Commentary Magazine


Topic: Cuba

Coming Apart at the Seams

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts. Read More

As much as Obama’s aura has dimmed in the United States, his international standing is potentially in worse condition, and with more dire consequences. As this report explains, he’s finding it hard — no matter how lucrative the bribe — to get any nation to make a deal:

From failing to secure a free-trade agreement in South Korea to struggling to win Senate ratification of an arms-control treaty with Russia, Obama has bumped up against the boundaries of his power at a defining moment of his presidency. …

“He assumed that because he was liked so clearly and overwhelmingly he could merely assert what he wanted to achieve and people would follow,” said Simon Serfaty, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Clearly enough, the world that he imagined proved to be different than the world as it is.” …

The Middle East peace process he inaugurated two months ago has stalled. His mercurial ally in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai, is calling for scaled-back U.S. military operations there at the height of the 30,000-troop escalation Obama approved a year ago.

His pledge to remedy one polarizing legacy of the Bush administration by closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, suffered this week when a jury convicted the first former detainee to face civilian trial on only one of 285 criminal counts.

You get the picture. So Obama’s gambits become more and more desperate. Hence, the cockeyed attempt to spare himself the collapse of the non-direct, non-peace talks. “National security analysts say the price Obama is willing to pay for another three months of talks is high, in part because he set a one-year timeline for their successful conclusion. Many believe that the deadline, like other of Obama’s foreign policy goals, was overly optimistic.” Well, that’s a generous way of putting it. To be blunt, he’s made hash out of our relationship with Israel, diminished our credibility with every player in the Middle East, and now is panicked that it is all about to come tumbling down around his ears.

Likewise, out of desperation to get a “win,” Obama is trying to force a Senate vote on New START. Saner voices are trying to warn him:

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who held senior foreign-policy positions in both Bush administrations, said “it’s no big deal if gets kicked off until February, March, then passes.”

“You don’t want to bring this to a vote and lose,” Haass said. “You don’t want to have the Senate equivalent of going to Seoul and not getting a trade agreement.”

Funny how each new foreign policy fumble has a precursor. Seoul is like Copenhagen. New START is like the Syrian ambassador’s nomination. The handling of the Honduras “coup” is like pulling the rug out from under our Eastern European allies on missile defense. And on it goes — an endless series of half-baked ideas, offended allies, stalled negotiations, and poorly executed gambits. And we haven’t even gotten to the worst of it: an emboldened Iran racing toward membership in the nuclear power club.

It’s not all a disaster. Obama is showing some recognition that we must remain engaged in Iraq. He’s coming around to erasing the ill-advised Afghanistan deadline. And perhaps, after two years, he’s cluing into the need to get serious about human rights in Egypt and elsewhere. But the continuities with his predecessor (annoyingly accompanied by chest-puffing and refusal to credit President Bush) are outnumbered and overshadowed by the gaffes.

This is not a time for conservatives to cheer. It is deeply troubling that the president has imperiled our standing in the world. Congress is no substitute for a commander in chief, but responsible voices in the House and Senate should work — by resolution, oversight, private conversation, and funding — to guide the administration to more sober policymaking and less erratic execution. Unfortunately, once the credibility of the American president is diminished by hapless moves and unserious rhetoric, it’s hard to get it back.

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The Ghailani Debacle

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.'”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.'”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

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Human Rights Policy Gone Mad

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

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LIVE BLOG: The Son of Exiles

I agree with John about Marco Rubio’s potential for winning even higher offices in the future. While the Democrats spent most of this year trying to portray the conservative Rubio and his Tea Party supporters as extremist nuts, it may be that the real analogy here is with the rise of Barack Obama in his Senate race in Illinois. In his speech, Rubio reminded the country that no matter where he goes in life, he will “always be the son of exiles.” The rise of a Hispanic Republican, the son of immigrants who fled Communist Cuba, is, even on a night of great victories for his party, perhaps the most encouraging moment for the GOP.

I agree with John about Marco Rubio’s potential for winning even higher offices in the future. While the Democrats spent most of this year trying to portray the conservative Rubio and his Tea Party supporters as extremist nuts, it may be that the real analogy here is with the rise of Barack Obama in his Senate race in Illinois. In his speech, Rubio reminded the country that no matter where he goes in life, he will “always be the son of exiles.” The rise of a Hispanic Republican, the son of immigrants who fled Communist Cuba, is, even on a night of great victories for his party, perhaps the most encouraging moment for the GOP.

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How Will the GOP Be Able to Influence Foreign Policy After the Election?

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

With the GOP poised to take at least one house of Congress, there is already much speculation about what this portends for policy. I will leave domestic policy to colleagues who follow it more closely than I do. When it comes to foreign and defense policy, my instinct is that there isn’t much change in the works.

In the first place, national-security policy is an area of almost unbounded presidential prerogative. Most of the time Congress can exert an influence only at the margins. Only if things really get off-kilter can Congress have a major impact, as it did in the early 1970s, when antiwar lawmakers cut off South Vietnam and severely hobbled our defense and intelligence establishments. But that was after Watergate and a military defeat (or so it was perceived at the time — debate about whether we really “lost” in Vietnam continues). Such circumstances seldom recur; no chief executive has been as weak as Nixon and Ford. In the 1980s, to be sure, Congress was a significant player in trying to limit aid to the Sandinistas and some other aspects of the Reagan approach to winning the Cold War — but that was a much more ideologically polarizing period in foreign policy than the one we’re in today.

As I noted recently, there is a surprisingly large degree of bipartisan consensus on the war on terror now that Obama has essentially endorsed most of Bush’s approach. That extends to other areas, including the most controversial foreign-policy issue of the day — the Afghan War. Republicans are actually more behind the war effort than Democrats, so it will be easy for Obama to reach across the aisle and seek and win the support of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and other Republican leaders on the Hill. Some Tea Party isolationists (Rand Paul comes to mind) will object but they will be fringe players — unless the war goes seriously south. The most immediate impact of GOP majorities would presumably be to take the pressure off Obama to stick by his July 2011 deadline for beginning a withdrawal, but, as I’ve previously noted, I think the president has backed off the deadline as it is. Republicans may also pressure Obama to get tougher on Iran and less tough on Israel, but their leverage is going to be severely limited.

