Commentary Magazine


Topic: current Prime Minister

The Farce That Is ‘Reset’

Josh Rogin reports:

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government’s gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country’s  democracy, according to Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

“We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken by the people by the authorities,” Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. “The power has replaced all institutions … like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That’s already obvious for everyone.”

What’s his complaint? Well, the Obama team has tossed democracy and human rights under the bus, as they have in the case of every despotic regime:

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

“We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia … we would like these friends just to open their mouths …”

It is hear-no-evil, see-no-evil time:

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties. …

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC’s Mike McFaul and the Kremlin’s Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration’s approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.”

“This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that’s imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Kasyanov said.

Aside from the moral failing and the projection of weakness it conveys to Russia, China, Iran, and the rest, it hasn’t worked in any meaningful way. What have we gotten from Russia? Agreement on Swiss cheese sanctions that haven’t stopped the mullahs’ nuclear program. And that’s it.

It is easy to “reset” relations with an authoritarian state by appeasing and avoiding conflict. But that doesn’t further our interests, and it reveals Obama’s and Hillary’s newfound appreciation for human rights to be nothing more than spin. Unfortunately, it is almost a year until the next Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps it can go to a Russian dissident next time, and thereafter a human rights activist from one of the many countries Obama has cowered before.

As with Iran engagement, our reset policy provides ample evidence that when you sacrifice human rights, you get precious little in return. As the world becomes less free and stable, the U.S. loses the respect of friends and foes alike.

Josh Rogin reports:

The Obama administration is ignoring, and thereby enabling, the Russian government’s gross abuse of human rights and its gutting of the country’s  democracy, according to Russia’s former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

“We have no democracy at all. We don’t have any future of a democratic state. Everything has been lost, everything has been taken by the people by the authorities,” Kasyanov said in a wide ranging interview with Foreign Policy. “The power has replaced all institutions … like Parliament, like independent judiciary, like free media, etc. That’s already obvious for everyone.”

What’s his complaint? Well, the Obama team has tossed democracy and human rights under the bus, as they have in the case of every despotic regime:

The former Russian head of government, who was ousted by current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2004, is on a mission this week to send a two-fold message to U.S.-based Russia watchers: that the upcoming elections next year in Russia will not be free and fair, and that the “reset” policy of the Obama administration has wrongly caused the United States to abandon its role as a vocal critic of Russian democratic and human rights abuses.

“We would like our friends in the West, in Europe and the United States, those who are interested in a democratic Russia … we would like these friends just to open their mouths …”

It is hear-no-evil, see-no-evil time:

He said that U.S. diplomats at various levels of the Obama administration are ignoring negative trends in Russia in the hope of avoiding even minor confrontations with the Kremlin that might upset the warming of bilateral ties. …

Kasyanov dismissed the working group on human rights being led by the NSC’s Mike McFaul and the Kremlin’s Vladislav Surkov. McFaul explained the Obama administration’s approach to Russian human rights in October 2009, saying, “We came to a conclusion that we need a reset in this respect too and we should give up the old approach that had been troubling Russian-American partnership.”

“This Commission blah blah blah discussing human rights, that’s imitation, that is not useful operation. That shows to Russians that the U.S. government has chosen a different path, not human rights and democracy. It’s absolutely the wrong thing to do,” Kasyanov said.

Aside from the moral failing and the projection of weakness it conveys to Russia, China, Iran, and the rest, it hasn’t worked in any meaningful way. What have we gotten from Russia? Agreement on Swiss cheese sanctions that haven’t stopped the mullahs’ nuclear program. And that’s it.

It is easy to “reset” relations with an authoritarian state by appeasing and avoiding conflict. But that doesn’t further our interests, and it reveals Obama’s and Hillary’s newfound appreciation for human rights to be nothing more than spin. Unfortunately, it is almost a year until the next Nobel Peace Prize. Perhaps it can go to a Russian dissident next time, and thereafter a human rights activist from one of the many countries Obama has cowered before.

