Commentary Magazine


Topic: Condoleezza Rice

Explaining Foreign Policy Failures

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

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Basic Truths of the Peace Process

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that one reason he does not post more on the peace process is that “there isn’t actually much of a peace process on which to post.” He suggests the problem is that Netanyahu won’t tell his coalition the “basic truth” that a peace deal requires a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and won’t yet make a specific proposal for the borders of a Palestinian state.

In a prior post entitled “Why I’m Not Blogging About the Peace Process,” Goldberg had a more even-handed theory: Netanyahu cannot offer the Clinton Parameters, and Abbas cannot accept anything less. But that theory does not survive the account of the Annapolis process in George W. Bush’s memoirs, and Goldberg’s current theory is several basic truths short of a plan.

At the end of the year-long Annapolis negotiation, Abbas received an offer that was the equivalent of the Clinton Parameters: a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps) with a capital in Jerusalem. In his book, Bush writes that he “devised a process to turn the private offer into a public agreement”: Olmert would travel to Washington and deposit the proposal with him; Abbas would “announce that the plan was in line with Palestinian interests”; and Bush would call the leaders together to finalize the deal.

But Abbas declined the offer because he “didn’t want to make an agreement with a prime minister on his way out of office.” Condoleezza Rice has said she told Abbas he should accept the deal because it would be binding on a future Israeli prime minister even if Olmert could not complete it himself, but Abbas still declined. The Palestinians have thus rejected the Clinton Parameters twice – in 2001 and 2008 – and there is no evidence to support the theory that the current problem is a failure to offer them a third time – just as there is no evidence that a new construction moratorium, following a 10-month one that produced nothing, would produce anything.

The fundamental problem of the “peace process” is the inability of the Palestinian peace partner, currently in the 71st month of his 48-month term, controlling only half his putative state, to tell his public certain basic truths: there will be no Palestinian state unless there is a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish one; Israel will not be returning to the “Auschwitz lines” of 1967 but rather to defensible borders with an effective means to secure them; and there is not going to be a “right of return” to Israel in either principle or practice. We are still waiting for Abbas’s Bir Zeit speech.

Jeffrey Goldberg writes that one reason he does not post more on the peace process is that “there isn’t actually much of a peace process on which to post.” He suggests the problem is that Netanyahu won’t tell his coalition the “basic truth” that a peace deal requires a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and won’t yet make a specific proposal for the borders of a Palestinian state.

In a prior post entitled “Why I’m Not Blogging About the Peace Process,” Goldberg had a more even-handed theory: Netanyahu cannot offer the Clinton Parameters, and Abbas cannot accept anything less. But that theory does not survive the account of the Annapolis process in George W. Bush’s memoirs, and Goldberg’s current theory is several basic truths short of a plan.

At the end of the year-long Annapolis negotiation, Abbas received an offer that was the equivalent of the Clinton Parameters: a state on all of Gaza and the West Bank (after land swaps) with a capital in Jerusalem. In his book, Bush writes that he “devised a process to turn the private offer into a public agreement”: Olmert would travel to Washington and deposit the proposal with him; Abbas would “announce that the plan was in line with Palestinian interests”; and Bush would call the leaders together to finalize the deal.

But Abbas declined the offer because he “didn’t want to make an agreement with a prime minister on his way out of office.” Condoleezza Rice has said she told Abbas he should accept the deal because it would be binding on a future Israeli prime minister even if Olmert could not complete it himself, but Abbas still declined. The Palestinians have thus rejected the Clinton Parameters twice – in 2001 and 2008 – and there is no evidence to support the theory that the current problem is a failure to offer them a third time – just as there is no evidence that a new construction moratorium, following a 10-month one that produced nothing, would produce anything.

The fundamental problem of the “peace process” is the inability of the Palestinian peace partner, currently in the 71st month of his 48-month term, controlling only half his putative state, to tell his public certain basic truths: there will be no Palestinian state unless there is a Palestinian recognition of a Jewish one; Israel will not be returning to the “Auschwitz lines” of 1967 but rather to defensible borders with an effective means to secure them; and there is not going to be a “right of return” to Israel in either principle or practice. We are still waiting for Abbas’s Bir Zeit speech.

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Peace Through Self-Defenestration

In a New York Times op-ed entitled “For Once, Hope in the Middle East,” Martin Indyk argues that while “the commentariat is already dismissing [Obama’s] chances of reaching a peace agreement,” the “negotiating environment is better suited to peacemaking today than it has been at any point in the last decade.” Take security for example – no problem:

Security arrangements were all but settled in 2000 at Camp David before the talks collapsed. The increased threat of rocket attacks since then, among other developments, require the two sides to agree on stricter border controls and a robust third-party force in the Jordan Valley. But one year is ample time to resolve this.

The “increased threat of rocket attacks… among other developments” is Indyk’s diplomatic way of describing the two rocket wars waged on Israel from Lebanon and Gaza after it withdrew every soldier and settler from those areas. The all-but-settled arrangements in 2000 would not have worked, as Indyk implicitly acknowledges with his admission that arrangements would have to be “stricter” today.

But the key word in Indyk’s sunny description is his proposal for a “robust” third-party force. The word “robust” is a familiar term in Middle East diplomacy. It is the adjective commonly used to give meaning to an otherwise unimpressive noun. One might be skeptical of a third-party force, but a robust third-party force – that would be effective virtually by definition.

The most recent experience with a “robust” third-party force, however, might give one pause. In July 2006, 10 days into the Second Lebanon War, Condoleezza Rice told reporters she wanted a “robust” international military force to replace Hezbollah’s forces because a “cease-fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.” On Aug. 11, 2006, as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on Resolution 1701, she told Wolf Blitzer the force would have an “absolutely robust mandate.” In an Aug. 16 interview with Susan Page, who congratulated her on passage of the UN resolution, Rice noted the force’s “quite robust mandate, which is a really very robust mandate.”

We now know that the “robust” force turned into 15,000 de facto human shields for Hezbollah, which today has at least twice the number of rockets trained on Israel as before the insertion of the “robust” force.

Indyk ends his piece by quoting Shimon Peres that “history is like a horse that gallops past your window and the true test of statesmanship is to jump from that window onto the horse.” Indyk suggests it is time for Abbas and Netanyahu to take that “politically perilous leap.” Trying to leap out your window onto a galloping horse seems an apt metaphor for Indyk’s solution of a “robust” third-party force — particularly if you remember the last time Israel was persuaded to jump out the window.

In a New York Times op-ed entitled “For Once, Hope in the Middle East,” Martin Indyk argues that while “the commentariat is already dismissing [Obama’s] chances of reaching a peace agreement,” the “negotiating environment is better suited to peacemaking today than it has been at any point in the last decade.” Take security for example – no problem:

Security arrangements were all but settled in 2000 at Camp David before the talks collapsed. The increased threat of rocket attacks since then, among other developments, require the two sides to agree on stricter border controls and a robust third-party force in the Jordan Valley. But one year is ample time to resolve this.

The “increased threat of rocket attacks… among other developments” is Indyk’s diplomatic way of describing the two rocket wars waged on Israel from Lebanon and Gaza after it withdrew every soldier and settler from those areas. The all-but-settled arrangements in 2000 would not have worked, as Indyk implicitly acknowledges with his admission that arrangements would have to be “stricter” today.

But the key word in Indyk’s sunny description is his proposal for a “robust” third-party force. The word “robust” is a familiar term in Middle East diplomacy. It is the adjective commonly used to give meaning to an otherwise unimpressive noun. One might be skeptical of a third-party force, but a robust third-party force – that would be effective virtually by definition.

The most recent experience with a “robust” third-party force, however, might give one pause. In July 2006, 10 days into the Second Lebanon War, Condoleezza Rice told reporters she wanted a “robust” international military force to replace Hezbollah’s forces because a “cease-fire would be a false promise if it just returns us to the status quo.” On Aug. 11, 2006, as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on Resolution 1701, she told Wolf Blitzer the force would have an “absolutely robust mandate.” In an Aug. 16 interview with Susan Page, who congratulated her on passage of the UN resolution, Rice noted the force’s “quite robust mandate, which is a really very robust mandate.”

We now know that the “robust” force turned into 15,000 de facto human shields for Hezbollah, which today has at least twice the number of rockets trained on Israel as before the insertion of the “robust” force.

Indyk ends his piece by quoting Shimon Peres that “history is like a horse that gallops past your window and the true test of statesmanship is to jump from that window onto the horse.” Indyk suggests it is time for Abbas and Netanyahu to take that “politically perilous leap.” Trying to leap out your window onto a galloping horse seems an apt metaphor for Indyk’s solution of a “robust” third-party force — particularly if you remember the last time Israel was persuaded to jump out the window.