The most significant changes are likely to be not those imposed on Obama from the Hill but those he has decided to make himself based on two years of on-the-job experience. As Robert Kagan recently argued, there are some signs to indicate that Obama’s foreign policy has already entered a new phase:

If Phase One was about repairing America’s image around the world by showing a friendlier face to everyone, especially adversaries, Phase Two will be about wielding renewed American influence, even if it means challenging some and disappointing others. If Phase One was about “resetting” relations with great powers, especially Russia and China, Phase Two will be about discovering the limits of reset and taking a harder line when we disagree. If Phase One placed more emphasis on great-power cooperation and the nebulous concept of a “G-20 world,” Phase Two will be built around core U.S. alliances with democratic nations. If Phase One was focused on being Not Bush, Phase Two will be about shedding that self-imposed straitjacket and pursuing traditional American interests and principles even if George W. Bush pursued them, too.

I think that’s basically right. Obama came into office with little foreign-policy experience and lots of ideological baggage. (Remember his infamous pledge to meet during his first year in office with the leaders of “Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea”? Another campaign promise thankfully not kept.) He has been learning the hard way that his personal charm is not going to transform the world — that the mullahs, for instance, will want nuclear weapons no matter who is in the White House. He is now making some welcome course adjustments. Republicans on the Hill can support some of his initiatives and stymie others but ultimately they are not going to have a decisive impact on the course set by the commander in chief.

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Chavez Still Chavez

It seems that a single meeting with Jewish leaders did not herald the dawning of a new age in Hugo Chavez’s relations with Jews or the Jewish state.

We saw Chavez literally wrap his arms around Ahmadinejad:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told reporters after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Tuesday that cooperation with Iran was a “holy task” for Venezuela, Iran’s Fars news agency said.

Ahmadinejad in turn welcomed Venezuela’s support against the Islamic Republic’s western “bullies.” …

The progressive and fraternal stance of Venezuela in condemning sanctions against Iran imposed by the bullying powers is indicative of the deep and firm ties between the two countries,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA. … It was the ninth visit to Iran by Chavez, who has often described the Islamic country as his “second home.”

The regional “bully,” in case there was any doubt, is Israel.

And now there is this:

On the Mideast leg of an international tour, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he and his Syrian counterpart are “on the offensive” against Western imperialism. …

“We’re on the offensive,” Chavez said. “We’re building an alternative.”

The two also discussed a proposed oil project and signed several economic agreements.

Chavez arrived in Syria on Wednesday from Tehran, where he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they are united in efforts to establish a “new world order” that will eliminate Western dominance over global affairs.

If the “new world order” sounds vaguely fascistic — and one possibly without Jews in its midst — you have understood their drift.

As the U.S. dallies, Iran gathers friends — in another presidency, it would be called the Axis of Evil. Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and to a large extent the increasingly Islamist Turkey have figured out that the U.S. is in retreat and that the new and potentially nuclear-armed Iran is where the action is.

It would be delightful if the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez turned over a new leaf with regard to Iran’s genocidal ambitions and Israel. But that is the stuff of fantasy and bamboozled liberal pundits.

It seems that a single meeting with Jewish leaders did not herald the dawning of a new age in Hugo Chavez’s relations with Jews or the Jewish state.

We saw Chavez literally wrap his arms around Ahmadinejad:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told reporters after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran on Tuesday that cooperation with Iran was a “holy task” for Venezuela, Iran’s Fars news agency said.

Ahmadinejad in turn welcomed Venezuela’s support against the Islamic Republic’s western “bullies.” …

The progressive and fraternal stance of Venezuela in condemning sanctions against Iran imposed by the bullying powers is indicative of the deep and firm ties between the two countries,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA. … It was the ninth visit to Iran by Chavez, who has often described the Islamic country as his “second home.”

The regional “bully,” in case there was any doubt, is Israel.

And now there is this:

On the Mideast leg of an international tour, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he and his Syrian counterpart are “on the offensive” against Western imperialism. …

“We’re on the offensive,” Chavez said. “We’re building an alternative.”

The two also discussed a proposed oil project and signed several economic agreements.

Chavez arrived in Syria on Wednesday from Tehran, where he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they are united in efforts to establish a “new world order” that will eliminate Western dominance over global affairs.

If the “new world order” sounds vaguely fascistic — and one possibly without Jews in its midst — you have understood their drift.

As the U.S. dallies, Iran gathers friends — in another presidency, it would be called the Axis of Evil. Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and to a large extent the increasingly Islamist Turkey have figured out that the U.S. is in retreat and that the new and potentially nuclear-armed Iran is where the action is.

It would be delightful if the likes of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez turned over a new leaf with regard to Iran’s genocidal ambitions and Israel. But that is the stuff of fantasy and bamboozled liberal pundits.

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Block This Sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scammed Again (Even Without the Dolphin Show)

Jeffrey Goldberg, fresh from flacking for Fidel Castro, moves on to Castro’s sidekick Hugo Chavez:

One day after I posted Fidel Castro’s condemnation of anti-Semitism on this blog, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, announced that he too, felt great “love and respect” for Jews, and he invited the leaders of his country’s put-upon Jewish community to meet with him. The meeting took place a short while later. Chavez’s statement, and the meeting that followed, were widely interpreted in Latin America as a signal from Chavez his mentor, Fidel, that he understood that Venezuela was developing a reputation as a hostile place for Jews.

And he relates an e-mail saying how thrilled Argentine Jews were to have the meeting.

There was such a meeting. The group presented Chavez with a dossier on anti-Jewish incidents, which Chavez “promised to read,” but it’s absurd to consider this anything more than a PR stunt. Does Goldberg really imagine his dolphin encounter has spurred Chavez to retreat from his state-sponsored anti-Semitism and voracious anti-Israel foreign policy? Read More

Jeffrey Goldberg, fresh from flacking for Fidel Castro, moves on to Castro’s sidekick Hugo Chavez:

One day after I posted Fidel Castro’s condemnation of anti-Semitism on this blog, the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, announced that he too, felt great “love and respect” for Jews, and he invited the leaders of his country’s put-upon Jewish community to meet with him. The meeting took place a short while later. Chavez’s statement, and the meeting that followed, were widely interpreted in Latin America as a signal from Chavez his mentor, Fidel, that he understood that Venezuela was developing a reputation as a hostile place for Jews.

And he relates an e-mail saying how thrilled Argentine Jews were to have the meeting.