As with Iran engagement, our reset policy provides ample evidence that when you sacrifice human rights, you get precious little in return. As the world becomes less free and stable, the U.S. loses the respect of friends and foes alike.

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They Didn’t Think It Through

However it is that the Obami extract themselves from the current tempest with Israel, a bad taste will be left in the mouths of the administrations’ supporters, the American Jewish community, and Israel. The Obami have revealed themselves to be seriously lacking in both sensibility and understanding when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, and to be in thrall to the Palestinian narrative. Bret Stephens explains the fallacy they’ve embraced:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial. It’s existential. Israelis are now broadly prepared to live with a Palestinian state along their borders. Palestinians are not yet willing to live with a Jewish state along theirs.

That should help explain why it is that in the past decade, two Israeli prime ministers—Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008—have put forward comprehensive peace offers to the Palestinians, and have twice been rebuffed. In both cases, the offers included the division of Jerusalem; in the latter case, it also included international jurisdiction over Jerusalem’s holy places and concessions on the subject of Palestinian refugees. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also offered direct peace talks. The Palestinians have countered by withdrawing to “proximity talks” mediated by the U.S.

And of course if it were about “settlements,” peace would have broken out before 1967. Moreover, as Stephens notes, if this were a land issue, the withdrawal from Gaza would have brought a cessation of hostilities, not an escalation. Dismissing the assurances given Israel by the Bush administration with regard to settlement activities, the Obami started a diplomatic war over an existing site within Jerusalem — one that would in any future deal remain in the Jewish state. The “affront” is an artificial one, a pretext for impressing the Obami’s audience in the “Muslim World.”

The lesson to be drawn by the Israelis is that the Obami don’t share a common understanding of the nature of the Palestinian conflict and are unpredictable partners, prone to fly off the handle when it suits their purposes. How in such a scenario does the Israeli government take “risks for peace”? And more to the point, why would the Israeli government rely on the U.S. when it comes to protecting the Jewish state against an existential threat from Iran? Once an ally proves unreliable, it’s every man for himself. That was precisely the opposite message the White House bullies no doubt intended to convey. But like so much else, they really didn’t think this through.

However it is that the Obami extract themselves from the current tempest with Israel, a bad taste will be left in the mouths of the administrations’ supporters, the American Jewish community, and Israel. The Obami have revealed themselves to be seriously lacking in both sensibility and understanding when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship, and to be in thrall to the Palestinian narrative. Bret Stephens explains the fallacy they’ve embraced:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn’t territorial. It’s existential. Israelis are now broadly prepared to live with a Palestinian state along their borders. Palestinians are not yet willing to live with a Jewish state along theirs.

That should help explain why it is that in the past decade, two Israeli prime ministers—Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008—have put forward comprehensive peace offers to the Palestinians, and have twice been rebuffed. In both cases, the offers included the division of Jerusalem; in the latter case, it also included international jurisdiction over Jerusalem’s holy places and concessions on the subject of Palestinian refugees. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also offered direct peace talks. The Palestinians have countered by withdrawing to “proximity talks” mediated by the U.S.

And of course if it were about “settlements,” peace would have broken out before 1967. Moreover, as Stephens notes, if this were a land issue, the withdrawal from Gaza would have brought a cessation of hostilities, not an escalation. Dismissing the assurances given Israel by the Bush administration with regard to settlement activities, the Obami started a diplomatic war over an existing site within Jerusalem — one that would in any future deal remain in the Jewish state. The “affront” is an artificial one, a pretext for impressing the Obami’s audience in the “Muslim World.”

The lesson to be drawn by the Israelis is that the Obami don’t share a common understanding of the nature of the Palestinian conflict and are unpredictable partners, prone to fly off the handle when it suits their purposes. How in such a scenario does the Israeli government take “risks for peace”? And more to the point, why would the Israeli government rely on the U.S. when it comes to protecting the Jewish state against an existential threat from Iran? Once an ally proves unreliable, it’s every man for himself. That was precisely the opposite message the White House bullies no doubt intended to convey. But like so much else, they really didn’t think this through.

