued, 35 nations permitted gays and lesbians to serve openly in their military vs. six nations that excluded gay men and lesbians from serving or serving openly in the military.) We’ll of course be able to make an informed judgment of the effects of repealing DADA soon enough, since we’re now testing the proposition.

Then there’s the argument that the Obama administration is giving “sexual license” and promoting an “ideology of unrestraint.” The logic goes like this: overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” leads to a brothel in Cartagena.

This argument is, I think, quite weak. For one thing, most of those caught up in the prostitution scandal are Secret Service agents, not members of the military. And it’s hard to believe that if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hadn’t been overturned all of seven months ago, then the Secret Service and the military personnel who reportedly solicited prostitution would instead have stayed on the straight and narrow. There’s a reason prostitution is referred to as the world’s oldest profession. What Perkins is engaging in is the logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”). President Obama overturned DADT. Secret Service agents and members of the military were caught up in a prostitution scandal in Cartagena. QED.

Nor does DADT have much to do with “celebrating sexual indulgence.” Military standards of conduct already prohibit fraternization and unprofessional relationships. They also address various forms of harassment and unprofessional behavior, prescribe appropriate dress and appearance, and provide guidelines on public displays of affection. Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell doesn’t change any of that; it simply means that for the first time in America’s military history, service members would be allowed to publicly reveal their sexual orientation without fear of reprisal.

As for the “culture of permissiveness,” here Perkins is (inadvertently) making the case of same-sex advocates, who argue that gays should be allowed to marry in order to place them within an institution (marriage) that encourages fidelity. The argument is that same-sex marriage would weaken the “culture of permissiveness” since marriage discourages it. Same-sex marriage would, according to its proponents, be a profoundly traditionalizing act. Again, we shall see (a handful of states now recognize same-sex unions and more will soon follow).

There are certainly grounds on which to criticize the Obama administration, including on social policy (see the Obama administration’s decision to require Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients, in violation of their conscience and creed). And intelligent and honest people will disagree on issues like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and legalizing gay marriage. But the idea that the prostitution scandal in Colombia points to “the significant erosion of ethical standards in the Obama administration” is simply wrong. Everybody’s interests, including the interests of social conservatives, would be better served by engaging these issues in a serious, sober, and empirically rigorous manner.

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A Modern and Prosperous Colombia

Too bad that the Summit of the Americas this past weekend in Cartagena will be remembered as the “prostitution summit,” after the scandal involving Secret Service agents allegedly hiring local professionals.  It should have been known as an event celebrating Colombia’s extraordinary success.

Written off as a failed state only a decade ago, that nation has bounced back to push back the FARC insurgency, establish law and order across most of its territory, and to spark robust economic growth. I am not the only one to dub this “The Colombian Miracle,” as I did in this 2009 article–that is also the headline of a Washington Post article a few days ago which notes that Colombia is no longer associated with kidnapping and terrorism.

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Too bad that the Summit of the Americas this past weekend in Cartagena will be remembered as the “prostitution summit,” after the scandal involving Secret Service agents allegedly hiring local professionals.  It should have been known as an event celebrating Colombia’s extraordinary success.

Written off as a failed state only a decade ago, that nation has bounced back to push back the FARC insurgency, establish law and order across most of its territory, and to spark robust economic growth. I am not the only one to dub this “The Colombian Miracle,” as I did in this 2009 article–that is also the headline of a Washington Post article a few days ago which notes that Colombia is no longer associated with kidnapping and terrorism.

This is a new country that has “attracted record levels of foreign investment and whose economy grew nearly 6 percent last year, that was awarded investment-grade status and can borrow more cheaply than some countries in Western Europe.”

Much of this achievement was due to the extraordinary presidency of Alvaro Uribe, one of the greatest counter-insurgency leaders of the past century, who between 2002 and 2010 all but defeated FARC and created the security which has made prosperity possible. His achievement was aided and extended by his onetime defense minister turned president, Juan Manuel Santos, who welcomed President Obama and other world leaders to his country. Their leadership shows what is possible to achieve against great odds even when facing an entrenched and ruthless insurgency–it is a lesson that Hamid Karzai and his would-be successors should pay attention to.

It is fitting that Colombia’s progress, which was helped by American aid, is now at last recognized by the establishment of a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, made possible by Obama finally overriding the obstinate objections of American labor unions to this pact which will benefit both nations. It is only a shame that this agreement, which was concluded six years ago, has had to wait so long to be implemented.

 

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Morning Commentary

It looks like Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier misread the judicial system in Haiti. Just days after he mysteriously returned to the country after a 25-year exile, the former Haitian dictator was arrested for corruption, theft of public funds, and human rights abuses that he allegedly committed during his vicious 15-year reign: “Two days after his return to the country he left following a brutal 15-year rule, a noisy crowd of his supporters protested outside the state prosecutor’s office while he was questioned over accusations that he stole public funds and committed human rights abuses after taking over as president from his father in 1971.”

Time for another article about the futility of the peace process. At Pajamas Media, David Solway is understandably pessimistic that the Palestinian Authority will agree to the conditions necessary for a successful completion of the negotiations, at least at the moment: “Peace in the Middle East is, in any sober analysis, probably and at the very least generations away from accomplishment. Peace may emerge after another thirty or fifty years of grinding exhaustion or a major outbreak of hostilities that leaves the belligerents incapable of pursuing so debilitating a struggle. And this is a best case scenario.”

The media is now wondering why the media covers Palin so obsessively: “And so, to Mr. Douthat’s chicken-and-egg dilemma — which came first: Ms. Palin or the media’s sometimes obsessive coverage of her? — we might want to add a third actor: the audience,” writes Nate Silver. He notes that a Politico poll from last month found that 59 percent of Americans have a strong opinion on Palin, and so any coverage of her is likely to elicit a lot of interest from the general public.

The American Jewish Committee will honor German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s support for Israel with its Light Unto the Nations Award at a ceremony in Berlin today: “Chancellor Merkel is a true light unto the nations,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “Her outspoken support for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the values of human freedom and human dignity are hallmarks of Chancellor Merkel’s visionary political leadership.” Former recipients include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Ricky Gervais’s performance at last weekend’s Golden Globe awards may have been panned by the mainstream media, but it’s also earned him folk-hero status among conservatives. Instead of taking the predictable swipes at people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, Gervais turned the tables by relentlessly ridiculing the Hollywood elite in the audience: “It is an honour to be here in a room full of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet: actors. They’re just better than ordinary people, aren’t they?” If you haven’t seen the videos of his performance yet, they’re worth watching.

It looks like Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier misread the judicial system in Haiti. Just days after he mysteriously returned to the country after a 25-year exile, the former Haitian dictator was arrested for corruption, theft of public funds, and human rights abuses that he allegedly committed during his vicious 15-year reign: “Two days after his return to the country he left following a brutal 15-year rule, a noisy crowd of his supporters protested outside the state prosecutor’s office while he was questioned over accusations that he stole public funds and committed human rights abuses after taking over as president from his father in 1971.”

