Commentary Magazine


Topic: correspondent

Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators Attack Reporters

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

Pro-Mubarak protesters in Egypt may have been following government instructions when they attacked members of the media today, according to the Jerusalem Post. Journalists from Sweden and Israel have allegedly been detained by the Egyptian government, and CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were physically assaulted by the pro-government rioters:

Two Swedish reporters were held for hours on Wednesday by Egyptian soldiers accusing them of being Mossad spies, the reporters’ employer, daily newspaper Aftonbladet, reported.

The soldiers reportedly attacked the reporters, spitting in their faces and threatening to kill them.

Four Israeli journalists were arrested by Egyptian military police in Cairo on Wednesday. Three of those arrested work for Channel 2 and the fourth is from Nazareth.

In addition, renowned CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper and his news crew were roughed up by mobs favoring Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as were Washington Post reporters. Cooper was reportedly punched in the head ten times.

Another CNN correspondent said that pro-government rioters were instructed to target the press.

The State Department has tweeted a statement condemned the attacks, saying that “We are concerned about detentions and attacks on news media in Egypt. The civil society that Egypt wants to build includes a free press.” But the U.S. really needs to issue a much harsher condemnation on this. Not only is the Egyptian government now acting in direct defiance of Obama administration requests for nonviolence; it also appears that it may have instructed pro-Mubarak mobs to attack Americans. Based on this latest crackdown on the news media, and the recent suspension of Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, it’s growing even clearer that Mubarak has no interest in pursuing the democratic reforms the U.S. has been calling for.

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SPJ Executive Committee Recommends Renaming Helen Thomas Award

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision. Read More

Yesterday, the Society of Professional Journalists’ executive committee voted in favor of renaming the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. But the decision isn’t yet binding — it still has to be approved by the full board of directors, which will vote on it within the next 10 days:

The recommendation issued Jan. 8 by the national journalists’ group, based on anti-Zionist remarks made by Thomas, will be sent to its board of directors within 10 days. The award will still be given, but without Thomas’ name.

“While we support Helen Thomas’ right to speak her opinion, we condemn her statements in December as offensive and inappropriate,” the executive committee said in making its recommendation.

On Dec. 2, in a speech to an Arab-American group in Dearborn, Mich., Thomas, 90, said that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street “are owned by the Zionists.”  The remarks raised fresh concerns about the sincerity of an apology for her remarks last summer to a video blogger that Jews “should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the United States.

The executive committee’s decision doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Other institutions have already removed Thomas’s name from awards, so the SPJ can follow suit while avoiding too much controversy. On the other hand, if the organization had voted to keep the name on the award, there’s no way it would have been able to get past this incident quietly. The SPJ executive committee said this pretty unambiguously in its press release:

During robust debate on Saturday, the committee considered positions from those supporting Thomas’ right to free speech and those who considered her remarks unbecoming of an honor given by SPJ. The committee decided while both positions have merit, the best way to return the focus to SPJ’s important work would be to distance itself from the controversy now overshadowing this award.

“Let’s work on what unites us rather than what divides us,” Limor said.

This is an understandable position, and I assume the board of directors will vote in favor of the executive committee’s recommendation.

Of course, Thomas’s new employer doesn’t seem to share the SPJ’s aversion to controversy. The former White House correspondent was recently hired as a columnist by the Falls Church News-Press — an alternative-weekly paper in Northern Virginia — and the editor Nick Benton has vigorously defended his decision.

“I’ve had no less than eight hours of personal one-on-one conversations with her since that happened,” Benton told the Washington Post. “She’s not bigoted or racist or anti-Semitic. She has her differences about foreign policy but you’re allowed that.”

According to the Post, Benton has been criticized by Jewish leaders in the past for publishing views that some believed bordered on anti-Semitism. “In 2004, his paper touched nerves with an editorial that some Jewish leaders complained suggested a Jewish cabal controlling U.S. foreign policy,” reported the Post.

The Post is likely referring to a 2004 column written by Benton, in which he endorsed the re-election bid of Rep. Jim Moran, who was running against “the well-financed campaign of a political neophyte, Alexandria attorney Andy Rosenberg.” Benton wrote that the election had become “about a cabal of powerful Washington, D.C., based interests backing the Bush administration’s support for rightwing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s handling of the Middle East conflict trying to upend an outspoken and powerful Democratic opponent.”

It’s not exactly like telling Israeli Jews to go back to Germany, but with those editorial leanings, it sounds like Thomas will feel very much at home at the paper.

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Bringing Afghans Over to the Coalition Side, One Tribe at a Time

There has been much loose talk about the possibility of reaching a high-level peace deal with the Taliban. No such effort is likely to succeed, at least not in the short run, because the Taliban do not yet feel defeated. In any case, high-level Taliban leaders, safely ensconced in Pakistan, have no incentive to give up a fight in which their foot soldiers are suffering while they enjoy shelter and subsidies from the Pakistani regime. But lower-level deals to bring tribes over to the side of the coalition are likely to prove more fruitful — just as they did in Iraq.

The Marines have just announced one such deal in Sangin, the most kinetic district in all of Afghanistan. The Marines have lost 29 men since taking over this district in Helmand Province this past summer; Britain lost some 100 troops there in prior years. Now the governor of Helmand has reached an agreement with the Alikozai, one of the main tribes in the area, to stop attacking the coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan in return for development assistance, permission to form their own security forces, and the release of an Alikozai prisoner.

As this Washington Post account by ace war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes clear, this deal is the result of the Marines’ aggressive actions and also their willingness to seize political opportunities. A prior attempt by the Alikozai to reach out to the British in 2007 was rebuffed, and the Alikozai went back to fighting with the Taliban.

The dynamics changed [Chandrasekaran writes] when the Marines replaced British forces in summer 2010. They increased the tempo of offensive operations and struck back harder at the all of the insurgents, including the Alikozai. In mid-October, a Marine reconnaissance battalion swooped into the Alikozai area and conducted a blistering barrage of attacks that commanders estimate killed more than 250 insurgents.

“That convinced the elders,” said one senior Marine officer involved in the operation. “They began to see the handwriting on the wall.”

This is how counterinsurgency is supposed to work. By applying pressure on the insurgents and safeguarding the local population, a security force can change the dynamics on the ground and convince opportunists — who always make up the majority of any population — that their long-term interests lay in allying with, rather than resisting, the government. Economic aid can sweeten the deal, but what is going to make the most difference is a change in the security situation, which is what the Marines have been accomplishing by dint of hard and costly combat.

One should not make too much out of this arrangement, which may yet collapse — as have other tribal deals in Afghanistan. It may also be the case that the tribes in Afghanistan are now so weak, after decades of warfare and migration, that they do not have the power to effectively resist the Taliban. But this could also be the start of something big, possibly even a “Helmand Awakening” that will wrest this province out of insurgent hands, just as Anbar Province was wrested out of insurgent hands in 2006-2007.

There has been much loose talk about the possibility of reaching a high-level peace deal with the Taliban. No such effort is likely to succeed, at least not in the short run, because the Taliban do not yet feel defeated. In any case, high-level Taliban leaders, safely ensconced in Pakistan, have no incentive to give up a fight in which their foot soldiers are suffering while they enjoy shelter and subsidies from the Pakistani regime. But lower-level deals to bring tribes over to the side of the coalition are likely to prove more fruitful — just as they did in Iraq.

The Marines have just announced one such deal in Sangin, the most kinetic district in all of Afghanistan. The Marines have lost 29 men since taking over this district in Helmand Province this past summer; Britain lost some 100 troops there in prior years. Now the governor of Helmand has reached an agreement with the Alikozai, one of the main tribes in the area, to stop attacking the coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan in return for development assistance, permission to form their own security forces, and the release of an Alikozai prisoner.

As this Washington Post account by ace war correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran makes clear, this deal is the result of the Marines’ aggressive actions and also their willingness to seize political opportunities. A prior attempt by the Alikozai to reach out to the British in 2007 was rebuffed, and the Alikozai went back to fighting with the Taliban.

The dynamics changed [Chandrasekaran writes] when the Marines replaced British forces in summer 2010. They increased the tempo of offensive operations and struck back harder at the all of the insurgents, including the Alikozai. In mid-October, a Marine reconnaissance battalion swooped into the Alikozai area and conducted a blistering barrage of attacks that commanders estimate killed more than 250 insurgents.

“That convinced the elders,” said one senior Marine officer involved in the operation. “They began to see the handwriting on the wall.”

This is how counterinsurgency is supposed to work. By applying pressure on the insurgents and safeguarding the local population, a security force can change the dynamics on the ground and convince opportunists — who always make up the majority of any population — that their long-term interests lay in allying with, rather than resisting, the government. Economic aid can sweeten the deal, but what is going to make the most difference is a change in the security situation, which is what the Marines have been accomplishing by dint of hard and costly combat.

