Commentary Magazine


Topic: Department of State

Honduras, Obama, and Occam’s Razor

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

Read Less

Name That Process

In Friday’s State Department press conference, P.J. Crowley rejected a description of the administration’s new peace process as “indirect talks.” That produced the following colloquy:

QUESTION: What’s – why are you allergic to saying, yeah, it’s going to be indirect talks. I mean, it’s obvious from what you’ve described that that’s what it is. They’re not talking to each other, you’d like them to talk to each other sometime, but now, like a tired, weary, and sad marriage counselor, you’re going to shuttle back and forth between them. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: All right, Arshad, tell us what you really think. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What’s the problem with – I mean, what’s the problem with saying indirect talks? Why is that – why are you allergic to that phrase? … Why won’t you call them indirect talks?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to put a label on them…

QUESTION: Can you call them parallel talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Samir, I’m not playing a – do we have Middle East labels for $200?

“Parallel talks” is not a bad label, since the two sets of talks — like parallel lines — are never going to meet. But that label does not quite capture the logic of the process.

Over the past three months, the Palestinians have insisted on a settlement freeze as a condition of negotiations (even though they did not negotiate when they had one), and Israel has insisted on direct talks without preconditions. Having failed to get negotiations going after nearly two years, the Obama administration has come up with a process involving neither a settlement freeze nor direct talks — failing to meet both sides’ requirements. Perhaps a better name for the new process would be “parallel un-talks” (PUNT).

In her Saban Center speech Friday night, Hillary Clinton used a phrase that might become the State Department’s new label: “substantive two-way conversations.” But a more accurate label would be “dual substantive two-way conversations,” since there will actually be two separate two-way conversations (and how “substantive” they will be remains to be seen, since the Palestinian insistence on both a state and a “right of return” makes the whole exercise academic).

What about “Son of Proximity Talks”? In a perceptive analysis that should be read in its entirety, Robert Satloff suggests that the new process would not be a return to the dead-end proximity talks, which were just “talks about talks.” He says the new process could be a “high-level engagement with leaders exploring a set of hypotheticals,” with each side asked what it would do if the other did so-and-so. Satloff says the exchanges would require “discretion, candor, and authoritativeness.” I knew there was a catch.

The problem is more than one of process; it is more fundamental. Netanyahu made his Bar-Ilan speech more than 18 months ago, accepting a Palestinian state as long as it accepted a Jewish one and agreed to be demilitarized, with arrangements that would ensure it would stay that way. Until the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate on that basis, the process — whatever it is called — is not going to succeed.

In Friday’s State Department press conference, P.J. Crowley rejected a description of the administration’s new peace process as “indirect talks.” That produced the following colloquy:

QUESTION: What’s – why are you allergic to saying, yeah, it’s going to be indirect talks. I mean, it’s obvious from what you’ve described that that’s what it is. They’re not talking to each other, you’d like them to talk to each other sometime, but now, like a tired, weary, and sad marriage counselor, you’re going to shuttle back and forth between them. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: All right, Arshad, tell us what you really think. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What’s the problem with – I mean, what’s the problem with saying indirect talks? Why is that – why are you allergic to that phrase? … Why won’t you call them indirect talks?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to put a label on them…

QUESTION: Can you call them parallel talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Samir, I’m not playing a – do we have Middle East labels for $200?

“Parallel talks” is not a bad label, since the two sets of talks — like parallel lines — are never going to meet. But that label does not quite capture the logic of the process.

Over the past three months, the Palestinians have insisted on a settlement freeze as a condition of negotiations (even though they did not negotiate when they had one), and Israel has insisted on direct talks without preconditions. Having failed to get negotiations going after nearly two years, the Obama administration has come up with a process involving neither a settlement freeze nor direct talks — failing to meet both sides’ requirements. Perhaps a better name for the new process would be “parallel un-talks” (PUNT).

In her Saban Center speech Friday night, Hillary Clinton used a phrase that might become the State Department’s new label: “substantive two-way conversations.” But a more accurate label would be “dual substantive two-way conversations,” since there will actually be two separate two-way conversations (and how “substantive” they will be remains to be seen, since the Palestinian insistence on both a state and a “right of return” makes the whole exercise academic).

What about “Son of Proximity Talks”? In a perceptive analysis that should be read in its entirety, Robert Satloff suggests that the new process would not be a return to the dead-end proximity talks, which were just “talks about talks.” He says the new process could be a “high-level engagement with leaders exploring a set of hypotheticals,” with each side asked what it would do if the other did so-and-so. Satloff says the exchanges would require “discretion, candor, and authoritativeness.” I knew there was a catch.

The problem is more than one of process; it is more fundamental. Netanyahu made his Bar-Ilan speech more than 18 months ago, accepting a Palestinian state as long as it accepted a Jewish one and agreed to be demilitarized, with arrangements that would ensure it would stay that way. Until the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate on that basis, the process — whatever it is called — is not going to succeed.

Read Less

WikiLeaks Precedent Points to the Proper U.S. Response: Get Over It!

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

Read Less

Cyberwar Is Here. Now What?

When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, the country discovered to its complete shock that it was at war and ill-prepared to do much about it. Once again, the U.S. is waking up to the fact that it’s under attack and not yet up to fighting back. This enemy, like the last one, is nontraditional in nature, and the battle is asymmetrical.

Just as we’d been practiced in fighting other countries when we were attacked by a network of transnational Islamists, we’ve mostly considered the possibility of cyber-attack as coming from another nation, whereas it has come (and continues to come) from loosely connected global networks. After WikiLeaks exposed hundreds of thousands of national security secrets and put untold lives at risk, WikiLeaks’s cyber-allies are now attacking the websites (and, thus, the functional capabilities) of perceived corporate, organizational, and governmental enemies.  An expansion of these kinds of breaches and attacks has the potential to bring our hi-tech world to a standstill. The fecklessness being displayed by American officials, the insistent downplaying of the disaster, and the pervasive sense of confusion all point to the likelihood that we are in for yet another long, controversial, and little-understood war. Read More

When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11, the country discovered to its complete shock that it was at war and ill-prepared to do much about it. Once again, the U.S. is waking up to the fact that it’s under attack and not yet up to fighting back. This enemy, like the last one, is nontraditional in nature, and the battle is asymmetrical.

