Commentary Magazine


Topic: Condoleezza Rice

What If College Is Making People Stupid?

International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde has become the latest commencement speaker to be chased off by American academia’s guardians of the eternally closed minds. After protests over Lagarde’s planned graduation speech at Smith College from professors and students, Lagarde bowed out, echoing Condoleezza Rice’s tactful statement about not wanting to derail the celebratory atmosphere of the day.

The Washington Post sums it up perfectly: “The commencement speaker purity bug has hit Smith College.” Calling it a “bug” is the right classification, for it is certainly both a defect and an apparently contagious infection that demonstrates the extent to which American universities are failing their students while pocketing the tuition money (about $45,000 in Smith’s case).

Meanwhile at Syracuse, the New Yorker’s David Remnick apparently gave a commencement address that deviated from the airy, ego-boosting flattery to which America’s college-age toddlers are accustomed, and was thus not altogether well received. Remnick’s speech was a litany of liberal policy clichés, and so there was plenty to disagree with. But it was also a challenge to the graduates:

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International Monetary Fund director Christine Lagarde has become the latest commencement speaker to be chased off by American academia’s guardians of the eternally closed minds. After protests over Lagarde’s planned graduation speech at Smith College from professors and students, Lagarde bowed out, echoing Condoleezza Rice’s tactful statement about not wanting to derail the celebratory atmosphere of the day.

The Washington Post sums it up perfectly: “The commencement speaker purity bug has hit Smith College.” Calling it a “bug” is the right classification, for it is certainly both a defect and an apparently contagious infection that demonstrates the extent to which American universities are failing their students while pocketing the tuition money (about $45,000 in Smith’s case).

Meanwhile at Syracuse, the New Yorker’s David Remnick apparently gave a commencement address that deviated from the airy, ego-boosting flattery to which America’s college-age toddlers are accustomed, and was thus not altogether well received. Remnick’s speech was a litany of liberal policy clichés, and so there was plenty to disagree with. But it was also a challenge to the graduates:

What gnaws at you? And what will you do about it?

Is it the way we treat and warehouse our elderly as our population grows older? Is it the way we isolate and underserve the physically and mentally disabled. Is it our absurd American fascination with guns and our insistence on valuing the so called rights of ownership over the clear and present danger of gun violence? What will we–what will you–do about the widening divides of class and opportunity in this country? You are, dear friends, about to enter an economy that is increasing winner take all. Part of this is the result of globalization. But do we just throw up our hands and say that’s the way it is? And what about our refusal to look squarely at the degradation of the planet we inhabit? In the last election cycle many candidates refused even to acknowledge the hard science, irrefutable science, of climate change. The president, while readily accepting the facts, has done far too little to alter them. How long are we, are you, prepared to wait?

As I said, plenty to disagree with. But good for Remnick. He is addressing a generation that seems to think hashtags will catch war criminals and casting a vote for a messianic snake-oil salesman will heal the planet. They need to be reminded that they should actually do something with their knowledge, and if they don’t like it–well, they can suck it up.

But that last point raises a slightly different question. Is using the phrase “their knowledge” too presumptuous for today’s university climate? In its story on Lagarde, the Wall Street Journal talks to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Greg Lukianoff:

Mr. Lukianoff said the trend is clearly growing. According to a tally by his group, between 1987 and 2008, there were 48 protests of planned speeches, not all for graduations, that led to 21 incidents of an invited guest not speaking. Since 2009 there have been 95 protests, resulting in 39 cancellations, according to Mr. Lukianoff’s group.

After recounting previous speakers at Smith, including such liberal leading lights as Rachel Maddow, Gloria Steinem, and last year Arianna Huffington, the Journal gets the following quote from a student who possesses neither self-awareness nor even a tangential relationship with the facts:

“The issue isn’t that we’re against debate but that we’re only hearing one side of the debate continuously,” said Nandi Marumo, a 22-year-old junior at Smith, who signed the petition against Ms. Lagarde. “We hear the same narrative from every person, from the media, from everything.”

The question, then, is not whether American universities are producing ever more totalitarian-minded brats. Of course they are reinforcing such closed-mindedness; they are leftist institutions steeped in leftist values. This is a problem, and should be addressed. But the out-of-control speech police on college campuses, combined with the unwillingness to even listen to those who might disagree with them, raises the distinct possibility that colleges are producing brainless authoritarians.

What if college, in other words, is making the next generation stupid? Not uniformly, of course. There will always be exceptions, and there may even be a rebellion against what is increasingly making college the most expensive babysitting service in the modern world. But college administrators are now faced with the conundrum of students who pay them gobs of money to keep them uninformed and shielded from critical thinking. It’s a challenge administrators have to deal with–and the sooner, the better.

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Cowards Among the Scarlet Knights

Over the weekend Condoleezza Rice announced that she would be withdrawing as commencement speaker for the upcoming Rutgers University graduation ceremony after students and teachers protested Rice’s selection as speaker and recipient of an honorary degree. Even if you didn’t follow the story, you probably don’t need the details filled in: she is among the best possible candidates to give such a speech, but she worked for George W. Bush; end of story.

The graduation ceremony she was scheduled to appear at coincides with the tenth anniversary of my own graduation from Rutgers. That decade has instilled in me a great sense of apprehension any time Rutgers is mentioned in the news. That’s not to say there is no good news coming out of the school; the construction of a new Hillel building is a sign that the Jewish community at the school remains numerous and committed to Jewish life on campus–despite the anti-Semitic harassment they’ve experienced as the school shrugs its shoulders.

The combination of a proud Jewish community and a pusillanimous school administration (admittedly, no different from most liberal arts colleges) has also inspired the Jews at Rutgers to make their voices heard. One of the more famous examples of this took place while I was a student there, in 2003. An extremist Palestinian “solidarity” group was scheduled to hold its annual event on campus. The New Jersey chapter’s leader gave interviews ahead of the event, in which she explained that murdering innocent Jews in Israel was merely part of a resistance campaign and others had no right to judge the methods of the Palestinian group’s protest, as a contemporaneous piece in Haaretz recounted:

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Over the weekend Condoleezza Rice announced that she would be withdrawing as commencement speaker for the upcoming Rutgers University graduation ceremony after students and teachers protested Rice’s selection as speaker and recipient of an honorary degree. Even if you didn’t follow the story, you probably don’t need the details filled in: she is among the best possible candidates to give such a speech, but she worked for George W. Bush; end of story.

The graduation ceremony she was scheduled to appear at coincides with the tenth anniversary of my own graduation from Rutgers. That decade has instilled in me a great sense of apprehension any time Rutgers is mentioned in the news. That’s not to say there is no good news coming out of the school; the construction of a new Hillel building is a sign that the Jewish community at the school remains numerous and committed to Jewish life on campus–despite the anti-Semitic harassment they’ve experienced as the school shrugs its shoulders.

The combination of a proud Jewish community and a pusillanimous school administration (admittedly, no different from most liberal arts colleges) has also inspired the Jews at Rutgers to make their voices heard. One of the more famous examples of this took place while I was a student there, in 2003. An extremist Palestinian “solidarity” group was scheduled to hold its annual event on campus. The New Jersey chapter’s leader gave interviews ahead of the event, in which she explained that murdering innocent Jews in Israel was merely part of a resistance campaign and others had no right to judge the methods of the Palestinian group’s protest, as a contemporaneous piece in Haaretz recounted:

The trouble began when a coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations decided to hold their annual convention at Rutgers in the second week of October. Last year, the event was held at Michigan University, and the year before that at Berkeley. The host organization was New Jersey Solidarity, which is considered one of the most extreme organizations in the coalition. One of the group’s leaders, Charlotte Kates, for instance, told The New York Post that “Israel is a colonial settler apartheid state” that has no right even to exist, and against which suicide attacks are justifiable. In another interview, with The New York Times, she said: “It is not our place in the United States to dictate the tactics Palestinian groups use in the liberation struggle.” The organization also hung posters around the campus in March that declared: “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free.”

There was some protest even outside the student community–genocide is, after all, frowned upon. The group succumbed to internal divisions–apparently in part over an argument about inviting Hamas–and eventually relocated by choice, but the New Jersey chapter tried, unsuccessfully, to hold a new solidarity event on campus. In the interim, led by the Rutgers Hillel, the Jewish community on campus mobilized and held a rally that drew four thousand supporters.

Quite apart from anti-Semitism, my alma mater has been in the news more recently for the horrible and tragic case of the sexual bullying of a gay student who subsequently committed suicide, as well as last year’s scandal over an abusive basketball coach. How I long for the days when Rutgers national-media headlines were more along the lines of Sports Illustrated’s feature on its football program, headlined “Why Can’t Rutgers Ever Win?

I should also note that although Rutgers had its share of bias in the classroom (as does any university), the journalism program I attended was utterly devoid of it. My teachers were uniformly excellent, and I left Rutgers convinced that my decision to attend (I had actually transferred in mid-freshman year) was the right one. I still feel that way, and I have spent my years since graduation recommending the school to anyone who asks my opinion. That won’t stop either.

But I’m left wondering if it’s the same institution I left merely a decade ago. Jewish life continues to flourish at the school. But intellectually, I can imagine parents reading about the Rice controversy and wondering if the professors at such a school can be trusted to impart a passable education. Rice grew up in segregated Birmingham and went on to become the first black female secretary of state. On top of that, she has a well-known expertise in, and passion for, education policy. So you would be hard-pressed to find a better choice for commencement speaker.

But she served the Bush presidency when this nation was at war, and that is too much for the academic left. The Rutgers I remember had plenty of acrimonious debate, but that’s far better than to be ruled by heckler’s veto (which was avoided this time, as Rice withdrew so as not to distract from the students’ graduation celebrations, but was still argued for by the professors). I also don’t remember my instructors being such intellectual cowards. Perhaps I just took the right classes. I suppose students just have to hope they do too, though that’s not a line I imagine the Rutgers administration wants to put on a brochure.

