Commentary Magazine


Topic: Defense Minister

Soothing Karzai

Hamid Karzai is at it again. For the second time in recent days, he has lashed out at the West, blaming foreign officials for election fraud and even reportedly threatening to join the Taliban if there is any erosion of his country’s sovereignty. Such comments — coming from the man who benefitted from election fraud and who is able to stay in power only because of all the military assistance he receives from the West — are, no doubt about it, infuriating. But they are hardly unexpected, given that Karzai has a habit of boiling over in public right after he has been pressured by the United States, which is what happened when President Obama visited Kabul.

The worst thing the administration can do in response is to hit back in an unseemly public tit-for-tit. Better to work quietly behind the scenes with Karzai, trying, as General McChrystal is, to bolster his standing as a legitimate and popular war leader while also working to improve governance at the cabinet, provincial, and district levels. To some extent, Karzai is an obstacle to lower-level progress, especially when he keeps in power his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, whose notorious dealings in Kandahar are a major drawing card for the Taliban. But as Michael O’Hanlon and Hassina Sherjan note, Karzai is not all bad:

Karzai began his second term as president by keeping in office many of his best ministers and governors. Helmand province Gov. Gulab Mangal, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, for example, have accomplished a good deal for their country. The Major Crimes Task Force designed to pursue cases of high-level corruption is gaining strength. And the number of trained Afghan army and police forces accompanying NATO troops into Marja, while still modest, was double the number of locally available forces accompanying U.S. Marines on similar operations in Helmand last year.

Bottom line: we don’t have any choice but to work with Karzai. Pulling U.S. troops out because we’re unhappy with him isn’t an option; our forces aren’t there as a favor to Karzai but to prevent a Taliban takeover that would be far worse for our interests than anything Karzai is likely to do in office. There is also no realistic chance of getting a new Afghan president anytime soon because Karzai was just elected to a five-year term. So we have to make the best of the current situation and try to soothe the sensitive Karzai rather than getting his back up with high-handed reprimands, especially in public.

Hamid Karzai is at it again. For the second time in recent days, he has lashed out at the West, blaming foreign officials for election fraud and even reportedly threatening to join the Taliban if there is any erosion of his country’s sovereignty. Such comments — coming from the man who benefitted from election fraud and who is able to stay in power only because of all the military assistance he receives from the West — are, no doubt about it, infuriating. But they are hardly unexpected, given that Karzai has a habit of boiling over in public right after he has been pressured by the United States, which is what happened when President Obama visited Kabul.

The worst thing the administration can do in response is to hit back in an unseemly public tit-for-tit. Better to work quietly behind the scenes with Karzai, trying, as General McChrystal is, to bolster his standing as a legitimate and popular war leader while also working to improve governance at the cabinet, provincial, and district levels. To some extent, Karzai is an obstacle to lower-level progress, especially when he keeps in power his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, whose notorious dealings in Kandahar are a major drawing card for the Taliban. But as Michael O’Hanlon and Hassina Sherjan note, Karzai is not all bad:

Karzai began his second term as president by keeping in office many of his best ministers and governors. Helmand province Gov. Gulab Mangal, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, for example, have accomplished a good deal for their country. The Major Crimes Task Force designed to pursue cases of high-level corruption is gaining strength. And the number of trained Afghan army and police forces accompanying NATO troops into Marja, while still modest, was double the number of locally available forces accompanying U.S. Marines on similar operations in Helmand last year.

Bottom line: we don’t have any choice but to work with Karzai. Pulling U.S. troops out because we’re unhappy with him isn’t an option; our forces aren’t there as a favor to Karzai but to prevent a Taliban takeover that would be far worse for our interests than anything Karzai is likely to do in office. There is also no realistic chance of getting a new Afghan president anytime soon because Karzai was just elected to a five-year term. So we have to make the best of the current situation and try to soothe the sensitive Karzai rather than getting his back up with high-handed reprimands, especially in public.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

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Opposition to Obama’s Tactics Builds

Christians United for Israel is not usually in the business of issuing press releases. But these are no ordinary times. In a written statement, the group declares that it is “deeply concerned about the Obama Administration’s escalating rhetoric,” and continues:

CUFI concurs with statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and other Israeli leaders that this announcement was ill-timed.  And CUFI notes repeated press reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu neither knew about this announcement in advance nor hesitated to apologize for it after the fact.

We are therefore surprised that the Administration has chosen to continue to escalate a conflict with one of our closest allies that could have been quickly resolved.

Timing aside, the fact remains that the Israeli policy behind this announcement — to continue building in existing Jewish neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem — is not new.  When it comes to Israel’s bargaining position, nothing has changed.  It is therefore difficult to understand why this long-standing disagreement over policy — which has never been a barrier to negotiations with the Palestinians– is now the source of such tension with the US.

We remind the Administration that Israel has been a committed partner for peace and has taken repeated risks for peace in recent years.  We further note that the Netanyahu government has made important gestures to the Palestinians, including an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction and repeated calls for the resumption of direct negotiations.  The Palestinians, on the other hand, continue to refuse direct negotiations.

So the  ADL and CUFI, Steve Israel and Eric Cantor, and a host of other organizations and politicians along the political spectrum are telling the Obami: bullying Israel will garner no support and quite a lot of domestic opposition. The administration may not be pro-Israel in any meaningful way, but clearly Americans are.

Christians United for Israel is not usually in the business of issuing press releases. But these are no ordinary times. In a written statement, the group declares that it is “deeply concerned about the Obama Administration’s escalating rhetoric,” and continues:

CUFI concurs with statements made by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak and other Israeli leaders that this announcement was ill-timed.  And CUFI notes repeated press reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu neither knew about this announcement in advance nor hesitated to apologize for it after the fact.

We are therefore surprised that the Administration has chosen to continue to escalate a conflict with one of our closest allies that could have been quickly resolved.

Timing aside, the fact remains that the Israeli policy behind this announcement — to continue building in existing Jewish neighborhoods throughout Jerusalem — is not new.  When it comes to Israel’s bargaining position, nothing has changed.  It is therefore difficult to understand why this long-standing disagreement over policy — which has never been a barrier to negotiations with the Palestinians– is now the source of such tension with the US.

We remind the Administration that Israel has been a committed partner for peace and has taken repeated risks for peace in recent years.  We further note that the Netanyahu government has made important gestures to the Palestinians, including an unprecedented 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement construction and repeated calls for the resumption of direct negotiations.  The Palestinians, on the other hand, continue to refuse direct negotiations.

So the  ADL and CUFI, Steve Israel and Eric Cantor, and a host of other organizations and politicians along the political spectrum are telling the Obami: bullying Israel will garner no support and quite a lot of domestic opposition. The administration may not be pro-Israel in any meaningful way, but clearly Americans are.

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The Man Behind Colombia’s Miracle

Alvaro Uribe is one of the most consequential world leaders of the past decade. He is the man primarily responsible for what I have called the “Colombia Miracle” — the amazing turnaround that has taken his country from being a dysfunctional narco-state to a flourishing democracy where drug dealers and Marxist rebels are on the run, and most of the people live in secure conditions.

But it’s probably just as well that the Colombia Supreme Court barred him from seeking a third term, which would have required amending the constitution. His flirtation with another term could have damaged his reputation and led to comparisons with the odious Hugo Chavez, who was freely elected in next-door Venezuela but has remained in office via extra-constitutional means. It is to Uribe’s credit, though hardly surprising given his impressive character and track record, that he has embraced the Supreme Court decision and promised to abide by it.

Now it appears likely that his legacy will be carried on by his former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who is as committed as Uribe to his policy of “democratic security.” It remains to be seen whether Santos will be as effective as Uribe; but even if he isn’t, it probably won’t be a disaster because conditions have improved so much since Uribe took office in 2002 from the inept appeaser Andres Pastrana Arango.