There was such a meeting. The group presented Chavez with a dossier on anti-Jewish incidents, which Chavez “promised to read,” but it’s absurd to consider this anything more than a PR stunt. Does Goldberg really imagine his dolphin encounter has spurred Chavez to retreat from his state-sponsored anti-Semitism and voracious anti-Israel foreign policy?

This June report explains:

In the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla affair, President Chavez cursed Israel as a “terrorist state” and an enemy of the Venezuelan revolution and claimed Israel’s Mossad spy agency was trying to assassinate him.

“Extreme criticism and the de-legitimization of Israel continue to be used by the government of Venezuela as a political tool,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.  “The atmosphere of extreme anti-Israel criticism and an unsettling focus on the Venezuelan Jewish community’s attitudes creates an environment for anti-Semitism to grow and flourish.  So far this hasn’t translated into attacks against individual Jews or Jewish institutions.  However, we cannot forget that the Jewish community in Venezuela has already witnessed violent anti-Semitic incidents in the past few years.”

In a new online report, the League documents recent anti-Semitic expressions in Venezuela in the aftermath of the Gaza flotilla incident, including those of government and political leaders, conspiracy theories and accusations in the government-run media, and statements on various anti-Israel websites.

In a June 12 interview with the government-owned national television network, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro . . suggested that should a terrorist attack be carried out on Venezuelan soil, a likely culprit would be the “intelligence assassin apparatus of the State of Israel,” the Mossad.

Vilification of Zionism is particularly present in the government-run media and the so-called “alternative” media run by government sympathizers who are intricately intertwined with the government apparatus, according to the ADL.  Media and political leaders seem to take their cues from Chavez, who has in the past few years made his feelings about Israel all-too clear.

Moreover, Chavez’s overeager Atlantic scribe overlooks an inconvenient truth: Chavez has made common cause with Ahmadinejad. As the Washington Post explained last year:

Mr. Chávez was in Tehran again this week and offered his full support for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s hard-line faction. As usual, the caudillo made clear that he shares Iran’s view of Israel, which he called “a genocidal state.” He endorsed Iran’s nuclear program and declared that Venezuela would seek Iran’s assistance to construct a nuclear complex of its own. He also announced that his government would begin supplying Iran with 20,000 barrels of gasoline a day — a deal that could directly undercut a possible U.S. effort to curtail Iran’s gasoline imports.

Such collaboration is far from new for Venezuela and Iran. In the past several years Iran has opened banks in Caracas and factories in the South American countryside. Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau . . . says he believes Iran is using the Venezuelan banking system to evade U.S. and U.N. sanctions. He also points out that Iranian factories have been located “in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela” that lack infrastructure but that could be “ideal . . . for the illicit production of weapons.”

Moreover, Benny Avni writes in the New York Sun that Chavez’s mentor — notwithstanding the lovely visit with Goldberg — is behaving as he always does:

On the eve of hearings that had been set to open in the United States Congress on whether to ease the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba, Havana’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, has been taking a hard, even strident line here at the United Nations, very much at odds with the way Fidel Castro is trying to portray Cuba in the American press these days.

It has prompted old hands here at the United Nations to quote another, albeit different kind of, Marxist —  Groucho, who famously asked: Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? . . .

Mr. Parrilla, however, was, in his address at the annual General Assembly debate, as rigid as ever, blaming America’s aggression for all the isle’s troubles, saying Israel is behind all that’s wrong in the Middle East, and expressing solidarity with Venezuela’s caudillo, Hugo Chavez.

Avni chastises Goldberg for stunning naivete and relaying Cuba’s business-as-usual rhetoric:

And no, for Cuba the holocaust-denying Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is not the aggressor. “As Comrade Fidel has pointed out, powerful and influential forces in the United States and Israel are paving the way to launch a military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr. Parrilla warned, adding that the General Assembly must stop such a plot to commit a “crime against the Iranian people” and such “an assault against international law” in order to prevent a nuclear war.

Mr. Parrilla’s entire speech was an old-style Cuban assault on America and Israel, harking back to the glorious days of the Cold War when the Castros drew as much attention at international fora like the U.N. as is now reserved for Mr. Ahmadinejad or Mr. Chavez.

It’s bad enough that Goldberg was taken in by Soros Street (many liberals were), but he really should stay away from Latin American dictators.

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Another Questionable Appointee, Another Recess Appointment

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

Obama is using the recess appointment again. Recall that is how he got the SEIU’s lawyer on to the National Labor Relations Board and how he got Donald Berwick past the Senate’s scrutiny. (“‘Senate confirmation of presidential appointees is an essential process prescribed by the Constitution that serves as a check on executive power and protects Montanans and all Americans by ensuring that crucial questions are asked of the nominee — and answered,’ [Max] Baucus said in a statement.”)

Now he’s at is again, this time to get an ambassador to El Salvador through. What was her problem? Josh Rogin explains that Mari Carmen Aponte is going to be pushed through “despite lingering GOP concerns about her long-ago relationship with a Cuban operative.” Obama’s not serious, is he? Oh, yes indeed:

Aponte’s nomination had been stalled as of April due to objections by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, who prevented the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting on the nomination because he was worried about a romantic involvement she had in the 1990s with Robert Tamayo, a Cuban-born insurance salesman who was alleged to have ties to both the FBI and Fidel Castro’s intelligence apparatus.

DeMint and other Republicans wanted access to all of the FBI’s records on the relationship. The FBI interviewed both Aponte and Tamayo about the matter back in 1993, but Aponte has admitted she declined to take a lie-detector test. She withdrew herself from consideration to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic in 1998 after then Sen. Jesse Helms promised to ask invasive questions about the relationship at her hearing, citing “personal reasons.”

Translation: the Clinton administration was not going to go to bat for this woman. But not Obama. Off she will go, with no examination of her ties to Castro.

This is yet another instance of both Obama’s preference for appointing questionable characters and his need (which likely will intensify with time) to resort to strong-arm tactics. (After all, none of the Democrats in the Senate really wanted to vote for this woman, did they?) This does not seem to be the sort of president who’s going to tack to the center and learn the art of compromise after November. But we’ll see.

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New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

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Christopher Hitchens, Jon Stewart, and More

In his moving article in Vanity Fair about his cancer, Christopher Hitchens disclosed that just before he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he violently threw up — the result of the illness he had learned about that morning, when he woke unable to breathe, was barely able to cross his hotel room to call for help, and was saved by emergency treatment by doctors who did “quite a lot” of work on his heart and lungs and told him he needed to consult an oncologist immediately.