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A Tale of Two Letters: Why the Peace Process Went Poof

Last week Zbigniew Brzezinski, joined by five other foreign-policy experts from the past, issued an open letter entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry,” calling for “clarity” on “the critical moral and political issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The letter castigated Israeli settlements and proposed “halting the diplomatic process” to “help stop this activity.” At “Pressure Points,” Elliott Abrams dismantled the letter, noting that, among other things, it ignored history.  

As it happens, tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of one of the more important items of history the Brzezinski group ignored: the April 14, 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Abrams recounts how the letter went through “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and out,” ending with a “headline” that was clear: “There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.” In her  own memoir, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted spending three hours on the letter with Sharon the night before it was issued, and described the agreement to apply a “Google Earth test” for settlements: no new ones, no expanding the boundaries of them, but allowing building within existing settlements, since that would not reduce the land available for a Palestinian state. In his recent biography of Sharon, David Landau writes:

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Last week Zbigniew Brzezinski, joined by five other foreign-policy experts from the past, issued an open letter entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry,” calling for “clarity” on “the critical moral and political issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The letter castigated Israeli settlements and proposed “halting the diplomatic process” to “help stop this activity.” At “Pressure Points,” Elliott Abrams dismantled the letter, noting that, among other things, it ignored history.  

As it happens, tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of one of the more important items of history the Brzezinski group ignored: the April 14, 2004 letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Abrams recounts how the letter went through “many drafts, as words, phrases, and paragraphs came in and out,” ending with a “headline” that was clear: “There would be no return to 1967 and Israel could keep the major settlement blocks.” In her  own memoir, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted spending three hours on the letter with Sharon the night before it was issued, and described the agreement to apply a “Google Earth test” for settlements: no new ones, no expanding the boundaries of them, but allowing building within existing settlements, since that would not reduce the land available for a Palestinian state. In his recent biography of Sharon, David Landau writes:

The American-Israeli diplomacy culminated in a hugely significant exchange of letters between Bush and Sharon in April 2004. In his letter, Sharon committed to carry out the [Gaza] disengagement. In his response, President Bush committed to back Israel on two vital issues: the Palestinian refugees would not return en masse to the State of Israel; and – by clear implication – the large settlement blocs on the West Bank, close to the 1967 line, would remain part of Israel in a final status agreement. Sharon regarded the exchange of letters as his most salient achievement as prime minister. He was probably right.

Last year, as Secretary Kerry was in Israel seeking to restart peace negotiations, an Israeli reporter asked him about “a guarantee from the past”–“telling that blocs of settlements can stay.” His question was straightforward: “does [the guarantee] exist?” Kerry responded: “I remember that commitment very well because I was running for president then, and I personally have supported the notion that the situation on the ground has changed.” Indeed, four days after the Bush letter was issued, Kerry was asked directly about it on Meet the Press:

MR. RUSSERT: On Thursday, President Bush … said that Israel can keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East War and asserted the Palestinian refugees cannot go back to their particular homes. Do you support President Bush?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Completely?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

The 2004 Bush letter was not simply a statement of policy; it was a negotiated deal, on which Israel relied in carrying out the Gaza disengagement, dismantling every settlement there and four others in the disputed territories as well. Sharon made the Bush letter part of the formal disengagement plan submitted to the Knesset for its approval. The U.S. Congress also endorsed the letter, in joint resolutions by the Senate (95-3) and House (407-9). The letter was endorsed in unambiguous terms by the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, who in 2013 as secretary of state correctly called it a “commitment.”

The Obama administration, when it took office in 2009, repeatedly refused to answer whether it was bound by the Bush letter. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied there were any “enforceable” understandings with Israel. The day before Palestinian President Abbas met with President Obama, Clinton told the press Obama had been “very clear” with Prime Minister Netanyahu that he “wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions”–and that this had been “communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others.” The same day, Abbas told the Washington Post he would do nothing but watch the Obama administration pressure Netanyahu. The administration eventually got a ten-month construction freeze, which both Clinton and Obama envoy George Mitchell called “unprecedented.” It produced nothing from the Palestinians other than a demand in the tenth month that it be continued.

Now flash forward five years, to Secretary of State Kerry’s April 8, 2014 Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony, in which he said “both sides … wound up in positions where things happened that were unhelpful,” but that “when they were about to maybe [resume negotiations], 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem, and poof, that was sort of the moment.” Kerry knew the 700 “settlement units” [sic] were in a longstanding Jewish area in the capital of the Jewish state; that the area will be retained by Israel in any conceivable peace agreement; that Israel had made no commitment to Kerry to stop any construction there; and that Israel was working on an expanded prisoner release when the Palestinians went to the UN.

The peace process went “poof” not because of 700 units in Jerusalem, but because–for the third time in three years–the Palestinians violated the foundational agreement of the process, which obligates them not to take “any step” outside bilateral negotiations to change the status of the disputed territories. For the third time, the Palestinians went to the UN; for the third time, there was no American response; for the third time, there was no penalty for the violation; and on April 8, there was not even an honest assessment of the situation by the secretary of state.

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Left-Wing Hypocrites and Condoleezza Rice

The moves by academics and students at Rutgers University to have an invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rescinded might well be viewed as just another instance of a leftwing soft-totalitarianism that attempts to set beyond the pale anyone who does not share their worldview. To a degree this is clearly part of it. Yet, upon scratching the surface of this initiative one discovers a far more unpleasant impulse at work. The academics of the New Brunswick Faculty Council, which has voted to call on the school to disinvite Rice, made no shortage of outlandish claims in their statement, yet they had the good sense not to expose some of the more deeply rooted motives behind their campaign. The same cannot be said, however, for the students who have joined them in their calls.

From the statement released by the faculty council, one would assume that Rice was some kind of hardened war criminal who served in the government of a Third World despot, as opposed to someone who held one of the highest offices in the government of the United States. The statement parrots the usual conspiratorial leftist notions about the Bush administration, accusing Rice of having been complicit in taking America to war on a lie. Furthermore, the statement repeats the accusation that through the war in Iraq, America is responsible for the killing of over a 100,000 Iraqi “men, women and children” and the displacement of millions more. This is a commonly heard figure from the left, but no one knows where it comes from. The actual invasion of Iraq to remove the Saddam regime lasted for just over a month and had a proportionately low civilian casualty rate. Very many more Iraqis, however, were killed during the insurgency and suicide bombings of the factional fighting between Sunni and Shia that followed. But to try and level the blame for this on America rather than with the Islamists who carried out the killings, is itself an expression of the left’s inverted racism that sees non-western peoples as having no agency in their own actions.

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The moves by academics and students at Rutgers University to have an invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rescinded might well be viewed as just another instance of a leftwing soft-totalitarianism that attempts to set beyond the pale anyone who does not share their worldview. To a degree this is clearly part of it. Yet, upon scratching the surface of this initiative one discovers a far more unpleasant impulse at work. The academics of the New Brunswick Faculty Council, which has voted to call on the school to disinvite Rice, made no shortage of outlandish claims in their statement, yet they had the good sense not to expose some of the more deeply rooted motives behind their campaign. The same cannot be said, however, for the students who have joined them in their calls.

From the statement released by the faculty council, one would assume that Rice was some kind of hardened war criminal who served in the government of a Third World despot, as opposed to someone who held one of the highest offices in the government of the United States. The statement parrots the usual conspiratorial leftist notions about the Bush administration, accusing Rice of having been complicit in taking America to war on a lie. Furthermore, the statement repeats the accusation that through the war in Iraq, America is responsible for the killing of over a 100,000 Iraqi “men, women and children” and the displacement of millions more. This is a commonly heard figure from the left, but no one knows where it comes from. The actual invasion of Iraq to remove the Saddam regime lasted for just over a month and had a proportionately low civilian casualty rate. Very many more Iraqis, however, were killed during the insurgency and suicide bombings of the factional fighting between Sunni and Shia that followed. But to try and level the blame for this on America rather than with the Islamists who carried out the killings, is itself an expression of the left’s inverted racism that sees non-western peoples as having no agency in their own actions.

Indeed, the tendency of left-wing intellectuals to operate one impossible standard for western leaders and quite another for those running the kind of regimes that appeal to their own ideological prejudices is hardly a great secret. The Rutgers academics argue that Rice should not be invited because they claim she “participated in political efforts to circumvent the law” and because she does not “embody moral authority and exemplary citizenship.” Yet, the record of leftwing intellectuals who have lined up to cheer on the most brutal revolutionaries and dictatorships is itself long and anything but exemplary. One need not look back as far as Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s apologies for the Soviet Union, or even to Noam Chomsky’s efforts to deny the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Think simply of Judith Butler’s claims that Hamas and Hezbollah are progressives that should be considered part of the “global left.”

No doubt, the academics and students opposing Rice’s visit to their campus would be incensed by such an invitation to any senior figure from the Bush administration, yet Rice holds a particularly reviled status in the minds of the left. The faculty council members were guarded enough not to reference this, the students on the other hand were not and so have ended up unwittingly exposing the whole thing.

To speak candidly for a moment, Condoleezza Rice is black and she is a woman, yet she is also a Republican. For those on the left, this cannot happen. Rice is a member of a minority group, she is female, one of the oppressed, and such people are neither conservatives nor Republicans, and if they were to unaccountably somehow become Republicans then a party of such bigotry would never elevate her to any real position of influence, but if such a figure were ever to achieve any status, then they certainly wouldn’t have joined anything so odious as the Bush administration. According to left-wing thinking Condoleezza Rice cannot exist, and yet there she is nonetheless, pulling their worldview to pieces. In this respect she has unacceptably transgressed the left’s tribal lines.