Just as we’d been practiced in fighting other countries when we were attacked by a network of transnational Islamists, we’ve mostly considered the possibility of cyber-attack as coming from another nation, whereas it has come (and continues to come) from loosely connected global networks. After WikiLeaks exposed hundreds of thousands of national security secrets and put untold lives at risk, WikiLeaks’s cyber-allies are now attacking the websites (and, thus, the functional capabilities) of perceived corporate, organizational, and governmental enemies.  An expansion of these kinds of breaches and attacks has the potential to bring our hi-tech world to a standstill. The fecklessness being displayed by American officials, the insistent downplaying of the disaster, and the pervasive sense of confusion all point to the likelihood that we are in for yet another long, controversial, and little-understood war.

Once again, we are not only unprepared in terms of legal frameworks and battle strategies; we find ourselves essentially weak of character. In the New York Times, Robert Wright writes that WikiLeaks “is doing God’s work.” Regarding the revelations about secret American actions taken against terrorists in the Middle East, he notes, “I’d put this stuff on the positive side of the ledger.” Meanwhile, civil libertarians go on television to rail against the mistreatment of WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange and liberal journalists, such as the Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, decry Assange’s “demonization.”

The facts around Assange’s arrest provide a stick-figure sketch of the perplexing cultural battle now underway in the West. On the one side we have a hip techno-nihilism, utilizing the infinite resources of the Internet and finding support in a warped libertarianism. And on the other, the only thing going up against it with enough conviction to bring Assange to justice is the politically correct junior-high sex-ed police, who managed to collar him in Britain on an unsafe-sex rap. Perhaps Colin Powell used the wrong props at the UN back in 2003. Forget WMD. If he just held up some defective birth control nabbed from Saddam’s bedroom, the sanctioned social workers of Europe might have gone to Baghdad and toppled him for us.

Real threats are no longer taken seriously, while small antagonisms and inconveniences are elevated to capital crimes. This holds true across the political spectrum and in government and among the public. We’ve just had a record year in attempted jihadist attacks against America, but if you’re on the right, chances are you’re fighting the War on Airport Pat-Downs.  The Obama administration made prisoner transfer from Guantanamo Bay its very first order of business. Never mind that one out of every four prisoners released from Gitmo in the last two years is “confirmed or suspected” of having returned to terrorism. We’re too busy with cheap self-righteousness and cheaper “outreach” to address the previous enemy, let alone the new one.

In accordance with the new doctrine of Western war, we’ve taken the first step in response to attack: apology. After 9/11, we apologized to Muslims. Today Hillary Clinton is traveling the world apologizing to foreign governments for leaked State Department cables.  That’s fine as far as it goes, but saying, “Sorry, we’re weak” doesn’t do much to stop the attacks still underway. As someone recently put it, “The war is on. And everyone ought to spend some time thinking about it, discussing it with others, preparing yourselves so you know how to act if something compels you to make a decision. Be very careful not to err on the side of inaction.” Those are the words of a contributor to a cyber-anarchist site called whyweprotest.net. Once again, the enemy has a better handle on the war than we do. We’re sure to busy ourselves finding out more about why they “protest” than reaffirming our conviction to stop them.

Read Less

Morning Commentary

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has hit the ground running as the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. First items on the agenda: cutting the State Department budget, forcing significant changes at the UN, and increasing pressure on “rogue states.”

Ron Paul is the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution honoring Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Paul has been an outspoken critic of the National Endowment of Democracy, which he claims helps stir up international conflict with taxpayer money. Much of Xiaobo’s fine work has been funded through grants from the NED.

George H.W. Bush has thrown his support behind New START, becoming the most prominent Republican figure yet to publicly back the controversial legislation.

James Fallows cautions not to put too much stock into those exceptional Shanghai test scores, noting that the students tested may not have been representative of the average Chinese student. “No doubt these results reflect something real,” wrote Fallows. “But as with just about everything concerning modern China, the results should also be viewed with some distance and possible skepticism.”

Former Army analyst Bradley Manning is facing half a century in prison for leaking secret military documents to WikiLeaks, but it seems he’s become something of a folk hero among left-wingers. The city council of Berkeley is considering a resolution honoring his “patriotism.” The Washington Examiner’s Mark Hemingway suggests: “Once they take care of this vital matter, perhaps they can get around to finally doing something about all the deranged panhandlers on Telegraph Avenue.”

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg may protest allegations that he’s running for president, but his speech yesterday sure sounded like it. And as NBC’s Mark Murray noted, the words also sounded vaguely familiar.

Read Less

A Plan in Search of an Avenue

Yesterday’s State Department press conference featured a lengthy discussion about next steps in the administration’s hapless peace process, now that the administration has dropped its attempt to renew for three months an Israeli moratorium that didn’t work when it was tried for 10, and which the administration concluded would not work now even if Israel agreed to it, which Israel wouldn’t do if the U.S. did not put its promises about it in writing, which the U.S. concluded wouldn’t be prudent, and which anyway were a little different than the oral ones, which — are you still with me?

Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that George Mitchell will be traveling to the region again next week (second prize was two trips) and that the U.S. will “engage with both sides on the core substantive issues.” In other words, unable to get the Palestinians to engage in direct negotiations without preconditions on core issues, the administration will nevertheless, in Crowley’s words, “begin to focus intensively on the core issues and see if we can make progress on the substance itself.” Someone has not completely thought this through.

Crowley himself was a little vague about where this is headed:

QUESTION: … you didn’t really say the direction you’re going.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. There’s a clear plan for this direction, Lach.

QUESTION: You have a plan?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean we think we have the right plan. We think we have the right strategy. We are just adapting the tactics in support of that strategy.

QUESTION: Sorry. What’s the plan again?