One should not make too much out of this arrangement, which may yet collapse — as have other tribal deals in Afghanistan. It may also be the case that the tribes in Afghanistan are now so weak, after decades of warfare and migration, that they do not have the power to effectively resist the Taliban. But this could also be the start of something big, possibly even a “Helmand Awakening” that will wrest this province out of insurgent hands, just as Anbar Province was wrested out of insurgent hands in 2006-2007.

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Another NPR Hit Piece on Israel

Never mind Juan Williams: What really gets me about National Public Radio is the way it manages to cover Israel in a manner more reminiscent of Tishreen‘s or Al Jazeera’s style than that of an American news outlet. The latest egregious example is a piece from NPR’s Morning Edition that runs on the NPR website — and this morning was the lead story on the NPR home page —  under the headline “In Israel, No Welcome Mat for African Migrants.” The article accuses Israel of being inhospitable to refugees. There’s no mention whatsoever of Israel’s welcoming 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union or tens of thousands of Jews and others from Ethiopia, which, last I checked, was in Africa. Nor is there any mention of whether any other countries are laying out welcome mats for refugees. It’s hard to think of a country other than America that has been more welcoming to refugees than Israel has, so it seems likely that the NPR piece is afflicted by a certain confusion between a “refugee” and an “illegal immigrant.”

One could argue that holding Israel to a higher standard of behavior represents a certain sort of philo-Semitism, but from National Public Radio — or National Palestinian Radio, as I call it (“Please turn down the National Palestinian Radio, dear”) — I’d settle for mere accuracy.

The NPR quotes one illegal African immigrant it states has been in Israel for 16 years as saying that Israel “ends up not a place for people who are different. It’s a place where people should be, look, all the same.” Again, there’s no reminder or reality check from the NPR correspondent to the effect that Israelis, who may be Ethiopian immigrants, black-hat Orthodox, secular supermodels, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, you name it, hardly “look all the same.”

NPR has responded to complaints about its Israel coverage by commissioning an independent review every three months of its coverage of “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” But this isn’t even coverage of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”; it’s just a hit piece on Israel.

Never mind Juan Williams: What really gets me about National Public Radio is the way it manages to cover Israel in a manner more reminiscent of Tishreen‘s or Al Jazeera’s style than that of an American news outlet. The latest egregious example is a piece from NPR’s Morning Edition that runs on the NPR website — and this morning was the lead story on the NPR home page —  under the headline “In Israel, No Welcome Mat for African Migrants.” The article accuses Israel of being inhospitable to refugees. There’s no mention whatsoever of Israel’s welcoming 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union or tens of thousands of Jews and others from Ethiopia, which, last I checked, was in Africa. Nor is there any mention of whether any other countries are laying out welcome mats for refugees. It’s hard to think of a country other than America that has been more welcoming to refugees than Israel has, so it seems likely that the NPR piece is afflicted by a certain confusion between a “refugee” and an “illegal immigrant.”

One could argue that holding Israel to a higher standard of behavior represents a certain sort of philo-Semitism, but from National Public Radio — or National Palestinian Radio, as I call it (“Please turn down the National Palestinian Radio, dear”) — I’d settle for mere accuracy.

The NPR quotes one illegal African immigrant it states has been in Israel for 16 years as saying that Israel “ends up not a place for people who are different. It’s a place where people should be, look, all the same.” Again, there’s no reminder or reality check from the NPR correspondent to the effect that Israelis, who may be Ethiopian immigrants, black-hat Orthodox, secular supermodels, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, you name it, hardly “look all the same.”

NPR has responded to complaints about its Israel coverage by commissioning an independent review every three months of its coverage of “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” But this isn’t even coverage of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”; it’s just a hit piece on Israel.

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Congratulating Obama

During President Obama’s press conference yesterday, ABC’s Jake Tapper said this:

I have a couple of questions about “don’t ask/don’t tell.” First of all, congratulations. What was your conversation like with Marine Commandant Amos when he expressed to you his concerns, and yet he said that he would abide by whatever — whatever the ruling was? Can you understand why he had the position he did? And then, on the other hand, is it intellectually consistent to say that gay and lesbians should be able to fight and die for this country, but they should not be able to marry the people they love?

The questions are very good ones — and Obama’s answer, especially on same-sex marriage, was an interesting one. But notice the second sentence in Tapper’s question/statement: “First of all, congratulations.”

I may be wrong, but that strikes me as a very unusual formulation coming from a White House correspondent, especially during a press conference. I can’t imagine, for example, any member of the White House press corps congratulating President Bush on successful passage of his tax-cut bill or successful implementation of, say, his stem-cell policy.

Now, I think Tapper is an excellent reporter. But it is revealing of a particular, widespread journalistic persuasion and worldview that Tapper would congratulation Obama on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I imagine he was speaking for almost all his colleagues.

During President Obama’s press conference yesterday, ABC’s Jake Tapper said this:

I have a couple of questions about “don’t ask/don’t tell.” First of all, congratulations. What was your conversation like with Marine Commandant Amos when he expressed to you his concerns, and yet he said that he would abide by whatever — whatever the ruling was? Can you understand why he had the position he did? And then, on the other hand, is it intellectually consistent to say that gay and lesbians should be able to fight and die for this country, but they should not be able to marry the people they love?

The questions are very good ones — and Obama’s answer, especially on same-sex marriage, was an interesting one. But notice the second sentence in Tapper’s question/statement: “First of all, congratulations.”

I may be wrong, but that strikes me as a very unusual formulation coming from a White House correspondent, especially during a press conference. I can’t imagine, for example, any member of the White House press corps congratulating President Bush on successful passage of his tax-cut bill or successful implementation of, say, his stem-cell policy.

Now, I think Tapper is an excellent reporter. But it is revealing of a particular, widespread journalistic persuasion and worldview that Tapper would congratulation Obama on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I imagine he was speaking for almost all his colleagues.

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Fake Palestinian Diplomacy No Substitute for Actual Negotiations

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

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A Refreshing Change

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

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Reassessing the Bush Presidency

Earlier this week, I was in Dallas to participate in events surrounding the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include his library and policy institute.

I found the people there to be, almost to a person, in very good spirits, the mood upbeat, relaxed, and celebratory. Part of the reason for this has to do with being reunited with colleagues with whom you stood shoulder-to-shoulder during dramatic and even historic times. Sharing moments of great achievement and hardship can forge deep and lasting bonds of affection.

But there was something else at play — the sense that for America’s 43rd president, certain qualities and achievements are coming into sharper focus.

One area concerns George W. Bush’s core decency and integrity. He was endowed with the gifts of grace and class that have eluded others who have served as president, including Bush’s successor. President Bush is incapable of self-pity and self-conceit. And he has a deep, heartfelt, and unconflicted love for America. He clearly reveres the nation he served. That cannot be said for everyone who has held the office of the presidency.

Beyond that, though, is the realization that the public’s verdict of the Bush presidency is changing. A recalibration is under way.

After several intense, eventful years in office — years in which Bush stood atop the political world and was as popular as any man who has served as president — much of the public grew weary of his administration. The last years of his presidency were spent in a valley he had to fight through, day by day, especially on the matter of Iraq. By the end of his presidency, things that were viewed as strengths were seen as weaknesses. The strong, principled, decisive leader of the first term was viewed as a stubborn, inflexible leader during the second term. The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.

No matter; Bush persevered and refused to grow weary. He made unpopular decisions (from a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq to TARP) that turned out to be the right decisions. And one can now see that Bush’s achievements, particularly in the realm of foreign policy — his response to 9/11; keeping America safe from future attacks by putting the country on a war footing; the surge; deposing two sadistic regimes; championing freedom, human rights and the cause of dissidents; the global AIDS and malaria initiatives; and more — are growing in stature. That is something many of us were confident would happen, but it is happening at a quicker pace than we anticipated. As Vice President Cheney said in his splendid remarks, “History is beginning to come around.”

George W. Bush would not be the first president for whom this occurred. “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea,” the CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid said of Harry Truman. “But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

So he does. And so, one day, will George W. Bush.

Earlier this week, I was in Dallas to participate in events surrounding the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will include his library and policy institute.

I found the people there to be, almost to a person, in very good spirits, the mood upbeat, relaxed, and celebratory. Part of the reason for this has to do with being reunited with colleagues with whom you stood shoulder-to-shoulder during dramatic and even historic times. Sharing moments of great achievement and hardship can forge deep and lasting bonds of affection.

But there was something else at play — the sense that for America’s 43rd president, certain qualities and achievements are coming into sharper focus.

One area concerns George W. Bush’s core decency and integrity. He was endowed with the gifts of grace and class that have eluded others who have served as president, including Bush’s successor. President Bush is incapable of self-pity and self-conceit. And he has a deep, heartfelt, and unconflicted love for America. He clearly reveres the nation he served. That cannot be said for everyone who has held the office of the presidency.