It would be nice if an important job could be found for Uribe on the international stage. Imagine him, for example, as United Nations secretary-general. But that is a pipe dream because he is far too pro-American to ever win favor in that sector. Regardless of what he does next, he deserves recognition for his inspiring achievements. He deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, because he has actually brought peace to much of his country.

Alvaro Uribe is one of the most consequential world leaders of the past decade. He is the man primarily responsible for what I have called the “Colombia Miracle” — the amazing turnaround that has taken his country from being a dysfunctional narco-state to a flourishing democracy where drug dealers and Marxist rebels are on the run, and most of the people live in secure conditions.

But it’s probably just as well that the Colombia Supreme Court barred him from seeking a third term, which would have required amending the constitution. His flirtation with another term could have damaged his reputation and led to comparisons with the odious Hugo Chavez, who was freely elected in next-door Venezuela but has remained in office via extra-constitutional means. It is to Uribe’s credit, though hardly surprising given his impressive character and track record, that he has embraced the Supreme Court decision and promised to abide by it.

Now it appears likely that his legacy will be carried on by his former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who is as committed as Uribe to his policy of “democratic security.” It remains to be seen whether Santos will be as effective as Uribe; but even if he isn’t, it probably won’t be a disaster because conditions have improved so much since Uribe took office in 2002 from the inept appeaser Andres Pastrana Arango.

It would be nice if an important job could be found for Uribe on the international stage. Imagine him, for example, as United Nations secretary-general. But that is a pipe dream because he is far too pro-American to ever win favor in that sector. Regardless of what he does next, he deserves recognition for his inspiring achievements. He deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, because he has actually brought peace to much of his country.

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The Media Spins More Nonsense About the Arms Trade Treaty

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

UPI is running a story that sums up a lot of bad reporting about a favorite liberal cause: the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty. The piece – headlined “Arms Trade Plagued By Corruption” – is halfway between reporting and editorializing. It’s occasioned by the arrest in Las Vegas, after a two-and-a-half-year undercover Department of Justice sting operation, of 22 Americans, Britons, Israelis, and others at an arms expo. They are charged with trying to bribe an individual they thought was an African defense minister to obtain a $15 million contract. Bribing foreign officials is a violation of the 1977 U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The story – dated from Beirut, which helps explain its emphasis on Western wrongdoings in general, especially directed at the Israelis, Americans, and British – emphasizes how international arms trade should be controlled by the UN, and how UN action has been stymied by the UN Security Council’s permanent members, especially the United States. According to UPI, the Obama administration’s support last fall for an arms-trade treaty, and its willingness to arrest the individuals in Las Vegas, shows that times and the mood of the U.S. are finally changing.

This is ridiculous. The DoJ investigation began under President George W. Bush, so the arrests tell us nothing about changing U.S. policy. It’s wrong to presume guilt, but if those arrested in Las Vegas did seek to violate the 1977 Act, then U.S. authorities did the right thing by arresting them. The tale of the U.S. as the preeminent hold-out against good and right is contradicted by the story’s emphasis on BAE’s legal difficulties in Britain over bribes that may have been paid to facilitate sales in Eastern Europe, Africa, and Saudi Arabia, and by its summary of the conviction in October of the son of Francois Mitterand, the late President of France, on charges of trafficking arms to Angola during its civil war. What is striking is that the U.S. is the only state that engaged in preemptive investigative action, which is in line with its reputation as one of the very few states that is serious about enforcing its export controls.

But the main nonsense is the story is simply this: the UN’s resolutions on the treaty say nothing about bribery. Their goal – supposedly – is to establish “common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Even if the UN gets its treaty, bribery will remain what it is today: a crime (or not) for various states to define, investigate, and prosecute (or not) as they see fit.

Supporters of the treaty, like Britain, point out the need for signatories to “subscribe to the highest standards of good governance, including the need to tackle bribery and corruption.” But if states do not do this now, there is no reason to believe that a treaty will make them behave. Far from demonstrating the need for a treaty, the Las Vegas arrests sum up why a treaty will be irrelevant: what matters is not the creation of new common international standards but the ability and willingness of states to make and enforce good laws. The U.S. does this. Regrettably, the vast majority of the states negotiating the UN’s treaty do not.

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Peace in Our Time: Patriots in Poland

As negotiators resume the START talks, Poland’s defense minister announced this week that a Patriot missile battery scheduled for deployment in Poland in 2011 will be placed in the northeastern town of Morag. This will put the Patriots near Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a strip of land on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It also will put U.S. Army troops there to operate the missiles.

Poland says the decision to site the battery in Morag is based on its quality of infrastructure and not on concern about Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he doesn’t understand the need to “create the impression as if Poland is bracing itself against Russia.” Both are being coy: putting the Patriots in Morag is Warsaw’s response to the huge military exercise in September in which the Russians postulated a Polish attack on Kaliningrad and simulated nuclear-missile launches against Poland.

We need not expect Russia to overreact to this development, for the simple reason that the Patriot battery’s defensive radius is limited. It can’t interfere with Russian ICBMs launched at North America. The area of Europe it can defend is small. These factors make it a proposition different from Bush’s silo-based interceptors. But a Russian military official has already stated that the Patriot deployment will prompt Russia to enlarge its Baltic Sea fleet. That statement was “clarified” only hours later with the explanation that fleet improvements in the Baltic would not be contingent on the status of the Patriots.

These disclosures, which have been trotted out with remarkable efficiency, are directed at the European audience that will be made uneasy by growing Russian power in the Baltic. The Patriot deployment presents an opportunity for Russia to justify ratcheting up its own military presence in the area. Having the battery removed won’t be an urgent objective for Moscow; indeed, the Patriots will serve a purpose for Russian policy as long as they are there.

Russia can’t enlarge its military footprint overnight, but it can have at least some of its forces on a new footing before the end of Obama’s first term. The American soldiers manning the Patriot battery in Morag, meanwhile, will be a very small contingent in a forward location performing a somewhat politically ambiguous function. U.S. officials need to be vigilant and proactive in defining the policy we are pursuing with this Patriot deployment. Eastern Europe, perennially the target of Russian aggression, is already thinking along the lines of General Ferdinand Foch in the months before World War I. When asked by a British counterpart what would be the smallest British military force of practical assistance to France, Foch replied: “A single British soldier — and we will see to it that he is killed.”

As negotiators resume the START talks, Poland’s defense minister announced this week that a Patriot missile battery scheduled for deployment in Poland in 2011 will be placed in the northeastern town of Morag. This will put the Patriots near Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a strip of land on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It also will put U.S. Army troops there to operate the missiles.

Poland says the decision to site the battery in Morag is based on its quality of infrastructure and not on concern about Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he doesn’t understand the need to “create the impression as if Poland is bracing itself against Russia.” Both are being coy: putting the Patriots in Morag is Warsaw’s response to the huge military exercise in September in which the Russians postulated a Polish attack on Kaliningrad and simulated nuclear-missile launches against Poland.

We need not expect Russia to overreact to this development, for the simple reason that the Patriot battery’s defensive radius is limited. It can’t interfere with Russian ICBMs launched at North America. The area of Europe it can defend is small. These factors make it a proposition different from Bush’s silo-based interceptors. But a Russian military official has already stated that the Patriot deployment will prompt Russia to enlarge its Baltic Sea fleet. That statement was “clarified” only hours later with the explanation that fleet improvements in the Baltic would not be contingent on the status of the Patriots.

These disclosures, which have been trotted out with remarkable efficiency, are directed at the European audience that will be made uneasy by growing Russian power in the Baltic. The Patriot deployment presents an opportunity for Russia to justify ratcheting up its own military presence in the area. Having the battery removed won’t be an urgent objective for Moscow; indeed, the Patriots will serve a purpose for Russian policy as long as they are there.