Crowley explained that the “moratorium avenue” had not borne fruit, so the administration was now “pursuing a different avenue, but the destination is still the same”:

QUESTION: Okay. What’s the avenue then? If we don’t ask about the plan, what about the avenue. What’s — I mean you seem to be leaving a gap here as to how you get from here to there.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

This seems a particularly inauspicious time to double down on a process that, after two years, is still at square one. Everyone knows the process is not going anywhere until the question of Iran, with its twin proxies on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is resolved. Until then, the idea of another withdrawal, exposing strategic land on Israel’s east to still another jihadist takeover — all in the hope of “peace” — borders on the ludicrous.

But that appears to be the administration’s “plan.” If only it had one for Iran — for when the sanctions-avenue has proved a dead end.

Yesterday’s State Department press conference featured a lengthy discussion about next steps in the administration’s hapless peace process, now that the administration has dropped its attempt to renew for three months an Israeli moratorium that didn’t work when it was tried for 10, and which the administration concluded would not work now even if Israel agreed to it, which Israel wouldn’t do if the U.S. did not put its promises about it in writing, which the U.S. concluded wouldn’t be prudent, and which anyway were a little different than the oral ones, which — are you still with me?

Spokesman P.J. Crowley said that George Mitchell will be traveling to the region again next week (second prize was two trips) and that the U.S. will “engage with both sides on the core substantive issues.” In other words, unable to get the Palestinians to engage in direct negotiations without preconditions on core issues, the administration will nevertheless, in Crowley’s words, “begin to focus intensively on the core issues and see if we can make progress on the substance itself.” Someone has not completely thought this through.

Crowley himself was a little vague about where this is headed:

QUESTION: … you didn’t really say the direction you’re going.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. There’s a clear plan for this direction, Lach.

QUESTION: You have a plan?

MR. CROWLEY: No. I mean we think we have the right plan. We think we have the right strategy. We are just adapting the tactics in support of that strategy.

QUESTION: Sorry. What’s the plan again?

Crowley explained that the “moratorium avenue” had not borne fruit, so the administration was now “pursuing a different avenue, but the destination is still the same”:

QUESTION: Okay. What’s the avenue then? If we don’t ask about the plan, what about the avenue. What’s — I mean you seem to be leaving a gap here as to how you get from here to there.

MR. CROWLEY: That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

This seems a particularly inauspicious time to double down on a process that, after two years, is still at square one. Everyone knows the process is not going anywhere until the question of Iran, with its twin proxies on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is resolved. Until then, the idea of another withdrawal, exposing strategic land on Israel’s east to still another jihadist takeover — all in the hope of “peace” — borders on the ludicrous.

But that appears to be the administration’s “plan.” If only it had one for Iran — for when the sanctions-avenue has proved a dead end.

Read Less

Can’t Anybody in the Obama Administration Talk Without Saying Embarrassing and Revealing Things This Week?

This morning, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to a question on Fox News about the new administration report on how, to quote Tom Joscelyn on the Weekly Standard website, “150 former Guantanamo detainees are either “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities,” according to a new intelligence assessment released by the Director of National Intelligence’s office on Tuesday.” That’s one of every 4 detainees at the base. Quoth Crowley: “We actually expected this would happen.”

Crowley is not making an unsophisticated or illogical case here. What’s interesting is how he slips into the standard spokesman trick of downplaying the significance of something by saying it had been foreseen, anticipated. In fact, such foresight and anticipation only make the fact that more than 80 Gitmo detainees have disappeared back into jihad (with another 13 killed and 34 recaptured) seem all that much more horrifying.

This morning, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to a question on Fox News about the new administration report on how, to quote Tom Joscelyn on the Weekly Standard website, “150 former Guantanamo detainees are either “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities,” according to a new intelligence assessment released by the Director of National Intelligence’s office on Tuesday.” That’s one of every 4 detainees at the base. Quoth Crowley: “We actually expected this would happen.”

Crowley is not making an unsophisticated or illogical case here. What’s interesting is how he slips into the standard spokesman trick of downplaying the significance of something by saying it had been foreseen, anticipated. In fact, such foresight and anticipation only make the fact that more than 80 Gitmo detainees have disappeared back into jihad (with another 13 killed and 34 recaptured) seem all that much more horrifying.

Read Less

What Vietnam Should Teach Us About Iran

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

Read Less

Durable Solutions, Definitions, and Decency

The State Department has released an “Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy” that begins as follows:

At the end of 2009, the estimated refugee population stood at 15.2 million, with 10.5 million receiving protection or assistance from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United States actively supports efforts to provide protection, assistance, and durable solutions to refugees. …

The Overview has a lengthy discussion of “durable solutions” for the 10.5 million refugees but fails to discuss the 4.7 million others. There is a reason — one that helps explain the failure of the “peace process.”

According to the Overview, where opportunities for refugees to return to their homelands are “elusive,” the U.S. and its partners pursue “self-sufficiency and local integration in countries of asylum” — since “resettlement in third countries [is] a vital tool for … durable solutions.” With U.S. support, UNHCR last year referred refugees to 27 countries, and UNHCR says its 10.5 million number is “down 8 percent from a year earlier” — meaning UNHCR found a “durable solution” for nearly a million refugees last year alone. Each year, the number of UNHCR refugees decreases.

The other 4.7 million refugees are Palestinians — and every year, their number increases, since they have a separate UN organization (UNRWA) that uses a different definition of “refugee.” For Palestinians, a “refugee” includes not only people made homeless by war or political disturbance but also the descendants of such people. Once one is a Palestinian refugee, one’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren become refugees, simply by virtue of being born. The status is a hereditary right (“inalienable,” as the UN likes to say).

Since the opportunities to “return” to Israel are “elusive” (the vast majority of the 4.7 million refugees never lived in Israel in the first place, so the word “return” is itself inapposite) and since no one is working on the “durable solutions” used for the rest of the world’s refugees, the number of refugees simply increases every year. It was about 700,000 in 1948 — and is nearly seven times that number today, by definition.

Most of the 4.7 million refugees live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria — Arab countries that for more than 60 years have refused to resettle their Arab brothers and sisters, including the ones who have lived there all their lives. In Lebanon, they lack not only the right of citizenship but even such basic human rights as the ability to own property or attend school. Assistance is provided by UNRWA, which each year makes “emergency appeals” for its growing number of “refugees” housed in squalid camps.