Time for another article about the futility of the peace process. At Pajamas Media, David Solway is understandably pessimistic that the Palestinian Authority will agree to the conditions necessary for a successful completion of the negotiations, at least at the moment: “Peace in the Middle East is, in any sober analysis, probably and at the very least generations away from accomplishment. Peace may emerge after another thirty or fifty years of grinding exhaustion or a major outbreak of hostilities that leaves the belligerents incapable of pursuing so debilitating a struggle. And this is a best case scenario.”

The media is now wondering why the media covers Palin so obsessively: “And so, to Mr. Douthat’s chicken-and-egg dilemma — which came first: Ms. Palin or the media’s sometimes obsessive coverage of her? — we might want to add a third actor: the audience,” writes Nate Silver. He notes that a Politico poll from last month found that 59 percent of Americans have a strong opinion on Palin, and so any coverage of her is likely to elicit a lot of interest from the general public.

The American Jewish Committee will honor German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s support for Israel with its Light Unto the Nations Award at a ceremony in Berlin today: “Chancellor Merkel is a true light unto the nations,” said AJC executive director David Harris. “Her outspoken support for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the values of human freedom and human dignity are hallmarks of Chancellor Merkel’s visionary political leadership.” Former recipients include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

Ricky Gervais’s performance at last weekend’s Golden Globe awards may have been panned by the mainstream media, but it’s also earned him folk-hero status among conservatives. Instead of taking the predictable swipes at people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, Gervais turned the tables by relentlessly ridiculing the Hollywood elite in the audience: “It is an honour to be here in a room full of what I consider to be the most important people on the planet: actors. They’re just better than ordinary people, aren’t they?” If you haven’t seen the videos of his performance yet, they’re worth watching.

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CAIR Urges Muslims to ‘Resist’ FBI Terror Probes

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is still treated as a mainstream civil-liberties group by much of the media. Indeed, last summer, as the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque heated up, representatives of the group were regularly trotted out as the moderate and reasonable representatives of a supposedly aggrieved community. But recent activities by some of its chapters around the country are making clear that its main agenda remains rooted in its origins as a political front for an illegal group whose purpose was to raise funds for the Hamas terrorist organization. Though spokesmen for the group have been at pains to present it as opposing terrorism (though when pressed, they will never admit that, for example, attacks on Israelis should be considered acts of terror) and promoting cooperation with law-enforcement agencies, the truth is that its goal is quite the opposite.

Terror expert Steven Emerson’s the Investigative Project on Terrorism reports that CAIR’s California chapter is sponsoring an event on Feb. 9 in Oakland whose purpose is to counsel noncompliance with federal investigations of terrorism. Indeed, the group’s website shows a poster for the gathering that features the headline: “Build a Wall of Resistance.” The artwork shows a sinister FBI agent being faced with slammed doors. The tagline reads: “Don’t Talk to the F.B.I.”

According to Emerson, this attempt to obstruct a government probe is in response to FBI efforts to uncover a network of supporters of two terror groups: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Force of Columbia (FARC). The FBI raided the homes of “activists” in Minneapolis and Chicago who may be tied to these two known terror groups in September. The PFLP is a radical leftist Palestinian group that is opposed to peace with Israel and that has, over the years, murdered many Israelis and Americans. FARC is the quintessential narco-terrorist organization and has sought the overthrow of the democratic government of Colombia and has specialized in kidnapping with the aid of the leftist government of Venezuela led by Hugo Chavez.

You would think that if CAIR were the upstanding group of ordinary Arab- and Muslim-Americans who just wanted fair treatment under the law, as it claims to be, the last thing it should be doing is counseling its members to refuse to talk to the authorities investigating lethal criminal enterprises such as the PFLP or FARC. Nor should it be setting up a meeting whose purpose is to generate support for the 23 “activists” who are refusing to comply with subpoenas that require them to testify before grand juries about these terror groups.

Instead, CAIR’s California chapter is treating the Obama administration’s Justice Department probes into terror groups as an effort to “repress our movements for social justice and divide our communities.” CAIR’s Chicago and Michigan chapters have also blasted the federal investigation. The statement from the Chicago chapter made it clear that its opposition to the investigation was not based on alleged questions of civil liberties but rather the group’s sympathy for both the PFLP and FARC, and termed the probe an effort to repress dissent about U.S. foreign policy, leading one to conclude that CAIR’s members believe the administration is too supportive of democratic governments trying to defend themselves against violent terror groups.

This attempt to obstruct justice once again shows that CAIR’s true purpose is not to defend ordinary Americans who happen to be Muslim but instead the defense of anti-American terror organizations.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is still treated as a mainstream civil-liberties group by much of the media. Indeed, last summer, as the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque heated up, representatives of the group were regularly trotted out as the moderate and reasonable representatives of a supposedly aggrieved community. But recent activities by some of its chapters around the country are making clear that its main agenda remains rooted in its origins as a political front for an illegal group whose purpose was to raise funds for the Hamas terrorist organization. Though spokesmen for the group have been at pains to present it as opposing terrorism (though when pressed, they will never admit that, for example, attacks on Israelis should be considered acts of terror) and promoting cooperation with law-enforcement agencies, the truth is that its goal is quite the opposite.

Terror expert Steven Emerson’s the Investigative Project on Terrorism reports that CAIR’s California chapter is sponsoring an event on Feb. 9 in Oakland whose purpose is to counsel noncompliance with federal investigations of terrorism. Indeed, the group’s website shows a poster for the gathering that features the headline: “Build a Wall of Resistance.” The artwork shows a sinister FBI agent being faced with slammed doors. The tagline reads: “Don’t Talk to the F.B.I.”

According to Emerson, this attempt to obstruct a government probe is in response to FBI efforts to uncover a network of supporters of two terror groups: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Revolutionary Armed Force of Columbia (FARC). The FBI raided the homes of “activists” in Minneapolis and Chicago who may be tied to these two known terror groups in September. The PFLP is a radical leftist Palestinian group that is opposed to peace with Israel and that has, over the years, murdered many Israelis and Americans. FARC is the quintessential narco-terrorist organization and has sought the overthrow of the democratic government of Colombia and has specialized in kidnapping with the aid of the leftist government of Venezuela led by Hugo Chavez.

You would think that if CAIR were the upstanding group of ordinary Arab- and Muslim-Americans who just wanted fair treatment under the law, as it claims to be, the last thing it should be doing is counseling its members to refuse to talk to the authorities investigating lethal criminal enterprises such as the PFLP or FARC. Nor should it be setting up a meeting whose purpose is to generate support for the 23 “activists” who are refusing to comply with subpoenas that require them to testify before grand juries about these terror groups.