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What Obama Has Done Wrong in the Middle East

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

In a fascinating interview, former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, who oversaw George W. Bush’s Israel policy (remember — when we treated our ally with affection and respect?), details Obama’s errors regarding Israel (yes, it’s a lengthy interview), gives some insight into the Bush administration, and offers some predictions and suggestions. The program should be watched in full or the transcript read, but there are certain sections that are especially noteworthy.

Topping the list of Obama’s errors, Abrams explains, is the peace-process fixation:

First, I guess, and — and — most significant. They seem to think that peace between Israel and the Palestinians comes top-down. It is created someplace at a conference table in — in Taba or Camp David or Annapolis or Geneva. And that’s wrong. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be created between them, on the ground, in the real world. And it will depend on essentially what happens on the West Bank, on creating the institutions of Palestinian — self-government. And the fight against terrorism, I guess — critical things on the Palestinian side. So — concentrating on diplomacy, concentrating on the settlements is just wrong. That’s not what’s critical. What’s critical is what happens in the so — in the West Bank.

This leads to a glimpse inside the Bush White House:

I thought Annapolis was a mistake because — obviously, President Bush didn’t agree with me. I thought they were not going to reach an agreement. It seemed to me that — that if you look at the terms that were out there, neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders were ready to accept those terms. I thought we were putting the emphasis in the wrong place, again, on conferences and conference tables and flying flags and all, rather than on the pretty — undramatic but critically important work of building institutions on the ground.

(In a prior interview with the Jerusalem Post, Abrams made clear that Condoleezza Rice pushed for the peace process, failing to provide the president with a full array of options.) It is a candid admission that presidents of both parties have fallen prey to peace-process-itis – the ailment characterized by a deep aversion to candidly assessing reality. But unlike the current president, Bush, to his credit, did not make a settlement freeze the cornerstone of his policy or escalate the issue of Jerusalem:

Since 1967, Israel has been building in — the West Bank, at one point in Gaza. Of course, that’s over now. And in Jerusalem, which is under Israeli law, the capital of Israel. It’s not occupied territory. In the Bush Administration, we reached a kind of agreement with Israel, under which they would build up and in but not out in the settlements.

In other words, no more land would be taken. The idea was, let’s not disadvantage the Palestinians by taking — an olive grove or a road.  And let’s not create a new issue for final settle — status talks someday.  If you want to build for more people to live in the middle of a settlement, fine. That doesn’t hurt Palestinians. I thought the Obama administration would accept that deal.

But Bush’s successor trashed that agreement and embarked on a new tactic: bullying Israel and trying to topple Bibi. (Abrams speculates: “It’s a reasonable theory that he thought, ‘We’ll continue to escalate the tension. Sooner or later, this coalition in Israel will crack.’”)

Abrams also takes a look at Iran, assessing the chance of an Israeli military action at “above 50-50. I think they really mean it when they say an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Britain, France, England, Germany, the US, China, Russia, everybody says unacceptable. I don’t think we really mean unacceptable. I think we really mean not good. I think the Israelis mean unacceptable.” The interview took place before the UN sanctions deal, and Abrams correctly predicted that we would not obtain the kind of sanctions needed to deter the mullahs from pursuing their nuclear plans.

What impact on the U.S. would result from the failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear? “[I]t is a threat to the American position in the entire Middle East and therefore in the entire world. American’s strategic credibility is deeply damaged, I think, if after all these speeches we’ve given, we let them get a nuclear weapon.”

Since Obama is plainly not getting those crippling sanctions. what would Abrams advise? In addition to an all-out effort to bolster the Green Movement, he invokes John McCain’s 2008 campaign line:

“The only thing worse than bombing Iran is an Iranian bomb.” I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon. I would favor an American or Israeli use of force to prevent that regime from getting a nuclear weapon.

In private, many self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish state voice the same views as those of Abrams. When will they pipe up?

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Middle East Peace Talks: What Changed in the Last Two Years?

The announcement that the so-called “proximity” talks started up today is, as Noah wrote earlier today, a “victory” of some sort for President Obama because the existence of such talks allows the president to pretend that he is advancing the cause of peace.

However, American friends of Israel might well note the difference between the current negotiations and the last round of (unsuccessful) talks held between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. Like the current talks, those negotiations were also strongly backed by the United States, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to sincerely believe that the process started in Annapolis in the fall of 2007 had a reasonable chance of success. The Palestinians proved her wrong. At that time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the PA a state in Gaza, the West Bank, and part of Jerusalem and even agreed, to the dismay of most Israelis, to take back some Palestinian refugees into Israel as well as to share sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem. But the answer from the moderate Mahmoud Abbas and his likeable Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was no different from that given to Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton by Yasser Arafat when they offered a similar package in 2000 and 2001: no!

But then, at least, the parties were speaking directly to each other. Not passing messages to each other via intermediaries as bored middle-school students do. And as much as the United States made it very clear to the Israelis that America wanted them to make even more concessions to the Arabs than ever before (a wish that was readily granted by Olmert), the United States did not offer the Palestinians a veto over the existence of the talks. Neither did it take a stand on a critical final-status issue that prejudiced Israel’s negotiating position in such a way as to render any discussions on the matter largely moot.

But that’s exactly what the United States has done by allowing the Palestinians to avoid talks until a building freeze was put into place on Jewish housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. By treating these neighborhoods, most of which are nearly 40 years old, as indistinguishable from “settlements” in outlying areas of the West Bank, the Obama administration has signaled that it views the more than 200,000 Jews who live in those neighborhoods with the same contempt as it views the settlers in the West Bank. By making an issue out of building in these areas, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to concede them to Israel even in a theoretical final-status agreement. Thus any house, even privately built in one of those neighborhoods, now becomes a U.S.-endorsed rationale for the Palestinians to pull out of talks that they had no interest in to begin with.

The ultimate fate of these negotiations is no mystery. Just as was the case in 2008, even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded everything that his American and domestic critics demand, there is virtually no chance that Abbas will sign any paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state. In that sense, the 2010 talks are no different from the 2008 version. But the administration’s undermining of Israel’s position will make it easier for the Palestinians to blame their refusal to make peace on the Israelis. And for that, they have Barack Obama to thank.

The announcement that the so-called “proximity” talks started up today is, as Noah wrote earlier today, a “victory” of some sort for President Obama because the existence of such talks allows the president to pretend that he is advancing the cause of peace.

However, American friends of Israel might well note the difference between the current negotiations and the last round of (unsuccessful) talks held between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority in 2008. Like the current talks, those negotiations were also strongly backed by the United States, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to sincerely believe that the process started in Annapolis in the fall of 2007 had a reasonable chance of success. The Palestinians proved her wrong. At that time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the PA a state in Gaza, the West Bank, and part of Jerusalem and even agreed, to the dismay of most Israelis, to take back some Palestinian refugees into Israel as well as to share sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem. But the answer from the moderate Mahmoud Abbas and his likeable Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was no different from that given to Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton by Yasser Arafat when they offered a similar package in 2000 and 2001: no!

But then, at least, the parties were speaking directly to each other. Not passing messages to each other via intermediaries as bored middle-school students do. And as much as the United States made it very clear to the Israelis that America wanted them to make even more concessions to the Arabs than ever before (a wish that was readily granted by Olmert), the United States did not offer the Palestinians a veto over the existence of the talks. Neither did it take a stand on a critical final-status issue that prejudiced Israel’s negotiating position in such a way as to render any discussions on the matter largely moot.

But that’s exactly what the United States has done by allowing the Palestinians to avoid talks until a building freeze was put into place on Jewish housing in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. By treating these neighborhoods, most of which are nearly 40 years old, as indistinguishable from “settlements” in outlying areas of the West Bank, the Obama administration has signaled that it views the more than 200,000 Jews who live in those neighborhoods with the same contempt as it views the settlers in the West Bank. By making an issue out of building in these areas, Obama has made it impossible for the Palestinians to concede them to Israel even in a theoretical final-status agreement. Thus any house, even privately built in one of those neighborhoods, now becomes a U.S.-endorsed rationale for the Palestinians to pull out of talks that they had no interest in to begin with.

The ultimate fate of these negotiations is no mystery. Just as was the case in 2008, even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded everything that his American and domestic critics demand, there is virtually no chance that Abbas will sign any paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state. In that sense, the 2010 talks are no different from the 2008 version. But the administration’s undermining of Israel’s position will make it easier for the Palestinians to blame their refusal to make peace on the Israelis. And for that, they have Barack Obama to thank.

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Waiting for “Isratine”

In Monday’s Washington Post, Jackson Diehl reminds us of what the true stumbling block is on the road to peace. Referring to Condoleezza Rice’s peace efforts during George W. Bush’s second term, he has this to say:

Eventually, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed plan for a final settlement — one that, in its concessions to Palestinian demands, went beyond anything either Israel or the United States had ever put forward. Among other things it mandated a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem and would have allowed 10,000 refugees to return to Israel. That’s when Rice learned another lesson the new administration seems not to have picked up: This Palestinian leadership has trouble saying “yes.” Confronted with a draft deal that would have been cheered by most of the world, Abbas balked. He refused to sign on; he refused to present a counteroffer. Rice and Bush implored him to join Olmert at the White House for a summit. Olmert would present his plan to Bush, and Abbas would say only that he found it worth discussing. The Palestinian president refused.