Beyond that, though, is the realization that the public’s verdict of the Bush presidency is changing. A recalibration is under way.

After several intense, eventful years in office — years in which Bush stood atop the political world and was as popular as any man who has served as president — much of the public grew weary of his administration. The last years of his presidency were spent in a valley he had to fight through, day by day, especially on the matter of Iraq. By the end of his presidency, things that were viewed as strengths were seen as weaknesses. The strong, principled, decisive leader of the first term was viewed as a stubborn, inflexible leader during the second term. The twisting kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.

No matter; Bush persevered and refused to grow weary. He made unpopular decisions (from a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq to TARP) that turned out to be the right decisions. And one can now see that Bush’s achievements, particularly in the realm of foreign policy — his response to 9/11; keeping America safe from future attacks by putting the country on a war footing; the surge; deposing two sadistic regimes; championing freedom, human rights and the cause of dissidents; the global AIDS and malaria initiatives; and more — are growing in stature. That is something many of us were confident would happen, but it is happening at a quicker pace than we anticipated. As Vice President Cheney said in his splendid remarks, “History is beginning to come around.”

George W. Bush would not be the first president for whom this occurred. “I am not sure he was right about the atomic bomb, or even Korea,” the CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid said of Harry Truman. “But remembering him reminds people what a man in that office ought to be like. It’s character, just character. He stands like a rock in memory now.”

So he does. And so, one day, will George W. Bush.

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NPR: Bringing Us Together

It is not easy to get Sarah Palin and the Daily Beast on the same side of an issue. But both are aghast at NPR’s firing of Juan Williams. Palin tweeted: “NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it.” Howard Kurtz commented:

Did National Public Radio really fire Juan Williams for his remarks about Muslims—or the forum in which he made them?

I suspect that if he’d said the same thing to Charlie Rose, rather than on the O’Reilly Factor, he’d still have his radio job.

It’s no secret that some NPR folks have been uncomfortable with Williams’ role on Fox News, where he’s also a part-time commentator. Last year, Politico reported, NPR tried to persuade its White House correspondent, Mara Liasson, to give up her Fox gig.

What Williams said makes me uncomfortable, but it isn’t close to being a firing offense—not for someone who is paid for his opinions.

In these divisive times, it’s nice to see this outbreak of bipartisan horror. In the unscientific readers’ poll at the Washington Post, which one can assume has a healthy contingent of Democrats, 80 percent said NPR was wrong to fire Juan Williams. NPR pretends to be serving the “public” — but the public doesn’t countenance its wholly unreasonable actions.

On the left, there is embarrassment. So some hasten to add that they opposed the firing of Helen Thomas. Which would be like the Juan Williams situation in exactly what way? (Williams explained the regrettable sensation citizens feel when observing those who put their Muslim identity first; Thomas wants Jews to go back to the Holocaust countries.) The mind reels. That wins some prize for moral equivalence but conveys just how uncomfortable are those who might otherwise feel warmly toward NPR.

The NPR debacle is, of course, an example of the same sort of hypocrisy we see in universities. The latter are all about “academic freedom” — even to the point of inviting Ahmadinejad to speak on campus. But that doesn’t extend to conservatives, who generally are not acceptable on campuses of self-regarded elite institutions.

Now, in the legal sense, universities and institutions like NPR can hire whomever they want and fire whomever they want provided they are not in breach of employment agreements or state and federal discrimination laws. But for establishments that trumpet themselves as high-minded exemplars of vigorous debate and intellectual open-mindedness, there’s a hypocrisy problem, to say the least, when that freedom and open-mindedness is limited to those with doctrinaire liberal views.

And it is one heck of an argument for defunding NPR. That and Juan Williams’s $2M contract with Fox are the silver linings in all this.

It is not easy to get Sarah Palin and the Daily Beast on the same side of an issue. But both are aghast at NPR’s firing of Juan Williams. Palin tweeted: “NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it.” Howard Kurtz commented:

Did National Public Radio really fire Juan Williams for his remarks about Muslims—or the forum in which he made them?

I suspect that if he’d said the same thing to Charlie Rose, rather than on the O’Reilly Factor, he’d still have his radio job.

It’s no secret that some NPR folks have been uncomfortable with Williams’ role on Fox News, where he’s also a part-time commentator. Last year, Politico reported, NPR tried to persuade its White House correspondent, Mara Liasson, to give up her Fox gig.

What Williams said makes me uncomfortable, but it isn’t close to being a firing offense—not for someone who is paid for his opinions.

In these divisive times, it’s nice to see this outbreak of bipartisan horror. In the unscientific readers’ poll at the Washington Post, which one can assume has a healthy contingent of Democrats, 80 percent said NPR was wrong to fire Juan Williams. NPR pretends to be serving the “public” — but the public doesn’t countenance its wholly unreasonable actions.

On the left, there is embarrassment. So some hasten to add that they opposed the firing of Helen Thomas. Which would be like the Juan Williams situation in exactly what way? (Williams explained the regrettable sensation citizens feel when observing those who put their Muslim identity first; Thomas wants Jews to go back to the Holocaust countries.) The mind reels. That wins some prize for moral equivalence but conveys just how uncomfortable are those who might otherwise feel warmly toward NPR.

The NPR debacle is, of course, an example of the same sort of hypocrisy we see in universities. The latter are all about “academic freedom” — even to the point of inviting Ahmadinejad to speak on campus. But that doesn’t extend to conservatives, who generally are not acceptable on campuses of self-regarded elite institutions.

Now, in the legal sense, universities and institutions like NPR can hire whomever they want and fire whomever they want provided they are not in breach of employment agreements or state and federal discrimination laws. But for establishments that trumpet themselves as high-minded exemplars of vigorous debate and intellectual open-mindedness, there’s a hypocrisy problem, to say the least, when that freedom and open-mindedness is limited to those with doctrinaire liberal views.

And it is one heck of an argument for defunding NPR. That and Juan Williams’s $2M contract with Fox are the silver linings in all this.

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Shift in Momentum in Afghanistan

I am soon heading to Afghanistan to see for myself how the war effort is progressing, but in the meantime I note several news accounts that give a sense of cautious optimism. That doesn’t include the reports this morning that high-level negotiations with the Taliban are starting and are being facilitated by NATO forces. There have been stories along those lines for years, and they haven’t gone anywhere, because the Taliban have no serious incentive to negotiate until they see that they are losing the war on the ground.

In that connection, it is interesting to read the assessment of a French general that the situation has improved dramatically in his area of operations in eastern Afghanistan. He even claims that Afghan troops will be ready to take responsibility for this once-dangerous area by next summer. Is he right? Who knows? But it does indicate that things are moving in the right direction in at least one important area.

That is also the assessment of retired Gen. Jack Keane — one of the architects of the Iraq surge — who has just returned from Afghanistan and reports: “There are already some early signs of a beginning of a momentum shift in our favor.”

New York Times correspondent C.J. Chivers, a former Marine, also notes progress in training Afghan security forces:

Two main training sites — the Kabul Military Training Center, used principally by the Afghan Army, and the Central Training Center, used by the police — have become bustling bases, packed with trainers and recruits, and there is a sense among the officers that they are producing better soldiers than before.

The military center has been graduating 1,400 newly trained soldiers every two …. The ratio of instructors to students has gone from one for every 79 trainees in 2009 to one for every 29, officers at the center say, suggesting that the new police officers and soldiers are getting more attention than in years past. The soldiers are paid better and desert less often, officials say.

Another interesting data point comes from this report that coalition air strikes are up 172 percent: “Last month, NATO attack planes dropped their bombs and fired their guns on 700 separate missions, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. That’s more than double the 257 attack sorties they flew in September 2009, and one of the highest single-month totals of the entire nine-year Afghan campaign.” That should help allay the concerns of those who worry that U.S. forces are so handicapped by rules of engagement that they can’t take the fight to the enemy. In fact, tight rules are necessary to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties, but these statistics suggest that American airpower is still being used effectively to help win the fight. There has also been a less-publicized increase in Special Operations raids, which are taking a nightly toll on the Taliban’s leadership.

I would caution against reading too much into any of this. It’s still early days, the full complement of surge forces having arrived in Afghanistan only last month. There is much hard fighting ahead, and many setbacks are certain. But at least there is now a sense that the war may be moving, however haltingly and slowly, in the right direction.

I am soon heading to Afghanistan to see for myself how the war effort is progressing, but in the meantime I note several news accounts that give a sense of cautious optimism. That doesn’t include the reports this morning that high-level negotiations with the Taliban are starting and are being facilitated by NATO forces. There have been stories along those lines for years, and they haven’t gone anywhere, because the Taliban have no serious incentive to negotiate until they see that they are losing the war on the ground.