The editorial of the Rutgers student newspaper the Daily Targum, which supports the campaign to disinvite Rice, makes the mistake of rather giving the game away by quite openly and repeatedly referencing her background. The editorial asks condescendingly, “Do the positive aspects of her personal accomplishments really outweigh the destruction of war she contributed to during her political career?” That line certainly would not have found its way in there if the school had invited Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. Yet, another opinion piece published in the same paper goes much further, with one student writing that some may wish to overlook Rice’s “behavior” by viewing her “as a powerful woman of color.” No one decent would think for a moment that Rice’s “color” should be used to judge her record, but then the writer dismisses this idea anyway, insisting “Though Rice may have made advancements for black women, they are shallow, even meaningless, when placed side by side with her actions.”

As a clumsy afterthought at the end of the main editorial piece by the students they make the implausible claim; “the point is, we just don’t feel comfortable having politicians as commencement speakers at all.” Does anyone for a moment believe that if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had instead been invited to give the same speech then these same individuals would be expressing such reservations? Quite clearly not.  

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State Sovereignty and Social Media

In her memoirs, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalls meeting with young Russian entrepreneurs in Moscow and, thinking the audience sympathetic to her concerns, knocked Russia’s state-dominated–and seemingly Soviet inspired–television stations. One of the men agreed: “Here is what our news looks like: The first story is about the great man [Putin]. The second is about agricultural production being up. The third is about whatever innocent people the United States killed today. The fourth is about the chosen successor to the great man.”

But having identified the problem, he seemed to dismiss it in the same breath. “But who watches television? We’re all on the Internet,” he told Rice. The secretary of state then went to meet with Putin’s handpicked successor Dmitry Medvedev, and lodged the same complaint to him about Russian state media. He too agreed, and then added: “But who watches television? We’re all on the Internet.”

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In her memoirs, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recalls meeting with young Russian entrepreneurs in Moscow and, thinking the audience sympathetic to her concerns, knocked Russia’s state-dominated–and seemingly Soviet inspired–television stations. One of the men agreed: “Here is what our news looks like: The first story is about the great man [Putin]. The second is about agricultural production being up. The third is about whatever innocent people the United States killed today. The fourth is about the chosen successor to the great man.”

But having identified the problem, he seemed to dismiss it in the same breath. “But who watches television? We’re all on the Internet,” he told Rice. The secretary of state then went to meet with Putin’s handpicked successor Dmitry Medvedev, and lodged the same complaint to him about Russian state media. He too agreed, and then added: “But who watches television? We’re all on the Internet.”

Rice was surprised by Medvedev’s candor and the young Russians’ nonchalance about state TV propagandizing. No one in Russia, however, would have been: the rowdy Russian blogosphere has long replaced conventional media interaction, though there is some opposition engagement on radio. In the land of head-spinning bureaucracy, the Internet remained largely free and served as a valuable release valve for the Russian people.

But the Russian government has, since Medvedev’s conversation with Rice, sought to chip away at that freedom. And its efforts have increased since the Arab Spring demonstrated–even if it may have exaggerated–the power of social media and online organizing to work toward a more level playing field. Vladimir Putin’s approach to governing in Russia has been guided by the grand bargain: don’t challenge Putin in the political sphere, and you can have basic freedom in your private life. Once Putin sensed the danger the Internet posed to his authority, it went from the latter to the former, as Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan write at Foreign Policy:

The Single Register, officially introduced on Nov. 1, 2012, aimed to solve this problem. Three government agencies — the Roskomnadzor (the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications), the Federal Antidrug Agency, and the Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights and Public Welfare — submit data for the government’s black list of sites. Service providers are then required to block access to sites within 24 hours of their blacklisting on the Single Register.

Since November 1, hundreds of websites have been banned from the Russian Internet….

In August 2012, at a meeting organized by the Ministry of Communications, a working group of representatives of the country’s biggest telecom companies concluded that the only way to implement the law which established the Single Register was through deep packet inspection (DPI) technology, which allows Internet service providers to peer into people’s Internet traffic and read, copy, or even modify e-mails and webpages. DPI also helps identify users — what is downloaded by whom, and who looked for what on the Internet. By late fall 2012, all the biggest telecoms in Russia had DPI operational on their networks.

This effort also built on earlier initiatives. Russia’s security services started buying special software from companies such as Analytic Business Solutions, SyTech, iTeco, and Medialogia for monitoring in the mid-2000s. The most famous example was in 2006, on the eve of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, when the Interior Ministry bought a “Random Information Collection System” from the Russian software company Smartware — as a precaution, it claimed, against extremism. Now dozens of Russian companies supply software to monitor the activities of opposition groups — or anyone, theoretically — in social networks.

They also report on the evidence that Russia’s foreign intelligence agency is working to develop software that would enable it to manipulate social media at home and abroad, specifically aimed at the former Soviet states in Russia’s near-abroad. At a recent international conference, Soldatov and Borogan write, the Russian delegation pushed for Internet-based “sovereignty” protections which, when combined with the attempts to control social media in nominally independent Eastern European states, would amount to a kind of digital sphere of influence–something they plan to push for again at the next meeting of the G8. Soldatov and Borogan also raise the possibility that Putin will try to force companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google (mainly for its Gmail component) to host their Russian activities on Russian soil: “If this were to happen, such services would then be subject to local legislation and forced to build in backdoors for monitoring or manipulation by the secret services.”

Putin may be overestimating his ability to control Russia’s Internet or stay one step ahead of his savvy and spirited opposition. But he certainly hasn’t misread the West, which has done everything possible in the last few years to reinforce Putin’s sense of entitlement to a sphere of influence. If he can have such leeway on land, it’s no surprise he believes he can have such border control in cyberspace. Activists the world over will no doubt be paying close attention to whether the West will fold on this too.

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The Battle Over the Surge

In the past I’ve written about Walter Bagehot’s ability to understand the subtleties and ambiguities of public argument and the temptation commentators face to turn decisions into a zero-sum game, as if every policy is obvious and all the arguments line up on one side and none on the other.

My own experience is that things are quite different when you serve in the White House, when the decisions one faces are often complicated, when good arguments can be made on behalf of competing policies, and decisions have to be made on incomplete information based on uncertain assumptions.

An excellent illustration of what I have in mind can be found in this piece by Michael Gordon in Foreign Policy. Based on newly revealed transcripts, it presents the competing views in 2006 of the State Department and the National Security Council over the so-called surge strategy in Iraq.

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In the past I’ve written about Walter Bagehot’s ability to understand the subtleties and ambiguities of public argument and the temptation commentators face to turn decisions into a zero-sum game, as if every policy is obvious and all the arguments line up on one side and none on the other.

My own experience is that things are quite different when you serve in the White House, when the decisions one faces are often complicated, when good arguments can be made on behalf of competing policies, and decisions have to be made on incomplete information based on uncertain assumptions.

An excellent illustration of what I have in mind can be found in this piece by Michael Gordon in Foreign Policy. Based on newly revealed transcripts, it presents the competing views in 2006 of the State Department and the National Security Council over the so-called surge strategy in Iraq.

As Gordon puts it:

Much of the discussion … was dominated by [Secretary of State] Rice’s argument that the United States should abandon a strategy in which “nothing is going right” and instead focus on “core interests” like fighting al Qaeda and contesting Iranian influence. Instead of trying to stop the burgeoning sectarian violence, Rice suggested, the American military might concentrate on averting “mass killings” — attacks on the order of Srebrenica, the 1995 massacre in which more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed.

But [NSC Advisor Stephen] Hadley and his aides on the National Security Council were pushing in the opposite direction and making the case for sending more troops.

It’s now obvious that those who favored the surge were correct and those advocating the alternatives–whether withdrawal or a “light footprint” counterinsurgency or retreating to bases to “ride out” the sectarian violence–were not. Yet even those who believed at the time that the surge was clearly the correct strategy also had to concede that the arguments marshaled by Secretary Rice and her top aides were serious ones and worth taking into account. Were sectarian demons that had been unleashed now uncontainable? Were we beyond the point when no application of forces was likely to make a discernible difference? Had the Sadirist elements defeated the more moderate Shia ones?  

Which brings me to my second point. When asked by ABC’s William Lawrence to look back over the first two years of his presidency, John Kennedy said this:

I would say that the problems are more difficult than I had imagined them to be. The responsibilities placed on the United States are greater than I imagined them to be, and there are greater limitations upon our ability to bring about a favorable result than I had imagined them to be. And I think that is probably true of anyone who becomes President, because there is such a difference between those who advise or speak or legislate, and between the man who must select from the various alternatives proposed and say that this shall be the policy of the United States. It is much easier to make the speeches than it is to finally make the judgments, because unfortunately your advisers are frequently divided. If you take the wrong course, and on occasion I have, the President bears the burden of the responsibility quite rightly. The advisers may move on to new advice.  

It is in the nature of things that in America, the president is the individual who has to sort through competing counsel and decide which course of action to take. The surge was, as Gordon points out, a fateful one for George W. Bush, and in this instance Bush embraced a new war strategy in Iraq that required him to jettison the counsel of his most trusted foreign policy advisor (Secretary Rice, who eventually embraced the surge strategy), to say nothing of the views of most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General George W. Casey, Jr., then the commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq; John P. Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command; military analysts; the entire Democratic Party; much of the Republican Party; most of the foreign policy establishment; the Iraq Study Group; and public opinion. It was a remarkable moment in presidential leadership. 

It’s also fair to say, I think, that as much of the world seems to be spinning out of control–with ill-advised decisions by President Obama having undone many of the gains in Iraq and worrisome-to-ominous developments occurring in Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Georgia, North Korea, Mali, Sudan, Russia and elsewhere–President Bush’s successor is learning the hard way that it’s easier to make the speeches than it is to make the judgments.

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Obama’s Commendable Response to North Korea’s Threats

Give credit where it’s due: the Obama administration deserves praise for pursuing a hardline policy against North Korea–in fact a harder line than the Bush administration policy, at least in Bush’s second term.