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What Brown’s Election Should Teach Israel

Former Israeli ambassador Yoram Ettinger notes that Scott Brown’s upset victory in Massachusetts offers an important lesson for Israelis: that American democracy revolves “around constituents and not around the President, Congress, or political parties.” To Americans, that doubtless seems obvious. But since Israel’s electoral system is not constituency-based, it’s a point often missed by Israeli leaders — with negative consequences for Israel’s foreign policy.

Israel is virtually the only Western democracy that still elects its legislature via closed nationwide lists. Israelis vote for a party, not a candidate, so general election voters have no say over which individuals occupy their party’s Knesset seats. This means they also have no way to punish individual legislators for unpopular positions or poor performance: As long as a Knesset member satisfies his party bosses, he can count on a “safe seat” next election, meaning a slot high enough on the party list to keep him in the Knesset even if the party loses seats.

Consequently, prime ministers have enormous power over rank-and-file MKs, far greater than what U.S. presidents enjoy. A president has no power to get a congressman reelected; that decision lies solely with the congressman’s constituents. But prime ministers have considerable power to get an MK reelected. Though all three major Israeli parties currently choose their Knesset slates via nationwide primaries, these slates are so riddled with “reserved seats” that a premier’s ability to shape his party’s list remains enormous — especially if he maintains good relations with “vote contractors” (key local activists) who can persuade large numbers of primary voters to vote a pre-approved list.

All this causes Israeli premiers to overestimate the U.S. president’s power. And this often leads them to sacrifice Israeli interests to the president’s desires, for the sake of maintaining good relations with Israel’s only ally. What they fail to understand is that reasonable relations can be maintained even without kowtowing to the president’s every whim, because even in the foreign-policy realm, where his power is extensive, he still needs Congress. And he cannot just order congressmen to fall in line. Thus as long as support for Israel remains strong among the American people, and hence in Congress, there are limits beyond which even the most hostile president won’t go.

This understanding is particularly important because even the friendliest presidents generally adopt less pro-Israel positions than either the Congress or the American people desire. Thus, for instance, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but every president has utilized waivers to postpone the move.

Having lived in the U.S., current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu largely understands this. But most Israeli premiers don’t. Thus in their dealings with Israeli leaders, one of the most important services American Jewish leaders could perform is explaining how the American system truly works — and how to leverage the American people’s strong support for standing up to a hostile president.

Former Israeli ambassador Yoram Ettinger notes that Scott Brown’s upset victory in Massachusetts offers an important lesson for Israelis: that American democracy revolves “around constituents and not around the President, Congress, or political parties.” To Americans, that doubtless seems obvious. But since Israel’s electoral system is not constituency-based, it’s a point often missed by Israeli leaders — with negative consequences for Israel’s foreign policy.

Israel is virtually the only Western democracy that still elects its legislature via closed nationwide lists. Israelis vote for a party, not a candidate, so general election voters have no say over which individuals occupy their party’s Knesset seats. This means they also have no way to punish individual legislators for unpopular positions or poor performance: As long as a Knesset member satisfies his party bosses, he can count on a “safe seat” next election, meaning a slot high enough on the party list to keep him in the Knesset even if the party loses seats.

Consequently, prime ministers have enormous power over rank-and-file MKs, far greater than what U.S. presidents enjoy. A president has no power to get a congressman reelected; that decision lies solely with the congressman’s constituents. But prime ministers have considerable power to get an MK reelected. Though all three major Israeli parties currently choose their Knesset slates via nationwide primaries, these slates are so riddled with “reserved seats” that a premier’s ability to shape his party’s list remains enormous — especially if he maintains good relations with “vote contractors” (key local activists) who can persuade large numbers of primary voters to vote a pre-approved list.