In that connection, it is interesting to read the assessment of a French general that the situation has improved dramatically in his area of operations in eastern Afghanistan. He even claims that Afghan troops will be ready to take responsibility for this once-dangerous area by next summer. Is he right? Who knows? But it does indicate that things are moving in the right direction in at least one important area.

That is also the assessment of retired Gen. Jack Keane — one of the architects of the Iraq surge — who has just returned from Afghanistan and reports: “There are already some early signs of a beginning of a momentum shift in our favor.”

New York Times correspondent C.J. Chivers, a former Marine, also notes progress in training Afghan security forces:

Two main training sites — the Kabul Military Training Center, used principally by the Afghan Army, and the Central Training Center, used by the police — have become bustling bases, packed with trainers and recruits, and there is a sense among the officers that they are producing better soldiers than before.

The military center has been graduating 1,400 newly trained soldiers every two …. The ratio of instructors to students has gone from one for every 79 trainees in 2009 to one for every 29, officers at the center say, suggesting that the new police officers and soldiers are getting more attention than in years past. The soldiers are paid better and desert less often, officials say.

Another interesting data point comes from this report that coalition air strikes are up 172 percent: “Last month, NATO attack planes dropped their bombs and fired their guns on 700 separate missions, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. That’s more than double the 257 attack sorties they flew in September 2009, and one of the highest single-month totals of the entire nine-year Afghan campaign.” That should help allay the concerns of those who worry that U.S. forces are so handicapped by rules of engagement that they can’t take the fight to the enemy. In fact, tight rules are necessary to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties, but these statistics suggest that American airpower is still being used effectively to help win the fight. There has also been a less-publicized increase in Special Operations raids, which are taking a nightly toll on the Taliban’s leadership.

I would caution against reading too much into any of this. It’s still early days, the full complement of surge forces having arrived in Afghanistan only last month. There is much hard fighting ahead, and many setbacks are certain. But at least there is now a sense that the war may be moving, however haltingly and slowly, in the right direction.

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Woodward’s Forgettable Writings

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran my review of Bob Woodward’s latest epic of insiderdom. Since then, I have received some interesting e-mails from informed readers who make a few points that I think are worth sharing.

I poked fun at Battlefield Bob for writing about the war in Afghanistan while making only one perfunctory visit there, which he then hyped as if he were eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. A veteran war correspondent points out that this isn’t at all unusual for Woodward:

As best I can tell he hasn’t gone to Iraq for a single day. Not even to the I.Z. [International Zone, or Green Zone] or to a FOB [Forward Operating Base]. I haven’t tried to confirm that, but there is no mention of it in his books that I recall. And he wrote five books on the subject if you count “The Commanders.”

This correspondent continued:

Your analytical points were on target, too. And they are related. If don’t go to these places and talk to the Iraqi or Afghan leaders, politicians, pretenders, warlords, army officers and citizens how can you begin to understand what is happening there. They and their countries become a distant backdrop for personality feuds among US officials and second-tier aides in DC.

Absolutely right, and it is this reason that, as a government official pointed out to me, “these books have no lasting impact.” Indeed, it is hard for me to remember anything about Woodward’s last dozen books. The last major revelation I remember from one of his tomes was CIA Director Bill Casey’s “deathbed confession” in Veil (1987) — and that is largely because Woodward was accused of making it up.

Woodward continues to churn out No. 1 best-sellers. But, after being avidly hyped (especially by his employer, the Washington Post), each one drops down the memory chute because his revelations about Washington infighting are so petty and so far removed from the factors that shape presidential reputations — namely how well policies work out in the real world. In the meantime, however, Woodward does real damage to our government’s ability to implement its policies — a point Eliot Cohen wittily makes in this Washington Post op-ed, which features fictional interior monologues a la Woodward.

The real question, to my mind, isn’t why Woodward does what he does — he makes jillions from his books. The question is why so many administrations so willingly cooperate with him. As Eliot notes, “Senior Washington officials, in this administration or its predecessors, talk to Bob Woodward for all kinds of reasons — to fluff up their vanity, to avenge slights, to neutralize rivals, to gratify egos or, most laughably, to shape the historical record. ” It’s high time for the Obama administration and its successors to rethink this policy of granting Woodward unlimited access.

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The Afghan Study Group Opines

Something called the Afghan Study Group has produced a report on “A New Way Forward in Afghanistan.” A quick glance at the list of signatories shows a group of individuals who are not exactly notable for their expertise in Afghanistan but who can be counted on to oppose any plan of winning a war, be it the “surge” in Iraq or the one now going on in Afghanistan. For instance: Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, left-wing blogger and Arabist Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, economist James Galbraith of the University of Texas, telecom executive Leo Hindery, the notorious Iran apologists Flynt and Hillary Leverett, and, of course, anti-Israel propagandist Stephen Walt of Harvard. There are, to be sure, among the people who have signed on, a few who have actually spent some time in the region, such as former State Department employee Matthew Hoh and think-tanker Selig Harrison. But the report is notable for its standard anti-war bromides rather than any convincing “way forward” and certainly not for any “new way” put forth.

My article in COMMENTARY, on the “Case for Optimism,” offers a detailed rebuttal of many of the vapid arguments they make, but a few further observations are in order. First there is the wishful thinking that somehow victory isn’t important: “Protecting our interests does not require a U.S. military victory over the Taliban,” they write. “A Taliban takeover is unlikely even if the United States reduces its military commitment … and the risk of a new ‘safe haven’ there under more ‘friendly’ Taliban rule is overstated.” Talk about a triumph of hope over experience. The Taliban took over Afghanistan in the 1990s when the U.S. wasn’t involved and immediately turned their country into a safe haven for al-Qaeda. Why would they do any differently today? If anything, the ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stronger today than they were in the 1990s.

Their recommendations are really grasping for straws. They loudly demand: “Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion,” “encourage economic development,” and “engage regional and global stakeholders in a diplomatic effort designed to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability.” As if the U.S. hasn’t been doing all of the above since 2001. Guess what? It hasn’t worked. The Taliban are a determined, well-armed insurgency group and they see no reason to reach a power-sharing deal, no matter what “regional and global stakeholders” say. Of course, there is not a hint of how key stakeholders such as Iran and Pakistan, which support the Taliban, can be convinced to cut them off. Instead, there is a blind hope that somehow “economic development” will ameliorate Afghanistan’s woes in the face of abundant evidence that the economic aid provided since 2001 has instead made the situation worse in many respects, by fueling out-of-control corruption.

The authors of this report, with their faith in negotiating with the enemy, would do well to read this recent Wall Street Journal dispatch by ace correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov, which notes what anyone with any knowledge of Afghanistan already knows. First, that “Afghanistan’s three largest ethnic minorities” oppose “outreach to the Taliban, which they said could pave the way for the fundamentalist group’s return to power and reignite civil war.” Second, “Unless it is dealt a decisive setback in coming months, the only thing the Taliban may be interested in negotiating with Mr. Karzai is how to secure control of the central government in Kabul.” Third, “Few Afghans … believe that the Taliban, who already control ethnic Pashtun pockets throughout northern and western Afghanistan, would really stop the war after gaining the south and the east.”

In other words, negotiations with the Taliban would not result in some kind of painless resolution of the long-running war. It would only make the war bigger and more deadly, with the likely result being a Taliban triumph — just as in the 1990s. The members of the Afghan Study Group seem to think that outcome would be in America’s interests. Luckily President Obama does not. He has been right to increase our commitment in Afghanistan in the face of such feckless second-guessing on the home front. I only hope he keeps his nerve as pressure builds for a premature pullout that would hand the jihadists their biggest victory ever.

Something called the Afghan Study Group has produced a report on “A New Way Forward in Afghanistan.” A quick glance at the list of signatories shows a group of individuals who are not exactly notable for their expertise in Afghanistan but who can be counted on to oppose any plan of winning a war, be it the “surge” in Iraq or the one now going on in Afghanistan. For instance: Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, left-wing blogger and Arabist Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, economist James Galbraith of the University of Texas, telecom executive Leo Hindery, the notorious Iran apologists Flynt and Hillary Leverett, and, of course, anti-Israel propagandist Stephen Walt of Harvard. There are, to be sure, among the people who have signed on, a few who have actually spent some time in the region, such as former State Department employee Matthew Hoh and think-tanker Selig Harrison. But the report is notable for its standard anti-war bromides rather than any convincing “way forward” and certainly not for any “new way” put forth.