Instead, CAIR’s California chapter is treating the Obama administration’s Justice Department probes into terror groups as an effort to “repress our movements for social justice and divide our communities.” CAIR’s Chicago and Michigan chapters have also blasted the federal investigation. The statement from the Chicago chapter made it clear that its opposition to the investigation was not based on alleged questions of civil liberties but rather the group’s sympathy for both the PFLP and FARC, and termed the probe an effort to repress dissent about U.S. foreign policy, leading one to conclude that CAIR’s members believe the administration is too supportive of democratic governments trying to defend themselves against violent terror groups.

This attempt to obstruct justice once again shows that CAIR’s true purpose is not to defend ordinary Americans who happen to be Muslim but instead the defense of anti-American terror organizations.

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Not So Fast with the “1962” Allusions

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

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Obama’s FTA Delay

A Korean concession today advanced the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA), which was originally inked under George W. Bush but that stalled under Obama’s guidance. The delay resulted from Obama’s attachment to his labor constituency, and it ran against his promises to increase U.S. exports. When faced with a quandary, Obama opted for inaction, much to the detriment of American industry.

The FTA has been protested especially aggressively by the Ford Motor Co., but protectionism does more to benefit labor leaders than skilled American workers. As Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) pointed out in his address to the Detroit Economic Club:

Despite the president’s stated objective of doubling American exports in the next five years, trade has largely been ignored by Democrats in Congress and the administration in recent years. With a new Republican majority in the House, I am hopeful that the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea can move forward. We need to get those deals done, and done right, but it should not end there. We must promote increased trade at every opportunity around the world. When the world “buys American,” Americans go to work.

Both South Korea and the United States will benefit from the FTA, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind just who has done the crucial compromising — and who has assumed the leadership to ensure that the FTA came to fruition. The answer is: not Obama. This has bearing for similar agreements with other countries, as Mary Anastasia O’Grady summarized earlier this week.

It is a pity that this agreement has been so long in coming. But it would be even more of a pity if the Obama administration were allowed to tout this as an achievement of its own. Passage of a free-trade agreement with South Korea will have happened largely despite Obama, not because of him.

A Korean concession today advanced the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA), which was originally inked under George W. Bush but that stalled under Obama’s guidance. The delay resulted from Obama’s attachment to his labor constituency, and it ran against his promises to increase U.S. exports. When faced with a quandary, Obama opted for inaction, much to the detriment of American industry.

The FTA has been protested especially aggressively by the Ford Motor Co., but protectionism does more to benefit labor leaders than skilled American workers. As Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) pointed out in his address to the Detroit Economic Club:

Despite the president’s stated objective of doubling American exports in the next five years, trade has largely been ignored by Democrats in Congress and the administration in recent years. With a new Republican majority in the House, I am hopeful that the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea can move forward. We need to get those deals done, and done right, but it should not end there. We must promote increased trade at every opportunity around the world. When the world “buys American,” Americans go to work.

Both South Korea and the United States will benefit from the FTA, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind just who has done the crucial compromising — and who has assumed the leadership to ensure that the FTA came to fruition. The answer is: not Obama. This has bearing for similar agreements with other countries, as Mary Anastasia O’Grady summarized earlier this week.

It is a pity that this agreement has been so long in coming. But it would be even more of a pity if the Obama administration were allowed to tout this as an achievement of its own. Passage of a free-trade agreement with South Korea will have happened largely despite Obama, not because of him.

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FPI Conference (Part 3)

There is an art that the best State Department functionaries master: to take hard questions that present troubling facts or contradictions in policy and to give in response a long, rambling answer that, by the end, dilutes the impact of the question and leaves the audience at a loss to remember what was orginally being asked. There is no one better at this than Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who wrapped up the FPI conference.

It was evident that the administration came with an olive branch to the right and with many fine sentiments about bipartisanship in foreign policy. Who can blame it? The administration’s biggest successes (e.g., Iraq, appointment of Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan) have been supported by conservatives. With an assertive Republican House and more conservative voices in the Senate, the administration doesn’t need more headaches, so foreign policy offers a chance to show its bipartisan inclinations. One way to do that is not to talk about the hard stuff. So, in his prepared remarks, Steinberg didn’t bring up Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Europe, human rights, Hugo Chavez, or other topics that are sources of disagreement between the Obama team and conservatives.

He did talk about Southeast Asia. It’s very important. We are making many trips there. We’re going to have “sustained engagement.” And we’re very “clear-eyed” about China.

His next topics were Iraq and Afghanistan, where he echoed many of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s remarks (and Sen. John McCain’s from the previous day). On Iraq, we need bipartisanship and, yes, more “sustained engagement.” On Afghanistan, again, we must maintain funding. In the Q&A, he expressed himself as delighted with the Afghanistan war-strategy process. It was “serious,” he intoned. He’s never seen a president so involved. And that 2011 deadline? With perfect earnestness he explained: “There is no ambiguity. It is the beginning of a transition.” Really, there was “never any intention to see it as a dramatic turning point. … If we need to do a better job of messaging, we’ll do a better job.”

The third topic was START. (During the conference, Sen. Jon Kyl declared it isn’t going to get a vote in the lame-duck session.) This should be a bipartisan issue too, he asserted. He added that “there are no restraints” on our ability to pursue missile defense, and it comes packaged with an unprecedented commitment to force modernization.

Things got a bit dicier in the Q&A conducted by Robert Kagan. What about human rights in Russia? Why aren’t we talking more about democracy in Egypt? Again, Steinberg, in measured tones, with no hint of defensiveness, argued that “it should be clear” that we remain committed to human rights in Russia. On our support for democracy and human rights in Egypt, you see, it is important “to say it when it matters.” (But not at public news conferences, I suppose.) Kagan pressed him on the G-20: how could we go in there with such dissention between the U.S. and Europe? Oh, now, now. We’ve had hard times with allies in the past. Why is China exhibiting such bullying behavior of late? Ah, it’s a transition period, and there are many voice there. Why aren’t we getting these free-trade agreements done? Well, on South Korea, sometimes the “work just is not ready,” so we’ll keep at it. Colombia? He’s very encouraged.

Steinberg is such an articulate and calm figure, the consummate professional, that you’d almost forget listening to him that Obama’s Middle East policy is in shambles, that Iran is on the ascendency and on the road to getting the bomb, that our human-rights policy is under attack by the left and right, that Russia and China are both feeling emboldened to extend their influence, and that our relations with Europe are badly frayed. But what comes across loud and clear is that the Obama team wants to be perceived as operating well within the bipartisan tradition of American foreign policy. If that entails an ongoing presence in Iraq, a sustained effort in Afghanistan, a determination to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a cessation of its foolhardy obsession with Israeli settlements, a competent and forceful free-trade policy, and consistent defense of human rights, then the administration will earn the support of conservatives and, more important, the respect of foes and the confidence of allies.