The special Palestinian definition is applied in a one-sided manner: if the term “refugee” includes the descendants of Palestinians, then the descendants of the 856,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries as a result of the 1948 war are also “refugees” — but none of them has been compensated for the family homes and properties taken by the Arab states; nor has Israel been compensated for resettling those refugees; nor can they or the 1 percent of Israel’s population killed in the 1948 war (the demographic equivalent of 3 million Americans today) be given a “right of return.”

The Arabs bear the historical and moral responsibility for the refugees their war created: there would not have been a single Palestinian refugee if the Arabs had accepted the UN’s 1947 two-state solution; and there would be few if any Palestinian refugees today — under any definition — if the Arab states were required to provide the “durable solutions” that decency demands. The tragic irony is that the internationally funded culture of dependency run by UNRWA is now itself the biggest barrier to any realistic peace process, as Michael Bernstam argues in his compelling article in the December issue of COMMENTARY, “The Palestinian Proletariat.”

The State Department has released an “Overview of U.S. Refugee Policy” that begins as follows:

At the end of 2009, the estimated refugee population stood at 15.2 million, with 10.5 million receiving protection or assistance from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United States actively supports efforts to provide protection, assistance, and durable solutions to refugees. …

The Overview has a lengthy discussion of “durable solutions” for the 10.5 million refugees but fails to discuss the 4.7 million others. There is a reason — one that helps explain the failure of the “peace process.”

According to the Overview, where opportunities for refugees to return to their homelands are “elusive,” the U.S. and its partners pursue “self-sufficiency and local integration in countries of asylum” — since “resettlement in third countries [is] a vital tool for … durable solutions.” With U.S. support, UNHCR last year referred refugees to 27 countries, and UNHCR says its 10.5 million number is “down 8 percent from a year earlier” — meaning UNHCR found a “durable solution” for nearly a million refugees last year alone. Each year, the number of UNHCR refugees decreases.

The other 4.7 million refugees are Palestinians — and every year, their number increases, since they have a separate UN organization (UNRWA) that uses a different definition of “refugee.” For Palestinians, a “refugee” includes not only people made homeless by war or political disturbance but also the descendants of such people. Once one is a Palestinian refugee, one’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren become refugees, simply by virtue of being born. The status is a hereditary right (“inalienable,” as the UN likes to say).

Since the opportunities to “return” to Israel are “elusive” (the vast majority of the 4.7 million refugees never lived in Israel in the first place, so the word “return” is itself inapposite) and since no one is working on the “durable solutions” used for the rest of the world’s refugees, the number of refugees simply increases every year. It was about 700,000 in 1948 — and is nearly seven times that number today, by definition.

Most of the 4.7 million refugees live in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria — Arab countries that for more than 60 years have refused to resettle their Arab brothers and sisters, including the ones who have lived there all their lives. In Lebanon, they lack not only the right of citizenship but even such basic human rights as the ability to own property or attend school. Assistance is provided by UNRWA, which each year makes “emergency appeals” for its growing number of “refugees” housed in squalid camps.

The special Palestinian definition is applied in a one-sided manner: if the term “refugee” includes the descendants of Palestinians, then the descendants of the 856,000 Jews expelled from Arab countries as a result of the 1948 war are also “refugees” — but none of them has been compensated for the family homes and properties taken by the Arab states; nor has Israel been compensated for resettling those refugees; nor can they or the 1 percent of Israel’s population killed in the 1948 war (the demographic equivalent of 3 million Americans today) be given a “right of return.”

The Arabs bear the historical and moral responsibility for the refugees their war created: there would not have been a single Palestinian refugee if the Arabs had accepted the UN’s 1947 two-state solution; and there would be few if any Palestinian refugees today — under any definition — if the Arab states were required to provide the “durable solutions” that decency demands. The tragic irony is that the internationally funded culture of dependency run by UNRWA is now itself the biggest barrier to any realistic peace process, as Michael Bernstam argues in his compelling article in the December issue of COMMENTARY, “The Palestinian Proletariat.”

Read Less

Who Decides What’s News in the Age of WikiLeaks?

Max Boot recently noted on CONTENTIONS that the New York Times’s decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents was a stark contrast to how newspapers handled leaks in the first half of the 20th century. “There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second,” he wrote. “There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press.”

But I wonder, in the age of WikiLeaks, if the media still have the ability to take such a noble stance. Leakers who wanted to wreak havoc on our national security used to need reporters to play along. And there were practicalities — like ethical ramifications and not wanting to anger sources or readers — that prompted journalists to be cautious about what they published.

Foreign, ideologically driven rogues like Julian Assange obviously have no such obstacles. Assange’s sources of information are anti-American criminals with minds as twisted as his own, and his readers’ sensibilities clearly have no sway over his editorial decisions. Unburdened by any ethical code, and endowed with the limitless platform of the Internet, WikiLeaks has practically taken the journalists out of the equation. It acts as both the leaker and the reporter.

Which is why, if major platforms like the New York Times had refused to write about WikiLeaks, the story probably wouldn’t have quieted down. Because of the enormous influence of online media outlets, there hasn’t been a single arbiter of what constitutes news in years. Thousands of blogs and online publications eagerly jumped to report on the military documents as soon as they were posted on WikiLeaks. Network anchors read the cables on the air, Twitter was inundated with “cablegate” hashtags, and State Department officials held televised press conferences to discuss the crisis.

WikiLeaks is the root of the problem here, not the news outlets that covered its data dump. Even if the media refused to report the story, it wouldn’t have made a difference. All the wrong people would still be reading the unadulterated cables directly from Assange’s website.

Max Boot recently noted on CONTENTIONS that the New York Times’s decision to publish the WikiLeaks documents was a stark contrast to how newspapers handled leaks in the first half of the 20th century. “There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second,” he wrote. “There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press.”

But I wonder, in the age of WikiLeaks, if the media still have the ability to take such a noble stance. Leakers who wanted to wreak havoc on our national security used to need reporters to play along. And there were practicalities — like ethical ramifications and not wanting to anger sources or readers — that prompted journalists to be cautious about what they published.