My article in COMMENTARY, on the “Case for Optimism,” offers a detailed rebuttal of many of the vapid arguments they make, but a few further observations are in order. First there is the wishful thinking that somehow victory isn’t important: “Protecting our interests does not require a U.S. military victory over the Taliban,” they write. “A Taliban takeover is unlikely even if the United States reduces its military commitment … and the risk of a new ‘safe haven’ there under more ‘friendly’ Taliban rule is overstated.” Talk about a triumph of hope over experience. The Taliban took over Afghanistan in the 1990s when the U.S. wasn’t involved and immediately turned their country into a safe haven for al-Qaeda. Why would they do any differently today? If anything, the ties between al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stronger today than they were in the 1990s.

Their recommendations are really grasping for straws. They loudly demand: “Emphasize power-sharing and political inclusion,” “encourage economic development,” and “engage regional and global stakeholders in a diplomatic effort designed to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability.” As if the U.S. hasn’t been doing all of the above since 2001. Guess what? It hasn’t worked. The Taliban are a determined, well-armed insurgency group and they see no reason to reach a power-sharing deal, no matter what “regional and global stakeholders” say. Of course, there is not a hint of how key stakeholders such as Iran and Pakistan, which support the Taliban, can be convinced to cut them off. Instead, there is a blind hope that somehow “economic development” will ameliorate Afghanistan’s woes in the face of abundant evidence that the economic aid provided since 2001 has instead made the situation worse in many respects, by fueling out-of-control corruption.

The authors of this report, with their faith in negotiating with the enemy, would do well to read this recent Wall Street Journal dispatch by ace correspondent Yaroslav Trofimov, which notes what anyone with any knowledge of Afghanistan already knows. First, that “Afghanistan’s three largest ethnic minorities” oppose “outreach to the Taliban, which they said could pave the way for the fundamentalist group’s return to power and reignite civil war.” Second, “Unless it is dealt a decisive setback in coming months, the only thing the Taliban may be interested in negotiating with Mr. Karzai is how to secure control of the central government in Kabul.” Third, “Few Afghans … believe that the Taliban, who already control ethnic Pashtun pockets throughout northern and western Afghanistan, would really stop the war after gaining the south and the east.”

In other words, negotiations with the Taliban would not result in some kind of painless resolution of the long-running war. It would only make the war bigger and more deadly, with the likely result being a Taliban triumph — just as in the 1990s. The members of the Afghan Study Group seem to think that outcome would be in America’s interests. Luckily President Obama does not. He has been right to increase our commitment in Afghanistan in the face of such feckless second-guessing on the home front. I only hope he keeps his nerve as pressure builds for a premature pullout that would hand the jihadists their biggest victory ever.

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ObamaCare Bending Up the Cost Curve

During his press conference on Friday, Jake Tapper, ABC’s excellent senior White House correspondent, asked President Obama about a new CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) report that shows that the health-care cost curve is actually bending up — not down, as during the health-care debate Obama had promised it would. In response, Obama said this:

With respect to health care, what I said during the debate is the same thing I’m saying now and it’s the same thing I will say three or four years from now. Bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of providers and doctors and systems and insurers. And what we did was we took every idea out there about how to reduce or at least slow the costs of health care over time.

But I said at the time, it wasn’t going to happen tomorrow, it wasn’t going to happen next year. It took us decades to get into a position where our health care costs were going up 6, 7, 10 percent a year. And so our goal is to slowly bring down those costs. … I haven’t read the entire study. Maybe you have. But if you — if what — the reports are true, what they’re saying is, is that as a consequence of us getting 30 million additional people health care, at the margins that’s going to increase our costs, we knew that. We didn’t think that we were going to cover 30 million people for free, but that the long-term trend in terms of how much the average family is going to be paying for health insurance is going to be improved as a consequence of health care.

And so our goal on health care is, if we can get, instead of health care costs going up 6 percent a year, it’s going up at the level of inflation, maybe just slightly above inflation, we’ve made huge progress.

The president should read the report, which can be found here. It incorporates the effects of health-care reform and estimates annual spending growth to be 0.2 percentage points higher than its February 2010 estimate, increasing from 6.1 percent to 6.3 percent. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The report by federal number-crunchers casts fresh doubt on Democrats’ argument that the health-care law would curb the sharp increase in costs over the long term.”

In 2009, the report reads, national health-care spending, public and private, totaled $2.5 trillion and accounted for 17.3 percent of the economy. The report predicts that health-care spending will rise to $4.6 trillion and account for 19.6 percent of the economy in 2019. By contrast, in February — before the passage of ObamaCare — the same team of government experts, using the same economic and demographic assumptions, predicted that national health-care spending would reach $4.5 trillion, or 19.3 percent of the gross domestic product, in 2019. The report also anticipates a big increase in health-care spending in 2014, when major provisions of the new law, including a requirement for most Americans to have insurance, take effect. From 2013 to 2014, for example, overall health-care spending is expected to increase by 9.2 percent, which is significantly more than the 6.6 percent increase predicted before ObamaCare became law. (For more, see this story.)

Beyond that, the report assumes that the law’s sweeping reduction in Medicare payments to doctors — 30 percent over the next three years — will actually take place. As Grace-Marie Turner points out, “Congress will not let payment rates be reduced to these levels, so health spending will increase further.”

And former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin has written a paper arguing that ObamaCare provides strong incentives for employers to drop employer-sponsored health insurance for as many as 35 million Americans, funneling far more workers into taxpayer-funded health insurance, thereby raising the gross taxpayer cost of the subsidies by roughly $1.4 trillion in the first 10 years.

A core promise of the president’s signature legislative achievement, then, has been exposed as false. And for Obama, in light of the CMS report, to be talking about the cost of health care going up at or just above the level of inflation, which is running below 2 percent this year, is utterly fanciful. Moreover, the American people can be excused if during the health-care debate they didn’t pick up Obama’s warning that “bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do” and that he knew ObamaCare would increase costs in the short run. Those warnings were omitted, for example, in the president’s September 10, 2009 health-care speech to Congress, when Obama claimed that his plan “will slow the growth of health-care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.” Obama even pointed out that “if we are able to slow the growth of health-care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year, it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.” To reiterate: the new CMS report predicts an annual increase by two-tenths of one percent each year over the status quo — even accepting the Obama administration’s own ludicrously optimistic assumptions. The reality will be a good deal worse than the CMS report anticipates.

This is all of a piece. Claim after claim the president has made — on the stimulus package, on unemployment, on the deficit and the debt, on the “recovery summer,” on ObamaCare, and on so much more — is being shattered by events. The expectations he set were extraordinarily high and his performance so far is inept. That is one reason why Obama and his party will suffer enormous electoral losses seven weeks from now.

During his press conference on Friday, Jake Tapper, ABC’s excellent senior White House correspondent, asked President Obama about a new CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) report that shows that the health-care cost curve is actually bending up — not down, as during the health-care debate Obama had promised it would. In response, Obama said this:

With respect to health care, what I said during the debate is the same thing I’m saying now and it’s the same thing I will say three or four years from now. Bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of providers and doctors and systems and insurers. And what we did was we took every idea out there about how to reduce or at least slow the costs of health care over time.

But I said at the time, it wasn’t going to happen tomorrow, it wasn’t going to happen next year. It took us decades to get into a position where our health care costs were going up 6, 7, 10 percent a year. And so our goal is to slowly bring down those costs. … I haven’t read the entire study. Maybe you have. But if you — if what — the reports are true, what they’re saying is, is that as a consequence of us getting 30 million additional people health care, at the margins that’s going to increase our costs, we knew that. We didn’t think that we were going to cover 30 million people for free, but that the long-term trend in terms of how much the average family is going to be paying for health insurance is going to be improved as a consequence of health care.

And so our goal on health care is, if we can get, instead of health care costs going up 6 percent a year, it’s going up at the level of inflation, maybe just slightly above inflation, we’ve made huge progress.

The president should read the report, which can be found here. It incorporates the effects of health-care reform and estimates annual spending growth to be 0.2 percentage points higher than its February 2010 estimate, increasing from 6.1 percent to 6.3 percent. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The report by federal number-crunchers casts fresh doubt on Democrats’ argument that the health-care law would curb the sharp increase in costs over the long term.”

In 2009, the report reads, national health-care spending, public and private, totaled $2.5 trillion and accounted for 17.3 percent of the economy. The report predicts that health-care spending will rise to $4.6 trillion and account for 19.6 percent of the economy in 2019. By contrast, in February — before the passage of ObamaCare — the same team of government experts, using the same economic and demographic assumptions, predicted that national health-care spending would reach $4.5 trillion, or 19.3 percent of the gross domestic product, in 2019. The report also anticipates a big increase in health-care spending in 2014, when major provisions of the new law, including a requirement for most Americans to have insurance, take effect. From 2013 to 2014, for example, overall health-care spending is expected to increase by 9.2 percent, which is significantly more than the 6.6 percent increase predicted before ObamaCare became law. (For more, see this story.)