All this causes Israeli premiers to overestimate the U.S. president’s power. And this often leads them to sacrifice Israeli interests to the president’s desires, for the sake of maintaining good relations with Israel’s only ally. What they fail to understand is that reasonable relations can be maintained even without kowtowing to the president’s every whim, because even in the foreign-policy realm, where his power is extensive, he still needs Congress. And he cannot just order congressmen to fall in line. Thus as long as support for Israel remains strong among the American people, and hence in Congress, there are limits beyond which even the most hostile president won’t go.

This understanding is particularly important because even the friendliest presidents generally adopt less pro-Israel positions than either the Congress or the American people desire. Thus, for instance, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but every president has utilized waivers to postpone the move.

Having lived in the U.S., current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu largely understands this. But most Israeli premiers don’t. Thus in their dealings with Israeli leaders, one of the most important services American Jewish leaders could perform is explaining how the American system truly works — and how to leverage the American people’s strong support for standing up to a hostile president.

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Lebanon’s Third Civil War

The third civil war has begun in Lebanon.

The first war was a short one. Sunni Arab Nationalists in thrall to Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to attach Lebanon to the United Arab Republic – a brief union of Egypt and Syria. An even larger bloc of Maronite Christians resisted. A nation cannot hold itself together when a large percentage of its population – roughly a third – wish to be annexed by foreign powers.

The second war was a long one. This time, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization formed a state-within-a-state in West Beirut and South Lebanon and used it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Again, Lebanon’s Christians resisted, as did Lebanon’s Shias. The second civil war was actually a series of wars that were merely triggered by that first fatal schism.

The third civil war resembles both the first and the second. With Iranian money and weapons, Hezbollah has built its own state-within-a-state in South Lebanon and South Beirut which is used as a base to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah also wishes to violently yank Lebanon from its current pro-Western alignment into the Syrian-Iranian axis. Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda. No country on earth can withstand that kind of geopolitical tectonic pressure. For more than a year members of Hezbollah have tried unsuccessfully to topple the elected government with a minimal use of force, but their patience is at an end and they have turned to war.

My old liberal Sunni neighborhood of Hamra near the American University of Beirut – the best in the Middle East – is now occupied by the private army of a foreign police state. Masked gunmen take up positions in a neighborhood of five star hotels, restaurants, and cafes (including a Starbucks) where students like to hang out while reading books by authors like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They burned down Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s Future Movement headquarters building. They stormed the offices of TV and radio stations and threatened to dynamite the buildings if the reporters refused to stop broadcasting. They seized the property of Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – and they control all the exits. Member of Parliament Ammar Houry’s house is now occupied. Al Arabiya says they attacked the Ottoman-era Grand Serail, the current prime minister’s office.

Hezbollah used automatic weapons, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles to seize all, if not most, of West Beirut. The only weapons its gunmen haven’t deployed are its Katyusha rockets, which are useless in urban warfare, and car bombs, which aren’t.

“Hezbollah is not mounting a coup,” Charles Malik writes from Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal. “They do not want to control ALL of Lebanon. They have no interest in controlling state institutions.”

This is mostly right. As long as Hezbollah gets what it wants, taking over all of Lebanon is unnecessary, as well as most likely impossible. But this is still a coup d’etat of a sort. What happened is, literally, a blow against the state. Until this week, Hezbollah existed both inside and beside the state. Hezbollah now exists above the state, the parliament, the police, and the army. No member of Hezbollah will be arrested or prosecuted as they would in a normal and properly sovereign country.

The army is too weak and divided along sectarian lines to protect Lebanon from internal or external threats. It was sabotaged for more than a decade during Syria’s military occupation and was staffed at the highest levels with Damascus loyalists who have yet to be purged. It is a make-believe army at best, and a part-time tool of the Syrian state at its worst.

The erstwhile prevailing mentality of fragile coexistence and anti-war has all but evaporated. The restrained rhetoric Lebanese people are accustomed to hearing from their leaders is gone. “We are in war and they wouldn’t be able to predict our reaction,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said. “Hezbollah has gained control over Beirut,” said Member of Parliament Ahmad Fatfat, “and has caused a Sunni-Shia conflict that will be extended for years.” “If no compromise is reached, we will be facing a long internal war,” said Suleiman Franjieh, Jr., a former member of parliament and leader of the small Marada militia in North Lebanon aligned with Hezbollah and the Syrians.