In 2008, recall, the Bush administration–thanks to the misguided efforts of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and negotiator Chris Hill–announced an accord to lift some economic sanctions on North Korea and remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in return for unbelievable, and quickly abandoned, promises from Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. This was widely seen as a bid–similar to the ill-advised Annapolis conference she convened in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations–by Rice to land herself a Nobel Prize, or at least rack up some notable achievement, before she left office.

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Give credit where it’s due: the Obama administration deserves praise for pursuing a hardline policy against North Korea–in fact a harder line than the Bush administration policy, at least in Bush’s second term.

In 2008, recall, the Bush administration–thanks to the misguided efforts of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and negotiator Chris Hill–announced an accord to lift some economic sanctions on North Korea and remove it from the list of state sponsors of terrorism in return for unbelievable, and quickly abandoned, promises from Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. This was widely seen as a bid–similar to the ill-advised Annapolis conference she convened in an attempt to achieve a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations–by Rice to land herself a Nobel Prize, or at least rack up some notable achievement, before she left office.

Perhaps, then, it’s a good thing that Obama already got his Nobel because he doesn’t seem to feel compelled to engage in pointless outreach with North Korea. Instead, he continues to ratchet up sanctions and has even managed to get Chinese support at the United Nations for the latest round of sanctions. The fact that the North Korean regime is threatening in retaliation to erase the Korean War armistice and launch a preemptive nuclear attack on the U.S. is a sign that it is feeling the pressure.

The North Korean threats should not be taken lightly–as the sinking of a South Korean ship by a North Korean submarine in 2010 demonstrated, the North is capable of lashing out in unpredictable and deadly ways. But nor should the North’s threats deter its neighbors from continuing to increase the pressure on this criminal regime.

At the end of the day, third-generation dictator Kim Jong-un is not suicidal: He knows that launching an attack on the United States or a major assault on South Korea will result in the end of his regime. Nuclear weapons or not, North Korea’s antiquated military could not long survive a South Korean-American military offensive. Like his father and grandfather, Kim is only trying to gain concessions from the West by threatening us.

Obama deserves credit for hanging tough in the face of these continued North Korean provocations.

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Liberals and the Race Card

In response to the GOP opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice potentially being nominated to be secretary of state, liberals are doing what is by now second nature for many of them: playing the race card. Never mind that the opposition is based on the fact that Ambassador Rice misled (knowingly or not) the nation about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate. Never mind that Republicans who are critical of Ambassador Rice were supporters of Condoleezza Rice when she was nominated to be secretary of state and, before her, Colin Powell. Never mind the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is admired by many Republicans and most conservatives — and has been treated maliciously by the left.

Those facts don’t fit the libel, so they’re ignored.

The Susan Rice episode is part of a deeper malady. During the presidential campaign liberals time and again accused Republicans of being racists and of using “dog whistles.” They wanted to put African Americans “back in chains,” in the words of Vice President Biden. If a Republican criticized President Obama on his retreat on welfare work requirements, it was motivated by racism. It reached such absurd levels that some liberal commentators like Chris Matthews and John Heilemann argued that referring to Chicago was evidence of racism. (Mr. Heilemann has recently graduated to making gay jokes about Republican senators. Classy.)

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In response to the GOP opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice potentially being nominated to be secretary of state, liberals are doing what is by now second nature for many of them: playing the race card. Never mind that the opposition is based on the fact that Ambassador Rice misled (knowingly or not) the nation about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate. Never mind that Republicans who are critical of Ambassador Rice were supporters of Condoleezza Rice when she was nominated to be secretary of state and, before her, Colin Powell. Never mind the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is admired by many Republicans and most conservatives — and has been treated maliciously by the left.

Those facts don’t fit the libel, so they’re ignored.

The Susan Rice episode is part of a deeper malady. During the presidential campaign liberals time and again accused Republicans of being racists and of using “dog whistles.” They wanted to put African Americans “back in chains,” in the words of Vice President Biden. If a Republican criticized President Obama on his retreat on welfare work requirements, it was motivated by racism. It reached such absurd levels that some liberal commentators like Chris Matthews and John Heilemann argued that referring to Chicago was evidence of racism. (Mr. Heilemann has recently graduated to making gay jokes about Republican senators. Classy.)

About this I wanted to say a couple of things, the first of which is that the left in general — and MSNBC and the Congressional Black Caucus in particular — have used the charge so recklessly and promiscuously that it’s been drained of virtually any meaning. That’s terribly unfortunate, since at some point when the accusation fits, it won’t be nearly as potent as it should be. But to hear someone in politics accused of racism these days is more likely to elicit from a reasonable person a roll of the eyes than anything else. For some liberals, every Republican is George Wallace or Bull Connor. (Both men, by the way, were Democrats.)

My second observation is that I’m more inclined than in the past to believe that the left actually believes the charge. That is, in past years I felt like reflexively accusing conservatives of racism was a political weapon — a charge the left knew was false but which they thought might be politically advantageous. I’m now more of the view that those on the left actually view conservatives and Republicans as animated by malign intentions. For them, the personal is political. It’s not enough to disagree with Republicans; they cannot help but demonize those who hold views different than their own. Politics pits the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness. It is all very adolescent and very Manichean, and it is all quite harmful to politics.

This mindset exists among some on the right, to be sure, and where it does it should be confronted. But as a general matter conservatives tend to ascribe less cosmic importance to politics than do progressives. In any event, the bile that emanates from many liberal quarters is getting worse, not better. It is a consuming rage. And over time, it disfigures the heart and soul of those who are imprisoned by it.

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The Washington Post’s Dreams of Dixie

Criticism of UN Ambassador Susan Rice and opposition to her possible nomination as secretary of state has generally divided into two camps. One camp, concerned by Rice’s handling of the administration’s response to the Benghazi terrorist attack, in which she presented talking points officials knew were false, believes her role in the misdirection must be accounted for. In other words, this group of critics has focused on Rice’s professional responsibilities.

A second group agrees Rice isn’t the best choice for secretary of state, but has aimed its fire at Rice’s supposed personality flaws, attitude problems, career ambitions, and stories of craven political cynicism. In other words, it has made it personal. Liberal news outlets are up in arms over one of these two camps–and it isn’t the one you would think. The first camp includes John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as a group of about 100 Republican members of the House. The second includes Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. Yet the Washington Post editorial board published over the holiday weekend a shameful attack on the House Republicans, who had written a letter to President Obama urging him not to nominate Rice. The editors wrote:

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Criticism of UN Ambassador Susan Rice and opposition to her possible nomination as secretary of state has generally divided into two camps. One camp, concerned by Rice’s handling of the administration’s response to the Benghazi terrorist attack, in which she presented talking points officials knew were false, believes her role in the misdirection must be accounted for. In other words, this group of critics has focused on Rice’s professional responsibilities.

A second group agrees Rice isn’t the best choice for secretary of state, but has aimed its fire at Rice’s supposed personality flaws, attitude problems, career ambitions, and stories of craven political cynicism. In other words, it has made it personal. Liberal news outlets are up in arms over one of these two camps–and it isn’t the one you would think. The first camp includes John McCain and Lindsey Graham, as well as a group of about 100 Republican members of the House. The second includes Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. Yet the Washington Post editorial board published over the holiday weekend a shameful attack on the House Republicans, who had written a letter to President Obama urging him not to nominate Rice. The editors wrote:

Could it be, as members of the Congressional Black Caucus are charging, that the signatories of the letter are targeting Ms. Rice because she is an African American woman? The signatories deny that, and we can’t know their hearts. What we do know is that more than 80 of the signatories are white males, and nearly half are from states of the former Confederacy. You’d think that before launching their broadside, members of Congress would have taken care not to propagate any falsehoods of their own.

This follows the general belief of the mainstream media that criticism of the Obama administration is racist unless it is sexist, though in some cases it can be both. This, apparently, is such a case. William Jacobson has an important response to this editorial, reminding readers of the opposition to Condoleezza Rice’s nomination to serve as George W. Bush’s secretary of state, “which was led by former Klansman Robert Byrd.” Jacobson adds:

Rice, Condoleezza, received fewer favorable votes in her Secretary of State confirmation than any nominee in almost 25 years and more negative votes than any nominee in 180 years.  Twelve of the thirteen votes against Rice were from White Males, including the aforementioned former Klansman.

Jacobson also notes the explicitly race-based critiques of Condoleezza Rice, which have been absent in Susan Rice’s case. But actual racism isn’t necessary for the Washington Post editorial board to attempt to smear the names and careers of politicians it doesn’t like.

In addition to all of Jacobson’s points (and you should read his whole post), what the editors are suggesting is essentially that white (Republican) males refrain from criticizing non-white (non-Republican) non-males, or the WaPo will be back for them again. This is also revealing in and of itself. Though leftists often try to claim that Southern conservatives long en masse for the days of the Confederacy, it is the Washington Post that refuses to move on from those days.

To the Post, if you are from the South, your motivations are immediately suspect. If you are from the South, you don’t have quite the same right as others to engage in public debate.

This is not a particularly good sign for Susan Rice. Had her defenders been able to muster a case on her behalf, they would have presented it. Instead, they are conceding that she and the administration cannot be defended cogently in this case, but must be protected from criticism. Additionally, the Washington Post’s editorialists should consider reading the Washington Post (though I understand why they don’t). There, they’ll find liberal writers like Milbank whose criticism of Rice is personal rather than professional. Perhaps Milbank is not from the South, and therefore qualifies for the rights and privileges the Post has taken upon itself to award based on race, sex, and state of residence.