Beyond that, the report assumes that the law’s sweeping reduction in Medicare payments to doctors — 30 percent over the next three years — will actually take place. As Grace-Marie Turner points out, “Congress will not let payment rates be reduced to these levels, so health spending will increase further.”

And former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin has written a paper arguing that ObamaCare provides strong incentives for employers to drop employer-sponsored health insurance for as many as 35 million Americans, funneling far more workers into taxpayer-funded health insurance, thereby raising the gross taxpayer cost of the subsidies by roughly $1.4 trillion in the first 10 years.

A core promise of the president’s signature legislative achievement, then, has been exposed as false. And for Obama, in light of the CMS report, to be talking about the cost of health care going up at or just above the level of inflation, which is running below 2 percent this year, is utterly fanciful. Moreover, the American people can be excused if during the health-care debate they didn’t pick up Obama’s warning that “bending the cost curve on health care is hard to do” and that he knew ObamaCare would increase costs in the short run. Those warnings were omitted, for example, in the president’s September 10, 2009 health-care speech to Congress, when Obama claimed that his plan “will slow the growth of health-care costs for our families, our businesses, and our government.” Obama even pointed out that “if we are able to slow the growth of health-care costs by just one-tenth of one percent each year, it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term.” To reiterate: the new CMS report predicts an annual increase by two-tenths of one percent each year over the status quo — even accepting the Obama administration’s own ludicrously optimistic assumptions. The reality will be a good deal worse than the CMS report anticipates.

This is all of a piece. Claim after claim the president has made — on the stimulus package, on unemployment, on the deficit and the debt, on the “recovery summer,” on ObamaCare, and on so much more — is being shattered by events. The expectations he set were extraordinarily high and his performance so far is inept. That is one reason why Obama and his party will suffer enormous electoral losses seven weeks from now.

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The Media Disinfectant

In his column in Politico today, Roger Simon writes this:

Chuck Todd, political director and chief White House correspondent for NBC News, who was not part of Journolist, told me this:

“I am sure Ezra [Klein] had good intentions when he created it, but I am offended the right is using this as a sledgehammer against those of us who don’t practice activist journalism.

“Journolist was pretty offensive. Those of us who are mainstream journalists got mixed in with journalists with an agenda. Those folks who thought they were improving journalism are destroying the credibility of journalism.

“This has kept me up nights. I try to be fair. It’s very depressing.”

Agreed. It is very depressing. But it is still a good thing that this story broke; after all, now, when it comes to key segments of the journalistic world, all of us better understand just what it is we’re dealing with. For some, what has been uncovered was a revelation. For others, it was simply a confirmation. Either way, it is useful information to have out and about. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as Justice Brandeis once said.

In his column in Politico today, Roger Simon writes this:

Chuck Todd, political director and chief White House correspondent for NBC News, who was not part of Journolist, told me this:

“I am sure Ezra [Klein] had good intentions when he created it, but I am offended the right is using this as a sledgehammer against those of us who don’t practice activist journalism.

“Journolist was pretty offensive. Those of us who are mainstream journalists got mixed in with journalists with an agenda. Those folks who thought they were improving journalism are destroying the credibility of journalism.

“This has kept me up nights. I try to be fair. It’s very depressing.”

Agreed. It is very depressing. But it is still a good thing that this story broke; after all, now, when it comes to key segments of the journalistic world, all of us better understand just what it is we’re dealing with. For some, what has been uncovered was a revelation. For others, it was simply a confirmation. Either way, it is useful information to have out and about. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as Justice Brandeis once said.

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Rival Palestinian Governments Abusing Their Own People — Again

Israel is constantly accused of turning Gaza into “one big prison” — and never mind the fact that Egypt, which also borders Gaza, sharply restricts the number of Palestinians allowed to transit its territory, too. But a stunning report by Haaretz’s Amira Hass, who identifies so profoundly with the Palestinian cause that she spent years living in both Gaza and Ramallah, reveals another factor: even Gazans who do receive permission to leave, whether via Egypt or Israel, sometimes can’t do so, because the two feuding Palestinian governments have denied them passports.

Sometimes, Gaza’s Hamas-led government confiscates existing passports because the holders belong to Fatah. Sometimes, the West Bank’s Fatah-led government (which owns the blank passport books) refuses to issue passports to applicants affiliated with Hamas. And sometimes, the Ramallah government even denies passports to Fatah members, because they allegedly have ties to Hamas.

Thus Fiza Za’anin, a Hamas-affiliated midwife who won a UN award for her work, received Israel’s permission both to attend a course in East Jerusalem and to transit its territory en route to the prize ceremony in the U.S. But she couldn’t do either, because the Ramallah government denied her a passport. Needless to say, international human rights groups haven’t trumpeted her case.

Hass’s report recalls the Fatah-Hamas dispute that shut down a major Gazan power plant last month, because both parties insisted the other pay for the fuel.

At full capacity, the plant would increase Gaza’s power supply by 50 percent over and above what Israel supplies. Instead, it was shut down completely, leaving parts of Gaza with only eight hours a day of power — all because Hamas and Fatah would rather “argue over a few million dollars a month” than improve Gazans’ lives, as Haaretz Palestinian affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff correctly observed. But “because Israel is not involved in this affair,” he noted, “the United Nations has not held an emergency session to discuss the matter, the (non-Palestinian) Human Rights organizations will overlook it,” and it “will probably not receive much coverage by the international media.”

And then there’s that new mall in Gaza. As the Jerusalem Post’s Liat Collins perceptively noted, a two-story, 9,700-square-foot shopping mall must have required huge amounts of cement and metal — all presumably smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, since Israel wasn’t allowing building materials across its border. And Hamas controls the smuggling tunnels.

But according to Hamas, thousands of Gazans whose houses were destroyed in its war with Israel 18 months ago remain homeless. So what kind of government would allocate scarce construction material to a mall instead of homes for its people? Clearly, one that doesn’t care about their suffering — and indeed, actually prefers perpetuating it, to fan anti-Israel sentiment. And the world, naturally, plays along.

If Hamas and Fatah both spent less time and effort on anti-Israel incitement and more on improving their people’s lives, Palestinians would be much better off. But that would require them to actually care more about their people’s welfare than they do about undermining Israel. And despite the world’s willful refusal to believe it, neither faction ever has.

Israel is constantly accused of turning Gaza into “one big prison” — and never mind the fact that Egypt, which also borders Gaza, sharply restricts the number of Palestinians allowed to transit its territory, too. But a stunning report by Haaretz’s Amira Hass, who identifies so profoundly with the Palestinian cause that she spent years living in both Gaza and Ramallah, reveals another factor: even Gazans who do receive permission to leave, whether via Egypt or Israel, sometimes can’t do so, because the two feuding Palestinian governments have denied them passports.

Sometimes, Gaza’s Hamas-led government confiscates existing passports because the holders belong to Fatah. Sometimes, the West Bank’s Fatah-led government (which owns the blank passport books) refuses to issue passports to applicants affiliated with Hamas. And sometimes, the Ramallah government even denies passports to Fatah members, because they allegedly have ties to Hamas.

Thus Fiza Za’anin, a Hamas-affiliated midwife who won a UN award for her work, received Israel’s permission both to attend a course in East Jerusalem and to transit its territory en route to the prize ceremony in the U.S. But she couldn’t do either, because the Ramallah government denied her a passport. Needless to say, international human rights groups haven’t trumpeted her case.

Hass’s report recalls the Fatah-Hamas dispute that shut down a major Gazan power plant last month, because both parties insisted the other pay for the fuel.

At full capacity, the plant would increase Gaza’s power supply by 50 percent over and above what Israel supplies. Instead, it was shut down completely, leaving parts of Gaza with only eight hours a day of power — all because Hamas and Fatah would rather “argue over a few million dollars a month” than improve Gazans’ lives, as Haaretz Palestinian affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff correctly observed. But “because Israel is not involved in this affair,” he noted, “the United Nations has not held an emergency session to discuss the matter, the (non-Palestinian) Human Rights organizations will overlook it,” and it “will probably not receive much coverage by the international media.”

And then there’s that new mall in Gaza. As the Jerusalem Post’s Liat Collins perceptively noted, a two-story, 9,700-square-foot shopping mall must have required huge amounts of cement and metal — all presumably smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, since Israel wasn’t allowing building materials across its border. And Hamas controls the smuggling tunnels.

But according to Hamas, thousands of Gazans whose houses were destroyed in its war with Israel 18 months ago remain homeless. So what kind of government would allocate scarce construction material to a mall instead of homes for its people? Clearly, one that doesn’t care about their suffering — and indeed, actually prefers perpetuating it, to fan anti-Israel sentiment. And the world, naturally, plays along.