Russia can’t enlarge its military footprint overnight, but it can have at least some of its forces on a new footing before the end of Obama’s first term. The American soldiers manning the Patriot battery in Morag, meanwhile, will be a very small contingent in a forward location performing a somewhat politically ambiguous function. U.S. officials need to be vigilant and proactive in defining the policy we are pursuing with this Patriot deployment. Eastern Europe, perennially the target of Russian aggression, is already thinking along the lines of General Ferdinand Foch in the months before World War I. When asked by a British counterpart what would be the smallest British military force of practical assistance to France, Foch replied: “A single British soldier — and we will see to it that he is killed.”

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Breaking Israel’s Academic Stranglehold

This week’s recognition of Ariel College as a “university center” — a step toward full-fledged university status — outraged Israel’s academic establishment.

For some, the objection is political: the institution is located in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, so hard-core leftists want it dismantled, not upgraded — though all Israeli governments have sought to retain Ariel under any peace agreement.

But for most, the objection is ostensibly professional: academically, they claim, Ariel is no better than other colleges that haven’t been upgraded; the Council for Higher Education, an independent professional body that oversees Israeli academia, opposes the upgrade; and the final approval was ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, constituting blatant political interference in higher education.

The actual facts are these: because Israel never annexed the West Bank, formal legal authority there lies with the army — specifically, the GOC Central Command — rather than civilian bodies. Thus Ariel isn’t formally subject to the CHE. But since the army clearly can’t oversee universities, a CHE clone, the Council for Higher Education-Judea and Samaria, was created to do the job.

In 2006, a CHE-JS subcommittee recommended the upgrade, and in 2007 the full CHE-JS adopted this recommendation. All six subcommittee members admittedly lean politically right; most leftists wouldn’t serve on the CHE-JS. But as one member of the regular CHE acknowledged, all were also “people of the first rank in research” — including Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Israel Prize laureate Yuval Ne’eman (the father of Israel’s space program), and Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber.

Despite this, the GOC Central Command refused for three years to confirm the decision. Hence, when Barak finally ordered him to do so, he was not overruling the professionals’ decision but upholding it.

As for the CHE’s opposition, that had nothing to do with Ariel’s qualifications: it opposed the upgrade because it saw “no academic need for another university.”

In truth, as researcher Dan Ben-David has documented, Israel desperately needs another university. From 1973 to 2005, Israel’s population doubled, yet the number of senior faculty per capita plunged 50 percent. At its two flagship universities, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, the number of researchers fell 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while the Technion, Israel’s MIT, added exactly one position. The result is a huge brain drain: fully 25 percent of Israeli academics work overseas, compared to less than 4 percent of European academics.

So what’s the real objection? Money. Israel’s universities are almost wholly state-funded. And while many colleges also receive state funds, universities get much more. Hence a new university would mean a smaller share of the pie for existing ones. And since existing universities control the CHE, they are determined to block newcomers.

But for a country with no natural resources, dependent entirely on its brainpower, a system that prevents new institutions from flourishing is bad news. It is therefore vital to end the CHE’s stranglehold, and in parallel to encourage existing universities to develop nongovernmental funding sources. A school shouldn’t have to be located in the West Bank to obtain recognition as an Israeli university.

This week’s recognition of Ariel College as a “university center” — a step toward full-fledged university status — outraged Israel’s academic establishment.

For some, the objection is political: the institution is located in Ariel, a West Bank settlement, so hard-core leftists want it dismantled, not upgraded — though all Israeli governments have sought to retain Ariel under any peace agreement.

But for most, the objection is ostensibly professional: academically, they claim, Ariel is no better than other colleges that haven’t been upgraded; the Council for Higher Education, an independent professional body that oversees Israeli academia, opposes the upgrade; and the final approval was ordered by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, constituting blatant political interference in higher education.

The actual facts are these: because Israel never annexed the West Bank, formal legal authority there lies with the army — specifically, the GOC Central Command — rather than civilian bodies. Thus Ariel isn’t formally subject to the CHE. But since the army clearly can’t oversee universities, a CHE clone, the Council for Higher Education-Judea and Samaria, was created to do the job.

In 2006, a CHE-JS subcommittee recommended the upgrade, and in 2007 the full CHE-JS adopted this recommendation. All six subcommittee members admittedly lean politically right; most leftists wouldn’t serve on the CHE-JS. But as one member of the regular CHE acknowledged, all were also “people of the first rank in research” — including Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Israel Prize laureate Yuval Ne’eman (the father of Israel’s space program), and Israel Prize laureate Daniel Sperber.

Despite this, the GOC Central Command refused for three years to confirm the decision. Hence, when Barak finally ordered him to do so, he was not overruling the professionals’ decision but upholding it.

As for the CHE’s opposition, that had nothing to do with Ariel’s qualifications: it opposed the upgrade because it saw “no academic need for another university.”

In truth, as researcher Dan Ben-David has documented, Israel desperately needs another university. From 1973 to 2005, Israel’s population doubled, yet the number of senior faculty per capita plunged 50 percent. At its two flagship universities, Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, the number of researchers fell 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively, while the Technion, Israel’s MIT, added exactly one position. The result is a huge brain drain: fully 25 percent of Israeli academics work overseas, compared to less than 4 percent of European academics.

So what’s the real objection? Money. Israel’s universities are almost wholly state-funded. And while many colleges also receive state funds, universities get much more. Hence a new university would mean a smaller share of the pie for existing ones. And since existing universities control the CHE, they are determined to block newcomers.

But for a country with no natural resources, dependent entirely on its brainpower, a system that prevents new institutions from flourishing is bad news. It is therefore vital to end the CHE’s stranglehold, and in parallel to encourage existing universities to develop nongovernmental funding sources. A school shouldn’t have to be located in the West Bank to obtain recognition as an Israeli university.

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Toward a Saner Policy on Free Speech

Kudos to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak for yesterday’s decision to oust a yeshiva from the hesder program, which combines Torah study with army service, thereby laying down an important principle: the right to say what you please does not include the right to do so on the government’s dime.

The Har Bracha Yeshiva was expelled because its head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, repeatedly urged his soldier-students to disobey orders to evacuate settlements. Were Melamed a private individual, this would have been unexceptionable. I vehemently oppose such disobedience, because it would undermine the army, on which Israel’s survival depends. But the other side has serious arguments as well — from the importance of obeying one’s conscience to the value of civil disobedience as a way of protesting problematic policies. Hence in principle, Melamed’s position is a legitimate part of the ongoing political debate.

But it ought to be clear that you cannot urge your soldier-students to disobey orders while accepting NIS 700,000 a year — 20 percent of your budget — from the very army you are telling them to disobey. The army need not and should not be funding activities aimed at undermining its ability to function.

Unfortunately, Barak’s decision did not fully establish this principle, as one other yeshiva whose head advocates disobedience remains in the hesder (which includes 61 yeshivas altogether). Indeed, Barak probably wouldn’t have expelled Har Bracha had Melamed not publicly humiliated him by refusing even to meet with him to discuss the issue.

Still, this is the first time a yeshiva has ever been removed from the program. And therefore it sets an important precedent.

What is necessary now is to expand this precedent to other areas of Israeli life. For instance, while it’s legitimate in principle for a professor to advocate boycotting Israel, it is not legitimate to do so while accepting a salary from the very university — and often, the very state — you are asking your overseas colleagues to boycott. How private institutions handle this issue is their business, but most Israeli colleges and universities are state funded. And the state should not be underwriting the paychecks of those who are soliciting others to boycott it.

Similarly, while it’s legitimate for ultra-Orthodox parents to educate their children according to their own beliefs, the state need not and should not finance a curriculum it deems inimical to its long-term health — because that curriculum both preaches eschewing work and army service in favor of full-time Torah study and omits secular subjects necessary to the modern workplace, such as English and math. Yet currently, the state covers up to 75 percent of these schools’ budgets.

For too long, Israel has acted as if the right to free speech includes the right to government financing for your views. Barak’s decision is a first step toward a more rational policy under which people may still say what they please, but the state will no longer finance views it deems inimical. Its importance thus goes far beyond a single yeshiva.