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It’s Time to Support Iranian Labor

I’ve been off-the-grid in South Carolina for a few days, so I missed this when it originally came out:

For weeks, a manifesto complaining about Iran’s stumbling economy circulated in secret among factories and workshops. Organizers asked for signatures and the pages began to fill up. In the end, some 10,000 names were attached to the petition addressed to Iran’s labor minister in one of the most wide-reaching public outcries over the state of the country’s economy… The rare protest document — described to The Associated Press this week by labor activists and others — suggests growing anxiety among Iran’s vast and potentially powerful working class….

One of the biggest missed opportunities of the George W. Bush administration—thanks in large part to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her policy planning staff—was the decision to ignore the rise of independent trade unions in Iran. Mansour Osanlou’s organization of the Vahid company’s bus drivers in 2005 really was Iran’s Lech Walesa-Gdansk-Solidarity moment. Obama’s team has been little better when it comes to organized labor in places like Iran, remaining silent as the regime’s crackdown accelerates. The Europeans are little better: I’ve had many a meeting with European social democrats and Green Party activists who perform intellectual somersaults to explain why they should not support Iranian workers struggling for the basic rights American workers have for decades, if not more than a century, taken for granted.

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I’ve been off-the-grid in South Carolina for a few days, so I missed this when it originally came out:

For weeks, a manifesto complaining about Iran’s stumbling economy circulated in secret among factories and workshops. Organizers asked for signatures and the pages began to fill up. In the end, some 10,000 names were attached to the petition addressed to Iran’s labor minister in one of the most wide-reaching public outcries over the state of the country’s economy… The rare protest document — described to The Associated Press this week by labor activists and others — suggests growing anxiety among Iran’s vast and potentially powerful working class….

One of the biggest missed opportunities of the George W. Bush administration—thanks in large part to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her policy planning staff—was the decision to ignore the rise of independent trade unions in Iran. Mansour Osanlou’s organization of the Vahid company’s bus drivers in 2005 really was Iran’s Lech Walesa-Gdansk-Solidarity moment. Obama’s team has been little better when it comes to organized labor in places like Iran, remaining silent as the regime’s crackdown accelerates. The Europeans are little better: I’ve had many a meeting with European social democrats and Green Party activists who perform intellectual somersaults to explain why they should not support Iranian workers struggling for the basic rights American workers have for decades, if not more than a century, taken for granted.

There is absolutely no reason why Washington should not support Iranian labor. Because Iran’s Supreme Leader believes that he is the deputy of the messiah on earth and that his sovereignty comes from God, he cares little for what the Iranian people think or what they suffer. But, if Iranian labor unions force the government to be more accountable to the people, then even better; Iranians tend to be far more moderate than their government. If labor discord sparks civil unrest that undercuts the regime’s grasp on power, then that is no reason to shed a tear.

Rather than turn his back on the Iranian people as President Obama did in 2009, perhaps it’s time to channel the current unrest into a real strategy to empower the Iranian people vis-à-vis the regime which has brought nothing but suffering down upon them.

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GOP Convention Lesson: Biography Matters

The electoral strategies of both the Republican and Democratic parties contain an element of identity politics, though generally of very different kinds. Republican identity politics usually centers on faith and a middle America culture distinct from the coastal elitism of the Democrats. The Democratic Party bases its electoral strategy more and more on race to the exclusion of almost anything else, though this year the Obama White House has conjured a “war on women” to highlight gender as well.

Republicans and conservatives often complain that the Democrats’ race-obsessed political outlook has two major faults: one, that candidates and voters are judged to an overwhelming degree on the color of their skin, and two, that when a member of a racial or ethnic minority group that usually votes Democratic becomes a high-profile Republican, the left seeks to destroy their career with unusual ferocity. (Think Miguel Estrada, Clarence Thomas.) But at the Republican National Convention this week conservatives saw just why the left’s identity politics can be so effective, and why they try so hard to tear down any dissenters: biography matters.

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The electoral strategies of both the Republican and Democratic parties contain an element of identity politics, though generally of very different kinds. Republican identity politics usually centers on faith and a middle America culture distinct from the coastal elitism of the Democrats. The Democratic Party bases its electoral strategy more and more on race to the exclusion of almost anything else, though this year the Obama White House has conjured a “war on women” to highlight gender as well.

Republicans and conservatives often complain that the Democrats’ race-obsessed political outlook has two major faults: one, that candidates and voters are judged to an overwhelming degree on the color of their skin, and two, that when a member of a racial or ethnic minority group that usually votes Democratic becomes a high-profile Republican, the left seeks to destroy their career with unusual ferocity. (Think Miguel Estrada, Clarence Thomas.) But at the Republican National Convention this week conservatives saw just why the left’s identity politics can be so effective, and why they try so hard to tear down any dissenters: biography matters.

Of the politicians who spoke this week, easily three of the most impressive were Condoleezza Rice, Marco Rubio, and Susana Martinez. Their values are conservative values, and their political outlooks consistent with the conservative movement’s message: America is a place where, thanks to freedom and free enterprise, anyone can succeed. But, as the Democrats learned with President Obama, when you have spokesmen for that vision who embody the potential for its greatest achievement, the words take on a heft they don’t possess when spoken by others.

So when the preternaturally likeable Martinez, the Republican governor of New Mexico who is also the country’s first Hispanic female governor, took the stage, she said: “Growing up, I never imagined a girl from a border town could one day become a governor. But this is America. Y, en America todo es possible.” It’s a simple message and one that American politicians repeat quite often (though not always in Spanish). But it meant a bit more coming from Martinez, who told a charming story about how little girls often see her in public places, stare, point, and finally run up to her and ask “Are you Susana?” and then hug her.

And when Condoleezza Rice said that “Ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement,” it was all the more powerful because she also said this:

And on a personal note—a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham–the most segregated big city in America–her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant–but they make her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, she can be president of the United States. And she becomes the secretary of state.

Rubio, as the son of Cuban immigrants and now a popular senator from Florida, often speaks about American Exceptionalism in the tone, and with the authority, of someone who is only standing before you because of that exceptionalism. Biography was a centerpiece of his address as well. He said:

A few years ago during a speech, I noticed a bartender behind a portable bar at the back of the ballroom. I remembered my father who had worked for many years as a banquet bartender. He was grateful for the work he had, but that’s not the life he wanted for us.

He stood behind a bar in the back of the room all those years, so one day I could stand behind a podium in the front of a room.

That journey, from behind that bar to behind this podium, goes to the essence of the American miracle — that we’re exceptional not because we have more rich people here. We’re special because dreams that are impossible anywhere else, come true here.

That’s not just my story. That’s your story. That’s our story.

That last bit is a particularly effective line, since the conservative movement has consistently stressed the fact that this country was founded on an idea, and it is that idea, rather than a common ethnic heritage, that produces a national identity.

Martinez recounted the story of when, before her campaign for district attorney, two Republicans invited her and her husband for lunch. Martinez knew they were going to try to convince her to join the Republican Party, but she didn’t take the idea seriously. They never asked her to switch parties—they didn’t have to. At the end of the conversation about a whole range of political issues, Martinez turned to her husband as they left and said, “I’ll be damned, we’re Republicans.”

That’s because the conservative message has broad appeal. But the convention seems to have shown that conservatives have realized how well that message translates across cultures, and the personal engagement that is sometimes necessary to get it across. The message doesn’t have to change, but sometimes the choice of messenger is just as important.

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After RNC Triumph, Whither Condi Rice?

Count me among the many who were wowed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant speech at the Republican National Convention last night. She didn’t just add a note of foreign policy gravitas to a convention that served up a seemingly endless roster of mid-level GOP figures riffing on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe. Rice’s address was as much about belief in the idea of America as it was about contemporary political disputes. She left the podium not only having won the hearts of the audience with her recollection of her own rise from a childhood in the segregated south to the heights of power but left a lot of her listeners wondering whether she was interested in a future run at the presidency and making comparisons to other great convention speeches in the past that were stepping-stones to the White House.

However, those so intoxicated by her rhetorical achievement that they are now pondering Rice’s future need to take a deep breath. It was a great speech and Rice has shown she can be a formidable surrogate for Mitt Romney or anyone else she chooses to support. But Rice is never going to be a viable presidential candidate. Nor is she likely to assume any post in a Romney administration. I can’t answer the question on so many tongues this morning about what it is that Condi Rice wants. Only she can do that. But a logical analysis of her prospects requires us to accept that whatever it is she aspires to, high political office isn’t likely to be in her future.

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Count me among the many who were wowed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s brilliant speech at the Republican National Convention last night. She didn’t just add a note of foreign policy gravitas to a convention that served up a seemingly endless roster of mid-level GOP figures riffing on President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” gaffe. Rice’s address was as much about belief in the idea of America as it was about contemporary political disputes. She left the podium not only having won the hearts of the audience with her recollection of her own rise from a childhood in the segregated south to the heights of power but left a lot of her listeners wondering whether she was interested in a future run at the presidency and making comparisons to other great convention speeches in the past that were stepping-stones to the White House.

However, those so intoxicated by her rhetorical achievement that they are now pondering Rice’s future need to take a deep breath. It was a great speech and Rice has shown she can be a formidable surrogate for Mitt Romney or anyone else she chooses to support. But Rice is never going to be a viable presidential candidate. Nor is she likely to assume any post in a Romney administration. I can’t answer the question on so many tongues this morning about what it is that Condi Rice wants. Only she can do that. But a logical analysis of her prospects requires us to accept that whatever it is she aspires to, high political office isn’t likely to be in her future.

Rice is an exceptional human being and when stacked up against the vast majority of politicians, she looks like she belongs in a higher league than the one in which garden variety governors, senators and members of Congress play. But she has never run for political office and those who believe she could parachute into a tough GOP presidential nomination fight are underestimating the difficulty of such a feat. She could certainly raise the money for such a race but it is difficult to imagine her spending 2015 (assuming Romney doesn’t win this fall) beating the bushes at Iowa county fairs three summers from now.