Three times in the past 10 years, the Palestinians were presented with comprehensive peace proposals that would establish a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza, would put its internationally recognized capital in Arab Jerusalem, would offer a solidly funded, reasonable and dignified solution to the refugee issue, and would put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all. First, it was Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposal. Then it was the Clinton Parameters. Then it was Olmert’s peace plan. Each time, confronted with an Israeli prime minister who was ready, pen in hand, to put his name on the dotted line and face the fury and discontent of part of his political constituency to take a risky peace gamble, Palestine’s acclaimed peace seekers — Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas — walked away.

This history alone should encourage U.S. and European leaders to recognize that the burden of proof, when it comes to peace credentials and readiness for compromise, is on the Palestinian side, not the Israeli one. But history lessons and Aristotelian logic do not always intersect.

For one thing, the Palestinians have learned that every time they say no, sooner or later pressure will be brought to bear on Israel, and a new offer — better than the previous one — will be coming their way. Meanwhile, their tireless efforts to undermine, isolate, delegitimize, and demonize Israel in the international arena strengthen their bargaining position over time and enable them to expect more for less.

This, incidentally, offers at least a partial answer to David Hazony’s post from the other day, when my colleague was understandably puzzled about a growing support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. Why would a national movement give up its dream and settle for such a solution? After all, the Palestinians never seriously entertained this notion when a handful of Jewish intellectuals were toying with the idea in the 1930s and early 1940s. Brith Shalom and Ihud, the two small organizations that counted Yehuda Magnes and Martin Buber in their ranks, after all, not only could not get traction within the Yishuv — they never even got a single Arab leader interested in discussing their vision of a bi-national state for the Palestine Mandate, where Jews would forever be relegated to the role of a minority.

Clearly, the difference is that, back then, the Zionist movement was weak, its staying power in Palestine was questionable, its backing from Britain was waning, and its reservoir of support in Europe’s Jewish Diaspora under mortal threat of annihilation. Why would the Palestinians concede little when they believed — as they certainly did then — that they could have it all?

History offers some reckoning and what looked like a flight of fancy in the mid-1930s is more attractive today. A bi-national state is actually more promising than a nation-state, at least for Palestinian intellectuals, not so much because it would force them to renounce their aspirations but because it would keep their nationalist dream alive — a dream whereby, as Professor Fouad Ajami once so artfully put it, “there still lurks in the Palestinian and Arab imagination a view, depicted by the Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui, that “on a certain day, everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled.” Arafat knew the power of this redemptive idea. He must have reasoned that it is safer to ride that idea, and that there will always be another day and another offer.”

Little by little, the sands are shifting in the Middle East — or rather, in the perception of the Middle East as seen from Western capitals. Why sign on the dotted line when more pressure will be brought to bear on Israel? Why agree to end the conflict when Israel’s legitimacy is eroded day by day, with its traditional allies ready to do less and less to support the Jewish state? Why not embrace the rhetoric of a bi-national state — in the silly spirit of our irresponsible age — where you can plan the destruction of your adversary and make it look like a human-rights crusade?

A bi-national state is just a stage to redress the balance of power between the two conflicting national claims. It would not be the end of the story though but the beginning of another chapter where the Zionist movement would be stripped of its national symbols, its power to control immigration, and its ability to define national security exclusively in the name of the Jewish people. Meanwhile, the keys to the Middle East’s most prosperous economy and most powerful army would have to be handed over to the Palestinians for power-sharing. It would be a stage on the way to fulfilling the dream of obliterating the consequences of the last century of Middle East history.

Fanciful? Maybe, but if you take the long view of history, and the mismatch between the reality of a small shoe-box-size Palestinian state and the dream of a whole “Isratine” is unbearable, it makes perfect sense.

In Monday’s Washington Post, Jackson Diehl reminds us of what the true stumbling block is on the road to peace. Referring to Condoleezza Rice’s peace efforts during George W. Bush’s second term, he has this to say:

Eventually, Olmert presented Abbas with a detailed plan for a final settlement — one that, in its concessions to Palestinian demands, went beyond anything either Israel or the United States had ever put forward. Among other things it mandated a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem and would have allowed 10,000 refugees to return to Israel. That’s when Rice learned another lesson the new administration seems not to have picked up: This Palestinian leadership has trouble saying “yes.” Confronted with a draft deal that would have been cheered by most of the world, Abbas balked. He refused to sign on; he refused to present a counteroffer. Rice and Bush implored him to join Olmert at the White House for a summit. Olmert would present his plan to Bush, and Abbas would say only that he found it worth discussing. The Palestinian president refused.

Three times in the past 10 years, the Palestinians were presented with comprehensive peace proposals that would establish a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza, would put its internationally recognized capital in Arab Jerusalem, would offer a solidly funded, reasonable and dignified solution to the refugee issue, and would put an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all. First, it was Ehud Barak’s Camp David proposal. Then it was the Clinton Parameters. Then it was Olmert’s peace plan. Each time, confronted with an Israeli prime minister who was ready, pen in hand, to put his name on the dotted line and face the fury and discontent of part of his political constituency to take a risky peace gamble, Palestine’s acclaimed peace seekers — Yassir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas — walked away.

This history alone should encourage U.S. and European leaders to recognize that the burden of proof, when it comes to peace credentials and readiness for compromise, is on the Palestinian side, not the Israeli one. But history lessons and Aristotelian logic do not always intersect.

For one thing, the Palestinians have learned that every time they say no, sooner or later pressure will be brought to bear on Israel, and a new offer — better than the previous one — will be coming their way. Meanwhile, their tireless efforts to undermine, isolate, delegitimize, and demonize Israel in the international arena strengthen their bargaining position over time and enable them to expect more for less.

This, incidentally, offers at least a partial answer to David Hazony’s post from the other day, when my colleague was understandably puzzled about a growing support for a one-state solution among Palestinians. Why would a national movement give up its dream and settle for such a solution? After all, the Palestinians never seriously entertained this notion when a handful of Jewish intellectuals were toying with the idea in the 1930s and early 1940s. Brith Shalom and Ihud, the two small organizations that counted Yehuda Magnes and Martin Buber in their ranks, after all, not only could not get traction within the Yishuv — they never even got a single Arab leader interested in discussing their vision of a bi-national state for the Palestine Mandate, where Jews would forever be relegated to the role of a minority.

Clearly, the difference is that, back then, the Zionist movement was weak, its staying power in Palestine was questionable, its backing from Britain was waning, and its reservoir of support in Europe’s Jewish Diaspora under mortal threat of annihilation. Why would the Palestinians concede little when they believed — as they certainly did then — that they could have it all?

History offers some reckoning and what looked like a flight of fancy in the mid-1930s is more attractive today. A bi-national state is actually more promising than a nation-state, at least for Palestinian intellectuals, not so much because it would force them to renounce their aspirations but because it would keep their nationalist dream alive — a dream whereby, as Professor Fouad Ajami once so artfully put it, “there still lurks in the Palestinian and Arab imagination a view, depicted by the Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui, that “on a certain day, everything would be obliterated and instantaneously reconstructed and the new inhabitants would leave, as if by magic, the land they had despoiled.” Arafat knew the power of this redemptive idea. He must have reasoned that it is safer to ride that idea, and that there will always be another day and another offer.”

Little by little, the sands are shifting in the Middle East — or rather, in the perception of the Middle East as seen from Western capitals. Why sign on the dotted line when more pressure will be brought to bear on Israel? Why agree to end the conflict when Israel’s legitimacy is eroded day by day, with its traditional allies ready to do less and less to support the Jewish state? Why not embrace the rhetoric of a bi-national state — in the silly spirit of our irresponsible age — where you can plan the destruction of your adversary and make it look like a human-rights crusade?

A bi-national state is just a stage to redress the balance of power between the two conflicting national claims. It would not be the end of the story though but the beginning of another chapter where the Zionist movement would be stripped of its national symbols, its power to control immigration, and its ability to define national security exclusively in the name of the Jewish people. Meanwhile, the keys to the Middle East’s most prosperous economy and most powerful army would have to be handed over to the Palestinians for power-sharing. It would be a stage on the way to fulfilling the dream of obliterating the consequences of the last century of Middle East history.

Fanciful? Maybe, but if you take the long view of history, and the mismatch between the reality of a small shoe-box-size Palestinian state and the dream of a whole “Isratine” is unbearable, it makes perfect sense.

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And the World Nods

If someone were to ask you to compose the most unlikely beginning for a story from the French news agency AFP it might go something like this:

World leaders, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on Thursday hailed Baghdad’s progress in combating violence and stabilising Iraq.