Kudos to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak for yesterday’s decision to oust a yeshiva from the hesder program, which combines Torah study with army service, thereby laying down an important principle: the right to say what you please does not include the right to do so on the government’s dime.

The Har Bracha Yeshiva was expelled because its head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, repeatedly urged his soldier-students to disobey orders to evacuate settlements. Were Melamed a private individual, this would have been unexceptionable. I vehemently oppose such disobedience, because it would undermine the army, on which Israel’s survival depends. But the other side has serious arguments as well — from the importance of obeying one’s conscience to the value of civil disobedience as a way of protesting problematic policies. Hence in principle, Melamed’s position is a legitimate part of the ongoing political debate.

But it ought to be clear that you cannot urge your soldier-students to disobey orders while accepting NIS 700,000 a year — 20 percent of your budget — from the very army you are telling them to disobey. The army need not and should not be funding activities aimed at undermining its ability to function.

Unfortunately, Barak’s decision did not fully establish this principle, as one other yeshiva whose head advocates disobedience remains in the hesder (which includes 61 yeshivas altogether). Indeed, Barak probably wouldn’t have expelled Har Bracha had Melamed not publicly humiliated him by refusing even to meet with him to discuss the issue.

Still, this is the first time a yeshiva has ever been removed from the program. And therefore it sets an important precedent.

What is necessary now is to expand this precedent to other areas of Israeli life. For instance, while it’s legitimate in principle for a professor to advocate boycotting Israel, it is not legitimate to do so while accepting a salary from the very university — and often, the very state — you are asking your overseas colleagues to boycott. How private institutions handle this issue is their business, but most Israeli colleges and universities are state funded. And the state should not be underwriting the paychecks of those who are soliciting others to boycott it.

Similarly, while it’s legitimate for ultra-Orthodox parents to educate their children according to their own beliefs, the state need not and should not finance a curriculum it deems inimical to its long-term health — because that curriculum both preaches eschewing work and army service in favor of full-time Torah study and omits secular subjects necessary to the modern workplace, such as English and math. Yet currently, the state covers up to 75 percent of these schools’ budgets.

For too long, Israel has acted as if the right to free speech includes the right to government financing for your views. Barak’s decision is a first step toward a more rational policy under which people may still say what they please, but the state will no longer finance views it deems inimical. Its importance thus goes far beyond a single yeshiva.

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Calling a Crime a Crime

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

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Three Scenarios for Olmert

Reports of Ehud Olmert’s demise have for many years been greatly exaggerated, but his latest scandal really does appear decisive. It is the beginning of the end for Olmert, and it seems to me that there are roughly three ways that all of this will play out in the coming months:

1. Olmert voluntarily steps down and allows his party to choose a new leader (almost certainly Livni), thereby preserving the government;

2. Olmert hangs tough and Barak makes good on his promise to leave the coalition, forcing elections;

3. Olmert hangs tough and Barak doesn’t leave the coalition.

Scenario #1 seems implausible but not impossible. Olmert, who has always insisted that technically he has done nothing wrong, may depart voluntarily, but only if his indictment becomes a certainty. But there is perhaps a deeper problem: the Shas party, which is currently part of Olmert’s coalition, has said that it will not join a government headed by Livni. If Shas makes good on this pledge, Livni’s only path to the premiership is through elections (scenario #2), which obviously represent an uncertain path to power.

Scenario #2 is the most likely, but also the most puzzling: Barak has set in motion a series of events that very well may not conclude in his taking the premiership, given Likud’s popularity. Why would he do that? He might believe that a unity government is in the offing, or that a new prime minister (assuming Barak remains at defense) would finally allow him to take the IDF into Gaza, which he has long wanted to do. Simply in terms of political calculation, Barak’s declaration yesterday would only seem to make sense if he felt that he has a good chance of coming to power through new elections. But perhaps something else is at work here, something extraordinarily rare in politics: maybe Barak really does feel that Israel is imperiled by Ehud Olmert, and that the requirements of national security and national honor compel him to unseat Olmert regardless of how such an upheaval will affect his own political fortunes.

Scenario #3 is the most implausible, with Barak ending up humiliated because he doesn’t follow his tough words with action.

Yossi Klein Halevy provides a final thought:

The end of Olmert needs to begin a process that will end Olmertism, the acceptance of corruption as an unavoidable part of Israeli politics. The current generation of politicians who grew up in the culture of Olmertism needs to be replaced by a new generation–young people in their 30s and 40s who, for example, helped transform the Israeli economy and high-tech sector. Precisely because they value excellence and dedication, those young people have shunned Israeli politics. But as the Olmert affair proves, the country can no longer leave its governance to the vain and merely ambitious men who have desecrated the name of Israel.

Update: my friend Carl in Jerusalem emails with some wise thoughts:

Barak did what he did yesterday in the hope that Kadima will throw Olmert out and that the Knesset will stay intact with Livni becoming Prime Minister. He underestimated Olmert’s resentment of Livni. He thought that Livni is a lightweight, and after 6-12 months of her as Prime Minister, the country will have had enough and he will be in a better position to challenge Netanyahu. His party is furious with him because all the polls show that they will get screwed and be left with about 12 seats and in third place (polls come out Friday morning – should be interesting tomorrow). He has no hope of being Prime Minister now regardless of what happens, but yes, he thinks he can go into a coalition with Likud and come out defense minister. Bibi may have other ideas like bringing back [Shaul] Mofaz or bringing in [Bogie] Yaalon.

Reports of Ehud Olmert’s demise have for many years been greatly exaggerated, but his latest scandal really does appear decisive. It is the beginning of the end for Olmert, and it seems to me that there are roughly three ways that all of this will play out in the coming months:

1. Olmert voluntarily steps down and allows his party to choose a new leader (almost certainly Livni), thereby preserving the government;

2. Olmert hangs tough and Barak makes good on his promise to leave the coalition, forcing elections;

3. Olmert hangs tough and Barak doesn’t leave the coalition.

Scenario #1 seems implausible but not impossible. Olmert, who has always insisted that technically he has done nothing wrong, may depart voluntarily, but only if his indictment becomes a certainty. But there is perhaps a deeper problem: the Shas party, which is currently part of Olmert’s coalition, has said that it will not join a government headed by Livni. If Shas makes good on this pledge, Livni’s only path to the premiership is through elections (scenario #2), which obviously represent an uncertain path to power.

Scenario #2 is the most likely, but also the most puzzling: Barak has set in motion a series of events that very well may not conclude in his taking the premiership, given Likud’s popularity. Why would he do that? He might believe that a unity government is in the offing, or that a new prime minister (assuming Barak remains at defense) would finally allow him to take the IDF into Gaza, which he has long wanted to do. Simply in terms of political calculation, Barak’s declaration yesterday would only seem to make sense if he felt that he has a good chance of coming to power through new elections. But perhaps something else is at work here, something extraordinarily rare in politics: maybe Barak really does feel that Israel is imperiled by Ehud Olmert, and that the requirements of national security and national honor compel him to unseat Olmert regardless of how such an upheaval will affect his own political fortunes.

Scenario #3 is the most implausible, with Barak ending up humiliated because he doesn’t follow his tough words with action.

Yossi Klein Halevy provides a final thought:

The end of Olmert needs to begin a process that will end Olmertism, the acceptance of corruption as an unavoidable part of Israeli politics. The current generation of politicians who grew up in the culture of Olmertism needs to be replaced by a new generation–young people in their 30s and 40s who, for example, helped transform the Israeli economy and high-tech sector. Precisely because they value excellence and dedication, those young people have shunned Israeli politics. But as the Olmert affair proves, the country can no longer leave its governance to the vain and merely ambitious men who have desecrated the name of Israel.