There is an art that the best State Department functionaries master: to take hard questions that present troubling facts or contradictions in policy and to give in response a long, rambling answer that, by the end, dilutes the impact of the question and leaves the audience at a loss to remember what was orginally being asked. There is no one better at this than Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who wrapped up the FPI conference.

It was evident that the administration came with an olive branch to the right and with many fine sentiments about bipartisanship in foreign policy. Who can blame it? The administration’s biggest successes (e.g., Iraq, appointment of Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan) have been supported by conservatives. With an assertive Republican House and more conservative voices in the Senate, the administration doesn’t need more headaches, so foreign policy offers a chance to show its bipartisan inclinations. One way to do that is not to talk about the hard stuff. So, in his prepared remarks, Steinberg didn’t bring up Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Europe, human rights, Hugo Chavez, or other topics that are sources of disagreement between the Obama team and conservatives.

He did talk about Southeast Asia. It’s very important. We are making many trips there. We’re going to have “sustained engagement.” And we’re very “clear-eyed” about China.

His next topics were Iraq and Afghanistan, where he echoed many of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s remarks (and Sen. John McCain’s from the previous day). On Iraq, we need bipartisanship and, yes, more “sustained engagement.” On Afghanistan, again, we must maintain funding. In the Q&A, he expressed himself as delighted with the Afghanistan war-strategy process. It was “serious,” he intoned. He’s never seen a president so involved. And that 2011 deadline? With perfect earnestness he explained: “There is no ambiguity. It is the beginning of a transition.” Really, there was “never any intention to see it as a dramatic turning point. … If we need to do a better job of messaging, we’ll do a better job.”

The third topic was START. (During the conference, Sen. Jon Kyl declared it isn’t going to get a vote in the lame-duck session.) This should be a bipartisan issue too, he asserted. He added that “there are no restraints” on our ability to pursue missile defense, and it comes packaged with an unprecedented commitment to force modernization.

Things got a bit dicier in the Q&A conducted by Robert Kagan. What about human rights in Russia? Why aren’t we talking more about democracy in Egypt? Again, Steinberg, in measured tones, with no hint of defensiveness, argued that “it should be clear” that we remain committed to human rights in Russia. On our support for democracy and human rights in Egypt, you see, it is important “to say it when it matters.” (But not at public news conferences, I suppose.) Kagan pressed him on the G-20: how could we go in there with such dissention between the U.S. and Europe? Oh, now, now. We’ve had hard times with allies in the past. Why is China exhibiting such bullying behavior of late? Ah, it’s a transition period, and there are many voice there. Why aren’t we getting these free-trade agreements done? Well, on South Korea, sometimes the “work just is not ready,” so we’ll keep at it. Colombia? He’s very encouraged.

Steinberg is such an articulate and calm figure, the consummate professional, that you’d almost forget listening to him that Obama’s Middle East policy is in shambles, that Iran is on the ascendency and on the road to getting the bomb, that our human-rights policy is under attack by the left and right, that Russia and China are both feeling emboldened to extend their influence, and that our relations with Europe are badly frayed. But what comes across loud and clear is that the Obama team wants to be perceived as operating well within the bipartisan tradition of American foreign policy. If that entails an ongoing presence in Iraq, a sustained effort in Afghanistan, a determination to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a cessation of its foolhardy obsession with Israeli settlements, a competent and forceful free-trade policy, and consistent defense of human rights, then the administration will earn the support of conservatives and, more important, the respect of foes and the confidence of allies.

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Block This Sale

The bad ideas just keep coming. A few bloggers and news outlets picked up this week on the report that a Russian company wants to acquire a 51 percent stake in a U.S. uranium-mining operation. Four congressmen have written to Timothy Geithner asking him to block the sale, pointing out that if it goes through, a Russian corporation will control 20 percent of America’s uranium resources.

The sale should be blocked. The congressmen fear – with reason – that Russia could deliver uranium from the Wyoming mine to Iran, but that’s not the only consideration. Russia acquiring a 51 percent interest in a natural-resources operation creates unnecessary vulnerabilities for the nations involved. Multiple rounds of natural-gas extortion in Europe have made that clear. Russia behaves badly in its natural-resources dealings, using them alternately to build leverage with the wealthy and to strong-arm the struggling.

Russia and China are competing vigorously to acquire control of natural resources in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Besides its gas and oil investments in the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia, Russia has signed uranium-development agreements with Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Russians are also prospecting for oil and gas off Cuba’s West coast in the Gulf of Mexico, an enterprise unaffected by President Obama’s moratorium on U.S. drilling. (See here for an extended treatment of Russia’s oil and gas acquisitions.) Between them, Russia and China are gradually narrowing the resource options of the U.S., the EU, and Japan; if geopolitical shifts drive us to seek new suppliers, we will find, wherever we look, that the Asian giants are already there. We certainly don’t need to collude in their strategy by handing our own resources over to their companies.

In turning markedly against Japan last week over the Kuril Islands issue – which carries major implications for undersea resources – the Putin-Medvedev regime sent a very clear signal about where it is headed. If we invite Russia to control the commercial destiny of a significant amount of our natural resources, we will be buying political problems for the future. Our current ability to stand up to extortion is no excuse for courting it unnecessarily. The Russia factor makes this sale an issue of national security; it is inherently political and should be decided for political reasons. The sale should be blocked.

The bad ideas just keep coming. A few bloggers and news outlets picked up this week on the report that a Russian company wants to acquire a 51 percent stake in a U.S. uranium-mining operation. Four congressmen have written to Timothy Geithner asking him to block the sale, pointing out that if it goes through, a Russian corporation will control 20 percent of America’s uranium resources.

The sale should be blocked. The congressmen fear – with reason – that Russia could deliver uranium from the Wyoming mine to Iran, but that’s not the only consideration. Russia acquiring a 51 percent interest in a natural-resources operation creates unnecessary vulnerabilities for the nations involved. Multiple rounds of natural-gas extortion in Europe have made that clear. Russia behaves badly in its natural-resources dealings, using them alternately to build leverage with the wealthy and to strong-arm the struggling.

Russia and China are competing vigorously to acquire control of natural resources in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Besides its gas and oil investments in the Caribbean, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia, Russia has signed uranium-development agreements with Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Russians are also prospecting for oil and gas off Cuba’s West coast in the Gulf of Mexico, an enterprise unaffected by President Obama’s moratorium on U.S. drilling. (See here for an extended treatment of Russia’s oil and gas acquisitions.) Between them, Russia and China are gradually narrowing the resource options of the U.S., the EU, and Japan; if geopolitical shifts drive us to seek new suppliers, we will find, wherever we look, that the Asian giants are already there. We certainly don’t need to collude in their strategy by handing our own resources over to their companies.