But even if she was willing to give up her comfortable life at Stanford University and other celebrity perks, like her new membership at the Augusta National Golf Club, as long as Rice is pro-choice on abortion, she has no chance of winning a Republican presidential nomination. This is something that was pointed out last month during the brief unrealistic boomlet seeking to promote her as a possible vice presidential nominee. Rice isn’t the only prominent Republican who supports abortion but the vast majority of those who vote in primaries are very much on the other side. It’s a handicap that would make a presidential quest on her part a pipe dream, especially when a 2016 race would probably include pro-life GOP stars like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie.

That’s a fact that Mitt Romney understood when he started on his seven-year-old quest for the presidency and one that others who fell by the wayside, like Rudolph Giuliani, would have to learn the hard way. Rice is too smart not to know this, so I can’t imagine her even trying.

As for lesser posts, it’s equally hard to see where she would fit in a future Romney administration. Having been secretary of state, it’s impossible to imagine she would take a lower level cabinet post or foreign policy job. Unless she wants another shot at running the State Department, which seems unlikely to me, she’s overqualified for any other position.

Nor do I find the speculation about her running for office in California very convincing. Having seen impressive Republican women like Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman fall short in that deep blue state, it’s hard to see why Rice would do any better.

The Republican Convention has served up an impressive slate of women speakers. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who had the difficult task of following Rice, was one. But though she may not have been as dazzling as Rice, she has a brighter political future simply because she fits into the mainstream of her party on abortion and other social issues.

Hard as it is for some pundits to admit, a good speech is sometimes just a stepping-stone to nothing other than opportunities to give other good speeches. While I was no fan of many of her policies at the State Department, Rice is a star and the Republicans are lucky to have her on their side. But it’s difficult to see any realistic scenario in which she can be said to have a political future.

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Condi Could KO Romney’s Jewish Appeal

Put me down as being among those who are highly skeptical about the prospect of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice being tapped to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. The media frenzy about the possibility is understandable but despite all the arguments weighing her possible impact on the general election, you really don’t have to go further than the impact of the issue of abortion. Simply put, Mitt Romney needs a united Republican Party and given the questions that were raised about whether he was a genuine conservative and his late conversion to the anti-abortion cause, the idea that he will pick someone who is pro-choice rather than pro-life seems utterly improbable.

As some wags pointed out during the prelude to the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision, covering a story like Romney’s vice presidential pick is like covering an election without opinion polls. Nobody knows what’s really going on except for Romney. Both Michael and Alana have discussed some of the problems that Rice would create for Romney. The list is already long but there’s one more point to be raised. If Romney is planning on taking advantage of President Obama’s questionable record on Israel in order to eat into the Democrats’ historic monopoly on the Jewish vote, Rice will make that task harder. During her tenure as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration, Rice consistently took stands that were viewed with suspicion by the pro-Israel community. Indeed, it could be said that during Bush’s last two years of office, which was the period during which was ascendant on foreign policy, Rice had reversed the president’s tilt toward Israel as she embarked upon another failed attempt to revive the peace process.

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Put me down as being among those who are highly skeptical about the prospect of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice being tapped to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. The media frenzy about the possibility is understandable but despite all the arguments weighing her possible impact on the general election, you really don’t have to go further than the impact of the issue of abortion. Simply put, Mitt Romney needs a united Republican Party and given the questions that were raised about whether he was a genuine conservative and his late conversion to the anti-abortion cause, the idea that he will pick someone who is pro-choice rather than pro-life seems utterly improbable.

As some wags pointed out during the prelude to the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision, covering a story like Romney’s vice presidential pick is like covering an election without opinion polls. Nobody knows what’s really going on except for Romney. Both Michael and Alana have discussed some of the problems that Rice would create for Romney. The list is already long but there’s one more point to be raised. If Romney is planning on taking advantage of President Obama’s questionable record on Israel in order to eat into the Democrats’ historic monopoly on the Jewish vote, Rice will make that task harder. During her tenure as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration, Rice consistently took stands that were viewed with suspicion by the pro-Israel community. Indeed, it could be said that during Bush’s last two years of office, which was the period during which was ascendant on foreign policy, Rice had reversed the president’s tilt toward Israel as she embarked upon another failed attempt to revive the peace process.

Rice, who seems cut from the “realist” school that was most comfortable during the presidency of the elder George Bush, was a persistent critic of Israel even once falsely comparing the plight of Palestinians to that of African-Americans prior to the Civil Rights era. Though the second President Bush had formally committed the United States to an endorsement of Israel’s right to hold onto various parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem in a peace accord in 2004, Rice seemed to distance herself from that pledge as she foolishly sought to revive the peace process despite a lack of interest in the idea on the part of the Palestinians. Slipping into the pattern that had been a keystone of U.S. foreign policy under both the first Bush and Bill Clinton, Rice seemed uninterested in holding the Palestinian Authority accountable for its behavior or even its rejection of the offer of a state that it got from Israel at the time of the Annapolis summit that she promoted.

Though Rice’s stands were not aimed at distancing the United States from Israel, as was the intent of President Obama’s constant fighting with Jerusalem prior to his current election-year Jewish charm offensive, she nevertheless developed a reputation as someone who was less committed to the alliance than her boss in the Oval Office.

Rice’s presence on the ticket will cost Romney far more evangelical votes than she could possibly lose in the Jewish community. Nevertheless, Rice will give Jewish Democrats a chance to fire back at Republicans who have been touting the contrast between Obama and Romney. Though Rice is a brilliant and accomplished woman whose personal story will be an inspiration to the country, she will diminish the chances that Romney will, as some expect, gain more Jewish votes than any Republican since Ronald Reagan. That’s not as nearly as important as the problems she will create with the conservative base of the Republican Party but it is one more reason to believe that the Rice boomlet isn’t real.

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Romney Considering Condi?

Yesterday morning, the idea that Condoleezza Rice was topping Mitt Romney’s VP list would have seemed wildly unlikely. It’s amazing what a Drudge scoop and banner headline can do in just a few short hours:

Late Thursday evening, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign launched a new fundraising drive, ‘Meet The VP’ — just as Romney himself has narrowed the field of candidates to a handful, sources reveal.

And a surprise name is now near the top of the list: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice!

The timing of the announcement is now set for “coming weeks.”

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Yesterday morning, the idea that Condoleezza Rice was topping Mitt Romney’s VP list would have seemed wildly unlikely. It’s amazing what a Drudge scoop and banner headline can do in just a few short hours:

Late Thursday evening, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign launched a new fundraising drive, ‘Meet The VP’ — just as Romney himself has narrowed the field of candidates to a handful, sources reveal.

And a surprise name is now near the top of the list: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice!

The timing of the announcement is now set for “coming weeks.”

Ann Romney did say her husband was considering a female candidate, though the initial assumption at the time was that she was referring to Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Sure, Condoleezza has come up in the VP speculation, but it never seemed like a serious consideration for either side. Plus, Condi shut down rumors pretty thoroughly late last month:

Rice told “CBS This Morning” she’s not interested in joining Romney, who has more than enough delegates to win the presidential nod at the party convention in Tampa.

Rice said, “I didn’t run for student council president. I don’t see myself in any way in elective office.”

Rice also said, “There is no way that I will do this because it’s really not me. I know my strengths and weaknesses.” She said Romney will pick a strong running mate and she’ll support the ticket.

That was a pretty straightforward rejection. But it’s always possible she could change her mind, a la Chris Christie.

At the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol stops short of endorsing the idea, but seems to think Condi’s a possibility:

Who’s the woman? It could be Kelly Ayotte or New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. But as much as I like both of them, I suspect Mitt Romney will see them as risky picks, lacking sufficient high-level government experience to unequivocally answer the question of whether they’d be qualified to take over. No, the woman Ann Romney likely has in mind is Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state.

Rice wowed the crowd—and seemed to impress Mitt Romney, who was standing beside her—when she spoke in a featured role at a Romney campaign event two weeks ago in Park City, Utah. Rice is qualified, would be a poised (if novice) candidate, and would complement Romney in terms of area of expertise, gender (obviously!), and life experience. Rice offers an unusual combination of being at once a reassuring pick (she served at the highest levels of the federal government for eight years) and an exciting one.

What’s more, while the other VP possibilities have decent but middling favorable/unfavorable ratings (and are mostly unknown), Rice’s favorable/unfavorable, according to a Rasmussen poll a couple of months ago, is a pretty staggering 66-24. Rice has said she’s not interested—but Dick Cheney said he wasn’t interested at this point in 2000.

There would be many benefits of choosing Rice (particularly the “exciting” but “reassuring” qualities that Kristol notes), but she also carries her own risks. She has little practice on the campaign trail, and Romney seems to want someone who is capable of campaigning independently. It’s hard to tell at this point if Rice is a serious consideration for Romney, or if this is a way to change the subject during a difficult week for the campaign.

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Reservations About Rice

Speculation that Governor Romney will choose Condoleezza Rice as his running mate is all the rage right now in Washington and among political reporters. Dr. Rice evidently gave a bang-up speech in Park City at a closed-door fundraising retreat. Rice is poised and articulate; a huge contrast to Vice President Joe Biden, who often lacks both qualities. She also adds diversity to the ticket, not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of life story; she has perhaps the most compelling life story next to that of President Obama himself.

Rice also has much experience at the senior levels of government, serving both as George W. Bush’s national security advisor and also his second term secretary of state. Whether Rice would bring electoral benefit is an open question, especially because she has not held elective office and it is questionable, therefore, whether Californians would consider her native enough to call their own simply based on her tenure at Stanford. Nevertheless, she has a demonstrated ability to charm the press, and that is a quality that should not be dismissed. Like Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, she used it to great effect during the internecine wars that plagued the George W. Bush administration.