Foreign, ideologically driven rogues like Julian Assange obviously have no such obstacles. Assange’s sources of information are anti-American criminals with minds as twisted as his own, and his readers’ sensibilities clearly have no sway over his editorial decisions. Unburdened by any ethical code, and endowed with the limitless platform of the Internet, WikiLeaks has practically taken the journalists out of the equation. It acts as both the leaker and the reporter.

Which is why, if major platforms like the New York Times had refused to write about WikiLeaks, the story probably wouldn’t have quieted down. Because of the enormous influence of online media outlets, there hasn’t been a single arbiter of what constitutes news in years. Thousands of blogs and online publications eagerly jumped to report on the military documents as soon as they were posted on WikiLeaks. Network anchors read the cables on the air, Twitter was inundated with “cablegate” hashtags, and State Department officials held televised press conferences to discuss the crisis.

WikiLeaks is the root of the problem here, not the news outlets that covered its data dump. Even if the media refused to report the story, it wouldn’t have made a difference. All the wrong people would still be reading the unadulterated cables directly from Assange’s website.

Read Less

WikiLeaks Has Succeeded Only in Reinforcing a Culture of Secrecy

Regrettably, Pete, it looks like the answer is never (as Jennifer has noted). This, just in from the Guardian — a veritable barometer of the liberal mindset, at least as far as Europe goes. The best of the liberal crowd from the UK — a pro-Iranian campaigner, a leading voice of Bolshevik nostalgia who is also a dedicated promoter of Islamic radicalism, Juan Cole, and several other colorful opinion makers — weigh in on the significance of the WikiLeaks data dump on the Middle East.

For anyone harboring optimism about the ability of ideologues to change their minds, this is compulsory reading. I detect no mea culpa, no concession on the liberal animus toward Israel and America, no recoiling from the morbid sympathy for Iran and its nuclear ambitions, no hint of doubt.

Who knows, by the time all WikiLeaks documents have made their way into the public domain, perhaps even the die-hard Guardian ideologues will see the light. I am not holding my breath.

Colleagues may understandably dismiss the Guardian’s collection as a largely fringe phenomenon, but another reason I do not think the leaks will significantly affect people’s mindset one way or another is that the current U.S. administration, and many other liberals in Congress, the State Department, and various other agencies of the federal government, were privy to some, if not all, the content of the leaks before the public was — and that did not change their worldview or the policies they pursued.

Anyone who thinks that the WikiLeaks silver lining is in the “moment of truth” value should remember that WikiLeaks was irrelevant for the bigger picture — it revealed nothing we did not either instinctively or advisedly know about the world already. The information was entertaining in a tabloid way (as Max has said) — but again, gossip about Berlusconi’s lifestyle and Qaddafi’s erratic behavior were already available before this event. What value did we get out of this exposure that we had not already gotten out of a subscription to Hello! magazine?

Undoubtedly, the embarrassment from the exposure will eventually subside because, after all, governments made uncomfortable by these leaks must have similar documents in mind that their own diplomats have produced about U.S. leaders. Such is the nature of diplomacy, after all — to offer frank, unadorned assessments under the assumption that they will stay secret until long after they have become irrelevant.

In sum, the only enduring consequences of this affair are negative. First, there is the potential damage caused to sources of information — past, present, and future. Will the likelihood of being exposed as an informant in societies where such activity may be punished with death, loss of face or revenue, or damage to family, help or hinder the future recruitment of sources? Will current sources, seeing how they could easily be exposed, continue or discontinue their cooperation with American (and other) diplomats? Will they have the luxury of this choice, given that being exposed could lead to their death? And will they have continued access to information, given that they have now been exposed?

Then there is the real damage done to the quality of diplomatic communication. WikiLeaks stupidly boasts of serving transparency. The fact of the matter is that its irresponsible and puerile act of exposure will not obviate the need for discretion in the way governments conduct their affairs of state. To the contrary, it will force governments to build more impenetrable firewalls for their vital internal communications — with increased costs to the public coffers and with an increase in the kind of “culture of secrecy” that WikiLeaks so ardently wishes to undermine.

Regrettably, Pete, it looks like the answer is never (as Jennifer has noted). This, just in from the Guardian — a veritable barometer of the liberal mindset, at least as far as Europe goes. The best of the liberal crowd from the UK — a pro-Iranian campaigner, a leading voice of Bolshevik nostalgia who is also a dedicated promoter of Islamic radicalism, Juan Cole, and several other colorful opinion makers — weigh in on the significance of the WikiLeaks data dump on the Middle East.

For anyone harboring optimism about the ability of ideologues to change their minds, this is compulsory reading. I detect no mea culpa, no concession on the liberal animus toward Israel and America, no recoiling from the morbid sympathy for Iran and its nuclear ambitions, no hint of doubt.

Who knows, by the time all WikiLeaks documents have made their way into the public domain, perhaps even the die-hard Guardian ideologues will see the light. I am not holding my breath.

Colleagues may understandably dismiss the Guardian’s collection as a largely fringe phenomenon, but another reason I do not think the leaks will significantly affect people’s mindset one way or another is that the current U.S. administration, and many other liberals in Congress, the State Department, and various other agencies of the federal government, were privy to some, if not all, the content of the leaks before the public was — and that did not change their worldview or the policies they pursued.

Anyone who thinks that the WikiLeaks silver lining is in the “moment of truth” value should remember that WikiLeaks was irrelevant for the bigger picture — it revealed nothing we did not either instinctively or advisedly know about the world already. The information was entertaining in a tabloid way (as Max has said) — but again, gossip about Berlusconi’s lifestyle and Qaddafi’s erratic behavior were already available before this event. What value did we get out of this exposure that we had not already gotten out of a subscription to Hello! magazine?

Undoubtedly, the embarrassment from the exposure will eventually subside because, after all, governments made uncomfortable by these leaks must have similar documents in mind that their own diplomats have produced about U.S. leaders. Such is the nature of diplomacy, after all — to offer frank, unadorned assessments under the assumption that they will stay secret until long after they have become irrelevant.