In turning markedly against Japan last week over the Kuril Islands issue – which carries major implications for undersea resources – the Putin-Medvedev regime sent a very clear signal about where it is headed. If we invite Russia to control the commercial destiny of a significant amount of our natural resources, we will be buying political problems for the future. Our current ability to stand up to extortion is no excuse for courting it unnecessarily. The Russia factor makes this sale an issue of national security; it is inherently political and should be decided for political reasons. The sale should be blocked.

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The Human Rights “Charm Offensive”

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.'” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.'” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

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Colombia: Another Obama Victim

Both the Washington Post‘s and the Wall Street Journal‘s editors rightly praise the outcome of the election in Colombia and implore the Obama administration not to treat this president as poorly as it treated the last one. The Post explains:

Juan Manuel Santos has demonstrated that pro-American, pro-free-market politicians still have life in Latin America. Mr. Santos, who romped to victory in Colombia’s presidential runoff on Sunday, has no interest in courting Iran, unlike Brazil’s Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva. He has rejected the authoritarian socialism of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. A former journalist with degrees from the University of Kansas and Harvard, he values free media and independent courts. His biggest priority may be ratifying and implementing a free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. So the question raised by Mr. Santos’s election is whether the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will greet this strong and needed U.S. ally with open arms — or with the arms-length disdain and protectionist stonewalling to which they subjected his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. … The Obama administration, which has courted Mr. Lula and sought to improve relations with Venezuela and Cuba, has been cool to Colombia, recommending another 11 percent reduction in aid for next year and keeping the trade agreement on ice.

The Journal writes:

On Sunday 13 police and soldiers were killed by guerrillas trying to disrupt the vote. Mr. Santos has also challenged neighboring countries that provide a haven to the FARC. This triumph also ought to echo in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and the White House continue to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. One liberal Democratic excuse has been concerns about Mr. Uribe’s security policies, but Colombia’s people have now spoken.

Like Mr. Uribe, Mr. Santos wants the free trade deal to force his country to face the discipline of global competition and turn Colombia into the next Chile or Taiwan. Such progress would further reduce the FARC’s appeal, and it is certainly in the U.S. national interest. This one shouldn’t even be controversial.

Obama’s stance toward Colombia is another in a series of “picking the wrong side” errors he perpetually makes (e.g., the Hugo Chavez–backed Manual Zelaya instead of the broad-based coalition that ousted him, the Russians over our Czech and Polish allies, the Iranian regime over the Green movement). He rather consistently backs those who are hostile to the U.S., even at the expense of ignoring evidence (Zelaya’s power grab) or the long-term strategic interests of the U.S. (empowering the UN to pronounce on Israel’s anti-terror tactics).

Obama’s supporters would say he’s trying to “engage” or reduce conflict with our foes, although this hardly explains the gratuitous swipes at allies. His critics contend he either puts domestic priorities above national security (e.g., siding with Big Labor on free-trade deals) or has a fetish for strongmen. Whatever the rationale, it’s getting easy to spot the “good guys” in regional disputes. They’re the ones Obama is treating the worst.

Both the Washington Post‘s and the Wall Street Journal‘s editors rightly praise the outcome of the election in Colombia and implore the Obama administration not to treat this president as poorly as it treated the last one. The Post explains:

Juan Manuel Santos has demonstrated that pro-American, pro-free-market politicians still have life in Latin America. Mr. Santos, who romped to victory in Colombia’s presidential runoff on Sunday, has no interest in courting Iran, unlike Brazil’s Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva. He has rejected the authoritarian socialism of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. A former journalist with degrees from the University of Kansas and Harvard, he values free media and independent courts. His biggest priority may be ratifying and implementing a free-trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. So the question raised by Mr. Santos’s election is whether the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders will greet this strong and needed U.S. ally with open arms — or with the arms-length disdain and protectionist stonewalling to which they subjected his predecessor, Álvaro Uribe. … The Obama administration, which has courted Mr. Lula and sought to improve relations with Venezuela and Cuba, has been cool to Colombia, recommending another 11 percent reduction in aid for next year and keeping the trade agreement on ice.

The Journal writes:

On Sunday 13 police and soldiers were killed by guerrillas trying to disrupt the vote. Mr. Santos has also challenged neighboring countries that provide a haven to the FARC. This triumph also ought to echo in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and the White House continue to deny a vote on the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. One liberal Democratic excuse has been concerns about Mr. Uribe’s security policies, but Colombia’s people have now spoken.

Like Mr. Uribe, Mr. Santos wants the free trade deal to force his country to face the discipline of global competition and turn Colombia into the next Chile or Taiwan. Such progress would further reduce the FARC’s appeal, and it is certainly in the U.S. national interest. This one shouldn’t even be controversial.

Obama’s stance toward Colombia is another in a series of “picking the wrong side” errors he perpetually makes (e.g., the Hugo Chavez–backed Manual Zelaya instead of the broad-based coalition that ousted him, the Russians over our Czech and Polish allies, the Iranian regime over the Green movement). He rather consistently backs those who are hostile to the U.S., even at the expense of ignoring evidence (Zelaya’s power grab) or the long-term strategic interests of the U.S. (empowering the UN to pronounce on Israel’s anti-terror tactics).

Obama’s supporters would say he’s trying to “engage” or reduce conflict with our foes, although this hardly explains the gratuitous swipes at allies. His critics contend he either puts domestic priorities above national security (e.g., siding with Big Labor on free-trade deals) or has a fetish for strongmen. Whatever the rationale, it’s getting easy to spot the “good guys” in regional disputes. They’re the ones Obama is treating the worst.

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Yes We Can … Win in Afghanistan

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

Andrew Exum has posted a short reply to my critique of his hand-wringing article on Afghanistan. He begins on a nice note: “I respect the heck out of Max Boot and consider him among the smartest of the thinkers often lumped under the label ‘neoconservative’.” (I especially like the way he distances himself from the cliched neocon label.) He then goes on to concede, “Boot is right, to a degree, about political will.” (I had written that, although political will is now lacking in the United States, it could easily be manufactured, if only President Obama were to be slightly more resolute.) But Andrew writes:

I think Boot, like many other neoconservatives, overestimates the importance of U.S. actions and downplays the agency of others. So Afghanistan will definitely be a success if we will it? Sorry, but that’s not how third-party counterinsurgency campaigns work. The actions of others matter as much or more than our own.

For my part, I respect the heck out of Andrew Exum and believe his arguments are worthy of a more detailed examination.