Lebanon is a country based on consensus between its more or less demographically balanced Christians, Sunnis, and Shias, and its smaller population of Druze. No sect is allowed by law or social contract to rule over the others. The system, when it works, provides checks and balances. Hezbollah has overthrown all of it. And when the system is overthrown, as it has been in the past, Lebanese have demonstrated that they can and will fight as viciously as Iraqi militias in Baghdad. Lebanon has no shortage of people from every sect and most political movements who will fight dirty urban warfare with little regard for unarmed civilian noncombatants.

Though Hezbollah still occupies West Beirut, the city is reportedly calm at the moment – but don’t expect that to last long. Hezbollah is a Shia army in league with the Islamic Republic of Iran, while West Beirut is mostly made up of hostile Sunnis aligned with Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States. Lebanese blogger Mustafa at Beirut Spring put it plainly: “Expect the fight for Beirut to begin in earnest later with the distinct trademark of an occupied population: Hit and run.”

Even if Hezbollah does withdraw and real calm prevails in the near term, Lebanon has crossed a threshold from which there likely will be no recovery. Quiet may resume, but it will be the quiet of cold war rather than peace.

Hezbollah has always said its weapons were pointed only at Israel, though many knew better. Hezbollah even brags (although it’s not true) that they did not turn their weapons against Lebanese during the last civil war. Both of these lies have now been exposed before the whole world.

There may be lulls in the violence, but there will be no real peace in Lebanon until Hezbollah is disarmed or destroyed.

The third civil war has begun in Lebanon.

The first war was a short one. Sunni Arab Nationalists in thrall to Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted to attach Lebanon to the United Arab Republic – a brief union of Egypt and Syria. An even larger bloc of Maronite Christians resisted. A nation cannot hold itself together when a large percentage of its population – roughly a third – wish to be annexed by foreign powers.

The second war was a long one. This time, Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization formed a state-within-a-state in West Beirut and South Lebanon and used it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Again, Lebanon’s Christians resisted, as did Lebanon’s Shias. The second civil war was actually a series of wars that were merely triggered by that first fatal schism.

The third civil war resembles both the first and the second. With Iranian money and weapons, Hezbollah has built its own state-within-a-state in South Lebanon and South Beirut which is used as a base to wage war against Israel. Hezbollah also wishes to violently yank Lebanon from its current pro-Western alignment into the Syrian-Iranian axis. Roughly one-fourth of the population supports this agenda. No country on earth can withstand that kind of geopolitical tectonic pressure. For more than a year members of Hezbollah have tried unsuccessfully to topple the elected government with a minimal use of force, but their patience is at an end and they have turned to war.

My old liberal Sunni neighborhood of Hamra near the American University of Beirut – the best in the Middle East – is now occupied by the private army of a foreign police state. Masked gunmen take up positions in a neighborhood of five star hotels, restaurants, and cafes (including a Starbucks) where students like to hang out while reading books by authors like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They burned down Prime Minister Fouad Seniora’s Future Movement headquarters building. They stormed the offices of TV and radio stations and threatened to dynamite the buildings if the reporters refused to stop broadcasting. They seized the property of Saad Hariri – son of the assassinated former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – and they control all the exits. Member of Parliament Ammar Houry’s house is now occupied. Al Arabiya says they attacked the Ottoman-era Grand Serail, the current prime minister’s office.

Hezbollah used automatic weapons, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and sniper rifles to seize all, if not most, of West Beirut. The only weapons its gunmen haven’t deployed are its Katyusha rockets, which are useless in urban warfare, and car bombs, which aren’t.

“Hezbollah is not mounting a coup,” Charles Malik writes from Beirut at the Lebanese Political Journal. “They do not want to control ALL of Lebanon. They have no interest in controlling state institutions.”