A declaration adopted by 100 delegations at a Stockholm conference said the participants “recognised the important efforts made by the (Iraqi) government to improve security and public order and combat terrorism and sectarian violence across Iraq.”

It also acknowledged political and economic progress made, and said that “given the difficult context, these successes are all the more remarkable.”

At least, that would have been a good try. The three paragraphs above are taken from a story put out today by AFP.

The piece goes on, rightly, to note the fragility of such progress. But the larger point is critical: Iraq, long written off as an unsalvageable disaster, is being officially recognized for its “remarkable” progress. And by whom? The UN and other world leaders whose respect we had supposedly squandered. The only people who need convincing that Iraq has seen extraordinary political progress are the Democrats who’ve hitched themselves to the anti-Bush bandwagon. If a Democrat makes it into the White House and is still so interested in world opinion, he or she may have to finally acknowledge that Iraq has changed. They wouldn’t want to “reinforce the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time.”

If someone were to ask you to compose the most unlikely beginning for a story from the French news agency AFP it might go something like this:

World leaders, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on Thursday hailed Baghdad’s progress in combating violence and stabilising Iraq.

A declaration adopted by 100 delegations at a Stockholm conference said the participants “recognised the important efforts made by the (Iraqi) government to improve security and public order and combat terrorism and sectarian violence across Iraq.”

It also acknowledged political and economic progress made, and said that “given the difficult context, these successes are all the more remarkable.”

At least, that would have been a good try. The three paragraphs above are taken from a story put out today by AFP.

The piece goes on, rightly, to note the fragility of such progress. But the larger point is critical: Iraq, long written off as an unsalvageable disaster, is being officially recognized for its “remarkable” progress. And by whom? The UN and other world leaders whose respect we had supposedly squandered. The only people who need convincing that Iraq has seen extraordinary political progress are the Democrats who’ve hitched themselves to the anti-Bush bandwagon. If a Democrat makes it into the White House and is still so interested in world opinion, he or she may have to finally acknowledge that Iraq has changed. They wouldn’t want to “reinforce the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time.”

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Bush on Iran

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney plan on bombing Iran before the end of Bush’s term. “[A] senior official” claims that while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been hesitant to come on board, Hezbollah’s advances in Lebanon have demonstrated Iran’s increasing influence and thus hastened a potential American attack.

Without much else to go on, it’s helpful to look at George W. Bush’s language when speaking about the Iranian threat. There are some startling similarities between the words he used while addressing the Knesset last week and the anti-terrorism declarations he made before the Iraq War.

From last week’s Knesset address:

Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

From Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address:

We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.

Does the excerpt from last week’s address signal a Bush’s re-commitment to his 2002 pledge? Only time will tell. With continued military and political gains in Iraq, the U.S. is in a better position to weigh its options with regard to Iran. Which is why we may see an increased Iranian effort to derail progress in Mesopotamia. All the more reason to keep in mind that now, as in 2002, “time is not on our side.”

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney plan on bombing Iran before the end of Bush’s term. “[A] senior official” claims that while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been hesitant to come on board, Hezbollah’s advances in Lebanon have demonstrated Iran’s increasing influence and thus hastened a potential American attack.

Without much else to go on, it’s helpful to look at George W. Bush’s language when speaking about the Iranian threat. There are some startling similarities between the words he used while addressing the Knesset last week and the anti-terrorism declarations he made before the Iraq War.

From last week’s Knesset address:

Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

From Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address:

We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.

Does the excerpt from last week’s address signal a Bush’s re-commitment to his 2002 pledge? Only time will tell. With continued military and political gains in Iraq, the U.S. is in a better position to weigh its options with regard to Iran. Which is why we may see an increased Iranian effort to derail progress in Mesopotamia. All the more reason to keep in mind that now, as in 2002, “time is not on our side.”

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Broadcasting Obama

Barack Obama supporters often argue that a black U.S. president, such as Obama, will be welcomed by the world as a sign of American­ progress and inclusiveness, a signal to all nations that the U.S. is open to the talents and contributions of diverse peoples. But the idea that the rest of the world shares Americans’ faith in redemption through diversity is itself an unwitting exercise in American solipsism. The perception of the globe as a collection of integrated, post-racial states just speaks to Americans’ capacity to see the entire world as a reflection of our values and standards.

Is it an accident that the rest of the Western world has yet to produce anything approaching a black head of state? In France, for example, only one of approximately 600 members of Parliament is a member of a racial minority. England fares slightly better with fifteen out of 645. Germany’s largest minority, ethnic Turks, make up ten percent of the population, yet they hold less than one percent of the seats in Parliament. Spain’s number are worse than any of the above. Italy is poised to appoint as deputy prime minister a man from the racist Northern League party, who once said that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding [in the World Cup] niggers, Muslims and communists.”

As you read this, Europe grows less tolerant still, with far-right nationalists making their way to higher and higher office. Still, Europe is a hippie musical compared to Asia and Africa, where ethnic and religious segregation is not only institutional, but fatal. Moving east to west: There are frequent, sometimes deadly, clashes between Hui Muslims and Han Chinese. Throughout the Arab world, racism against blacks is rampant, and in Mauritania pockets of Arab-on-black chattel slavery still exist. Then backtrack a little to the Levant. In 2006, when Condoleezza Rice was on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East, the daily Palestinian Authority periodical, Al Hayat Al Jadida consistently referred to her in racist terms and ran a cartoon of the Secretary of State pregnant with a monkey.

Yet Jimmy Carter, who’s made the Palestinian cause his pet project, insists that, in the eyes of the world, Barack Obama “will bring to the presidency a brand new picture of what the White House and Washington and the United States ought to be.” And he’s not alone. The refrain is constant.

With Obama’s nomination a lock, there’s been increasing discussion of what his Presidency might produce. Time and again, conversation comes back to this question of a black president and America’s image abroad. Yet, no one can name a single country that isn’t ages behind the U.S. in terms of diversity and integration. The notion that there’s a soft and cuddly world just waiting for America to catch up is not “global consciousness” but the very opposite: it is an American fantasy born of prosperity and isolation. If neoconservatives are criticized for their arrogance in assuming the universality of American ideals, how will Obama supporters of this stripe answer similar charges?

Barack Obama supporters often argue that a black U.S. president, such as Obama, will be welcomed by the world as a sign of American­ progress and inclusiveness, a signal to all nations that the U.S. is open to the talents and contributions of diverse peoples. But the idea that the rest of the world shares Americans’ faith in redemption through diversity is itself an unwitting exercise in American solipsism. The perception of the globe as a collection of integrated, post-racial states just speaks to Americans’ capacity to see the entire world as a reflection of our values and standards.

Is it an accident that the rest of the Western world has yet to produce anything approaching a black head of state? In France, for example, only one of approximately 600 members of Parliament is a member of a racial minority. England fares slightly better with fifteen out of 645. Germany’s largest minority, ethnic Turks, make up ten percent of the population, yet they hold less than one percent of the seats in Parliament. Spain’s number are worse than any of the above. Italy is poised to appoint as deputy prime minister a man from the racist Northern League party, who once said that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding [in the World Cup] niggers, Muslims and communists.”

As you read this, Europe grows less tolerant still, with far-right nationalists making their way to higher and higher office. Still, Europe is a hippie musical compared to Asia and Africa, where ethnic and religious segregation is not only institutional, but fatal. Moving east to west: There are frequent, sometimes deadly, clashes between Hui Muslims and Han Chinese. Throughout the Arab world, racism against blacks is rampant, and in Mauritania pockets of Arab-on-black chattel slavery still exist. Then backtrack a little to the Levant. In 2006, when Condoleezza Rice was on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East, the daily Palestinian Authority periodical, Al Hayat Al Jadida consistently referred to her in racist terms and ran a cartoon of the Secretary of State pregnant with a monkey.

Yet Jimmy Carter, who’s made the Palestinian cause his pet project, insists that, in the eyes of the world, Barack Obama “will bring to the presidency a brand new picture of what the White House and Washington and the United States ought to be.” And he’s not alone. The refrain is constant.

With Obama’s nomination a lock, there’s been increasing discussion of what his Presidency might produce. Time and again, conversation comes back to this question of a black president and America’s image abroad. Yet, no one can name a single country that isn’t ages behind the U.S. in terms of diversity and integration. The notion that there’s a soft and cuddly world just waiting for America to catch up is not “global consciousness” but the very opposite: it is an American fantasy born of prosperity and isolation. If neoconservatives are criticized for their arrogance in assuming the universality of American ideals, how will Obama supporters of this stripe answer similar charges?

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Bad News on North Korea

This has not been a good few weeks for the North Korean nuclear accord, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apparently hopes will be one of her signature achievements. First came word that Pyongyang would not deliver the full and complete listing of its nuclear activities that had previously been agreed to. The State Department, desperate to clinch a deal, would not allow this blatant noncompliance to sink the agreement.