Will Afghanistan definitely be a success if we will it? Nothing is definite, especially not in the confusing realm of warfare. But I think the odds are good — certainly better than 50% — that a reasonable commitment of time and resources can make Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy (which Andrew helped formulate) to succeed. Population-centric counterinsurgency has worked in countries as diverse as Iraq, Malaya, the Philippines, Northern Ireland, Oman, and Colombia. Historically speaking (and I say this based on research I’m currently doing for a book on the history of guerrilla warfare and terrorism), it is the most successful counterinsurgency strategy there is. Does that mean it will work in every instance? Of course not. But it works more often than not, and I have yet to see any evidence that Afghanistan is uniquely resistant to such an approach.

There are difficulties, to be sure, principally having to do with weak and corrupt government; but those problems were well known a year ago, when the McChrystal strategy was formulated with Andrew’s input and support. What has changed in the past year to make McChrystal’s approach invalid? Nothing that I can see.

Indeed, the biggest cause for optimism remains intact — namely the unpopularity of the Taliban. Public opinion polls show that only 6% of the Afghan people would like to see them return to power. The percentage is slightly higher in the South but still well short of a majority. The Taliban suffer from a major disadvantage that did not afflict successful insurgencies in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba: they have actually been in power before and people remember how awful they were. Some 90% of Afghans favor the current government for all of its myriad imperfections.

The Taliban are able to make gains only because of the security and governance vacuum that has existed in much of the countryside. Filling that vacuum is certainly difficult and will take a long time. But is it impossible? I think not, because our objectives are fundamentally in alignment with the views of most Afghans. The key, as I stress once again, is whether the U.S. will have the patience and the will to see this war through to an acceptable conclusion — something that Andrew concedes is “probably” a vital interest of ours.

I don’t mean to suggest that the U.S. is capable of doing anything; I don’t think we could transform the moon into Swiss cheese simply by willing it. Can we, working in cooperation with international and local partners, defeat a ragtag guerrilla army of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 fighters who are widely despised by the population they seek to rule? Yes, we can.

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Hypocrisy Run Amok

The Washington Post reports:

Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.

Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

It’s always reassuring to learn that the White House is hypocritical and not entirely naive in its approach to terrorism. Like its defense of “no rules apply at Bagram,” it is some evidence that the un-Bush approach is selectively applied. No caterpillars to annoy terrorists who show up here, but no habeas corpus rights at Bagram. Mirandize a bomber who makes it here, but kill him — and his unfortunate family members — in his home country with a drone. I’m not quite seeing how this justifies the moral preening, but it’s good to know the administration doesn’t believe all of its own spin. Now, if it would just recognize who the enemy is and that U.S. soil is a battlefield too, we’d be making some progress.

There is also this snippet well down in the body of the story:

The United Nations, in a report this week, questioned the administration’s authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. One possible legal justification — the permission of the country in question — is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge approving the attacks.

Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president’s authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions. “While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based,” said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush’s administrations.

And speaking of hypocrisy, the administration that is expanding the use of techniques that kill entirely innocent civilians won’t extend latitude to the Israelis to act in self-defense when phony peace activists attack their troops? And then Obama complains that Israel isn’t considering our interests. Perhaps George W. Bush’s “failing” was candor and sincerity. Obama isn’t about to make that error.

The Washington Post reports:

Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret U.S. war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials.

Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year. In addition to units that have spent years in the Philippines and Colombia, teams are operating in Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.

It’s always reassuring to learn that the White House is hypocritical and not entirely naive in its approach to terrorism. Like its defense of “no rules apply at Bagram,” it is some evidence that the un-Bush approach is selectively applied. No caterpillars to annoy terrorists who show up here, but no habeas corpus rights at Bagram. Mirandize a bomber who makes it here, but kill him — and his unfortunate family members — in his home country with a drone. I’m not quite seeing how this justifies the moral preening, but it’s good to know the administration doesn’t believe all of its own spin. Now, if it would just recognize who the enemy is and that U.S. soil is a battlefield too, we’d be making some progress.

There is also this snippet well down in the body of the story:

The United Nations, in a report this week, questioned the administration’s authority under international law to conduct such raids, particularly when they kill innocent civilians. One possible legal justification — the permission of the country in question — is complicated in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, where the governments privately agree but do not publicly acknowledge approving the attacks.

Former Bush officials, still smarting from accusations that their administration overextended the president’s authority to conduct lethal activities around the world at will, have asked similar questions. “While they seem to be expanding their operations both in terms of extraterritoriality and aggressiveness, they are contracting the legal authority upon which those expanding actions are based,” said John B. Bellinger III, a senior legal adviser in both of Bush’s administrations.

And speaking of hypocrisy, the administration that is expanding the use of techniques that kill entirely innocent civilians won’t extend latitude to the Israelis to act in self-defense when phony peace activists attack their troops? And then Obama complains that Israel isn’t considering our interests. Perhaps George W. Bush’s “failing” was candor and sincerity. Obama isn’t about to make that error.

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Colombia’s Presidential Election Is a U.S. Victory

As usually happens because of the global obsession with the actions of one tiny state in the Middle East, the controversy over the Gaza flotilla has become so all-encompassing that it is obscuring other important bits of news. Like what just happened in Colombia — another important American ally that receives its share of opprobrium from the left (although, of course, nothing compared to the vilification of Israel).

Colombia just held a presidential election. Polls had shown a neck-and-neck race between former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and the loopy former Green Party mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus (who sports an Amish-style beard). It appeared that a big upset could be brewing with the defeat of President Alvaro Uribe’s handpicked successor — a man who was almost as closely associated as the outgoing president with the increasingly successful battle against Marxist rebels (the FARC) and narco-traffickers.

It turned out, however, that the outcome wasn’t that close. Santos got 46.5 percent of the vote, and Mockus, only 21.5 percent. Santos still fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off, but there seems little prospect of Mockus winning in the second round. This was undoubtedly one of the most jaw-dropping failures of preelection polling since a 1936 Literary Digest survey predicted that Alf Landon would defeat Franklin Roosevelt with 57 percent of the vote. (FDR actually got won more than 60 percent.)

While pollsters sift their methodology or maybe simply go off to commit hara-kiri, let me just note that this is a big victory not only for the people of Colombia but also for the United States. We are now virtually assured of having a pro-American leader in Bogota, who will be interested in continuing to work closely with us to combat the baleful influence of the Hugo Chavez regime in neighboring Venezuela, which is in bed not only with FARC and the drug traffickers but also with Iran, Hezbollah, and other unsavory characters. It would be nice if Congress repaid the support of the Colombians by finally passing the long-delayed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord. But no doubt the labor unions (to which the Obama administration appears to be in thrall) will continue to cast aspersions on Colombia’s considerable democratic achievement in order to disguise their protectionist agenda.

As usually happens because of the global obsession with the actions of one tiny state in the Middle East, the controversy over the Gaza flotilla has become so all-encompassing that it is obscuring other important bits of news. Like what just happened in Colombia — another important American ally that receives its share of opprobrium from the left (although, of course, nothing compared to the vilification of Israel).