That evening he nevertheless appeared as scheduled on Stewart’s show (and then at the 92nd Street Y, where he threw up again), unwilling to disappoint his friends or miss the chance to sell his memoir. In the article, he did not describe what he said on The Daily Show, but his appearance there is worth remembering for reasons going beyond his extraordinary fortitude in proceeding with it.

The video is here. At the end, after discussing his work in a camp for revolutionaries in Cuba in the 60s, there was this colloquy:

Stewart: If you had been young today, going through this same sort of [unintelligible], where do you think your alliances would be, where do you think you would have—

Hitchens: Well, I teach at the New School, and I teach English and a lot of journalists and would-be journalists come, and I often hang out with young people who are journalists, and I’m sorry for them, in a way. Because what are they gonna do – I mean, are they going to say ‘I’m a global warming activist’? It’s not quite the same, is it?

Stewart: Isn’t it all the same once you realize that your idealism — you can use it to further your aims, [if] you realize that nothing is nirvana, nothing is perfect?

Hitchens: Oscar Wilde used to say that a map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia isn’t worth looking at. I used to think that was a beautiful statement. I don’t think that at all anymore. I tell you, to be honest, the most idealistic and brave and committed and intelligent young people that I know have joined the armed forces. And they are now guarding us while we sleep in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. … I never would have expected that would be what I would say about the students I have to teach.

Stewart’s audience, which is often raucous, listened to this in silence.

Hitchens writes in Hitch-22 that these days he thinks about “the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest [for Utopia] has led” and that he came to realize that “the only historical revolution with any verve left in it, or any example to offer others, was the American one.” His appearance on the Daily Show was an example not only of his physical courage but also of the intellectual audacity that pervades his book.

In his moving article in Vanity Fair about his cancer, Christopher Hitchens disclosed that just before he went on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he violently threw up — the result of the illness he had learned about that morning, when he woke unable to breathe, was barely able to cross his hotel room to call for help, and was saved by emergency treatment by doctors who did “quite a lot” of work on his heart and lungs and told him he needed to consult an oncologist immediately.

That evening he nevertheless appeared as scheduled on Stewart’s show (and then at the 92nd Street Y, where he threw up again), unwilling to disappoint his friends or miss the chance to sell his memoir. In the article, he did not describe what he said on The Daily Show, but his appearance there is worth remembering for reasons going beyond his extraordinary fortitude in proceeding with it.

The video is here. At the end, after discussing his work in a camp for revolutionaries in Cuba in the 60s, there was this colloquy:

Stewart: If you had been young today, going through this same sort of [unintelligible], where do you think your alliances would be, where do you think you would have—

Hitchens: Well, I teach at the New School, and I teach English and a lot of journalists and would-be journalists come, and I often hang out with young people who are journalists, and I’m sorry for them, in a way. Because what are they gonna do – I mean, are they going to say ‘I’m a global warming activist’? It’s not quite the same, is it?

Stewart: Isn’t it all the same once you realize that your idealism — you can use it to further your aims, [if] you realize that nothing is nirvana, nothing is perfect?

Hitchens: Oscar Wilde used to say that a map of the world that doesn’t include Utopia isn’t worth looking at. I used to think that was a beautiful statement. I don’t think that at all anymore. I tell you, to be honest, the most idealistic and brave and committed and intelligent young people that I know have joined the armed forces. And they are now guarding us while we sleep in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. … I never would have expected that would be what I would say about the students I have to teach.

Stewart’s audience, which is often raucous, listened to this in silence.

Hitchens writes in Hitch-22 that these days he thinks about “the shipwrecks and prison islands to which the quest [for Utopia] has led” and that he came to realize that “the only historical revolution with any verve left in it, or any example to offer others, was the American one.” His appearance on the Daily Show was an example not only of his physical courage but also of the intellectual audacity that pervades his book.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

It’s not like the Constitution says “informed advice and consent.” The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm Elena Kagan, even though many (Lindsey Graham for one) complained they didn’t know much about her.

It’s not like Ohio is an important bellwether state, or anything. “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Ohio finds Republican candidate Rob Portman with 45% of the vote while Democrat Lee Fisher earns 39% support this month. Five percent (5%) prefer some other candidate in the race, and 11% more are undecided.”

It’s not like the administration listens to Israelis about Israel or businessmen about business, but still, even they should find this (from Jackson Diehl) compelling: “Those who argue that Western democracies should lift sanctions on Cuba often claim that even the island’s dissidents favor the move. So it was interesting to see the statement issued Monday by ten of the 11 political prisoners who were deported to Spain by the Castro dictatorship last week. Noting the ‘manifest willingness of some European countries’ to liberalize E.U. strictures on relations with Cuba, the dissidents said they opposed ‘an approval of this measure,’ because ‘the Cuban government has not taken steps that evidence a clear decision to advance toward the democratization of the country.'”

It’s not like a Democratic polling outfit wants to pour gasoline on the fire: Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen writes: “With Barack Obama’s polling numbers hitting the worst levels of his Presidency recently there have been a lot of calls, mostly from conservatives, for us to poll Hillary against Obama for the 2012 nomination. We’re not going to do that but even if we did I wouldn’t expect it to be very interesting.”

It’s not like we’re really going to talk to North Korea. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley explained (well, not explained, but said): “We’re always prepared to talk. But there are some definite steps that we have to see from North Korea before that becomes possible. So I think we agree fully with the South Korean foreign minister that, you know, there are conditions and obligations that North Korea has to demonstrate a willingness to tackle before we’ll consider having a follow-on conversation.”

It’s not like Obama has been great for Democrats in Virginia: “A new survey of Virginia’s 5th district race paints a tough reelection picture for freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D). Sen. Robert Hurt (R) is leading the incumbent, 58 percent to 35 percent, according to the survey, conducted by SurveyUSA for WDBJ News in Roanoke.”

It’s not like this is a bad thing for Democrats — or for the country: “Senate climate legislation appeared to be on life support Tuesday after two key advocates said they were skeptical of reaching a quick deal on a controversial bill that includes a cap on greenhouse gases from power plants.”

It’s not like the Constitution says “informed advice and consent.” The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm Elena Kagan, even though many (Lindsey Graham for one) complained they didn’t know much about her.