Now comes word, via this Wall Street Journal report, that the intelligence community will confirm for Congress what is already widely suspected–that the Syrian site bombed last September by Israel was a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor being built by North Korea. This helps to explain why North Korea is unwilling to provide a full rundown on its nuclear proliferation activities-and makes it harder for the State Department to defend its cherished treaty.

While these may seem like setbacks, they are actually an opportunity to press North Korea for full and complete, Libyan-style disarmament if it hopes to reap all of the promised goodies (such as shipments of fuel). The accession of a new, more conservative leader in South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, makes this a better bet since he eschews the appeasement of his predecessors (known as the “sunshine policy”) and favors a tougher approach to North Korean human-rights and nuclear-proliferation violations. The question is whether Lee’s more hawkish stance will clash with the dovish approach of the Bush administration’s second term.

This has not been a good few weeks for the North Korean nuclear accord, which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice apparently hopes will be one of her signature achievements. First came word that Pyongyang would not deliver the full and complete listing of its nuclear activities that had previously been agreed to. The State Department, desperate to clinch a deal, would not allow this blatant noncompliance to sink the agreement.

Now comes word, via this Wall Street Journal report, that the intelligence community will confirm for Congress what is already widely suspected–that the Syrian site bombed last September by Israel was a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor being built by North Korea. This helps to explain why North Korea is unwilling to provide a full rundown on its nuclear proliferation activities-and makes it harder for the State Department to defend its cherished treaty.

While these may seem like setbacks, they are actually an opportunity to press North Korea for full and complete, Libyan-style disarmament if it hopes to reap all of the promised goodies (such as shipments of fuel). The accession of a new, more conservative leader in South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, makes this a better bet since he eschews the appeasement of his predecessors (known as the “sunshine policy”) and favors a tougher approach to North Korean human-rights and nuclear-proliferation violations. The question is whether Lee’s more hawkish stance will clash with the dovish approach of the Bush administration’s second term.

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The Mirage

What if Condoleezza Rice came to Jerusalem, and nobody cared?

When you have been watching the peace process for enough years, you start to wonder whether anything is ever serious. So here was Rice asking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for confidence-building measures, accordingly he announced the removal of 50 West Bank roadblocks and several key checkpoints, leaving the Secretary of State “amazed.” Yet on the same day, he also announced the resumption of building in major settlement blocs, in flat contradiction to his previous commitments.

So Condi is trying to make sure President Bush has some points scored in advance of his upcoming visit to Israel, and Olmert is trying to make sure that both Labor and Shas stay in his government. Does anybody care whether these actions actually mean anything? Whether the removal of roadblocks will result in (a) the significant easing of Palestinian life, (b) the significant facilitating of terrorist activity, with its attendant innocents butchered, or (c) both? Has anyone followed up on whether last fall’s Annapolis bonanza amounted to anything, or what the expansion of settlements means for future borders? Why does this all feel so ephemeral?

Put another way: This story seems to have no point, no thesis, other than its own telling. I’m not saying that nothing real can happen in Middle East diplomacy: The Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, and the withdrawal from Gaza — all these things were real, for better or worse. But all of them required extremely dedicated movers, people with a vision, and the guts, political savvy, and wherewithal to carry it out.

Our situation is different: Nobody on either side of the fence really thinks Israel and the PA–which anyway represents only West Bank Palestinians now–are likely to reach any kind of meaningful peace agreement in the next year. Nor does anyone think that the present Israeli government is capable of implementing all the oft-avowed “painful concessions” such a deal would entail. Olmert is no Begin or Sharon. He is, instead, the man who brought you Lebanon II, probably the most inconclusive war in Middle East history. Nor is Bush really looking for dramatic achievements which can backfire on the electoral side and land his successor with a still-deeper mess. This is a dance of shadows, a mirage.

What if Condoleezza Rice came to Jerusalem, and nobody cared?

When you have been watching the peace process for enough years, you start to wonder whether anything is ever serious. So here was Rice asking Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for confidence-building measures, accordingly he announced the removal of 50 West Bank roadblocks and several key checkpoints, leaving the Secretary of State “amazed.” Yet on the same day, he also announced the resumption of building in major settlement blocs, in flat contradiction to his previous commitments.

So Condi is trying to make sure President Bush has some points scored in advance of his upcoming visit to Israel, and Olmert is trying to make sure that both Labor and Shas stay in his government. Does anybody care whether these actions actually mean anything? Whether the removal of roadblocks will result in (a) the significant easing of Palestinian life, (b) the significant facilitating of terrorist activity, with its attendant innocents butchered, or (c) both? Has anyone followed up on whether last fall’s Annapolis bonanza amounted to anything, or what the expansion of settlements means for future borders? Why does this all feel so ephemeral?

Put another way: This story seems to have no point, no thesis, other than its own telling. I’m not saying that nothing real can happen in Middle East diplomacy: The Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, and the withdrawal from Gaza — all these things were real, for better or worse. But all of them required extremely dedicated movers, people with a vision, and the guts, political savvy, and wherewithal to carry it out.

Our situation is different: Nobody on either side of the fence really thinks Israel and the PA–which anyway represents only West Bank Palestinians now–are likely to reach any kind of meaningful peace agreement in the next year. Nor does anyone think that the present Israeli government is capable of implementing all the oft-avowed “painful concessions” such a deal would entail. Olmert is no Begin or Sharon. He is, instead, the man who brought you Lebanon II, probably the most inconclusive war in Middle East history. Nor is Bush really looking for dramatic achievements which can backfire on the electoral side and land his successor with a still-deeper mess. This is a dance of shadows, a mirage.

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The Wrong Concessions

President Bush is again “optimistic” that Israeli-Palestinian peace can be finalized during the remaining months of his presidency. For Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this can only mean one thing: more photo-ops with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with massive frequent-flyer miles accumulating in the process. But yesterday, Rice finally complemented her shuttling with diplomatic results, winning a set of concessions from Israel that are intended to ease Palestinian livelihoods and create conditions that are ripe for peace.

I’m dubious regarding the potential for economic progress to translate into Palestinian support for the peace process-particularly in the short timeframe with which the Bush administration is working. That said, insofar as the goal is to improve the West Bank economy, many of the measures to which Israel agreed are sensible, if not long overdue. These include the decision to raise the number of Palestinian businessmen permitted into Israel to 1,500; issuing 5,000 additional work permits for Palestinian laborers; building new housing for Palestinians in 25 villages; and supporting large-scale economic development programs.

But the most essential concessions to which Israel agreed make little sense. These include decisions to dismantle one permanent roadblock and remove fifty travel barriers around Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya, and Ramallah. Israel has long maintained that these checkpoints critically bolster its security, stemming the flow of terrorists and weapons among the West Bank’s most contentious cities. Yet in agreeing to dissemble these barriers on account of political considerations, Israel is discrediting its own claims regarding the security-relevance of its West Bank policies. Moreover, on account of its decreased ability to monitor movement within the West Bank in the absence of a reliable Palestinian security force, Israel may face a decline in security.

Make no mistake: a further decline in Israeli security would be the final nail in the Annapolis coffin-a disaster for the Bush administration. Indeed, if the Annapolis “process” aims for the realization of a two-state solution-a long-held U.S. interest-anything that might validate the occupation as necessary for Israeli security should be immediately removed from the table. It is for this reason that I have viewed the cessation of Israeli settlement activity as a more reasonable Israeli concession for the Bush administration to demand: halting construction would have no negative security consequences for Israel, and would represent clear progress towards drawing the line in the sand that Israeli-Palestinian peace will require.

In this vein, Israel’s agreement to connect Palestinian villages to its power grid is downright regressive. Again, if the goal remains a two-state solution-in which Palestine is an autonomous entity-why would Rice press for the Palestinians to become more reliant on Israel for their needs? Indeed, if Israel’s recent experience in Gaza should teach policymakers anything, it’s that territorial concessions must aim to absolve Israel of responsibility for those territories entirely.

In short, once again, Rice has failed to meet U.S. policy objectives with narrowly tailored policies. For this reason, the Annapolis “process” remains a hopeless exercise, in which optimism trumps reality.

President Bush is again “optimistic” that Israeli-Palestinian peace can be finalized during the remaining months of his presidency. For Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this can only mean one thing: more photo-ops with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with massive frequent-flyer miles accumulating in the process. But yesterday, Rice finally complemented her shuttling with diplomatic results, winning a set of concessions from Israel that are intended to ease Palestinian livelihoods and create conditions that are ripe for peace.

I’m dubious regarding the potential for economic progress to translate into Palestinian support for the peace process-particularly in the short timeframe with which the Bush administration is working. That said, insofar as the goal is to improve the West Bank economy, many of the measures to which Israel agreed are sensible, if not long overdue. These include the decision to raise the number of Palestinian businessmen permitted into Israel to 1,500; issuing 5,000 additional work permits for Palestinian laborers; building new housing for Palestinians in 25 villages; and supporting large-scale economic development programs.