Colombia just held a presidential election. Polls had shown a neck-and-neck race between former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and the loopy former Green Party mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus (who sports an Amish-style beard). It appeared that a big upset could be brewing with the defeat of President Alvaro Uribe’s handpicked successor — a man who was almost as closely associated as the outgoing president with the increasingly successful battle against Marxist rebels (the FARC) and narco-traffickers.

It turned out, however, that the outcome wasn’t that close. Santos got 46.5 percent of the vote, and Mockus, only 21.5 percent. Santos still fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off, but there seems little prospect of Mockus winning in the second round. This was undoubtedly one of the most jaw-dropping failures of preelection polling since a 1936 Literary Digest survey predicted that Alf Landon would defeat Franklin Roosevelt with 57 percent of the vote. (FDR actually got won more than 60 percent.)

While pollsters sift their methodology or maybe simply go off to commit hara-kiri, let me just note that this is a big victory not only for the people of Colombia but also for the United States. We are now virtually assured of having a pro-American leader in Bogota, who will be interested in continuing to work closely with us to combat the baleful influence of the Hugo Chavez regime in neighboring Venezuela, which is in bed not only with FARC and the drug traffickers but also with Iran, Hezbollah, and other unsavory characters. It would be nice if Congress repaid the support of the Colombians by finally passing the long-delayed U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord. But no doubt the labor unions (to which the Obama administration appears to be in thrall) will continue to cast aspersions on Colombia’s considerable democratic achievement in order to disguise their protectionist agenda.

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Colombia Going Green?

The Wall Street Journal has a piece from the weekend pointing out the poll surge of the Colombian Green Party’s presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus. Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a former university professor, was mayor of Bogota for two non-consecutive terms. He gained fame in that office for walking around Bogota in a caped superhero costume, discouraging traffic violations by stationing mimes on street corners to embarrass drivers, and showering for a TV commercial to encourage water conservation.

Until early April, pundits had addressed the Mockus candidacy with the stock phrase “has trouble gaining voter interest outside of Bogota.” His Green Party run against Alvaro Uribe in 2006 netted him less than 5 percent of the national vote. But his surge with voters this month now has a poll showing that he would narrowly defeat Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, in a runoff between the two.

As this article indicates, the demographics of Mockus’s support are strikingly similar to Barack Obama’s in 2008. He galvanizes youth voters, independents, and the very wealthy. On the superficial trappings of the Green appeal, he is flawlessly Euro-Green: sunflower symbol, studied informality in attire and grooming, demure fist-pumping. The WSJ analysis that many Colombians are looking for something new is probably quite accurate; as Uribe’s tenure comes to an end, Colombians feel safer and less worried about internal security. Santos, in contrast to Mockus, is the scion of one of Colombia’s oldest and most entrenched political dynasties. For many voters, he reeks of a stuffy, irrelevant past.

How irrelevant that past truly is remains a question, however. The issue on which the Mockus candidacy still founders with many voters is his posture on “democratic security,” the Uribe-era policy expression for a tough stance on internal security and drug-fueled insurgencies like FARC. Mockus enthusiasts frame the dramatic improvement in internal security under Uribe in a somewhat disingenuous fashion, as if the situation simply changed on its own while Uribe was off menacing civil rights. But there is no question that Uribe’s policies and actions are what have wrought the transformation.

In addressing the particulars of democratic security policy, Mockus is alternately categorical and temporizing — in exactly the wrong places. His Green Party platform affirms without caveat, for example, that he would never pursue Colombian insurgents across the border as Uribe’s forces did in 2008. This would naturally be a green light for FARC to consolidate cross-border bases, something Hugo Chavez has been very accommodating about in neighboring Venezuela. On the question of holding a dialogue with FARC, however, Mockus deems it merely “unlikely” unless the guerrillas change their language and cease being “slaves to kidnapping.”

It’s not that Mockus appears to have any connection with Chavez or Castro, like such entrenched or aspiring presidents-for-life as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Manuel Zelaya, lately ousted from Honduras. But policies like those embraced by Mockus quickly become prostrate and ineffective in the face of guerrilla aggression. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez has ramped up a war of words against Juan Manuel Santos over the past week, calling him a “threat to the region” and predicting war if he wins the election. There’s no doubt whose policies Chavez expects to dislike. When Colombians go to the polls on May 30, we can hope they will remember what it has taken to transform their domestic-security environment — and why they now have the sense of political leisure to take flyers on theatrical boutique candidates.

The Wall Street Journal has a piece from the weekend pointing out the poll surge of the Colombian Green Party’s presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus. Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a former university professor, was mayor of Bogota for two non-consecutive terms. He gained fame in that office for walking around Bogota in a caped superhero costume, discouraging traffic violations by stationing mimes on street corners to embarrass drivers, and showering for a TV commercial to encourage water conservation.

Until early April, pundits had addressed the Mockus candidacy with the stock phrase “has trouble gaining voter interest outside of Bogota.” His Green Party run against Alvaro Uribe in 2006 netted him less than 5 percent of the national vote. But his surge with voters this month now has a poll showing that he would narrowly defeat Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, in a runoff between the two.

As this article indicates, the demographics of Mockus’s support are strikingly similar to Barack Obama’s in 2008. He galvanizes youth voters, independents, and the very wealthy. On the superficial trappings of the Green appeal, he is flawlessly Euro-Green: sunflower symbol, studied informality in attire and grooming, demure fist-pumping. The WSJ analysis that many Colombians are looking for something new is probably quite accurate; as Uribe’s tenure comes to an end, Colombians feel safer and less worried about internal security. Santos, in contrast to Mockus, is the scion of one of Colombia’s oldest and most entrenched political dynasties. For many voters, he reeks of a stuffy, irrelevant past.

How irrelevant that past truly is remains a question, however. The issue on which the Mockus candidacy still founders with many voters is his posture on “democratic security,” the Uribe-era policy expression for a tough stance on internal security and drug-fueled insurgencies like FARC. Mockus enthusiasts frame the dramatic improvement in internal security under Uribe in a somewhat disingenuous fashion, as if the situation simply changed on its own while Uribe was off menacing civil rights. But there is no question that Uribe’s policies and actions are what have wrought the transformation.

In addressing the particulars of democratic security policy, Mockus is alternately categorical and temporizing — in exactly the wrong places. His Green Party platform affirms without caveat, for example, that he would never pursue Colombian insurgents across the border as Uribe’s forces did in 2008. This would naturally be a green light for FARC to consolidate cross-border bases, something Hugo Chavez has been very accommodating about in neighboring Venezuela. On the question of holding a dialogue with FARC, however, Mockus deems it merely “unlikely” unless the guerrillas change their language and cease being “slaves to kidnapping.”