In sum, the only enduring consequences of this affair are negative. First, there is the potential damage caused to sources of information — past, present, and future. Will the likelihood of being exposed as an informant in societies where such activity may be punished with death, loss of face or revenue, or damage to family, help or hinder the future recruitment of sources? Will current sources, seeing how they could easily be exposed, continue or discontinue their cooperation with American (and other) diplomats? Will they have the luxury of this choice, given that being exposed could lead to their death? And will they have continued access to information, given that they have now been exposed?

Then there is the real damage done to the quality of diplomatic communication. WikiLeaks stupidly boasts of serving transparency. The fact of the matter is that its irresponsible and puerile act of exposure will not obviate the need for discretion in the way governments conduct their affairs of state. To the contrary, it will force governments to build more impenetrable firewalls for their vital internal communications — with increased costs to the public coffers and with an increase in the kind of “culture of secrecy” that WikiLeaks so ardently wishes to undermine.

Read Less

RE: So How’s the Bribe-a-thon Going?

Not all that well. For starters George Mitchell isn’t even in the region. I wondered why and e-mailed State Department spokesman PJ Crowley. He replied: “His deputy, David Hale, was in the region last week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. We maintain continual contact with the parties and are prepared to send George or others to the region if and when needed. We have no announcements to make about travel at this moment.”

An experienced Israel hand translates: “He isn’t there this week because nothing’s happening, we’re stuck, there’s an impasse, and he doesn’t want yet again to travel and achieve nothing. So until there’s some breakthrough, he’s sitting it out.” You’d think this would be simple, no? Write up the bribe list settlement-freeze deal and hand it to Bibi to present to the cabinet. But wait, maybe asking for it in writing was the single most effective bit of diplomacy Bibi could muster. If the deal for the planes, for example, is conditioned or the administration really won’t exclude East Jerusalem from the freeze deal, then there is little chance the cabinet would approve it. And once again, the administration would be trapped by the gap between its private actions and its public comments. The administration is hemorrhaging credibility on multiple fronts. This won’t help. And as long as Mitchell stays home, you know the Obama team is “stuck.”

Not all that well. For starters George Mitchell isn’t even in the region. I wondered why and e-mailed State Department spokesman PJ Crowley. He replied: “His deputy, David Hale, was in the region last week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. We maintain continual contact with the parties and are prepared to send George or others to the region if and when needed. We have no announcements to make about travel at this moment.”

An experienced Israel hand translates: “He isn’t there this week because nothing’s happening, we’re stuck, there’s an impasse, and he doesn’t want yet again to travel and achieve nothing. So until there’s some breakthrough, he’s sitting it out.” You’d think this would be simple, no? Write up the bribe list settlement-freeze deal and hand it to Bibi to present to the cabinet. But wait, maybe asking for it in writing was the single most effective bit of diplomacy Bibi could muster. If the deal for the planes, for example, is conditioned or the administration really won’t exclude East Jerusalem from the freeze deal, then there is little chance the cabinet would approve it. And once again, the administration would be trapped by the gap between its private actions and its public comments. The administration is hemorrhaging credibility on multiple fronts. This won’t help. And as long as Mitchell stays home, you know the Obama team is “stuck.”

Read Less

Cables Tell Us: Linkage Was Nonsense

The WikiLeaks documents have multiple ramifications, but I will focus on one: the confirmation that the Obama “linkage” argument was pure bunk. Recall that the Obama team over and over again has made the argument that progress on the Palestinian conflict was essential to obtaining the help of the Arab states in confronting Iran’s nuclear threat. We know that this is simply and completely false.

The documents show that the Arab states were hounding the administration to take action against Iran. The King of Bahrain urged Obama to rec0gnize that the danger of letting the Iranian nuclear program come to fruition was worse than the fallout from stopping it. He wasn’t alone: there was also “King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” The New York Times connects some of the dots:

At the same time, the cables reveal how Iran’s ascent has unified Israel and many longtime Arab adversaries — notably the Saudis — in a common cause. Publicly, these Arab states held their tongues, for fear of a domestic uproar and the retributions of a powerful neighbor. Privately, they clamored for strong action — by someone else. …

Crown Prince bin Zayed [of Abu Dhabi], predicting in July 2009 that an Israeli attack could come by year’s end, suggested the danger of appeasing Iran. “Ahmadinejad is Hitler,” he declared.

Seemingly taken aback, a State Department official replied, “We do not anticipate military confrontation with Iran before the end of 2009.”

Obama’s outreach efforts only increased the Arab states’ panic:

The election of Mr. Obama, at least initially, left some countries wondering whether the sanctions push was about to end. Shortly after taking office, in a videotaped message timed to the Persian New Year, he reiterated his campaign offer of a “new beginning” — the first sustained talks in three decades with Tehran.

The United Arab Emirates called Mr. Obama’s message “confusing.” The American Embassy in Saudi Arabia reported that the talk about engaging Iran had “fueled Saudi fears that a new U.S. administration might strike a ‘grand bargain’ without prior consultations.”

In short, there is zero evidence that the Palestinian non-peace talks were essential to obtaining the assistance of the Arab states on Iran. To the contrary, what emerges is precisely the portrait that knowledgeable critics of the administration had already painted: Obama has taken his eye off the real ball, placed friendly Arab states in a precarious situation, and misrepresented to the American people and the world that the non-peace talks are necessary to curb the Iranian threat. To the contrary, those talks have been a grand waste of time and a dangerous distraction. Obama frittered away two years that could have been spent cementing an Israeli-Arab alliance against Tehran. Why? Perhaps he is blinded by ideology. Perhaps he realized it was his only chance for a diplomatic win. But whatever the explanation, we should be clear: linkage was a tale told to justify the president’s obsession with a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

The WikiLeaks documents have multiple ramifications, but I will focus on one: the confirmation that the Obama “linkage” argument was pure bunk. Recall that the Obama team over and over again has made the argument that progress on the Palestinian conflict was essential to obtaining the help of the Arab states in confronting Iran’s nuclear threat. We know that this is simply and completely false.