Update: my friend Carl in Jerusalem emails with some wise thoughts:

Barak did what he did yesterday in the hope that Kadima will throw Olmert out and that the Knesset will stay intact with Livni becoming Prime Minister. He underestimated Olmert’s resentment of Livni. He thought that Livni is a lightweight, and after 6-12 months of her as Prime Minister, the country will have had enough and he will be in a better position to challenge Netanyahu. His party is furious with him because all the polls show that they will get screwed and be left with about 12 seats and in third place (polls come out Friday morning – should be interesting tomorrow). He has no hope of being Prime Minister now regardless of what happens, but yes, he thinks he can go into a coalition with Likud and come out defense minister. Bibi may have other ideas like bringing back [Shaul] Mofaz or bringing in [Bogie] Yaalon.

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Speaking Truth to Appeasement

Moshe Arens, the Likudnik who was thrice Israel’s defense minister, has a bracing op-ed in Haaretz in which he reminds those who insist that terrorism cannot be defeated by military force that they are forgetting (very recent) history:

As long as Israel seemed unable to find an effective answer to Palestinian terror [during the second intifada], the defeatists in our ranks claimed that terror could not be defeated by force, while the more cautious argued that terror could not be defeated by the use of force alone. The implication was that Israel had no choice but to concede to at least some of the terrorists’ demands–that they must be given a “political horizon.”

But once the Israel Defense Forces and the security services began to seriously tackle Palestinian terror, following the massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya in the spring of 2002, it quickly became clear that terror could be defeated by force. As a matter of fact, it could be defeated only by the use of force. The terrorists view any hints of Israeli willingness to give in to a portion of their essentially limitless demands as a sign of weakness, which only serves to encourage further acts of terror.

But Israel’s victory over Palestinian terror, which put an end to the daily bouts of suicide bombings, also induced amnesia in the minds of some of Israel’s leaders. The lesson was quickly forgotten.

Exactly right. The extent to which Israel’s military victory in the intifada is simply not acceptable for discussion in enlightened quarters is amazing as a matter of cultural psychology. But this refusal also has a crippling effect on Israeli politics, as the military option against Hamas is continuously framed as a foreordained failure. Arens concludes:

A truce with the terrorists, meaning that Israel would cease its attacks against organizations in Gaza whose leaderships are pledged to Israel’s destruction, is ludicrous and self-defeating. It has not worked with Hezbollah, it will not work with Iran, and it won’t work with Hamas. Until such time as Israel adopts the only strategy that works in the war against terror — attacking the terrorists until they are soundly defeated — Israel will continue to be weakened, and its citizens will continue to be casualties of terrorist acts.

Read the whole thing.

Moshe Arens, the Likudnik who was thrice Israel’s defense minister, has a bracing op-ed in Haaretz in which he reminds those who insist that terrorism cannot be defeated by military force that they are forgetting (very recent) history:

As long as Israel seemed unable to find an effective answer to Palestinian terror [during the second intifada], the defeatists in our ranks claimed that terror could not be defeated by force, while the more cautious argued that terror could not be defeated by the use of force alone. The implication was that Israel had no choice but to concede to at least some of the terrorists’ demands–that they must be given a “political horizon.”

But once the Israel Defense Forces and the security services began to seriously tackle Palestinian terror, following the massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya in the spring of 2002, it quickly became clear that terror could be defeated by force. As a matter of fact, it could be defeated only by the use of force. The terrorists view any hints of Israeli willingness to give in to a portion of their essentially limitless demands as a sign of weakness, which only serves to encourage further acts of terror.

But Israel’s victory over Palestinian terror, which put an end to the daily bouts of suicide bombings, also induced amnesia in the minds of some of Israel’s leaders. The lesson was quickly forgotten.

Exactly right. The extent to which Israel’s military victory in the intifada is simply not acceptable for discussion in enlightened quarters is amazing as a matter of cultural psychology. But this refusal also has a crippling effect on Israeli politics, as the military option against Hamas is continuously framed as a foreordained failure. Arens concludes:

A truce with the terrorists, meaning that Israel would cease its attacks against organizations in Gaza whose leaderships are pledged to Israel’s destruction, is ludicrous and self-defeating. It has not worked with Hezbollah, it will not work with Iran, and it won’t work with Hamas. Until such time as Israel adopts the only strategy that works in the war against terror — attacking the terrorists until they are soundly defeated — Israel will continue to be weakened, and its citizens will continue to be casualties of terrorist acts.

Read the whole thing.

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A Talk in Tehran

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that two organizations at Tehran University will host a May 26th conference on “Israel’s End” in order to coincide with “the sad 60th anniversary of Palestine’s occupation by the Zionists.”

Here’s the IRNA:

The guests of the conference that would be attended by Iranian and foreign students of universities in Tehran will be intellectuals and university professors from Egypt, Venezuela, Morocco, Lebanon, Indonesia, the United States, Pakistan, Argentina, India, Iraq, Syria, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, France, Tunisia, and a number of other countries.

In March, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement, one of groups organizing the upcoming confab, offered a bounty of more than $1 million for the assassination of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad director Meir Dagan, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

What kind of student activist group has a cool million laying around in a mercenary fund? The kind under the guidance of the “Council for Spreading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Thoughts.” Yes, that is a real, government-organized council. And yes, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement is under their direct influence. So, the May 26th international conference on the liquidation of Israel is, in its turn, an Ahmadinejad-sponsored event. It’s hard to say whether or not IRNA’s claim of U.S. attendees is genuine–but there’s little reason to doubt that some American academics would jump at this golden opportunity.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that two organizations at Tehran University will host a May 26th conference on “Israel’s End” in order to coincide with “the sad 60th anniversary of Palestine’s occupation by the Zionists.”

Here’s the IRNA:

The guests of the conference that would be attended by Iranian and foreign students of universities in Tehran will be intellectuals and university professors from Egypt, Venezuela, Morocco, Lebanon, Indonesia, the United States, Pakistan, Argentina, India, Iraq, Syria, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, France, Tunisia, and a number of other countries.

In March, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement, one of groups organizing the upcoming confab, offered a bounty of more than $1 million for the assassination of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad director Meir Dagan, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

What kind of student activist group has a cool million laying around in a mercenary fund? The kind under the guidance of the “Council for Spreading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Thoughts.” Yes, that is a real, government-organized council. And yes, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement is under their direct influence. So, the May 26th international conference on the liquidation of Israel is, in its turn, an Ahmadinejad-sponsored event. It’s hard to say whether or not IRNA’s claim of U.S. attendees is genuine–but there’s little reason to doubt that some American academics would jump at this golden opportunity.

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It’s Time to Withdraw the Iran NIE

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.”

This was remarkably deceptive. The statement was accompanied by a disclaimer buried in a footnote saying that “For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

In other words, the NIE reached its conclusion that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program had come to a halt by describing uranium-enrichment efforts as civilian.

Today’s New York Times has a remarkably important story by William Broad containing photographs of Iranian officials touring the uranium-enrichment site at Natanz.

One surprise of the tour was the presence of Iran’s defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. His attendance struck some analysts as odd given Iran’s claim that the desert labors are entirely peaceful in nature. In one picture, Mr. Najjar, smiling widely, appears to lead the presidential retinue.

Also participating in the tour was Mossein Mohseni Ejehei, Iran’s minister of intelligence. The caption indicating his presence is mysterious absent from the Times‘s website, but is included in the printed edition of the paper.

The presence of the defense and intelligence ministers on this tour, with the defense minister appearing to lead it, are not definitive indicators of anything. But they do surely cast strong additional doubt on the NIE’s flat contention that the enrichment effort is only “civil work.”

The more we learn about the NIE, the more it appears to be a disgrace. Ranking U.S. officials have already contradicted its findings in their public statements. But it’s clear that it needs to be officially withdrawn, and its authors reprimanded for botching it, undermining U.S. foreign policy, and badly embarrassing U.S. intelligence yet again.  

The November National Intelligence Estimate on Iran declared flatly in its opening sentence that ‘We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.”

This was remarkably deceptive. The statement was accompanied by a disclaimer buried in a footnote saying that “For the purposes of this Estimate, by ‘nuclear weapons program’ we mean Iran’s nuclear weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.”