It’s not that Mockus appears to have any connection with Chavez or Castro, like such entrenched or aspiring presidents-for-life as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Manuel Zelaya, lately ousted from Honduras. But policies like those embraced by Mockus quickly become prostrate and ineffective in the face of guerrilla aggression. Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez has ramped up a war of words against Juan Manuel Santos over the past week, calling him a “threat to the region” and predicting war if he wins the election. There’s no doubt whose policies Chavez expects to dislike. When Colombians go to the polls on May 30, we can hope they will remember what it has taken to transform their domestic-security environment — and why they now have the sense of political leisure to take flyers on theatrical boutique candidates.

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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George W. Bush: “I am concerned about isolationism”

I’m in Dallas, Texas, attending the George W. Bush Institute’s “Conference on Cyber Dissidents: Global Successes and Challenges.” There will be various discussions involving dissidents from five countries rated “not free” by Freedom House: China, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Russia, as well as two countries rated “partially free” by same: Venezuela and Colombia.

Laura Bush just offered some introductory remarks and singled out the Burmese regime for jailing democrats and enacting a “systematic campaign of rape and abuse.”

President Bush then spoke frankly about the disturbing change in the country’s attitude toward freedom and democracy abroad. “I am concerned about isolationism,” he said. It was a reifying moment to hear the president so closely associated with the promotion of freedom and human rights state plainly that we must “fight off isolationism,” which is making a return in the public consciousness and policy circles. None of the “false choice,” gray-area equivocation that we’ve come to hear day in and day out over the past year. “If we allow isolation to become a dominant philosophy we forget our own past,” he said. America’s long-active role as engine and projector of freedom abroad is indeed being forgotten with news of each cynical “reset” and every panicking ally.

I’m in Dallas, Texas, attending the George W. Bush Institute’s “Conference on Cyber Dissidents: Global Successes and Challenges.” There will be various discussions involving dissidents from five countries rated “not free” by Freedom House: China, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Russia, as well as two countries rated “partially free” by same: Venezuela and Colombia.

Laura Bush just offered some introductory remarks and singled out the Burmese regime for jailing democrats and enacting a “systematic campaign of rape and abuse.”

President Bush then spoke frankly about the disturbing change in the country’s attitude toward freedom and democracy abroad. “I am concerned about isolationism,” he said. It was a reifying moment to hear the president so closely associated with the promotion of freedom and human rights state plainly that we must “fight off isolationism,” which is making a return in the public consciousness and policy circles. None of the “false choice,” gray-area equivocation that we’ve come to hear day in and day out over the past year. “If we allow isolation to become a dominant philosophy we forget our own past,” he said. America’s long-active role as engine and projector of freedom abroad is indeed being forgotten with news of each cynical “reset” and every panicking ally.

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Hopeful Signs on U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord — Finally

It’s nice to see Secretary of Defense Bob Gates endorse the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord, which remains stalled in Congress primarily owing to labor-union opposition. It’s even nicer to read that President Obama may be having a change of heart on the issue:

President Obama was skeptical about the agreement as a senator and during his presidential campaign, citing Colombia’s record of labor crackdowns. But after meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Obama said Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and ordered U.S. trade officials to move ahead on the deal.

I only hope that this translates into active administration support for the accord on Capitol Hill.  Not only is it in our strategic interest — Colombia is our closest ally in Latin America and a key bulwark against drug traffickers, Marxist rebels, and other threats, such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela — but it is also in our economic interest, because it would boost American exports.

As this Commerce Department fact sheet points out, “for over 16 years, Colombian businesses have paid virtually nothing to export to the United States. Colombian goods enter our market under various U.S. trade preference programs that give Colombian businesses duty-free access to U.S. consumers. In 2007, over 91 percent of Colombian exports to the U.S. market entered duty-free.” Meanwhile, “every single day, about $2 million dollars in taxes are placed on a variety of U.S. exports sent to the Colombian market, effectively undermining the competitiveness of American products.” For instance, while Colombian coffee arrives in the U.S. duty-free, a bottle of Pepsi is taxed 20 percent in Colombia.

It is hard to see any logical argument for maintaining this disparity. While various fig leaves have been advanced about supposed human-rights violations in Colombia, the reality is that President Alvaro Uribe has dramatically improved the human-rights situation by beating back FARC rebels and their narco-trafficking allies. There is no good reason to oppose the accord. It’s simply raw politics on the part of protectionist American labor unions, and Obama has aided them for too long.

No indication yet of any change in the administration position regarding the U.S.-Panama Trade Accord or the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, two other agreements with key allies that are very much in our interest but that are being blocked by Democratic politicians. Perhaps if Obama makes a personal commitment to these treaties, which were signed by his predecessor, he might do a little to dispel the common impression of his foreign policy — namely that, as one wag put it, “if you’re our enemy, we’re sorry; if you’re our ally, you’re sorry.”

It’s nice to see Secretary of Defense Bob Gates endorse the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Accord, which remains stalled in Congress primarily owing to labor-union opposition. It’s even nicer to read that President Obama may be having a change of heart on the issue:

President Obama was skeptical about the agreement as a senator and during his presidential campaign, citing Colombia’s record of labor crackdowns. But after meeting last year with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Obama said Bogota had made progress on human rights issues and ordered U.S. trade officials to move ahead on the deal.

I only hope that this translates into active administration support for the accord on Capitol Hill.  Not only is it in our strategic interest — Colombia is our closest ally in Latin America and a key bulwark against drug traffickers, Marxist rebels, and other threats, such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela — but it is also in our economic interest, because it would boost American exports.

As this Commerce Department fact sheet points out, “for over 16 years, Colombian businesses have paid virtually nothing to export to the United States. Colombian goods enter our market under various U.S. trade preference programs that give Colombian businesses duty-free access to U.S. consumers. In 2007, over 91 percent of Colombian exports to the U.S. market entered duty-free.” Meanwhile, “every single day, about $2 million dollars in taxes are placed on a variety of U.S. exports sent to the Colombian market, effectively undermining the competitiveness of American products.” For instance, while Colombian coffee arrives in the U.S. duty-free, a bottle of Pepsi is taxed 20 percent in Colombia.

It is hard to see any logical argument for maintaining this disparity. While various fig leaves have been advanced about supposed human-rights violations in Colombia, the reality is that President Alvaro Uribe has dramatically improved the human-rights situation by beating back FARC rebels and their narco-trafficking allies. There is no good reason to oppose the accord. It’s simply raw politics on the part of protectionist American labor unions, and Obama has aided them for too long.

No indication yet of any change in the administration position regarding the U.S.-Panama Trade Accord or the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, two other agreements with key allies that are very much in our interest but that are being blocked by Democratic politicians. Perhaps if Obama makes a personal commitment to these treaties, which were signed by his predecessor, he might do a little to dispel the common impression of his foreign policy — namely that, as one wag put it, “if you’re our enemy, we’re sorry; if you’re our ally, you’re sorry.”

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