The documents show that the Arab states were hounding the administration to take action against Iran. The King of Bahrain urged Obama to rec0gnize that the danger of letting the Iranian nuclear program come to fruition was worse than the fallout from stopping it. He wasn’t alone: there was also “King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.” The New York Times connects some of the dots:

At the same time, the cables reveal how Iran’s ascent has unified Israel and many longtime Arab adversaries — notably the Saudis — in a common cause. Publicly, these Arab states held their tongues, for fear of a domestic uproar and the retributions of a powerful neighbor. Privately, they clamored for strong action — by someone else. …

Crown Prince bin Zayed [of Abu Dhabi], predicting in July 2009 that an Israeli attack could come by year’s end, suggested the danger of appeasing Iran. “Ahmadinejad is Hitler,” he declared.

Seemingly taken aback, a State Department official replied, “We do not anticipate military confrontation with Iran before the end of 2009.”

Obama’s outreach efforts only increased the Arab states’ panic:

The election of Mr. Obama, at least initially, left some countries wondering whether the sanctions push was about to end. Shortly after taking office, in a videotaped message timed to the Persian New Year, he reiterated his campaign offer of a “new beginning” — the first sustained talks in three decades with Tehran.

The United Arab Emirates called Mr. Obama’s message “confusing.” The American Embassy in Saudi Arabia reported that the talk about engaging Iran had “fueled Saudi fears that a new U.S. administration might strike a ‘grand bargain’ without prior consultations.”

In short, there is zero evidence that the Palestinian non-peace talks were essential to obtaining the assistance of the Arab states on Iran. To the contrary, what emerges is precisely the portrait that knowledgeable critics of the administration had already painted: Obama has taken his eye off the real ball, placed friendly Arab states in a precarious situation, and misrepresented to the American people and the world that the non-peace talks are necessary to curb the Iranian threat. To the contrary, those talks have been a grand waste of time and a dangerous distraction. Obama frittered away two years that could have been spent cementing an Israeli-Arab alliance against Tehran. Why? Perhaps he is blinded by ideology. Perhaps he realized it was his only chance for a diplomatic win. But whatever the explanation, we should be clear: linkage was a tale told to justify the president’s obsession with a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

Read Less

Journalism That Knows No Shame

One can understand if the editors of the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel have no respect for the secrecy needed to wage war successfully — especially unpopular wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are, after all, the sorts of people who, over a few drinks, would no doubt tell you that diplomacy is far preferable to war-making. But it seems that they have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy either. That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from their decision to once again collaborate with an accused rapist to publicize a giant batch of stolen State Department cables gathered by his disreputable organization, WikiLeaks.

I risk sounding like a stuffy, striped-pants diplomat myself if I say that the conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt. But that’s what it is, especially because the news value of the leaks is once again negligible. As with the previous releases of military reports, the WikiLeaks files only fill in details about what has generally already been known. Those details have the potential to cause acute embarrassment — or even end the lives of — those who have communicated with American soldiers or officials, but they do little to help the general public to understand what’s going on.

Only someone who has spent the past few years on the moon can be surprised to discover that countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia are extremely alarmed about the Iranian nuclear program and want the U.S. to stop it, by military action if need be. Yet this is the thrust of one of the main New York Times articles about the leaks. Other non-revelations include reports by American diplomats — which are only one degree removed from newspaper articles and hardly constitute proof of anything — that corruption is widespread in Afghanistan, that North Korea may have transferred missile technology to Iran, that the Chinese Politburo authorized the hacking of Google’s website, that Syria supplies Hezbollah with weapons, or that the U.S. offered various countries a host of incentives to take Guantanamo inmates off our hands.

OK, that’s not quite fair. There are some genuine revelations in all these documents. I, for one, didn’t realize that Libya’s head kook, Muammar Qaddafi, spends a lot of his time with a “voluptuous blonde” nurse from Ukraine or that he uses Botox. Of course, just because information is new doesn’t make it consequential, and this type of information is of interest primarily to editors and readers of Gawker, the gossip site (where I ran across it).

There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second. There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press. We now seem to have reached a moment when the West’s major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it. This is journalism as pure vandalism. If I were responsible, I would feel shame and embarrassment. But apparently, those healthy emotions are in short supply these days.

One can understand if the editors of the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel have no respect for the secrecy needed to wage war successfully — especially unpopular wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are, after all, the sorts of people who, over a few drinks, would no doubt tell you that diplomacy is far preferable to war-making. But it seems that they have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy either. That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from their decision to once again collaborate with an accused rapist to publicize a giant batch of stolen State Department cables gathered by his disreputable organization, WikiLeaks.

I risk sounding like a stuffy, striped-pants diplomat myself if I say that the conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt. But that’s what it is, especially because the news value of the leaks is once again negligible. As with the previous releases of military reports, the WikiLeaks files only fill in details about what has generally already been known. Those details have the potential to cause acute embarrassment — or even end the lives of — those who have communicated with American soldiers or officials, but they do little to help the general public to understand what’s going on.

Only someone who has spent the past few years on the moon can be surprised to discover that countries such as Israel and Saudi Arabia are extremely alarmed about the Iranian nuclear program and want the U.S. to stop it, by military action if need be. Yet this is the thrust of one of the main New York Times articles about the leaks. Other non-revelations include reports by American diplomats — which are only one degree removed from newspaper articles and hardly constitute proof of anything — that corruption is widespread in Afghanistan, that North Korea may have transferred missile technology to Iran, that the Chinese Politburo authorized the hacking of Google’s website, that Syria supplies Hezbollah with weapons, or that the U.S. offered various countries a host of incentives to take Guantanamo inmates off our hands.

OK, that’s not quite fair. There are some genuine revelations in all these documents. I, for one, didn’t realize that Libya’s head kook, Muammar Qaddafi, spends a lot of his time with a “voluptuous blonde” nurse from Ukraine or that he uses Botox. Of course, just because information is new doesn’t make it consequential, and this type of information is of interest primarily to editors and readers of Gawker, the gossip site (where I ran across it).