In other words, the NIE reached its conclusion that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program had come to a halt by describing uranium-enrichment efforts as civilian.

Today’s New York Times has a remarkably important story by William Broad containing photographs of Iranian officials touring the uranium-enrichment site at Natanz.

One surprise of the tour was the presence of Iran’s defense minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar. His attendance struck some analysts as odd given Iran’s claim that the desert labors are entirely peaceful in nature. In one picture, Mr. Najjar, smiling widely, appears to lead the presidential retinue.

Also participating in the tour was Mossein Mohseni Ejehei, Iran’s minister of intelligence. The caption indicating his presence is mysterious absent from the Times‘s website, but is included in the printed edition of the paper.

The presence of the defense and intelligence ministers on this tour, with the defense minister appearing to lead it, are not definitive indicators of anything. But they do surely cast strong additional doubt on the NIE’s flat contention that the enrichment effort is only “civil work.”

The more we learn about the NIE, the more it appears to be a disgrace. Ranking U.S. officials have already contradicted its findings in their public statements. But it’s clear that it needs to be officially withdrawn, and its authors reprimanded for botching it, undermining U.S. foreign policy, and badly embarrassing U.S. intelligence yet again.  

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Why the New Israeli Spy Case Now?

After the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard in 1986, it became an article of faith within the FBI and some other portions of the U.S. intelligence community, that Pollard was not acting alone and that Israel had other spies operating in the U.S.. The hunt for the second Pollard has continued ever since. Has it finally hit pay-dirt? Is Ben-Ami Kadish, a former mechanical engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, charged yesterday with passing dozens of secret documents to Israel in the 1980’s, a vindication of the spy hunters?

One interesting mystery concerns the timing of this episode. When Pollard was arrested, Israel publicly claimed that Pollard was its only U.S. spy. But according to Haaretz, in 2004 Israel reversed course and told the U.S. that there was a second agent. But it would be very strange if Israel did that without identifying the agent in question to the U.S. And if it did identify him, why did the U.S. wait four years until they pounced?

Already various explanations are being put forward to explain the timing. Eitan Haber, an assistant to the late Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s defense minister at the time Pollard was arrested, thinks the Kadish case is a way to assure that President Bush will not pardon Pollard at the end of his term. But this seems far-fetched. Especially since there is no indication that Bush is planning to pardon Pollard in the first place.

Other Israelis are speculating that the arrest is timed to tarnish Israel’s celebration next month of its 60th anniversary, which Bush is scheduled to attend. This also seems far-fetched. Kadish’s activities allegedly took placed in the 1980’s and his arrest not likely to do any sort of serious damage to U.S.-Israeli relations today.

Another possibility is that there is a link to the AIPAC case, in which two members of the pro-Israel lobbying organization have been charged with providing classified information to Israel. The trial had been scheduled for the end of this month, until it was delayed once again. Lately prosecutors in the AIPAC have experienced setback after setback, and are even appealing some of the judge’s rulings against them to a higher court. Does the timing of the Kadish arrest have anything to do with the possible impending collapse of the AIPAC case? This seems slightly more plausible, but also far-fetched. What exactly would be the point of such a maneuver?

“One would be a fool to believe that the timing is a coincidence,’ Haber told Haaretz. Thus far, however, I haven’t seen anything to suggest it is more than a coincidence.

Count me a fool.

After the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard in 1986, it became an article of faith within the FBI and some other portions of the U.S. intelligence community, that Pollard was not acting alone and that Israel had other spies operating in the U.S.. The hunt for the second Pollard has continued ever since. Has it finally hit pay-dirt? Is Ben-Ami Kadish, a former mechanical engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, charged yesterday with passing dozens of secret documents to Israel in the 1980’s, a vindication of the spy hunters?

One interesting mystery concerns the timing of this episode. When Pollard was arrested, Israel publicly claimed that Pollard was its only U.S. spy. But according to Haaretz, in 2004 Israel reversed course and told the U.S. that there was a second agent. But it would be very strange if Israel did that without identifying the agent in question to the U.S. And if it did identify him, why did the U.S. wait four years until they pounced?

Already various explanations are being put forward to explain the timing. Eitan Haber, an assistant to the late Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s defense minister at the time Pollard was arrested, thinks the Kadish case is a way to assure that President Bush will not pardon Pollard at the end of his term. But this seems far-fetched. Especially since there is no indication that Bush is planning to pardon Pollard in the first place.

Other Israelis are speculating that the arrest is timed to tarnish Israel’s celebration next month of its 60th anniversary, which Bush is scheduled to attend. This also seems far-fetched. Kadish’s activities allegedly took placed in the 1980’s and his arrest not likely to do any sort of serious damage to U.S.-Israeli relations today.

Another possibility is that there is a link to the AIPAC case, in which two members of the pro-Israel lobbying organization have been charged with providing classified information to Israel. The trial had been scheduled for the end of this month, until it was delayed once again. Lately prosecutors in the AIPAC have experienced setback after setback, and are even appealing some of the judge’s rulings against them to a higher court. Does the timing of the Kadish arrest have anything to do with the possible impending collapse of the AIPAC case? This seems slightly more plausible, but also far-fetched. What exactly would be the point of such a maneuver?

“One would be a fool to believe that the timing is a coincidence,’ Haber told Haaretz. Thus far, however, I haven’t seen anything to suggest it is more than a coincidence.

Count me a fool.

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Russia to the West: Please Don’t Defend Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Israel Gets It Right

When Israel sealed Gaza in response to continued Qassam rocket assaults last month, I argued that Ehud Olmert’s government had run out of ideas. After all, the move represented a sharp break from Israel’s historic policy of narrowly focusing its counterterrorism operations on the terrorists, subjecting Gaza’s entire population to shortages while raising international ire. Indeed, it was hardly surprising when Israel reversed its policy within twenty-four hours, with supplies-filled trucks entering Gaza as international pressure mounted.

But today, Israel announced a new and improved strategy for countering the rockets—one that will directly pressure Hamas in two key ways. First, by declaring a campaign of targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders, Israel demonstrated its willingness to take politically severe—yet militarily surgical—measures to stop the attacks. Second, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak announcing preparations for a major ground offensive in Gaza if the rockets continue, Israel threatened a devastating escalation should Hamas fail to act. The ball is now in Hamas’ court: it can draw back its rocket launchers to end the standoff, or continue its aggression and suffer the mounting consequences.

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic regarding this approach. For starters, Hamas’ leadership appears to be taking the threat of assassination quite seriously, with Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud al-Zahar, and Said Siam going into hiding. This significantly hampers Hamas’ decision-making, forcing its leaders to focus on personal safety rather than building a response strategy. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s skittishness regarding a ground offensive in Gaza might give Hamas realistic hope that it can avoid an escalation by scaling back its rocket attacks.

Still, for this strategy to hold, Hamas’ Gaza leadership must see itself with few strategic alternatives to ending its attacks. Egypt will be essential to creating this environment, and Israel should accept the U.S. proposal for Egypt to add an additional 750 soldiers to its border force. Since the border was first breached two weeks ago, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has threatened to “break the legs” of future infiltrators. Israel could benefit by testing Egyptian sincerity, agreeing to the force escalation while holding Egypt accountable for future failures.

Moreover, for this strategy to succeed, Israel must remain focused on its short-term goal: ending the rocket attacks, which claimed the leg of an 8-year-old boy yesterday. In this vein, Tzachi Hanegbi’s call to topple Hamas sets the bar for success impossibly high, and threatens to undermine any strategic objectives that Israel may achieve through this new course. As Israel should have learned in Lebanon, matching strategy to reasonable expectations is critical to asserting a political victory in the aftermath of military operations. Indeed, if Israel hopes to rally Palestinians against Hamas, a political victory presents greater long-term implications than any realistic military achievement.