This is mostly right. As long as Hezbollah gets what it wants, taking over all of Lebanon is unnecessary, as well as most likely impossible. But this is still a coup d’etat of a sort. What happened is, literally, a blow against the state. Until this week, Hezbollah existed both inside and beside the state. Hezbollah now exists above the state, the parliament, the police, and the army. No member of Hezbollah will be arrested or prosecuted as they would in a normal and properly sovereign country.

The army is too weak and divided along sectarian lines to protect Lebanon from internal or external threats. It was sabotaged for more than a decade during Syria’s military occupation and was staffed at the highest levels with Damascus loyalists who have yet to be purged. It is a make-believe army at best, and a part-time tool of the Syrian state at its worst.

The erstwhile prevailing mentality of fragile coexistence and anti-war has all but evaporated. The restrained rhetoric Lebanese people are accustomed to hearing from their leaders is gone. “We are in war and they wouldn’t be able to predict our reaction,” Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said. “Hezbollah has gained control over Beirut,” said Member of Parliament Ahmad Fatfat, “and has caused a Sunni-Shia conflict that will be extended for years.” “If no compromise is reached, we will be facing a long internal war,” said Suleiman Franjieh, Jr., a former member of parliament and leader of the small Marada militia in North Lebanon aligned with Hezbollah and the Syrians.

Lebanon is a country based on consensus between its more or less demographically balanced Christians, Sunnis, and Shias, and its smaller population of Druze. No sect is allowed by law or social contract to rule over the others. The system, when it works, provides checks and balances. Hezbollah has overthrown all of it. And when the system is overthrown, as it has been in the past, Lebanese have demonstrated that they can and will fight as viciously as Iraqi militias in Baghdad. Lebanon has no shortage of people from every sect and most political movements who will fight dirty urban warfare with little regard for unarmed civilian noncombatants.

Though Hezbollah still occupies West Beirut, the city is reportedly calm at the moment – but don’t expect that to last long. Hezbollah is a Shia army in league with the Islamic Republic of Iran, while West Beirut is mostly made up of hostile Sunnis aligned with Saudi Arabia, France, and the United States. Lebanese blogger Mustafa at Beirut Spring put it plainly: “Expect the fight for Beirut to begin in earnest later with the distinct trademark of an occupied population: Hit and run.”

Even if Hezbollah does withdraw and real calm prevails in the near term, Lebanon has crossed a threshold from which there likely will be no recovery. Quiet may resume, but it will be the quiet of cold war rather than peace.

Hezbollah has always said its weapons were pointed only at Israel, though many knew better. Hezbollah even brags (although it’s not true) that they did not turn their weapons against Lebanese during the last civil war. Both of these lies have now been exposed before the whole world.

There may be lulls in the violence, but there will be no real peace in Lebanon until Hezbollah is disarmed or destroyed.

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Fukuda’s New Low

Yesterday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura called a press conference to complain about China’s alteration of a joint press communiqué, which was released after the High-Level Economic Dialogue, bilateral economic talks held on December 1 in Beijing. The alteration, he said was “unthinkable from the viewpoint of customary international practice, and inexplicable.”

The Chinese deleted two references in the jointly-approved communiqué. The first omitted statement noted that Japan expressed its hope that Beijing would increase the value of the renminbi. The other deleted reference relates to China’s participation in the Energy Charter Treaty. The Japanese government delivered a formal protest on Friday.

Yasuo Fukuda, the current prime minister, has worked hard to improve Japan’s relations with Beijing. Since taking office in September he has reinvigorated dialogue with China, stepped up military exchanges, and increased financial assistance to the Mainland. Fukuda is scheduled to travel to Beijing soon, and the alteration may have been an attempt to limit the summit’s agenda.