But the most essential concessions to which Israel agreed make little sense. These include decisions to dismantle one permanent roadblock and remove fifty travel barriers around Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya, and Ramallah. Israel has long maintained that these checkpoints critically bolster its security, stemming the flow of terrorists and weapons among the West Bank’s most contentious cities. Yet in agreeing to dissemble these barriers on account of political considerations, Israel is discrediting its own claims regarding the security-relevance of its West Bank policies. Moreover, on account of its decreased ability to monitor movement within the West Bank in the absence of a reliable Palestinian security force, Israel may face a decline in security.

Make no mistake: a further decline in Israeli security would be the final nail in the Annapolis coffin-a disaster for the Bush administration. Indeed, if the Annapolis “process” aims for the realization of a two-state solution-a long-held U.S. interest-anything that might validate the occupation as necessary for Israeli security should be immediately removed from the table. It is for this reason that I have viewed the cessation of Israeli settlement activity as a more reasonable Israeli concession for the Bush administration to demand: halting construction would have no negative security consequences for Israel, and would represent clear progress towards drawing the line in the sand that Israeli-Palestinian peace will require.

In this vein, Israel’s agreement to connect Palestinian villages to its power grid is downright regressive. Again, if the goal remains a two-state solution-in which Palestine is an autonomous entity-why would Rice press for the Palestinians to become more reliant on Israel for their needs? Indeed, if Israel’s recent experience in Gaza should teach policymakers anything, it’s that territorial concessions must aim to absolve Israel of responsibility for those territories entirely.

In short, once again, Rice has failed to meet U.S. policy objectives with narrowly tailored policies. For this reason, the Annapolis “process” remains a hopeless exercise, in which optimism trumps reality.

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Russia to the West: Please Don’t Defend Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Talking Around Each Other

If anything positive can be said about Vice-President Dick Cheney’s visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, it’s that Cheney perfectly matched expectations with outcomes. Indeed, Cheney’s visit was minimally anticipated and catalyzed zero progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Most disturbingly, the Vice-President’s presence exposed a widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian priorities relevant to the Annapolis “process,” as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seemingly addressed two entirely different realities in their meetings with Cheney. On one hand, Olmert spoke of Israel’s priorities primarily in regional terms: during his press conference with Cheney on Saturday, Olmert barely mentioned the Palestinians, neatly tucking a reference to peace negotiations among statements regarding Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Abbas limited his priorities to the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, decrying Israeli settlement expansion as a barrier to peace. Moreover, while both leaders expressed their frustration with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets emanating from Gaza, their strategies for addressing Hamas appeared irreconcilable: Olmert hinted that he would seek an affirmation of U.S. support for Israeli operations against the rockets, while Abbas denounced Israel’s “military escalation against Gaza.”

If the Bush administration wishes to follow its optimistic Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric with meaningful progress, bridging this gap must be a priority. It should begin by reminding Olmert that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations—which aim to strengthen Abbas at the expense of Hamas—provide one critical means for undermining Iranian ascendancy. In this vein, the administration should take a tougher line against Israel’s ongoing settlement activity, which contradicts Olmert’s previous promises to halt construction and is mutually exclusive with the Bush administration’s desire to establish a Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side, the administration must remind Abbas that another “national unity” attempt with Hamas—which will provide Hamas yet another window of “calm” for rearming and further consolidating its power—is mutually exclusive with ending the occupation. In this vein, the administration should closely follow the Yemeni-sponsored Hamas-Fatah negotiations, which could facilitate the end of Abbas’ reign as Washington’s great Palestinian hope.

Of course—as I’ve long argued—success in the Annapolis “process” remains highly improbable, beset by weak leaders, a lack of commitment to resolving the conflict’s substantive issues, and the disinterest of key regional players. Yet the Bush administration has invested heavily in promoting it, including through recent visits by the President and Vice-President, as well as rounds of shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. With barely nine months remaining in office, the administration will have to address both sides’ strategic concerns more directly—and thereby bridge the widening gap between them—if it hopes to receive any bang for this substantial diplomatic buck. Indeed, when the parties openly talk around each other in the presence of the Vice-President, the entire American peace enterprise—with its repetitive calls on leaders to make “tough decisions”—looks like a complete sham.

If anything positive can be said about Vice-President Dick Cheney’s visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, it’s that Cheney perfectly matched expectations with outcomes. Indeed, Cheney’s visit was minimally anticipated and catalyzed zero progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Most disturbingly, the Vice-President’s presence exposed a widening gap between Israeli and Palestinian priorities relevant to the Annapolis “process,” as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seemingly addressed two entirely different realities in their meetings with Cheney. On one hand, Olmert spoke of Israel’s priorities primarily in regional terms: during his press conference with Cheney on Saturday, Olmert barely mentioned the Palestinians, neatly tucking a reference to peace negotiations among statements regarding Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Abbas limited his priorities to the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, decrying Israeli settlement expansion as a barrier to peace. Moreover, while both leaders expressed their frustration with the continuous barrage of Qassam rockets emanating from Gaza, their strategies for addressing Hamas appeared irreconcilable: Olmert hinted that he would seek an affirmation of U.S. support for Israeli operations against the rockets, while Abbas denounced Israel’s “military escalation against Gaza.”

If the Bush administration wishes to follow its optimistic Israeli-Palestinian rhetoric with meaningful progress, bridging this gap must be a priority. It should begin by reminding Olmert that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations—which aim to strengthen Abbas at the expense of Hamas—provide one critical means for undermining Iranian ascendancy. In this vein, the administration should take a tougher line against Israel’s ongoing settlement activity, which contradicts Olmert’s previous promises to halt construction and is mutually exclusive with the Bush administration’s desire to establish a Palestinian state. On the Palestinian side, the administration must remind Abbas that another “national unity” attempt with Hamas—which will provide Hamas yet another window of “calm” for rearming and further consolidating its power—is mutually exclusive with ending the occupation. In this vein, the administration should closely follow the Yemeni-sponsored Hamas-Fatah negotiations, which could facilitate the end of Abbas’ reign as Washington’s great Palestinian hope.

Of course—as I’ve long argued—success in the Annapolis “process” remains highly improbable, beset by weak leaders, a lack of commitment to resolving the conflict’s substantive issues, and the disinterest of key regional players. Yet the Bush administration has invested heavily in promoting it, including through recent visits by the President and Vice-President, as well as rounds of shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. With barely nine months remaining in office, the administration will have to address both sides’ strategic concerns more directly—and thereby bridge the widening gap between them—if it hopes to receive any bang for this substantial diplomatic buck. Indeed, when the parties openly talk around each other in the presence of the Vice-President, the entire American peace enterprise—with its repetitive calls on leaders to make “tough decisions”—looks like a complete sham.

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The Real Challenge of the Century

“The defining challenge of the 21st century will be to face the reality that humanity shares a common fate on a crowded planet,” writes Jeffrey Sachs in the current issue of Time. “We are, in short, in one another’s faces as never before, crowded into an interconnected society of global trade, migration, ideas and, yes, risk of pandemic diseases, terrorism, refugee movements and conflict.” Sachs’s essay, entitled “Common Wealth,” leads off the magazine’s cover story, “10 Ideas That Are Changing the World.”

Sachs, to his credit, wants the world to change so that humankind is free to realize its potential. Because he thinks everyone should cooperate, he needs the help of virtually every national government on the planet. Therefore, it is not surprising that the exuberant economist ignores the most destructive scourge plaguing humanity at this time: bad governance, especially totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Nowhere in his Time essay does Sachs talk about oppression as a barrier to the critical goals he lists.

That’s an enormous omission, but if I may, I’ll skip all the good words about democratic institutions and get to the point. It is not just Sachs who is naive. Americans and others in the West seem to have lost their will to oppose oppressors. The commonly held view is that, with globalization, we can all get along and work toward the same solutions. This is, after all, the guiding view of Condoleezza Rice, who seems willing to ignore most any uncooperative act committed by China or Russia these days, in the name of diplomatic amity.

So far, her approach has not resulted in making any situation better. Détente did not win the Cold War. We conducted a grim, decades-long struggle with totalitarian societies. Today, confronting authoritarianism is passé and Sachs’s one-world cooperation is fashionable.

Democracies may not always do the right thing at first about pandemic diseases, terrorism, or refugee movements, to name just some of the problems that rightly trouble Sachs, but democracy is the starting point for all enduring solutions. And he is right that we all share a single fate at this moment. That’s why everyone should have some say in what the world does to meet universal challenges. Yet many today cannot express their views while dictators, authoritarians, and rogues are allowed to determine what their subjects say, think, and do.

So, Professor Sachs, if you want to accomplish worthy goals, join us in opposing repression. It is the first order of business for humanity and the defining challenge of this century.