Rice’s record should raise various questions about her suitability to be vice president. As national security advisor, she presided over one of the most chaotic National Security Councils in recent memory. The job of the National Security Council (NSC) is first to coordinate policy between various bureaucracies and second to define policy and enforce decisions when disputes occur within the administration. Rice was a poor administrator. The meetings she chaired ran like college seminars and seldom reached a conclusion. This led to policy chaos and polarization, especially during the Iraq conflict. Many of her colleagues—on both sides of the philosophical debate—speculated that she was hesitant to present the president with decision memos until she could divine his thoughts on an issue. Hence, she let basic issues like pre-war planning and questions about whether the Iraq campaign was simply to unseat Saddam or whether the U.S. would rebuild Iraq’s government slip until just weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

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Speculation that Governor Romney will choose Condoleezza Rice as his running mate is all the rage right now in Washington and among political reporters. Dr. Rice evidently gave a bang-up speech in Park City at a closed-door fundraising retreat. Rice is poised and articulate; a huge contrast to Vice President Joe Biden, who often lacks both qualities. She also adds diversity to the ticket, not only in terms of race and gender, but also in terms of life story; she has perhaps the most compelling life story next to that of President Obama himself.

Rice also has much experience at the senior levels of government, serving both as George W. Bush’s national security advisor and also his second term secretary of state. Whether Rice would bring electoral benefit is an open question, especially because she has not held elective office and it is questionable, therefore, whether Californians would consider her native enough to call their own simply based on her tenure at Stanford. Nevertheless, she has a demonstrated ability to charm the press, and that is a quality that should not be dismissed. Like Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, she used it to great effect during the internecine wars that plagued the George W. Bush administration.

Rice’s record should raise various questions about her suitability to be vice president. As national security advisor, she presided over one of the most chaotic National Security Councils in recent memory. The job of the National Security Council (NSC) is first to coordinate policy between various bureaucracies and second to define policy and enforce decisions when disputes occur within the administration. Rice was a poor administrator. The meetings she chaired ran like college seminars and seldom reached a conclusion. This led to policy chaos and polarization, especially during the Iraq conflict. Many of her colleagues—on both sides of the philosophical debate—speculated that she was hesitant to present the president with decision memos until she could divine his thoughts on an issue. Hence, she let basic issues like pre-war planning and questions about whether the Iraq campaign was simply to unseat Saddam or whether the U.S. would rebuild Iraq’s government slip until just weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

While Rice will be great at advocating for Romney’s record, behind the scenes she may once again sow the seeds of rebellion. Bush administration officials used to joke that Rice’s personnel picks represented 2004 Democratic challenger John Kerry’s farm team. She appointed a number of officials—Flynt Leverett, Hillary Mann, and Rand Beers, to name just a few—who may be very competent in their fields of expertise—but used the credibility gained from their perch in the Old Executive Office Building to work against the Bush agenda both privately and then publicly, often directly on behalf of Kerry.

So, Rice was not a great administrator, but the job of the vice president is not to run bureaucracy, so perhaps Romney will forgive her. He should, however, worry about her instincts given her lead on the North Korea issue. In the waning days of the Bush administration, with both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars going poorly, Rice was desperate to leave Bush with a foreign policy legacy about which he could brag. Somewhat arbitrarily, she chose North Korea to be that issue, and almost single handedly pushed reconciliation with North Korea through the bureaucracy, regardless of North Korean behavior. For example, she led the drive to lift North Korea’s state sponsor of terror designation, even though, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, Pyongyang was still aiding the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Hezbollah in Lebanon (where North Korean engineers have helped Hezbollah build their network of underground tunnels and arms caches). Like Madeleine Albright before her, Rice’s outreach to the Dear Leader was poorly conceived and motivated, and did little but to cede America’s strategic leverage and make North Korea more dangerous.

This election will not be about foreign policy. The repairs Romney will need to make to the American economy and defense must begin on day one. Rice is a talented individual, and her voice as a senior statesman is one that should be listened to, but her track record of management, while at the National Security Council, and her policy decisions while secretary of state are both topics which she has never adequately addressed.

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Mahmoud Abbas, Serial Liar

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith or to make peace with Israel since he succeeded the equally obdurate Yasir Arafat in 2004. He’s also been consistent in another way: he lies a lot. Abbas’s mendacity isn’t the garden-variety white lies, exaggerations and obfuscations that are the routine fare of American politicians. Instead, he is given to telling the barefaced lies we tend to associate with the heads of dictatorial regimes. Which is, of course, the sort of government the Palestinian Authority has more in common with than democratic systems such as that of Israel and the United States.

The latest example of this came in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel Two in which Abbas was reduced to claiming that some well-documented statements of his never actually happened. According to Abbas, he never discussed Israel’s offer to allow some Palestinian refugees into the country with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also claimed he never told respected Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl that he had no intention of negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That both of those figures can prove he did say those things goes without saying. But the point here is not just that Abbas is a liar, though that is exactly what he is. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture is such that Abbas knows he has no choice but to lie about these things. To do otherwise would place him in opposition to the overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to peace or to even the appearance of compromise with Israel.

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Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has consistently refused to negotiate in good faith or to make peace with Israel since he succeeded the equally obdurate Yasir Arafat in 2004. He’s also been consistent in another way: he lies a lot. Abbas’s mendacity isn’t the garden-variety white lies, exaggerations and obfuscations that are the routine fare of American politicians. Instead, he is given to telling the barefaced lies we tend to associate with the heads of dictatorial regimes. Which is, of course, the sort of government the Palestinian Authority has more in common with than democratic systems such as that of Israel and the United States.

The latest example of this came in an interview Saturday night with Israel’s Channel Two in which Abbas was reduced to claiming that some well-documented statements of his never actually happened. According to Abbas, he never discussed Israel’s offer to allow some Palestinian refugees into the country with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also claimed he never told respected Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl that he had no intention of negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That both of those figures can prove he did say those things goes without saying. But the point here is not just that Abbas is a liar, though that is exactly what he is. Rather, it is that Palestinian political culture is such that Abbas knows he has no choice but to lie about these things. To do otherwise would place him in opposition to the overwhelming sentiment of those opposed to peace or to even the appearance of compromise with Israel.

Abbas is, after all, in a difficult position. In order to maintain the pose of moderation he has cultivated with the West, he has had to engage in talks with American and even Israeli leaders and say things about peace terms that he wouldn’t dare mention to an Arab audience. But conversations such as the one Rice documented in her memoir are not the sort of thing he can admit. Doing so will weaken his already shaky popularity among Palestinians at a time when his Hamas rivals are seeking to poach on his West Bank fiefdom.

As for his controversial interview with Diehl, Abbas’s candor about his unwillingness to talk to Israel in 2009 was as much the fault of President Obama as it was the Palestinian’s intransigence. In those early months of the Obama presidency, the hostility of the new administration for Israel was palpable, and Abbas figured it made no sense for him to accept Netanyahu’s offers of talks. With the president trying to extract concessions from Israel without the Palestinians having to do anything in return, Abbas’s stance made sense, especially because he may have shared the delusion held by many in the White House and State Department they could topple the newly elected Netanyahu.

In retrospect, Abbas probably regrets thinking that Obama would hand Israel to him on a silver platter as much as the administration may (or at least should) regret banking on the PA be willing to take advantage of all the help they were trying to give. Thus, Abbas must lie about his talk with Diehl as well as his conversations with Rice.

But lest you think Abbas’s fibs are merely the function of diplomacy, elsewhere in the interview, Abbas played to his Palestinian base with another lie about the events of 1948. He claimed that nearly a million Arabs left the territory of Israel during the fighting and they now numbered five million, among whom he counts himself. In fact, the number he cites would have included almost the entire Arab population of the Palestinian Mandate at the time. Because almost 200,000 remained inside the territory of the new state of Israel and hundreds of thousands more remained in their homes in Gaza and the West Bank (which were illegally occupied by Egypt and Jordan), the numbers don’t add up.

Of course, Abbas has experience lying about numbers. His doctoral thesis claimed six million Jews were not killed during the Holocaust. What are a few lies about conversations with Rice and Diehl when compared to Holocaust denial?

If this is Israel’s peace partner, there’s no mystery about why the peace process has been dead in the water for years.

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Are We All Neocons Now?

Ministers being forced to resign. The army in the streets. Bloody clashes in major cities. The ruling party headquarters in ashes.

Events in Egypt have moved beyond the demonstration stage. This is a revolution in progress. Whether it is a successful revolution or not remains to be seen. From 1848 to 1989, there have been no end of uprisings that have been successfully repressed. Hosni Mubarak may still succeed in hanging on to power, although that’s looking less likely with every passing hour of street clashes.

But whatever happens, one thing is already clear: as Pete Wehner has already noted, President Bush was right in pushing his “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.

When he pushed for democratic change in the region, legions of know-it-all skeptics — including Barack Obama — scoffed. What business was it of America to comment on, much less try to change, other countries’ internal affairs? Why meddle with reliable allies? Wasn’t it the height of neocon folly to imagine a more democratic future for places like Iraq or Egypt?

Turns out that Bush knew a thing or two. He may not have been all that sophisticated by some standards, but like Ronald Reagan, he grasped basic truths that eluded the intellectuals. Reagan, recall, earned endless scorn for suggesting that the “evil empire” might soon be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” But he understood that basic human desires for freedom could not be repressed forever. Bush understood precisely the same thing, and like Reagan he also realized that the U.S. had to get on the right side of history by championing freedom rather than by cutting disreputable deals with dictators.

Too bad he didn’t have more success in pushing the “freedom agenda.” If he had — if, for example, he had been willing to hold back American aid to force Egypt to make liberal reforms — the U.S. might possibly have averted the explosion currently seen on the streets of Egypt by engineering a more orderly transition to democracy. But in his second term, humbled by setbacks in Iraq, Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, charted a different course. They did little or nothing while Mubarak locked up liberal dissident Ayman Nour. Instead, they concentrated their energies on the vaunted Middle East peace process, which ended in a predictable failure.