It’s not like Ohio is an important bellwether state, or anything. “The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Ohio finds Republican candidate Rob Portman with 45% of the vote while Democrat Lee Fisher earns 39% support this month. Five percent (5%) prefer some other candidate in the race, and 11% more are undecided.”

It’s not like the administration listens to Israelis about Israel or businessmen about business, but still, even they should find this (from Jackson Diehl) compelling: “Those who argue that Western democracies should lift sanctions on Cuba often claim that even the island’s dissidents favor the move. So it was interesting to see the statement issued Monday by ten of the 11 political prisoners who were deported to Spain by the Castro dictatorship last week. Noting the ‘manifest willingness of some European countries’ to liberalize E.U. strictures on relations with Cuba, the dissidents said they opposed ‘an approval of this measure,’ because ‘the Cuban government has not taken steps that evidence a clear decision to advance toward the democratization of the country.'”

It’s not like a Democratic polling outfit wants to pour gasoline on the fire: Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen writes: “With Barack Obama’s polling numbers hitting the worst levels of his Presidency recently there have been a lot of calls, mostly from conservatives, for us to poll Hillary against Obama for the 2012 nomination. We’re not going to do that but even if we did I wouldn’t expect it to be very interesting.”

It’s not like we’re really going to talk to North Korea. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley explained (well, not explained, but said): “We’re always prepared to talk. But there are some definite steps that we have to see from North Korea before that becomes possible. So I think we agree fully with the South Korean foreign minister that, you know, there are conditions and obligations that North Korea has to demonstrate a willingness to tackle before we’ll consider having a follow-on conversation.”

It’s not like Obama has been great for Democrats in Virginia: “A new survey of Virginia’s 5th district race paints a tough reelection picture for freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D). Sen. Robert Hurt (R) is leading the incumbent, 58 percent to 35 percent, according to the survey, conducted by SurveyUSA for WDBJ News in Roanoke.”

It’s not like this is a bad thing for Democrats — or for the country: “Senate climate legislation appeared to be on life support Tuesday after two key advocates said they were skeptical of reaching a quick deal on a controversial bill that includes a cap on greenhouse gases from power plants.”

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What Was Sestak Thinking When He Wrote to UN Human Rights Council?

If Joe Sestak was hoping to shore up his pro-Israel bona fides, he badly miscalculated with his “please be impartial” letter to the UN Human Rights Council. Dan Senor of the Council on Foreign Relations had this response, pointing to Israel’s own investigation:

The investigation is already taking place. If Sestak was genuinely concerned, he could have written the UNHRC and called it out for existing and operating in a blizzard of double-standards, and make it clear that he would not support any UNHRC investigation of Israel under any circumstances until the Council repudiates the Goldstone Report and stops singling out Israel time after time. That would have been praiseworthy. Instead he endorsed the investigation.

The American Jewish Committee, a rather liberal outfit, had this to say in early June:

“The UN Human Rights Council remains a kangaroo court, in which repressive and authoritarian states like Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can indulge their obsession with Israel, while ignoring serial violators such as Iran and North Korea,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Fresh from convicting Israel through the notoriously biased Goldstone Report into the war in Gaza, which presumed Israel’s ‘guilt’ before launching a fact-finding mission, the Council is now embarking on a new attempt to vilify Israel.”

(Well, before Harris got to the National Jewish Democratic Council, he was a bit more candid.)

Early last month, AIPAC also went after the UNHRC, urging that the Obama administration “maintain its longstanding position not to allow the Security Council and other U.N. organs such as the U.N. Human Rights Council to exploit unfortunate incidents by passing biased, anti-Israel resolutions that obscure the truth and accomplish nothing.”

What activist, lawmaker, or pro-Israel advocacy group (J Street, not you) genuinely concerned about the bile-drenched UNHRC and its serial attacks on the Jewish state would have sent a letter like Sestak’s? I’m going out on a limb: none.

Rep. Peter King gets it. He e-mails: “We should have no contact whatsoever with the UN Human Rights Council. It is impossible for that Council to even begin a fair investigation.”

CORRECTION: David Harris of the AJC and David Harris of the NDJC are not one and the same. David Harris of the AJC remains as candid as ever. I regret the error.

If Joe Sestak was hoping to shore up his pro-Israel bona fides, he badly miscalculated with his “please be impartial” letter to the UN Human Rights Council. Dan Senor of the Council on Foreign Relations had this response, pointing to Israel’s own investigation:

The investigation is already taking place. If Sestak was genuinely concerned, he could have written the UNHRC and called it out for existing and operating in a blizzard of double-standards, and make it clear that he would not support any UNHRC investigation of Israel under any circumstances until the Council repudiates the Goldstone Report and stops singling out Israel time after time. That would have been praiseworthy. Instead he endorsed the investigation.

The American Jewish Committee, a rather liberal outfit, had this to say in early June:

“The UN Human Rights Council remains a kangaroo court, in which repressive and authoritarian states like Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can indulge their obsession with Israel, while ignoring serial violators such as Iran and North Korea,” said AJC Executive Director David Harris. “Fresh from convicting Israel through the notoriously biased Goldstone Report into the war in Gaza, which presumed Israel’s ‘guilt’ before launching a fact-finding mission, the Council is now embarking on a new attempt to vilify Israel.”

(Well, before Harris got to the National Jewish Democratic Council, he was a bit more candid.)

Early last month, AIPAC also went after the UNHRC, urging that the Obama administration “maintain its longstanding position not to allow the Security Council and other U.N. organs such as the U.N. Human Rights Council to exploit unfortunate incidents by passing biased, anti-Israel resolutions that obscure the truth and accomplish nothing.”

What activist, lawmaker, or pro-Israel advocacy group (J Street, not you) genuinely concerned about the bile-drenched UNHRC and its serial attacks on the Jewish state would have sent a letter like Sestak’s? I’m going out on a limb: none.

Rep. Peter King gets it. He e-mails: “We should have no contact whatsoever with the UN Human Rights Council. It is impossible for that Council to even begin a fair investigation.”

CORRECTION: David Harris of the AJC and David Harris of the NDJC are not one and the same. David Harris of the AJC remains as candid as ever. I regret the error.