If Hamas and Fatah both spent less time and effort on anti-Israel incitement and more on improving their people’s lives, Palestinians would be much better off. But that would require them to actually care more about their people’s welfare than they do about undermining Israel. And despite the world’s willful refusal to believe it, neither faction ever has.

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Where Is Mahmoud Abbas’s Bir Zeit Speech?

As Jen notes, Elliott Abrams identified the critical issue in the “peace process” — the character of the Palestinian state, not simply its borders.

Israel — having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to face rockets from new forward positions and two new wars — is not about to agree to a Palestinian state that is not demilitarized, with borders and other arrangements that enable Israel to defend itself, or that does not formally recognize a Jewish state and an end of claims. Anything less would simply reposition the parties for a third war. But even these two conditions are more than the peace-partner Palestinians are willing to accept.

At the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Richard Haass questioned Netanyahu about his insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state: “Why can’t they secretly harbor a goal that Israel will disappear so long as they don’t pursue those goals with violent means?” Here was a portion of Netanyahu’s response:

What is the true, underlying source of this conflict? It is not Israel’s possession of the territories, even though it is widely held to be that issue. It’s certainly an issue that has to be resolved, and I’m prepared to resolve it, but if you really understand the source of this conflict, it actually goes back to 1920. The first attack against the Jewish presence took place in 1920, and it continued in the 1930s, continued in the great upheavals; obviously, in 1948 in the combined Arab attack against the embryonic Jewish state; continued in the Fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, continued with the creation of the Fatah and the PLO before 1967.

So it actually ranged from 1920 till 1967. That’s nearly 50 years before there was a single Israeli soldier in the territories in Judea, Samaria or the West Bank, before there was a single Israeli settlement. Why did it go on for half a century? Because there was an opposition to a Jewish sovereignty in any border, in any shape, in any form. …

Now, the more moderate Palestinian Arab elements, they don’t talk about liquidating Israel, they don’t talk about firing rockets, and they’re different from Hamas. But they don’t say, we’ll end the conflict. They don’t say, Israel will be here to stay. They don’t say, we recognize the Jewish state of Israel and it’s over. …

They have to openly say it, not for our sake but for the sake of actually persuading their people to make the great psychological change for peace. I’ve said it. I’ve stood before my people and before my constituency and I said what my vision of peace includes, and I did that not without some consequence, I can tell you that. But this is what leaders have to do. They have to educate their people. …

I’d like President Abbas to make, if not his Bar-Ilan speech, I’d like to hear the Bir Zeit speech in which he says these things very clearly.

The peace process is conducted by the Palestinians in English for the benefit of ever-credulous peace processors, and things are said that are not repeated to the Palestinian public or reported in the PA-controlled media. But even in English, the Palestinians will not accept the minimal conditions of a bona fide process.

As Jen’s e-mail correspondent notes, only a bottom-up approach can ever succeed, and no such approach is possible until Palestinian leaders make the minimal public concessions necessary to start it. Abbas needs to make his Bir Zeit speech, and make it in Arabic.

As Jen notes, Elliott Abrams identified the critical issue in the “peace process” — the character of the Palestinian state, not simply its borders.

Israel — having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to face rockets from new forward positions and two new wars — is not about to agree to a Palestinian state that is not demilitarized, with borders and other arrangements that enable Israel to defend itself, or that does not formally recognize a Jewish state and an end of claims. Anything less would simply reposition the parties for a third war. But even these two conditions are more than the peace-partner Palestinians are willing to accept.

At the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Richard Haass questioned Netanyahu about his insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state: “Why can’t they secretly harbor a goal that Israel will disappear so long as they don’t pursue those goals with violent means?” Here was a portion of Netanyahu’s response:

What is the true, underlying source of this conflict? It is not Israel’s possession of the territories, even though it is widely held to be that issue. It’s certainly an issue that has to be resolved, and I’m prepared to resolve it, but if you really understand the source of this conflict, it actually goes back to 1920. The first attack against the Jewish presence took place in 1920, and it continued in the 1930s, continued in the great upheavals; obviously, in 1948 in the combined Arab attack against the embryonic Jewish state; continued in the Fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, continued with the creation of the Fatah and the PLO before 1967.

So it actually ranged from 1920 till 1967. That’s nearly 50 years before there was a single Israeli soldier in the territories in Judea, Samaria or the West Bank, before there was a single Israeli settlement. Why did it go on for half a century? Because there was an opposition to a Jewish sovereignty in any border, in any shape, in any form. …

Now, the more moderate Palestinian Arab elements, they don’t talk about liquidating Israel, they don’t talk about firing rockets, and they’re different from Hamas. But they don’t say, we’ll end the conflict. They don’t say, Israel will be here to stay. They don’t say, we recognize the Jewish state of Israel and it’s over. …

They have to openly say it, not for our sake but for the sake of actually persuading their people to make the great psychological change for peace. I’ve said it. I’ve stood before my people and before my constituency and I said what my vision of peace includes, and I did that not without some consequence, I can tell you that. But this is what leaders have to do. They have to educate their people. …

I’d like President Abbas to make, if not his Bar-Ilan speech, I’d like to hear the Bir Zeit speech in which he says these things very clearly.

The peace process is conducted by the Palestinians in English for the benefit of ever-credulous peace processors, and things are said that are not repeated to the Palestinian public or reported in the PA-controlled media. But even in English, the Palestinians will not accept the minimal conditions of a bona fide process.

As Jen’s e-mail correspondent notes, only a bottom-up approach can ever succeed, and no such approach is possible until Palestinian leaders make the minimal public concessions necessary to start it. Abbas needs to make his Bir Zeit speech, and make it in Arabic.

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Don’t Let Afghanistan Distract from Iraq

This Los Angeles Times article encapsulates many of the concerns I had about Iraq during my last visit a couple of months ago. Correspondent Ned Parker writes:

The Iraqis describe U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad as obsessed with bringing an end to the large-scale U.S. troop presence in Iraq. They believe the embassy’s single-mindedness has often left the United States veering from crisis to crisis here. Some U.S. military officers and Western analysts have also criticized what they see as a failure to think beyond the planned drawdown to 50,000 noncombat troops by the end of August. The lack of focus may leave an opening for Iraq’s neighbor and the United States’ rival — Iran.

The greater attention being focused on Afghanistan — while necessary and commendable — risks exacerbating the risks in Iraq. Iraq has made considerable progress in recent years, but as a recent string of violent attacks, and the continuing failure to form a government since the March 7 election, make clear, Iraq is not yet stable enough that it can flourish on its own without substantial help from the United States. Yet the Obama administration appears to be focused on withdrawal as its top priority; certainly there is scant public comment from the administration about any plan to build a long-term strategic relationship with Iraq.

The president should realize that the gains of recent years can still be lost, and that preserving what so many American personnel — military and civilian alike — have sacrificed so much to achieve will require sustained, high-level attention.

This Los Angeles Times article encapsulates many of the concerns I had about Iraq during my last visit a couple of months ago. Correspondent Ned Parker writes:

The Iraqis describe U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad as obsessed with bringing an end to the large-scale U.S. troop presence in Iraq. They believe the embassy’s single-mindedness has often left the United States veering from crisis to crisis here. Some U.S. military officers and Western analysts have also criticized what they see as a failure to think beyond the planned drawdown to 50,000 noncombat troops by the end of August. The lack of focus may leave an opening for Iraq’s neighbor and the United States’ rival — Iran.

The greater attention being focused on Afghanistan — while necessary and commendable — risks exacerbating the risks in Iraq. Iraq has made considerable progress in recent years, but as a recent string of violent attacks, and the continuing failure to form a government since the March 7 election, make clear, Iraq is not yet stable enough that it can flourish on its own without substantial help from the United States. Yet the Obama administration appears to be focused on withdrawal as its top priority; certainly there is scant public comment from the administration about any plan to build a long-term strategic relationship with Iraq.

The president should realize that the gains of recent years can still be lost, and that preserving what so many American personnel — military and civilian alike — have sacrificed so much to achieve will require sustained, high-level attention.

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Our Best Ally in Afghanistan: the Taliban

The Washington Post has a pair of stories that illuminate both the challenges and the potential in the fight against the Taliban.

First the good news: in one part of Daikundi province in southern Afghanistan, the locals have risen up against the Taliban and pushed them out of town. The residents of the town of Gizab, about 100 miles north of Kandahar, got sick of the Taliban’s oppressive presence. Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes:

The spark for the rebellion was ignited in mid-April, after Lalay [a storekeeper with one name] received $24,000 in compensation payments from the Afghan government to distribute to the relatives of a dozen villagers — six of whom were members of his extended family — killed by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb. A Taliban commander told him to hand over the money, saying it was against Islam to accept funds from the government. “If it is haram” — forbidden — “for me, then it is haram for you,” Lalay recalled replying.

The insurgents did not relent. They detained his brother and then his father, a tribal leader in the village. It was then that Lalay decided to plot the revolt.