“The defining challenge of the 21st century will be to face the reality that humanity shares a common fate on a crowded planet,” writes Jeffrey Sachs in the current issue of Time. “We are, in short, in one another’s faces as never before, crowded into an interconnected society of global trade, migration, ideas and, yes, risk of pandemic diseases, terrorism, refugee movements and conflict.” Sachs’s essay, entitled “Common Wealth,” leads off the magazine’s cover story, “10 Ideas That Are Changing the World.”

Sachs, to his credit, wants the world to change so that humankind is free to realize its potential. Because he thinks everyone should cooperate, he needs the help of virtually every national government on the planet. Therefore, it is not surprising that the exuberant economist ignores the most destructive scourge plaguing humanity at this time: bad governance, especially totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Nowhere in his Time essay does Sachs talk about oppression as a barrier to the critical goals he lists.

That’s an enormous omission, but if I may, I’ll skip all the good words about democratic institutions and get to the point. It is not just Sachs who is naive. Americans and others in the West seem to have lost their will to oppose oppressors. The commonly held view is that, with globalization, we can all get along and work toward the same solutions. This is, after all, the guiding view of Condoleezza Rice, who seems willing to ignore most any uncooperative act committed by China or Russia these days, in the name of diplomatic amity.

So far, her approach has not resulted in making any situation better. Détente did not win the Cold War. We conducted a grim, decades-long struggle with totalitarian societies. Today, confronting authoritarianism is passé and Sachs’s one-world cooperation is fashionable.

Democracies may not always do the right thing at first about pandemic diseases, terrorism, or refugee movements, to name just some of the problems that rightly trouble Sachs, but democracy is the starting point for all enduring solutions. And he is right that we all share a single fate at this moment. That’s why everyone should have some say in what the world does to meet universal challenges. Yet many today cannot express their views while dictators, authoritarians, and rogues are allowed to determine what their subjects say, think, and do.

So, Professor Sachs, if you want to accomplish worthy goals, join us in opposing repression. It is the first order of business for humanity and the defining challenge of this century.

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Rice’s Misplaced Priorities

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

Barely three months after the entire Arab world allegedly united around Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Bush administration is struggling to keep its Annapolis “process” relevant. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will embark on yet another trip to Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, aiming to calm the crisis in Gaza that has postponed Israeli-Palestinian talks indefinitely.

As usual, the odds are stacked against Rice. In the past five days, over 100 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, while Hamas has added to its Qassam rocket repertoire, firing longer-range Iranian-made Grad rockets at Ashkelon. Meanwhile, pro-western Arab states that supported peace at Annapolis are backing Hamas: Jordan has accused Israel of a “flagrant violation” of international law, while Saudi Arabia has compared Israel’s offensive to Nazi war crimes.

Indeed, a diplomatic breakthrough at this moment is so unlikely as to beg the question: why is Rice even bothering? After all, insofar as the current fighting in Gaza will likely be confined to the strip, relatively few strategic interests are at stake. In this vein, Egypt has reportedly doubled its Rafah border troops and permitted only four injured Palestinians to cross into Sinai amidst the fighting, while Hamas’ call for 50,000 Palestinians to breach the Erez crossing and storm into Israel failed miserably.

Yet the same cannot be said of the ongoing presidential crisis in Beirut, where the implications will likely be felt beyond Lebanon’s borders. For starters, Syria has been widely accused of interfering with Lebanon’s political process. Meanwhile, Hezbollah—which has stalled negotiations and demanded veto power in the next cabinet—has turned its attention abroad in the wake of Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination. In recent weeks, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has declared preparations for another war with Israel, while an al-Manar correspondent was recently arrested in Morocco planning attacks against Jewish targets with an al-Qaeda offshoot.

To its credit, the Bush administration recognizes the potential for Lebanon’s crisis to extend beyond Lebanon. On Thursday, the administration announced that the USS Cole would be stationed off the Lebanese coast to warn Syria against further interferences. The move further pressed Hezbollah, with Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah acknowledging, “We are facing an American threat against Lebanon.”

Yet if the Bush administration is to translate this military maneuver into a political victory, it must undertake a serious diplomatic campaign to shore up support for the pro-western Lebanese majority while its adversaries feel threatened. Within the region, such support clearly exists: on Monday, Egypt and Saudi Arabia separately blamed the Asad regime for the political crisis, while Kuwait has announced the deportation of foreigners who mourned for Mughniyeh.

Given the urgency of the situation in Lebanon and potential opportunities for advancing U.S. policy in this theater, Rice’s focus on the Israeli-Palestinian arena during her upcoming trip is severely misplaced. While Middle East peace would be the Holy Grail of any diplomat’s legacy, Rice’s failure to meaningfully pursue diplomatic channels regarding Lebanon might give her a very different legacy. Indeed, if Hezbollah follows through on its rhetoric while Israel battles Hamas in Gaza, it will mark the second two-front Arab-Israeli war of Rice’s tenure.

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Yet Another Dialogue with China

This week, China agreed to resume its human rights dialogue with the United States.   Beijing broke off the discussions in 2004 after Washington sponsored a U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution attacking the Chinese government’s record.  “We are willing to have exchanges and interactions with the U.S. and other countries on human rights on a basis of mutual respect, equality and non-interference in each others’ internal affairs,” said Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, after meeting with Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday in the Chinese capital.

China has, off and on, maintained human rights “dialogues” with about a dozen nations.  Beijing always acts as if its participation in these discussions is a favor to the international community, but they actually benefit Chinese autocrats.  The dialogues permit them to maintain the appearance of progress without having to make concessions of any lasting significance.

China, under President Hu Jintao, is suffering under a crackdown that has now lasted a half decade.  The political system in 2008 is more repressive than it was in 1998.  And there is even less room today for political discussion than in 1988.  The Communist Party, incredibly, is moving backward.

This regression coincides with China’s drive to host the Olympics.  In 2001, at China’s final presentation before the International Olympic Committee’s vote, Liu Qi, the head of the country’s bid committee, said “I want to say that the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games will have the following special features: They will help promote our economic and social progress and will also benefit the further development of our human rights cause.”  It has not worked out that way, however.  As Robin Munro, a veteran human rights campaigner, noted this week, the Chinese government has made a “mockery of promises made.”  Worse, the intensifying crackdown could “become the new normal” in China after the Games are over.  

“China is at a special, historic stage of its development,” said Wang Baodong, a Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington, responding this week to criticisms of his country’s human rights record.  “We do not deny that there are a lot of problems.”  Wang is correct that this is an especially crucial time for China.  While Beijing’s leaders are pushing the country back, the Chinese people are surging forward.  There is more societal change in China than in any other nation at this moment.

The human rights dialogues, if they have any positive effect at all, show the Chinese people that their government fails to meet acceptable standards of conduct and therefore brings shame on their nation.  As such, the discussions promise the same benefit as the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.  Yet the dialogues with China won’t have the same impact until Western presidents and prime ministers are willing to be as forthright about China’s communists as they were about the Soviet ones.

This week, China agreed to resume its human rights dialogue with the United States.   Beijing broke off the discussions in 2004 after Washington sponsored a U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution attacking the Chinese government’s record.  “We are willing to have exchanges and interactions with the U.S. and other countries on human rights on a basis of mutual respect, equality and non-interference in each others’ internal affairs,” said Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, after meeting with Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday in the Chinese capital.

China has, off and on, maintained human rights “dialogues” with about a dozen nations.  Beijing always acts as if its participation in these discussions is a favor to the international community, but they actually benefit Chinese autocrats.  The dialogues permit them to maintain the appearance of progress without having to make concessions of any lasting significance.

China, under President Hu Jintao, is suffering under a crackdown that has now lasted a half decade.  The political system in 2008 is more repressive than it was in 1998.  And there is even less room today for political discussion than in 1988.  The Communist Party, incredibly, is moving backward.

This regression coincides with China’s drive to host the Olympics.  In 2001, at China’s final presentation before the International Olympic Committee’s vote, Liu Qi, the head of the country’s bid committee, said “I want to say that the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games will have the following special features: They will help promote our economic and social progress and will also benefit the further development of our human rights cause.”  It has not worked out that way, however.  As Robin Munro, a veteran human rights campaigner, noted this week, the Chinese government has made a “mockery of promises made.”  Worse, the intensifying crackdown could “become the new normal” in China after the Games are over.  

“China is at a special, historic stage of its development,” said Wang Baodong, a Chinese Embassy spokesman in Washington, responding this week to criticisms of his country’s human rights record.  “We do not deny that there are a lot of problems.”  Wang is correct that this is an especially crucial time for China.  While Beijing’s leaders are pushing the country back, the Chinese people are surging forward.  There is more societal change in China than in any other nation at this moment.

The human rights dialogues, if they have any positive effect at all, show the Chinese people that their government fails to meet acceptable standards of conduct and therefore brings shame on their nation.  As such, the discussions promise the same benefit as the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.  Yet the dialogues with China won’t have the same impact until Western presidents and prime ministers are willing to be as forthright about China’s communists as they were about the Soviet ones.