When Israel sealed Gaza in response to continued Qassam rocket assaults last month, I argued that Ehud Olmert’s government had run out of ideas. After all, the move represented a sharp break from Israel’s historic policy of narrowly focusing its counterterrorism operations on the terrorists, subjecting Gaza’s entire population to shortages while raising international ire. Indeed, it was hardly surprising when Israel reversed its policy within twenty-four hours, with supplies-filled trucks entering Gaza as international pressure mounted.

But today, Israel announced a new and improved strategy for countering the rockets—one that will directly pressure Hamas in two key ways. First, by declaring a campaign of targeted assassinations against Hamas leaders, Israel demonstrated its willingness to take politically severe—yet militarily surgical—measures to stop the attacks. Second, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak announcing preparations for a major ground offensive in Gaza if the rockets continue, Israel threatened a devastating escalation should Hamas fail to act. The ball is now in Hamas’ court: it can draw back its rocket launchers to end the standoff, or continue its aggression and suffer the mounting consequences.

There are a number of reasons to be optimistic regarding this approach. For starters, Hamas’ leadership appears to be taking the threat of assassination quite seriously, with Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud al-Zahar, and Said Siam going into hiding. This significantly hampers Hamas’ decision-making, forcing its leaders to focus on personal safety rather than building a response strategy. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s skittishness regarding a ground offensive in Gaza might give Hamas realistic hope that it can avoid an escalation by scaling back its rocket attacks.

Still, for this strategy to hold, Hamas’ Gaza leadership must see itself with few strategic alternatives to ending its attacks. Egypt will be essential to creating this environment, and Israel should accept the U.S. proposal for Egypt to add an additional 750 soldiers to its border force. Since the border was first breached two weeks ago, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit has threatened to “break the legs” of future infiltrators. Israel could benefit by testing Egyptian sincerity, agreeing to the force escalation while holding Egypt accountable for future failures.

Moreover, for this strategy to succeed, Israel must remain focused on its short-term goal: ending the rocket attacks, which claimed the leg of an 8-year-old boy yesterday. In this vein, Tzachi Hanegbi’s call to topple Hamas sets the bar for success impossibly high, and threatens to undermine any strategic objectives that Israel may achieve through this new course. As Israel should have learned in Lebanon, matching strategy to reasonable expectations is critical to asserting a political victory in the aftermath of military operations. Indeed, if Israel hopes to rally Palestinians against Hamas, a political victory presents greater long-term implications than any realistic military achievement.

Read Less

The Teflon Prime Minister

The planets continue to align, improbably, in Ehud Olmert’s favor. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak apparently has strong Labor support in his decision to stay in Olmert’s coalition. Barak announced his decision Sunday, but yesterday’s Knesset session offers a crystalline portrait of a country’s disgust with its leader.

Olmert addressed the Knesset and attempted to take nominal responsibility for the softball findings of the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War. The Jerusalem Post reports that parents of soldiers killed in that war interrupted the Prime Minister only to blast him and renounce their citizenship.

In the wake of Israel’s military debacle in Lebanon, the partisan machinations of Ehud Barak and the egomania of Ehud Olmert have conspired to keep the country in the precise defensive condition it can’t afford: stasis. Barak had said he’d pull his support for Olmert and force elections once the Winograd Committee report was delivered. However, facing his party’s dismal public approval ratings and the current hawkish climate, he’s gone against principle and chosen to nurture the incompetent Olmert instead of risking a Likud victory.

Meanwhile, in his speech yesterday, Olmert demonstrated once again that he doesn’t even comprehend what his faults might be. He didn’t so much take responsibility as spread it around. Getting both the tone and content exactly wrong, he reminded all attending that his taking the country to war reflected “the unequivocal opinion of the defense establishment.” That’s not necessarily false, but it’s also not what’s provoking outrage. Benjamin Netanyahu recognizes the war’s “vast national and international support” on his blog today. Yet, Netanyahu adds:

However, even with such advantages, and as pointed out by the Winograd Committee, it is the first war initiated by Israel that it did not win. The IDF fought with bravery and courage. The failure lies with the amateurish government . . . The committee had concluded: We place the responsibility on the shoulders of the three figures at the helm. But while two of those figures – (former) Defense Minister Amir Peretz and (former) Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz – have since resigned from their positions, the prime minister refuses to follow suit.

A nation whose survival depends on the fearless accountability of its leadership is being forced into weakness by the survival instincts of cowardly leaders. Ehud Barak continues to talk a big game about his plans to bring down Olmert at just the right time, but barring the effects of one of Olmert’s other scandals, that toppling has been permanently postponed.

The planets continue to align, improbably, in Ehud Olmert’s favor. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak apparently has strong Labor support in his decision to stay in Olmert’s coalition. Barak announced his decision Sunday, but yesterday’s Knesset session offers a crystalline portrait of a country’s disgust with its leader.

Olmert addressed the Knesset and attempted to take nominal responsibility for the softball findings of the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War. The Jerusalem Post reports that parents of soldiers killed in that war interrupted the Prime Minister only to blast him and renounce their citizenship.

In the wake of Israel’s military debacle in Lebanon, the partisan machinations of Ehud Barak and the egomania of Ehud Olmert have conspired to keep the country in the precise defensive condition it can’t afford: stasis. Barak had said he’d pull his support for Olmert and force elections once the Winograd Committee report was delivered. However, facing his party’s dismal public approval ratings and the current hawkish climate, he’s gone against principle and chosen to nurture the incompetent Olmert instead of risking a Likud victory.

Meanwhile, in his speech yesterday, Olmert demonstrated once again that he doesn’t even comprehend what his faults might be. He didn’t so much take responsibility as spread it around. Getting both the tone and content exactly wrong, he reminded all attending that his taking the country to war reflected “the unequivocal opinion of the defense establishment.” That’s not necessarily false, but it’s also not what’s provoking outrage. Benjamin Netanyahu recognizes the war’s “vast national and international support” on his blog today. Yet, Netanyahu adds:

However, even with such advantages, and as pointed out by the Winograd Committee, it is the first war initiated by Israel that it did not win. The IDF fought with bravery and courage. The failure lies with the amateurish government . . . The committee had concluded: We place the responsibility on the shoulders of the three figures at the helm. But while two of those figures – (former) Defense Minister Amir Peretz and (former) Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz – have since resigned from their positions, the prime minister refuses to follow suit.

A nation whose survival depends on the fearless accountability of its leadership is being forced into weakness by the survival instincts of cowardly leaders. Ehud Barak continues to talk a big game about his plans to bring down Olmert at just the right time, but barring the effects of one of Olmert’s other scandals, that toppling has been permanently postponed.

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Ehud Olmert, Company Man

John Podhoretz has noted here that Ehud Olmert managed–somehow–to survive the release of the Winograd Report, which details his grievous failures in the Lebanon war. John didn’t comment further: Olmert’s record speaks (miserably) for itself. But the excellent Yossi Klein Halevi, at TNR, condemns him full-throatedly:

Olmert, neither founder nor hero, is the first professional politician to serve as prime minister. Yet, in resisting calls for his resignation, he is insisting on being absolved of the standards for personal accountability in war to which other prime ministers were held. Golda Meir and her defense minister, Moshe Dayan, were forced from office by an outraged public because of failure in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, while Menachem Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, were compelled to resign because of failure in the first Lebanon War in 1982. Olmert, though, sees himself as immune from such archaic values as personal responsibility. Even before the release of the final version of the Winograd report, Olmert had announced that he wouldn’t resign no matter what the commission concluded.

Olmert’s fatal flaw, and the source of his failure in Lebanon, is arrogance. No Israeli leader ever decided to go to war faster than Olmert did–in a matter of hours. And no Israeli leader was worse prepared: Not only did Olmert have no security expertise, but neither did his defense minister. The one member of his cabinet with top military credentials–former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz–was serving as transportation minister, and Olmert didn’t include him in his inner circle. Olmert failed to establish clear goals for Israel’s counter-attack or to inquire whether the IDF had alternative plans. Olmert’s policy was, in effect: Let’s go to war and see what happens.