Before long, the villagers were in a full-fledged firefight against the Taliban. There aren’t many coalition troops in Daikundi, but they asked for help, and Australian and U.S. Special Operations soldiers answered the call. The revolt against the Taliban has since progressed:

Lalay’s force has now grown to 300 men. They conduct foot patrols and operate checkpoints in and around Gizab. The revolt also has spread to 14 neighboring villages, each of which has a 10-man defense squad.

The Special Forces detachment that had been based to the north has since moved to Gizab, where its members are training the local defenders and watching over them to prevent any other extrajudicial killings.

Insurgent attacks and intimidation have ceased. “There are still Talibs in the mountains, but they’re in hiding,” said Lalay, who wears a bandolier slung over the shoulder. “They don’t dare to come outside and fight us.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is the continuing sloth and ineffectiveness of the Afghan police charged with patrolling Kandahar. Post correspondent Ernesto Londono reports that American MPs are getting frustrated with the Afghans they are supposed to be mentoring. In a nutshell, they don’t want to patrol, but they do want to take bribes. Such frustrations are nothing new, of course; they recall the difficulties in Iraq in improving police and army performance. That process is just starting in Afghanistan and needs time to mature.

But as the revolt in Daikundi reminds us, our best ally is the Taliban. Their very heavy-handedness and repression alienates the population. The key is to be able to take advantage of that alienation by helping the Afghan people to secure themselves — something that growing numbers of American troops should be able to help with, just as they did in Iraq.

The Washington Post has a pair of stories that illuminate both the challenges and the potential in the fight against the Taliban.

First the good news: in one part of Daikundi province in southern Afghanistan, the locals have risen up against the Taliban and pushed them out of town. The residents of the town of Gizab, about 100 miles north of Kandahar, got sick of the Taliban’s oppressive presence. Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes:

The spark for the rebellion was ignited in mid-April, after Lalay [a storekeeper with one name] received $24,000 in compensation payments from the Afghan government to distribute to the relatives of a dozen villagers — six of whom were members of his extended family — killed by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb. A Taliban commander told him to hand over the money, saying it was against Islam to accept funds from the government. “If it is haram” — forbidden — “for me, then it is haram for you,” Lalay recalled replying.

The insurgents did not relent. They detained his brother and then his father, a tribal leader in the village. It was then that Lalay decided to plot the revolt.

Before long, the villagers were in a full-fledged firefight against the Taliban. There aren’t many coalition troops in Daikundi, but they asked for help, and Australian and U.S. Special Operations soldiers answered the call. The revolt against the Taliban has since progressed:

Lalay’s force has now grown to 300 men. They conduct foot patrols and operate checkpoints in and around Gizab. The revolt also has spread to 14 neighboring villages, each of which has a 10-man defense squad.

The Special Forces detachment that had been based to the north has since moved to Gizab, where its members are training the local defenders and watching over them to prevent any other extrajudicial killings.

Insurgent attacks and intimidation have ceased. “There are still Talibs in the mountains, but they’re in hiding,” said Lalay, who wears a bandolier slung over the shoulder. “They don’t dare to come outside and fight us.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is the continuing sloth and ineffectiveness of the Afghan police charged with patrolling Kandahar. Post correspondent Ernesto Londono reports that American MPs are getting frustrated with the Afghans they are supposed to be mentoring. In a nutshell, they don’t want to patrol, but they do want to take bribes. Such frustrations are nothing new, of course; they recall the difficulties in Iraq in improving police and army performance. That process is just starting in Afghanistan and needs time to mature.

But as the revolt in Daikundi reminds us, our best ally is the Taliban. Their very heavy-handedness and repression alienates the population. The key is to be able to take advantage of that alienation by helping the Afghan people to secure themselves — something that growing numbers of American troops should be able to help with, just as they did in Iraq.

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Going the Distance in Afghanistan

A popular impression seems to be building that the Marine offensive into Marja, a center of narco-traffickers and the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, has already failed. In truth, as C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine turned New York Times correspondent, reminds us, it’s too early to tell. In a first-class report from the scene, he notes signs favorable and unfavorable. Among the good indications:

Most of Marja’s civilians returned after moving away ahead of the initial assault. Most of them remain. Compounds that were empty in February are inhabited. Roads once quiet are busy. Fields are thick with crops. Shops in some bazaars have reopened. Afghan units participate visibly in dangerous missions.

Yet the district is far from fully pacified. As he also notes:

Each day, American foot patrols move through farmers’ fields and irrigated villages. And each day some are ambushed or encounter hidden bombs. The patrols turn into gunfights in withering heat, or efforts to dismantle the bombs or treat the wounded.

What does this mean? Simply that counterinsurgency is a lengthy, difficult undertaking that cannot be completed overnight like an armored blitzkrieg. The Marines have only been in Marja since February. That may seem like a long time, but not in counterinsurgency warfare.

Remember Fallujah? That city in Iraq’s Anbar Province was first entered by U.S. troops in 2003. In 2004, the Marines staged two major offensives into Fallujah; the first failed, the second succeeded. But even after the ostensible success of the second Fallujah operation, the city did not become really secure until 2008, when the Anbar Awakening was in full swing. Yes, it can take five years to truly secure valuable real estate when it’s located in the enemy’s backyard.

That’s an important point to keep in mind as coalition troops ramp up for  an “offensive” — a word they now studiously avoid — into Kandahar, southern Afghanistan’s largest city. Defeating the Taliban is hardly impossible, but it will take a lot of patience. The question is whether President Obama, who has set next summer as the deadline to begin withdrawing U.S. troops, will show the patience needed to succeed.

A popular impression seems to be building that the Marine offensive into Marja, a center of narco-traffickers and the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, has already failed. In truth, as C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine turned New York Times correspondent, reminds us, it’s too early to tell. In a first-class report from the scene, he notes signs favorable and unfavorable. Among the good indications:

Most of Marja’s civilians returned after moving away ahead of the initial assault. Most of them remain. Compounds that were empty in February are inhabited. Roads once quiet are busy. Fields are thick with crops. Shops in some bazaars have reopened. Afghan units participate visibly in dangerous missions.

Yet the district is far from fully pacified. As he also notes:

Each day, American foot patrols move through farmers’ fields and irrigated villages. And each day some are ambushed or encounter hidden bombs. The patrols turn into gunfights in withering heat, or efforts to dismantle the bombs or treat the wounded.

What does this mean? Simply that counterinsurgency is a lengthy, difficult undertaking that cannot be completed overnight like an armored blitzkrieg. The Marines have only been in Marja since February. That may seem like a long time, but not in counterinsurgency warfare.

Remember Fallujah? That city in Iraq’s Anbar Province was first entered by U.S. troops in 2003. In 2004, the Marines staged two major offensives into Fallujah; the first failed, the second succeeded. But even after the ostensible success of the second Fallujah operation, the city did not become really secure until 2008, when the Anbar Awakening was in full swing. Yes, it can take five years to truly secure valuable real estate when it’s located in the enemy’s backyard.

That’s an important point to keep in mind as coalition troops ramp up for  an “offensive” — a word they now studiously avoid — into Kandahar, southern Afghanistan’s largest city. Defeating the Taliban is hardly impossible, but it will take a lot of patience. The question is whether President Obama, who has set next summer as the deadline to begin withdrawing U.S. troops, will show the patience needed to succeed.

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“It’s a Shame”

While calling her words “offensive,” Barack Obama today offered more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger commentary on the retirement of Helen Thomas:

The comments were offensive. It’s a shame because Helen was somebody who had been a correspondent through I don’t know how many presidents, was a real institution in Washington. But I think she made the right decision. I think that those comments were out of line, and hopefully she recognizes that.

She was indeed a “real institution” in Washington. But given her decades-long vitriol toward Jews and Israel, not to mention the genuinely deep unpleasantness with which she conducted herself, such a thing says more about Washington and its press corps, and what is tolerable to both than it does about Helen Thomas, who is and has always been a particularly repellent example of her city’s and her profession’s self-regard. And what these words say about Barack Obama himself I leave to you to decide.

While calling her words “offensive,” Barack Obama today offered more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger commentary on the retirement of Helen Thomas:

The comments were offensive. It’s a shame because Helen was somebody who had been a correspondent through I don’t know how many presidents, was a real institution in Washington. But I think she made the right decision. I think that those comments were out of line, and hopefully she recognizes that.

She was indeed a “real institution” in Washington. But given her decades-long vitriol toward Jews and Israel, not to mention the genuinely deep unpleasantness with which she conducted herself, such a thing says more about Washington and its press corps, and what is tolerable to both than it does about Helen Thomas, who is and has always been a particularly repellent example of her city’s and her profession’s self-regard. And what these words say about Barack Obama himself I leave to you to decide.

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