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Disarming Liars

“In the last four months, in particular, we have made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran’s past nuclear activities,” said Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, yesterday in conjunction with the release of his latest report on Tehran. “However, that is not, in my view, sufficient.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even less impressed with Iran. “It hasn’t answered questions about past activities in covert programs that they say they didn’t have,” she noted. Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was even more to the point: “They did not come clean.” Reports indicate that the Iranians have failed to explain, among other things, their possession of warhead designs and plans to shape uranium metal as well their conducting tests of high explosives.

Who else is reluctant to owning up to past nuclear weapon fibs? Well, that would be our friends the North Koreans. For almost two months they have failed to make a complete declaration of their nuclear programs, as required by an agreement hammered out at the Beijing-sponsored six-party talks, and have contradicted themselves on a number of occasions. Best we can tell, the North Koreans appear to be attempting to hide somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 kilograms of plutonium. More important, they are refusing to acknowledge the existence of their efforts to start a program to make bombs with uranium cores—something they boasted about in 2002.

What makes Iran and North Korea so hard to disarm? There are many reasons, of course. Yet this year has added one more: in order for there to be any further progress, they must make admissions that they have lied to the international community. And when will we know that they have made the critical decisions to give up their nuclear weapons programs? When they start talking candidly about their respective activities. Up to now, both Tehran and Pyongyang have made blanket denials and have refused to address the particulars of allegations made against them. Confession may be good for the soul, but it is absolutely essential for peaceful resolution of these two matters.
So all of this leads to one conclusion. If Iran and North Korea cannot tell the truth as to what they have done in the past, there will be only one other way to disarm them. Whether we like it or not, at some point we will have to face the implications of their mendacity.

“In the last four months, in particular, we have made quite good progress in clarifying the outstanding issues that had to do with Iran’s past nuclear activities,” said Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, yesterday in conjunction with the release of his latest report on Tehran. “However, that is not, in my view, sufficient.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was even less impressed with Iran. “It hasn’t answered questions about past activities in covert programs that they say they didn’t have,” she noted. Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was even more to the point: “They did not come clean.” Reports indicate that the Iranians have failed to explain, among other things, their possession of warhead designs and plans to shape uranium metal as well their conducting tests of high explosives.

Who else is reluctant to owning up to past nuclear weapon fibs? Well, that would be our friends the North Koreans. For almost two months they have failed to make a complete declaration of their nuclear programs, as required by an agreement hammered out at the Beijing-sponsored six-party talks, and have contradicted themselves on a number of occasions. Best we can tell, the North Koreans appear to be attempting to hide somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 kilograms of plutonium. More important, they are refusing to acknowledge the existence of their efforts to start a program to make bombs with uranium cores—something they boasted about in 2002.

What makes Iran and North Korea so hard to disarm? There are many reasons, of course. Yet this year has added one more: in order for there to be any further progress, they must make admissions that they have lied to the international community. And when will we know that they have made the critical decisions to give up their nuclear weapons programs? When they start talking candidly about their respective activities. Up to now, both Tehran and Pyongyang have made blanket denials and have refused to address the particulars of allegations made against them. Confession may be good for the soul, but it is absolutely essential for peaceful resolution of these two matters.
So all of this leads to one conclusion. If Iran and North Korea cannot tell the truth as to what they have done in the past, there will be only one other way to disarm them. Whether we like it or not, at some point we will have to face the implications of their mendacity.

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Iran in Space

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad read the countdown, the audience chanted “God is greatest,” and Iran launched its first rocket into space yesterday.

Or so Iranian state media said. It’s not quite clear just how high the research rocket, Kavoshgar-1, went. A parachute came drifting down to the launch site well before the rocket could have made it into the heavens, suggesting that all did not go according to plan. Iran, after a similar announcement last February, appears to have failed to reach orbital height. In any event, the country now says that the rocket will carry its first research satellite, whose name translates as “Hope,” by next March.

Putting a satellite into orbit is not exactly the same thing as landing a warhead in Washington, but today’s development is nonetheless a matter of concern for “Zionists,” “Great Satans,” and other members of the international community. Even though Iran insists that its rocket program is peaceful, much of the technology has obvious military applications.

Kavoshgar-1’s flight, therefore, underscores the urgency of having a missile defense system in place. On Friday, Poland said that it had agreed in principle to host ten interceptor missiles as a part of the American-sponsored plan. Condoleezza Rice, after meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, said that the United States would be willing to help Poland with its air defenses, Warsaw’s key requirement for participating in Washington’s missile defense plans. Discussions with the government of the Czech Republic, where radar for the system would be based, are also moving in the right direction.

Although negotiations with the two European nations are on a positive track, we have to remember that missile defense is only a stopgap solution. Throughout history, improved weapons have always defeated defensive systems. And when it comes to shooting down intercontinental ballistic missiles, even 99 percent success rates can result in catastrophic losses.

So our long-term goal should not be defending against Tehran but disarming it. We can offer incentives, impose sanctions, threaten destruction, or promote regime change. We can employ peaceful methods or forceful ones, and we can act on our own or as part of a broad coalition. Yet whatever we do, we have to make sure that mullahs in Tehran never have the ability to launch missiles with nuclear tips.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad read the countdown, the audience chanted “God is greatest,” and Iran launched its first rocket into space yesterday.

Or so Iranian state media said. It’s not quite clear just how high the research rocket, Kavoshgar-1, went. A parachute came drifting down to the launch site well before the rocket could have made it into the heavens, suggesting that all did not go according to plan. Iran, after a similar announcement last February, appears to have failed to reach orbital height. In any event, the country now says that the rocket will carry its first research satellite, whose name translates as “Hope,” by next March.

Putting a satellite into orbit is not exactly the same thing as landing a warhead in Washington, but today’s development is nonetheless a matter of concern for “Zionists,” “Great Satans,” and other members of the international community. Even though Iran insists that its rocket program is peaceful, much of the technology has obvious military applications.

Kavoshgar-1’s flight, therefore, underscores the urgency of having a missile defense system in place. On Friday, Poland said that it had agreed in principle to host ten interceptor missiles as a part of the American-sponsored plan. Condoleezza Rice, after meeting with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, said that the United States would be willing to help Poland with its air defenses, Warsaw’s key requirement for participating in Washington’s missile defense plans. Discussions with the government of the Czech Republic, where radar for the system would be based, are also moving in the right direction.

Although negotiations with the two European nations are on a positive track, we have to remember that missile defense is only a stopgap solution. Throughout history, improved weapons have always defeated defensive systems. And when it comes to shooting down intercontinental ballistic missiles, even 99 percent success rates can result in catastrophic losses.

So our long-term goal should not be defending against Tehran but disarming it. We can offer incentives, impose sanctions, threaten destruction, or promote regime change. We can employ peaceful methods or forceful ones, and we can act on our own or as part of a broad coalition. Yet whatever we do, we have to make sure that mullahs in Tehran never have the ability to launch missiles with nuclear tips.

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Our No-Contact Policy

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the United States had not changed its no-contact policy with regard to Iran. The statement was prompted by Zalmay Khalilzad, who sat next to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a panel at Davos on January 26. Khalilzad, Washington’s U.N. ambassador, neither greeted the Iranian nor shook his hand. Yet the American diplomat broke State Department practice by not seeking permission before appearing at the discussion session. McCormack implied that the Bush administration would have preferred that Khalilzad not have participated in the panel discussion.

Should American diplomats shun their Iranian counterparts? Our ultimate goals are not to isolate Iran and make it an enemy for generations. Our goals are to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, end its support for Iraqi insurgents, and prevent it from closing the Persian Gulf. In all probability, we will not accomplish these objectives until the fanatical theocracy that rules the country falls. As Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute points out, since the 1979 revolution every American administration has tried to negotiate with Iran and all have failed. That’s because the ayatollahs wish to destroy those with whom they disagree and especially Americans. “They are not like us, and they do not share our dreams,” he has written. “Diplomacy will not tame them. Only our victory will.”

There are many routes to victory, and not all of them require American diplomats like Khalilzad to run for cover whenever a mullah approaches the room. The problem with American policy toward Iran—apart from the fact that it is achieving little—is that it is more petulant attitude than comprehensive plan. A no-contact rule only makes sense when it is part of a coordinated effort that actually has a chance of succeeding. We have no such plan. Not only do we look weak, we appear hardheaded and intransigent.

So the big story is how Condoleezza Rice is losing control of her diplomats, as evidenced by Khalilzad’s participation at Davos. Nobody is talking about how she is prevailing over the theocrats in Iran. Until the Secretary of State can come up with a credible policy, American diplomats will be prohibited from standing their ground in forums where Iranians are present. And, more important, we will lose even more time in the existential struggle against Tehran.

Read Less




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