Prospects for the meeting in the Chinese capital do not look good for the Japanese side. Officials in Beijing have not been impressed by gestures of friendship from a nation they consider to be inferior to their own. China and Japan have a troubled history going back centuries, and the act of altering an agreed text, virtually unheard of in the diplomatic world, shows a continuation of the Chinese people’s contempt for Japan and the Communist Party’s belief that others must accept its version of reality.

If anything, the incident shows that Fukuda’s conciliatory approach to China is undoubtedly the wrong one—unless he wishes Japan to become a vassal to the great and glorious Chinese state. So this is a crucial test for the prime minister and the nation he leads.

Yesterday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura called a press conference to complain about China’s alteration of a joint press communiqué, which was released after the High-Level Economic Dialogue, bilateral economic talks held on December 1 in Beijing. The alteration, he said was “unthinkable from the viewpoint of customary international practice, and inexplicable.”

The Chinese deleted two references in the jointly-approved communiqué. The first omitted statement noted that Japan expressed its hope that Beijing would increase the value of the renminbi. The other deleted reference relates to China’s participation in the Energy Charter Treaty. The Japanese government delivered a formal protest on Friday.

Yasuo Fukuda, the current prime minister, has worked hard to improve Japan’s relations with Beijing. Since taking office in September he has reinvigorated dialogue with China, stepped up military exchanges, and increased financial assistance to the Mainland. Fukuda is scheduled to travel to Beijing soon, and the alteration may have been an attempt to limit the summit’s agenda.

Prospects for the meeting in the Chinese capital do not look good for the Japanese side. Officials in Beijing have not been impressed by gestures of friendship from a nation they consider to be inferior to their own. China and Japan have a troubled history going back centuries, and the act of altering an agreed text, virtually unheard of in the diplomatic world, shows a continuation of the Chinese people’s contempt for Japan and the Communist Party’s belief that others must accept its version of reality.

If anything, the incident shows that Fukuda’s conciliatory approach to China is undoubtedly the wrong one—unless he wishes Japan to become a vassal to the great and glorious Chinese state. So this is a crucial test for the prime minister and the nation he leads.

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Shutting Chavez Up

Let’s have a round of applause for Spain’s King Juan Carlos. Yesterday, during the last working session of the XVII Iberoamerican Summit in Santiago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar “a fascist.” “Fascists are not human,” Chavez declared. “A snake is more human.”

Spain’s current prime minister, socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, began a dignified response when the Venezuelan repeatedly tried to interrupt him. The King then lost his patience with Chavez and snapped, “Why don’t you shut up?”

Diplomacy is almost always a matter of nuance and inflection. Sometimes, however, we just need to use plain words. Chavez has no trouble telling us what’s on his mind. It’s high time that Western leaders tell him what’s on theirs. Short of slapping the Venezuelan bully upside the head, words are our best weapon to put him in his place. And while we’re at it, let’s also belittle the world’s other autocrats when we have the opportunity. The West’s high-minded language of the last decade has only legitimized a whole new crew of despots.

In the meantime, I hope King Juan Carlos will give Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe a piece of his mind as well. Why stop with Chavez?

Let’s have a round of applause for Spain’s King Juan Carlos. Yesterday, during the last working session of the XVII Iberoamerican Summit in Santiago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar “a fascist.” “Fascists are not human,” Chavez declared. “A snake is more human.”

Spain’s current prime minister, socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, began a dignified response when the Venezuelan repeatedly tried to interrupt him. The King then lost his patience with Chavez and snapped, “Why don’t you shut up?”

Diplomacy is almost always a matter of nuance and inflection. Sometimes, however, we just need to use plain words. Chavez has no trouble telling us what’s on his mind. It’s high time that Western leaders tell him what’s on theirs. Short of slapping the Venezuelan bully upside the head, words are our best weapon to put him in his place. And while we’re at it, let’s also belittle the world’s other autocrats when we have the opportunity. The West’s high-minded language of the last decade has only legitimized a whole new crew of despots.

In the meantime, I hope King Juan Carlos will give Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe a piece of his mind as well. Why stop with Chavez?

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