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From Gitmo to Algeria

Obama’s cockeyed national security policy (which seeks ephemeral PR benefits from releasing terror detainees and handcuffing our own intelligence operatives) and his indifference to human rights have collided in the return of an Algerian Gitmo detainee to his home country — against his will. This report explains:

Aziz Abdul Naji, 35, an Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups that might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji’s appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

We are told not to worry about his fate:

The government said that Algeria has provided diplomatic assurances that Naji would not be mistreated, assurances that administration officials say are credible because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident.

“We take our human rights responsibilities seriously,” said an administration official.

Attorneys for Naji said they were disappointed by the transfer and vowed to continue to monitor Naji’s treatment.

“We are pretty stunned; you are never prepared,” said Doris Tennant, one of the lawyers. “We hope very much that the Algerian government will protect him. We plan to do everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are working with NGOs to make sure he is well protected.”

Algeria takes its human rights seriously? One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Apparently, the Obami are willing to play along with this farce. Algeria takes many things seriously — prolonging the Western Sahara humanitarian crisis, for example — but not human rights. Don’t take my word for it:

France must not deport a man convicted of terrorist acts to Algeria where he may be at risk of incommunicado detention and torture or other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said on Thursday. According to a European Court of Human Rights’ judgement on Thursday, Kamel Daoudi’s expulsion to Algeria would expose him to inhuman or degrading treatment and would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Sending Kamel Daoudi to Algeria would put him at risk of being tortured. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, France must not carry out the expulsion,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.

That’s a 2009 Amnesty International report. Want a more authoritative source? There is this:

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, NGO and local human rights activists reported that government officials sometimes employed them to obtain confessions. Government agents can face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and some were tried and convicted in 2008. Nonetheless, impunity remained a problem.

Local human rights lawyers maintained that torture continued to occur in detention facilities, most often against those arrested on “security grounds.” …

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards. Overcrowding was a problem in many prisons. According to human rights lawyers, the problem of overpopulation was partially explained by an abusive recourse to pretrial detention. In 2008 the [National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights] conducted 34 prison visits and highlighted concerns with overcrowding, insufficient bed space, as well as poor lighting, ventilation, nutrition, and hygiene.

That’s from our State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report.

No wonder a total of six Algerians (the other five are nearly certain to be repatriated) didn’t want to go back. But Obama thinks it is important (at least to his own image with international elite) to eject the Algerians from a safe, comfortable detention facility. So back they will go. Good luck to them. Let’s hope the NGOs are able to keep track of them and offer some protection. The United States sure won’t.

Obama’s cockeyed national security policy (which seeks ephemeral PR benefits from releasing terror detainees and handcuffing our own intelligence operatives) and his indifference to human rights have collided in the return of an Algerian Gitmo detainee to his home country — against his will. This report explains:

Aziz Abdul Naji, 35, an Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups that might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji’s appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

We are told not to worry about his fate:

The government said that Algeria has provided diplomatic assurances that Naji would not be mistreated, assurances that administration officials say are credible because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident.

“We take our human rights responsibilities seriously,” said an administration official.

Attorneys for Naji said they were disappointed by the transfer and vowed to continue to monitor Naji’s treatment.

“We are pretty stunned; you are never prepared,” said Doris Tennant, one of the lawyers. “We hope very much that the Algerian government will protect him. We plan to do everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are working with NGOs to make sure he is well protected.”

Algeria takes its human rights seriously? One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Apparently, the Obami are willing to play along with this farce. Algeria takes many things seriously — prolonging the Western Sahara humanitarian crisis, for example — but not human rights. Don’t take my word for it:

France must not deport a man convicted of terrorist acts to Algeria where he may be at risk of incommunicado detention and torture or other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said on Thursday. According to a European Court of Human Rights’ judgement on Thursday, Kamel Daoudi’s expulsion to Algeria would expose him to inhuman or degrading treatment and would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Sending Kamel Daoudi to Algeria would put him at risk of being tortured. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, France must not carry out the expulsion,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.

That’s a 2009 Amnesty International report. Want a more authoritative source? There is this:

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, NGO and local human rights activists reported that government officials sometimes employed them to obtain confessions. Government agents can face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and some were tried and convicted in 2008. Nonetheless, impunity remained a problem.

Local human rights lawyers maintained that torture continued to occur in detention facilities, most often against those arrested on “security grounds.” …

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards. Overcrowding was a problem in many prisons. According to human rights lawyers, the problem of overpopulation was partially explained by an abusive recourse to pretrial detention. In 2008 the [National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights] conducted 34 prison visits and highlighted concerns with overcrowding, insufficient bed space, as well as poor lighting, ventilation, nutrition, and hygiene.

That’s from our State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report.

No wonder a total of six Algerians (the other five are nearly certain to be repatriated) didn’t want to go back. But Obama thinks it is important (at least to his own image with international elite) to eject the Algerians from a safe, comfortable detention facility. So back they will go. Good luck to them. Let’s hope the NGOs are able to keep track of them and offer some protection. The United States sure won’t.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.'”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

Another culture — not American — is where you should look for evil, says one of the savviest conservative observers. Back with a bang, she takes issue with Brent Bozell’s invocation of “Satan” to describe American culture: “I, too, believe in evil, and I’d say Satan’s found a far more mellifluous laughing-ground among the Muslims, who please themselves to bury women up to their heads and stone them to death for ‘adultery,’ murder their own daughters for ‘mingling,’ and practice forms of human sacrifice—selling their sons to Pashtun pedophiles, for one, or celebrating their childrens’ deaths in suicide bombings, for another. To name just a few of the ways Islam holds the Satan laugh hand at the moment. So enough with the wah, wah, wah, Brent. Bad as it may be here at culture-rotten central (or not), it’s worse out there among the practitioners of the culture and religion of peace.”

Another terrible ambassador nominated, this time for Turkey. Elliott Abrams explains: “”Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador [Francis] Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy.” And he was publicly insubordinate.  Other than that, great pick — who can wait in line behind Robert Ford to be confirmed.

Another reason not to take the UN seriously: “When the results of the international investigation into the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan were released in May, the U.S. State Department was adamant that it believed North Korea was responsible — and that the country would have to face some actual punishment for killing 46 innocent South Korea sailors. … Fast forward to today, when the United Nations released a presidential statement which not only does not specify any consequences for the Kim Jong Il regime, but doesn’t even conclude that North Korea was responsible for the attack in the first place.” But the UN is certain the flotilla incident is all Israel’s fault.