You should read the whole thing.

John Podhoretz has noted here that Ehud Olmert managed–somehow–to survive the release of the Winograd Report, which details his grievous failures in the Lebanon war. John didn’t comment further: Olmert’s record speaks (miserably) for itself. But the excellent Yossi Klein Halevi, at TNR, condemns him full-throatedly:

Olmert, neither founder nor hero, is the first professional politician to serve as prime minister. Yet, in resisting calls for his resignation, he is insisting on being absolved of the standards for personal accountability in war to which other prime ministers were held. Golda Meir and her defense minister, Moshe Dayan, were forced from office by an outraged public because of failure in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, while Menachem Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon, were compelled to resign because of failure in the first Lebanon War in 1982. Olmert, though, sees himself as immune from such archaic values as personal responsibility. Even before the release of the final version of the Winograd report, Olmert had announced that he wouldn’t resign no matter what the commission concluded.

Olmert’s fatal flaw, and the source of his failure in Lebanon, is arrogance. No Israeli leader ever decided to go to war faster than Olmert did–in a matter of hours. And no Israeli leader was worse prepared: Not only did Olmert have no security expertise, but neither did his defense minister. The one member of his cabinet with top military credentials–former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz–was serving as transportation minister, and Olmert didn’t include him in his inner circle. Olmert failed to establish clear goals for Israel’s counter-attack or to inquire whether the IDF had alternative plans. Olmert’s policy was, in effect: Let’s go to war and see what happens.

You should read the whole thing.

Read Less

NATO Goes Soft in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, the hard-won progress of Afghan and international forces is being undermined by NATO’s inefficiency, and it’s a scandal. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are looking to withdraw troops by 2010. If these forces remain hindered by the restrictions already imposed upon them, their exit may very well go unnoticed. Self-imposed checks on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISF) keep most European soldiers out of southern Afghanistan, where they’re needed to fight a resurgent Taliban. Moreover, these troops are only allowed to fire in self-defense.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he’ll support a stronger French effort in the south. Meanwhile, a story in the Sun—about a leaked memo written by Afghan-stationed German commanders, in which they describe themselves as “useless cake-eaters”—states: “Last month German rescue helicopters refused to fly at night. And their troops are not allowed to travel more than two hours from a military hospital—making huge areas supposedly under their control off-limits.”

Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains a committed U.S. ally in Afghanistan, but has made intimations about not wanting to pick up the slack for NATO. New Zealand is mulling the idea of sending additional troops.

Washington and NATO have ordered a series of appraisals of policy in Afghanistan. Additionally, Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is asking for fresh ideas. On loan to the U.S., former Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen played a critical role in the counterinsurgency strategy that’s turned Iraq around. This kind of collaborative ingenuity could help forces secure and build upon the advances made in Afghanistan. However, if NATO doesn’t step up, the heavy lifting may become too much to bear.

In Afghanistan, the hard-won progress of Afghan and international forces is being undermined by NATO’s inefficiency, and it’s a scandal. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands are looking to withdraw troops by 2010. If these forces remain hindered by the restrictions already imposed upon them, their exit may very well go unnoticed. Self-imposed checks on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISF) keep most European soldiers out of southern Afghanistan, where they’re needed to fight a resurgent Taliban. Moreover, these troops are only allowed to fire in self-defense.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he’ll support a stronger French effort in the south. Meanwhile, a story in the Sun—about a leaked memo written by Afghan-stationed German commanders, in which they describe themselves as “useless cake-eaters”—states: “Last month German rescue helicopters refused to fly at night. And their troops are not allowed to travel more than two hours from a military hospital—making huge areas supposedly under their control off-limits.”

Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains a committed U.S. ally in Afghanistan, but has made intimations about not wanting to pick up the slack for NATO. New Zealand is mulling the idea of sending additional troops.

Washington and NATO have ordered a series of appraisals of policy in Afghanistan. Additionally, Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is asking for fresh ideas. On loan to the U.S., former Australian Army Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen played a critical role in the counterinsurgency strategy that’s turned Iraq around. This kind of collaborative ingenuity could help forces secure and build upon the advances made in Afghanistan. However, if NATO doesn’t step up, the heavy lifting may become too much to bear.

Read Less

ANNAPOLIS: The monitor & judge

The rumor in Annapolis yesterday was that the recently-retired Marine Gen. James Jones had been tapped as the man to lead the “monitoring and judging” component of the renewed American effort to push the implementation of the Roadmap. Today, it became official.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities.

“There is in her mind a need for someone to take a look internally at not only the efforts of the Palestinians to build up their security forces, but how those efforts relate to the Israeli government and Israeli security efforts and how those efforts also relate through the region,” he said.

As I argued yesterday, the manner in which this job is performed will be vital to how the Palestinian effort at developing competent security services is going to be viewed. And that, in turn, is going to affect how much pressure is put on Israel to reduce its security presence in the West Bank. Check out Wikipedia for a little more info on Jones. Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn have more on the Jones appointment in their Annapolis diary:

The issue that threatened to disrupt the talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her lead-negotiating counterpart, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia, was over who would supervise the two sides and decide whether they are meeting their road map obligations. Experience in the Middle East suggests that the Israelis and the Palestinians are very good at blaming the other side, but they do not really like to keep their obligations. Had this been different the Palestinian terrorist groups and the outposts in the West Bank would have long gone. During the Oslo period there was no responsible adult around to ensure that the obligations were met. The road map sought to correct this and set a mechanism of monitoring under American control.

The Palestinians and the Americans proposed for the current negotiations to set up a tripartite committee that would discuss all issues and decide who was right and who needs to correct things. Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed this proposal, fearing that Israel will find itself in a minority position, and proposed instead that an American arbitrator would be assigned to decide. The final compromise is that a committee will be set up, but the decision maker will be U.S. General Jim Jones, the former NATO commander, who will take up his new duties in the coming days. Like other generals appointed by the White House for this thankless job, Jones will also probably go through a complicated breaking-in period in the Middle East.

The rumor in Annapolis yesterday was that the recently-retired Marine Gen. James Jones had been tapped as the man to lead the “monitoring and judging” component of the renewed American effort to push the implementation of the Roadmap. Today, it became official.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the job involves monitoring the development of Palestinian security services. One focus would be how those forces interact with neighboring security services, including Israeli authorities.

“There is in her mind a need for someone to take a look internally at not only the efforts of the Palestinians to build up their security forces, but how those efforts relate to the Israeli government and Israeli security efforts and how those efforts also relate through the region,” he said.

As I argued yesterday, the manner in which this job is performed will be vital to how the Palestinian effort at developing competent security services is going to be viewed. And that, in turn, is going to affect how much pressure is put on Israel to reduce its security presence in the West Bank. Check out Wikipedia for a little more info on Jones. Shmuel Rosner and Aluf Benn have more on the Jones appointment in their Annapolis diary:

The issue that threatened to disrupt the talks between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her lead-negotiating counterpart, former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia, was over who would supervise the two sides and decide whether they are meeting their road map obligations. Experience in the Middle East suggests that the Israelis and the Palestinians are very good at blaming the other side, but they do not really like to keep their obligations. Had this been different the Palestinian terrorist groups and the outposts in the West Bank would have long gone. During the Oslo period there was no responsible adult around to ensure that the obligations were met. The road map sought to correct this and set a mechanism of monitoring under American control.

The Palestinians and the Americans proposed for the current negotiations to set up a tripartite committee that would discuss all issues and decide who was right and who needs to correct things. Defense Minister Ehud Barak opposed this proposal, fearing that Israel will find itself in a minority position, and proposed instead that an American arbitrator would be assigned to decide. The final compromise is that a committee will be set up, but the decision maker will be U.S. General Jim Jones, the former NATO commander, who will take up his new duties in the coming days. Like other generals appointed by the White House for this thankless job, Jones will also probably go through a complicated breaking-in period in the Middle East.

Read Less




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