Obama has essentially continued this policy, which he — and legions of like-minded thinkers — sees as the height of “realism.” But what’s so realistic about endorsing a sclerotic status quo? The answer is being delivered in the streets of Egypt. So having already endorsed the essentials of the Bush war on terror, Obama is now belatedly embracing the freedom agenda too. Does that mean we’re all neocons now?

Ministers being forced to resign. The army in the streets. Bloody clashes in major cities. The ruling party headquarters in ashes.

Events in Egypt have moved beyond the demonstration stage. This is a revolution in progress. Whether it is a successful revolution or not remains to be seen. From 1848 to 1989, there have been no end of uprisings that have been successfully repressed. Hosni Mubarak may still succeed in hanging on to power, although that’s looking less likely with every passing hour of street clashes.

But whatever happens, one thing is already clear: as Pete Wehner has already noted, President Bush was right in pushing his “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.

When he pushed for democratic change in the region, legions of know-it-all skeptics — including Barack Obama — scoffed. What business was it of America to comment on, much less try to change, other countries’ internal affairs? Why meddle with reliable allies? Wasn’t it the height of neocon folly to imagine a more democratic future for places like Iraq or Egypt?

Turns out that Bush knew a thing or two. He may not have been all that sophisticated by some standards, but like Ronald Reagan, he grasped basic truths that eluded the intellectuals. Reagan, recall, earned endless scorn for suggesting that the “evil empire” might soon be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” But he understood that basic human desires for freedom could not be repressed forever. Bush understood precisely the same thing, and like Reagan he also realized that the U.S. had to get on the right side of history by championing freedom rather than by cutting disreputable deals with dictators.

Too bad he didn’t have more success in pushing the “freedom agenda.” If he had — if, for example, he had been willing to hold back American aid to force Egypt to make liberal reforms — the U.S. might possibly have averted the explosion currently seen on the streets of Egypt by engineering a more orderly transition to democracy. But in his second term, humbled by setbacks in Iraq, Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, charted a different course. They did little or nothing while Mubarak locked up liberal dissident Ayman Nour. Instead, they concentrated their energies on the vaunted Middle East peace process, which ended in a predictable failure.

Obama has essentially continued this policy, which he — and legions of like-minded thinkers — sees as the height of “realism.” But what’s so realistic about endorsing a sclerotic status quo? The answer is being delivered in the streets of Egypt. So having already endorsed the essentials of the Bush war on terror, Obama is now belatedly embracing the freedom agenda too. Does that mean we’re all neocons now?

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RE: Why Did Peace Talks Fail?

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

Jonathan, I agree that the failure of the year-long final status negotiations in 2008 demonstrates that even “moderate” Palestinian leaders are unable to make peace — even when given an offer that, as you write, was “unprecedented” and reflected a “terrible deal” from the standpoint of Israeli security and Jewish rights.

The New York Times article states Olmert recounts that his last meeting with Abbas occurred on September 16, 2008, at which time he presented his map to Abbas, told him to “take the pen and sign now,” argued he would “never get an offer that is fairer or more just,” and said Abbas was making a “historic mistake” if he didn’t sign on the spot. Abbas asked to meet the following day, then called and asked for a week postponement, and then never responded to Olmert’s offer and never met with Olmert again.

The Times notes that, by the time of the September 16 meeting, “Olmert was mired in corruption investigations” and “resigned days later.” It seems obvious that the Olmert offer was made by an Israeli prime minister on the verge of indictment, desperate to get a peace proposal signed within days, hoping it might change his political and legal fortunes. Condoleezza Rice urged the Palestinians to accept the Olmert offer, but they told her they doubted Olmert had the political influence to implement it, even though he would remain in office for months until new elections were held.

The following year, the Palestinians were offered new negotiations, with no preconditions, by Benjamin Netanyahu — the one Israeli prime minister with the stature necessary to assure political approval of any peace deal. They knew they would not get an offer from him as good as Olmert’s, since Netanyahu would insist on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and demilitarization arrangements that did not depend on third parties. But it would be an offer under the only conditions that could assure acceptance across the Israeli political spectrum.

And the Palestinians responded by refusing to negotiate, establishing preconditions and seeking pre-negotiation assurances of an even better offer than the dangerous one Olmert had made — and that they had failed to accept. But it is not likely they will receive even the Olmert offer again; given the circumstances under which it was made, they will not likely get the opportunity to miss that opportunity again.

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The Tragedy of Palestinian Democracy

Today is the second anniversary of the end of Mahmoud Abbas’s four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. He continues to play the role of “president” but is simply an unelected holdover, lacking the legitimacy to make the compromises necessary to produce a Palestinian state, even assuming he were willing to make them. It may be an appropriate day to reflect on the results of Palestinian democracy.

Abbas ran essentially unopposed in 2005, in an election held less than seven weeks after Yasir Arafat’s death. Hamas boycotted the election and Abbas’s principal Fatah opponent was unavailable, serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison. The seven-week electoral process merely put someone quickly in office whom the U.S. hoped would implement Phase I of the Roadmap by dismantling the terrorist groups and infrastructure — particularly since Israel had announced it would remove 21 settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank.

Condoleezza Rice said in 2005 that she raised the dismantlement obligation in every conversation with Abbas but understood his need to do it at the right time: “You don’t want him to go to dismantle Hamas and fail.” He assured her he would convince Hamas there should be only “one gun,” and she intimated that he told her privately he would dismantle Hamas with force if necessary. But it did not happen. In September 2005, a settlementrein Gaza was handed over to the Palestinian Authority and was transformed into Hamastan virtually from day one; four months later, elections were held for the Palestinian legislature, and the Palestinians elected Hamas, which later took over Gaza in a coup.

These days, an unelected West Bank “prime minister” is busy “building the institutions of a state.” He expects to be done by August. But the institutions do not include elections, which were canceled in July even for local councils on the West Bank. His principal activity consists of spending international aid for its intended purpose (contrary to what used to happen); he is essentially an official appointed by the international community to watch over the use of their funds, and is continually praised for his “transparency” — the basic job requirement for someone in that role. But an appointed person with no political party or electoral base, assigned to distribute funds, is hardly a “prime minister.”

We are not likely to see Palestinian elections in the foreseeable future: Hamas lacks a tradition honoring the peaceful transfer of power, and Fatah does not like elections held before their outcome is fixed. A month ago, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the cancellation of the West Bank elections was illegal, and the vast majority of Palestinians want them held. But the court lacks the power to enforce its decision, and the “prime minister” has not yet responded to the letter sent to him about holding elections in light of it. A recent poll found that Palestinians view both Gaza and the West Bank as an increasingly police state. The “institutions of a state” the prime minister is building do not include an empowered judiciary or a free electorate.

When the U.S. endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002, the endorsement was conditional: it depended on the Palestinians first building “a practicing democracy.” Nine years later, half the putative state is a terrorist enclave functioning as an Iranian proxy; the other half is a Potemkin democracy unable even to stage elections. The tragedy of Palestinian democracy is that the obstacle to a Palestinian state turned out to be the Palestinians themselves.

Today is the second anniversary of the end of Mahmoud Abbas’s four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority. He continues to play the role of “president” but is simply an unelected holdover, lacking the legitimacy to make the compromises necessary to produce a Palestinian state, even assuming he were willing to make them. It may be an appropriate day to reflect on the results of Palestinian democracy.

Abbas ran essentially unopposed in 2005, in an election held less than seven weeks after Yasir Arafat’s death. Hamas boycotted the election and Abbas’s principal Fatah opponent was unavailable, serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison. The seven-week electoral process merely put someone quickly in office whom the U.S. hoped would implement Phase I of the Roadmap by dismantling the terrorist groups and infrastructure — particularly since Israel had announced it would remove 21 settlements from Gaza and four from the West Bank.

Condoleezza Rice said in 2005 that she raised the dismantlement obligation in every conversation with Abbas but understood his need to do it at the right time: “You don’t want him to go to dismantle Hamas and fail.” He assured her he would convince Hamas there should be only “one gun,” and she intimated that he told her privately he would dismantle Hamas with force if necessary. But it did not happen. In September 2005, a settlementrein Gaza was handed over to the Palestinian Authority and was transformed into Hamastan virtually from day one; four months later, elections were held for the Palestinian legislature, and the Palestinians elected Hamas, which later took over Gaza in a coup.

These days, an unelected West Bank “prime minister” is busy “building the institutions of a state.” He expects to be done by August. But the institutions do not include elections, which were canceled in July even for local councils on the West Bank. His principal activity consists of spending international aid for its intended purpose (contrary to what used to happen); he is essentially an official appointed by the international community to watch over the use of their funds, and is continually praised for his “transparency” — the basic job requirement for someone in that role. But an appointed person with no political party or electoral base, assigned to distribute funds, is hardly a “prime minister.”

We are not likely to see Palestinian elections in the foreseeable future: Hamas lacks a tradition honoring the peaceful transfer of power, and Fatah does not like elections held before their outcome is fixed. A month ago, the Palestinian “High Court” ruled that the cancellation of the West Bank elections was illegal, and the vast majority of Palestinians want them held. But the court lacks the power to enforce its decision, and the “prime minister” has not yet responded to the letter sent to him about holding elections in light of it. A recent poll found that Palestinians view both Gaza and the West Bank as an increasingly police state. The “institutions of a state” the prime minister is building do not include an empowered judiciary or a free electorate.

When the U.S. endorsed a Palestinian state in 2002, the endorsement was conditional: it depended on the Palestinians first building “a practicing democracy.” Nine years later, half the putative state is a terrorist enclave functioning as an Iranian proxy; the other half is a Potemkin democracy unable even to stage elections. The tragedy of Palestinian democracy is that the obstacle to a Palestinian state turned out to be the Palestinians themselves.

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Debating the Middle East Debacle

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

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