Another inconvenient truth for the left: “The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go. Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”

Another awkward moment for Jewish groups. Obama declares that Israelis don’t like him because of his middle name; American Jewish leaders are mute. But Rep. Peter King isn’t: “‘That’s a terrible cheap shot. … And if he wants to get cute about it, King Hussein of Jordan was one of the best allies Israel ever had.’ … But his middle name ‘has nothing to do with it,’ King said. ‘The fact is that his policies from day one have had an anti-Israel overtone. … He has no one to blame but himself. He should forget his name — that’s just a cheap game and he should knock it off.'”

Another reason to dump Michael Steele: Haley Barbour could take over and would do a boffo job.

Another “Huh?” Clinton moment: he is officiating at the wedding of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner and a Hillary aide. Is he really the guy you want to lead the recitation of your wedding vows?

Another sign of the inherent good sense of the American people: Mark Penn, on the result of a survey for the Aspen Festival of Ideas, writes: “The poll suggests that, while the public may be dissatisfied with recent administrations and the partisan political environment, they remain reasonably satisfied with the governmental framework set out in the Constitution. By 64 to 19 they endorse the system of checks and balances as necessary to prevent one branch from dominating the Government. Freedom of speech was seen as far and away the single most important right guaranteed by the Constitution, and, as a corollary, only 28 percent believe the press has too much freedom.” I guess they don’t buy the suggestion that we are “ungovernable.”

Another outburst – and a reminder that the idea of engaging Iran is ludicrous: “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the historic dimensions of the Holocaust but rejected the label of an anti-Semite, the Fars news agency reported Friday. …  Ahmadinejad had earlier sparked international fury by calling for the eradication of Israel from the Middle East and its relocation to Europe or North America and by describing the murders of 6 million European Jews by Germany’s Nazi regime as a ‘fairy tale.’ He said Thursday that the Holocaust was an excuse for Israel and the West to take land away from millions of Palestinians and give it to Israel.” You know the last world leader to argue that the Holocaust was the rationale for creation of the Jewish state was… Barack Obama. Just saying.

Another reason to rethink lifetime Supreme Court appointments: at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “Justice Ginsburg said, ‘I am so glad that Elena is joining us.’ … Calling herself a ‘flaming feminist,’ Ginsburg said, ‘we will never go back’ to the days when abortion was illegal.” Since her mind is closed and her bias is evident, she should recuse herself from gender-discrimination and abortion cases.

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Cuba Prisoner Release

Regarding Cuba’s announcement that it will release 52 political prisoners, the Washington Post editors explain:

[T]here should be no illusions that this gesture augurs fundamental political change on the island that the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, have ruled with an iron fist since 1959. The Castro regime has a long history of tactical human rights concessions — with the goal of buying time for the regime rather than reforming it. …

The 52 inmates represent fewer than one-third of Cuba’s 167 political prisoners, according to democracy advocate Freedom House. Among prisoners notably not mentioned for release on Wednesday was Alan Gross of Potomac, an Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned in Cuba since December for the crime of distributing cellphones and laptops in Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. And the first five prisoners to be freed reportedly are going to be forced into exile as a condition of their release.

The editors implore Obama not to cough up any modifications in existing sanctions until there is evidence of fundamental political change in Cuba. But the danger is great that the overeager Obami will tout this as a grand success and evidence of the wisdom of their engagement approach and begin to throw goodies at the Castro brothers’ feet while downplaying Cuba’s ongoing human rights atrocities. Democracy promotion, defense of religious liberty, and human rights rank low on the list of Obama’s foreign policy priorities, so he is not inclined to scrutinize Cuba’s conduct on any of these fronts.

In sum, every prisoner freed from a gulag is reason to celebrate, but we should keep our eye on those who still rot in prisons, and on the entire population of Cuba and other thugocracies who live under the heel of despots.

Regarding Cuba’s announcement that it will release 52 political prisoners, the Washington Post editors explain:

[T]here should be no illusions that this gesture augurs fundamental political change on the island that the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, have ruled with an iron fist since 1959. The Castro regime has a long history of tactical human rights concessions — with the goal of buying time for the regime rather than reforming it. …

The 52 inmates represent fewer than one-third of Cuba’s 167 political prisoners, according to democracy advocate Freedom House. Among prisoners notably not mentioned for release on Wednesday was Alan Gross of Potomac, an Agency for International Development contractor imprisoned in Cuba since December for the crime of distributing cellphones and laptops in Cuba’s tiny Jewish community. And the first five prisoners to be freed reportedly are going to be forced into exile as a condition of their release.

The editors implore Obama not to cough up any modifications in existing sanctions until there is evidence of fundamental political change in Cuba. But the danger is great that the overeager Obami will tout this as a grand success and evidence of the wisdom of their engagement approach and begin to throw goodies at the Castro brothers’ feet while downplaying Cuba’s ongoing human rights atrocities. Democracy promotion, defense of religious liberty, and human rights rank low on the list of Obama’s foreign policy priorities, so he is not inclined to scrutinize Cuba’s conduct on any of these fronts.

In sum, every prisoner freed from a gulag is reason to celebrate, but we should keep our eye on those who still rot in prisons, and on the entire population of Cuba and other thugocracies who live under the heel of despots.

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Rewarding Dictators

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

Mary O’Grady frets that at the moment when Cuba is facing an economic squeeze, Democrats in Congress are throwing the Communist dictatorship a lifeline by seeking to lift the travel ban “without any human-rights concession from Castro.” She sees a disturbing pattern:

Why were the Obama administration and key congressional Democrats obsessed, for seven months, with trying to force Honduras to take Mr. Zelaya back? Why did the U.S. pull visas, deny aid, and lead an international campaign to isolate the tiny Central American democracy? To paraphrase many Americans who wrote to me during the stand-off: “Whose side are these guys on anyway?”

As O’Grady notes, Cuba is economically vulnerable:

The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. …

Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

Now there is a serious food shortage. This month the independent media in Cuba reported that a scarcity of rice had the government so worried about civil unrest that it had to send police to accompany deliveries to shops.

It seems a humanitarian flotilla for Cuba would be in order. But rather than push Cuba to show progress on human rights, the Obama team and its Democratic allies are giving the regime a way out. (It’s the reverse of Ronald Reagan’s strategy of bankrupting the Soviet Union.) As with many other foreign policy endeavors during this presidency, one can chalk up the give-Cuba-a-break approach to foolishness or a frightful desire to cozy up to despots. Whatever the rationale, it’s not “smart” — but it will help facilitate Cuba’s influence in our hemisphere and keep Cuban dissidents’ jailers in power.

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Colombia: Another Obama Victim

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

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

The Journal writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Journal writes:

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When debating illegal immigration, let’s remember who wants to come here: “those ill-used souls who, having braved coyotes both literal and figurative to get here, are now, with the submissive resignation of the most forbearing lama, slaving away washing dishes in restaurant kitchens, or bent double picking grapes in Napa, or cleaning the toilets of people who look right through them as if they were not flesh and blood, and whose children are serving honorably in the United States military.” Read the whole thing.

When looking for media bias, you can always count on the New York Times. In this hatchet job, it’s pretty obvious that the Humane Society and MADD roped the Gray Lady into going after their antagonist, the libertarian activist Richard Berman, who seems to be doing nothing illegal despite the Times‘s inferences. (Indeed, the IRS investigated a Berman entity and “found nothing that would warrant a revocation of its tax exemption.”)

When world leaders awoke from their Obama daze, they reacted like many Americans: “They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U.S. power. For example, Obama has asserted that America is not at war with the Muslim world. The problem is that parts of the Muslim world are at war with America and the West. Obama feels, fairly enough, that America must be contrite in its dealings with the Muslim world. … America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies.”

When will Jewish non-leaders start demanding that we withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council? “The United States and its allies suffered a series of setbacks at the United Nations on Friday as the Human Rights Council flirted with media censorship and was poised to elevate an anti-American politician and a Cuban to key positions. Concerns about censorship were raised after the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has tremendous sway in the United Nations, successfully pushed through a resolution that creates a watchdog to monitor how religion is portrayed in the media.” (And for this, we needed a new ambassador to the OIC? Doesn’t seem like the ambassador is persuading the OIC of anything — or is the point to demonstrate that we don’t care to oppose its totalitarian impulses?)

When you see evidence like this, you also see just how lacking in goodwill toward Israel Obama is, such that he would insist the Jewish state be the subject of an inquest: “New footage from the Mavi Marmara was released by the Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon, this time showing IHH head Bülent Yildirim inciting to violence against Israeli commandos hours before the encounter that claimed the lives of nine Turkish passengers. ‘We follow in the footsteps of the martyrs,’ Yildirim could be seen declaring to a large crowd of activists. ‘You shall see, we will definitely claim one or two victories. … If you send the commandos, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated in front of the whole world. … If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!'”

When Obama can’t decide whether to send an aircraft carrier to take part in South Korean naval exercises because it might upset North Korea and China – after promising our ally unequivocal support — you get an idea of how much trouble we and our allies are in.

When you return a terrorist to the heart of Wahhabism, guess what happens? “The United States have sent back around 120 Saudis from the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, set up after the U.S. launched a ‘war on terror’ following the September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi suicide hijackers sent by al Qaeda.” The Saudi running the fake rehab operation (“religious re-education by clerics and financial help to start a new life”) blames “strong personal ties among former prisoners but also tough U.S. tactics as the reason why some 20 percent of the returned Saudis relapsed into militancy compared to 9.5 percent overall in the rehabilitation program.” The Saudis consider the plan such a smashing success that they are building five new centers. Yes, it is madness for us to facilitate this.

When debating illegal immigration, let’s remember who wants to come here: “those ill-used souls who, having braved coyotes both literal and figurative to get here, are now, with the submissive resignation of the most forbearing lama, slaving away washing dishes in restaurant kitchens, or bent double picking grapes in Napa, or cleaning the toilets of people who look right through them as if they were not flesh and blood, and whose children are serving honorably in the United States military.” Read the whole thing.

When looking for media bias, you can always count on the New York Times. In this hatchet job, it’s pretty obvious that the Humane Society and MADD roped the Gray Lady into going after their antagonist, the libertarian activist Richard Berman, who seems to be doing nothing illegal despite the Times‘s inferences. (Indeed, the IRS investigated a Berman entity and “found nothing that would warrant a revocation of its tax exemption.”)

When world leaders awoke from their Obama daze, they reacted like many Americans: “They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U.S. power. For example, Obama has asserted that America is not at war with the Muslim world. The problem is that parts of the Muslim world are at war with America and the West. Obama feels, fairly enough, that America must be contrite in its dealings with the Muslim world. … America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies.”

When will Jewish non-leaders start demanding that we withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council? “The United States and its allies suffered a series of setbacks at the United Nations on Friday as the Human Rights Council flirted with media censorship and was poised to elevate an anti-American politician and a Cuban to key positions. Concerns about censorship were raised after the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has tremendous sway in the United Nations, successfully pushed through a resolution that creates a watchdog to monitor how religion is portrayed in the media.” (And for this, we needed a new ambassador to the OIC? Doesn’t seem like the ambassador is persuading the OIC of anything — or is the point to demonstrate that we don’t care to oppose its totalitarian impulses?)

When you see evidence like this, you also see just how lacking in goodwill toward Israel Obama is, such that he would insist the Jewish state be the subject of an inquest: “New footage from the Mavi Marmara was released by the Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon, this time showing IHH head Bülent Yildirim inciting to violence against Israeli commandos hours before the encounter that claimed the lives of nine Turkish passengers. ‘We follow in the footsteps of the martyrs,’ Yildirim could be seen declaring to a large crowd of activists. ‘You shall see, we will definitely claim one or two victories. … If you send the commandos, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated in front of the whole world. … If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!'”

When Obama can’t decide whether to send an aircraft carrier to take part in South Korean naval exercises because it might upset North Korea and China – after promising our ally unequivocal support — you get an idea of how much trouble we and our allies are in.

When you return a terrorist to the heart of Wahhabism, guess what happens? “The United States have sent back around 120 Saudis from the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, set up after the U.S. launched a ‘war on terror’ following the September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi suicide hijackers sent by al Qaeda.” The Saudi running the fake rehab operation (“religious re-education by clerics and financial help to start a new life”) blames “strong personal ties among former prisoners but also tough U.S. tactics as the reason why some 20 percent of the returned Saudis relapsed into militancy compared to 9.5 percent overall in the rehabilitation program.” The Saudis consider the plan such a smashing success that they are building five new centers. Yes, it is madness for us to facilitate this.

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Yes We Can … Win in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less




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