There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second. There were damaging leaks even during World War II, but when they occurred they were generally denounced by the rest of the press. We now seem to have reached a moment when the West’s major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it. This is journalism as pure vandalism. If I were responsible, I would feel shame and embarrassment. But apparently, those healthy emotions are in short supply these days.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

More European nations in trouble. “The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.”

More evidence that the IRS is targeting the hawkish pro-Israel group Z Street. Wouldn’t it be front-page news if J Street were asked if it supported Iran sanctions?

More reason to doubt that the Obami have a clue about what to do about North Korea. The State Department’s PJ Crowley tweets “SecClinton talked with Chinese FM Yang today and encouraged Beijing to make clear that North Korea’s behavior is unacceptable.” Is “unacceptable” really the strongest they can do? Or is “unacceptable” (as in “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable”) just diplomat-speak for “We’re sorry to see X happen.”

More criticism of Obama’s approach to Egypt. “The president and his secretary of state have brought up democracy and human rights in private conversations with Egyptian leaders but shied away from them in public. They have failed to make any connection between Mr. Mubarak’s domestic repression and the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives every year, much of it directed to the military. They have not supported efforts in Congress to pass legislation or even nonbinding resolutions linking bilateral relations to political reform.”

More defensiveness from Sarah Palin. Not helpful for a presidential contender. Dead-on for a conservative community organizer.

More nonsense from Tom Friedman. No, Tom, too much texting by American kids is not a bigger problem than North Korean nukes. Another example of not-very-smart liberal punditry.

More problems for Rahm Emanuel. “Through an odd chain of events, Mr. Halpin, a 59-year-old industrial real-estate developer here, has become the face of a movement to force Mr. Emanuel out of the race to become Chicago’s next mayor. A lawsuit filed with the Chicago Board of Election Commissions Friday by a Chicago attorney on behalf of two city residents charges that Mr. Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, is ineligible to run because he lost his Chicago residency when he rented his home to Mr. Halpin in 2009.” Really, wasn’t the entire race an excuse to get off the sinking White House ship?

More evidence that the GM bailout was no success for the taxpayers. The union? Well, that’s another story. “General Motors Co.’s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company’s union. Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.”

More European nations in trouble. “The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.”

More evidence that the IRS is targeting the hawkish pro-Israel group Z Street. Wouldn’t it be front-page news if J Street were asked if it supported Iran sanctions?

More reason to doubt that the Obami have a clue about what to do about North Korea. The State Department’s PJ Crowley tweets “SecClinton talked with Chinese FM Yang today and encouraged Beijing to make clear that North Korea’s behavior is unacceptable.” Is “unacceptable” really the strongest they can do? Or is “unacceptable” (as in “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable”) just diplomat-speak for “We’re sorry to see X happen.”

More criticism of Obama’s approach to Egypt. “The president and his secretary of state have brought up democracy and human rights in private conversations with Egyptian leaders but shied away from them in public. They have failed to make any connection between Mr. Mubarak’s domestic repression and the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives every year, much of it directed to the military. They have not supported efforts in Congress to pass legislation or even nonbinding resolutions linking bilateral relations to political reform.”

More defensiveness from Sarah Palin. Not helpful for a presidential contender. Dead-on for a conservative community organizer.

More nonsense from Tom Friedman. No, Tom, too much texting by American kids is not a bigger problem than North Korean nukes. Another example of not-very-smart liberal punditry.

More problems for Rahm Emanuel. “Through an odd chain of events, Mr. Halpin, a 59-year-old industrial real-estate developer here, has become the face of a movement to force Mr. Emanuel out of the race to become Chicago’s next mayor. A lawsuit filed with the Chicago Board of Election Commissions Friday by a Chicago attorney on behalf of two city residents charges that Mr. Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, is ineligible to run because he lost his Chicago residency when he rented his home to Mr. Halpin in 2009.” Really, wasn’t the entire race an excuse to get off the sinking White House ship?

More evidence that the GM bailout was no success for the taxpayers. The union? Well, that’s another story. “General Motors Co.’s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company’s union. Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.”

Read Less

North Korea Playing the U.S. — Still

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Try as he might, Obama can’t escape being a wartime president and foreign-policy-crisis manager. That’s the world in which we live, and it keeps intruding into his desired agenda:

North Korea’s deadly attack on a populated South Korean island dramatically escalated the conflict between the two countries, leaving Seoul and its allies hunting for a response that would stave off more attacks but stop short of sparking war.

Artillery fire from the North came out of clear skies Tuesday afternoon and pounded an island near a disputed maritime border for more than an hour. Yeonpyeong Island’s 1,200 civilians scattered as shells exploded and homes and buildings caught fire, witnesses said, with many residents hunkering down in bomb shelters or fleeing on boats.

This act of provocation was met with tough talk, but produced more questions than answers:

The United Nations, European Union, Japan and others condemned the attack, with Russia and China calling for a cooling of tensions on the peninsula. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Tuesday’s exchange “one of the gravest incidents since the end of the Korean War.”

President Barack Obama strongly affirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea. Mr. Obama called Mr. Lee to say the U.S. stands “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the ally and would work with the international community to condemn the “outrageous” attack, the Associated Press reported.

But what do the flurry of words mean, and what is the value of a shoulder-to-shoulder commitment while South Korea’s ships are at risk and its territory is violated? One senses quite clearly that Obama is being tested. After all, what did he do when Syria violated the UN resolution? What has he done about the Russian occupation of Georgia? The proliferation of non-actions has emboldened the North Koreans, as it has all the rogue states. And now Obama has his hands full.

Before word of the attack, former ambassador and potential 2012 presidential candidate John R. Bolton wrote in reference to the newly discovered nuclear facility in Yongbyon that we’ve been “played” by North Korea ever since the Clinton administration. He does not spare the Bush administration either:

Worse, in President George W. Bush’s second term, an assertive group of deniers in the State Department and the intelligence community claimed or implied that North Korea did not have a substantial or ongoing uranium-enrichment program. They denied that the North Koreans had conceded as much in 2002 and that there was sufficient evidence of a continuing program. The intelligence community downgraded its confidence level in its earlier conclusion, not because of contradictory information but because it had not subsequently acquired significant new data. State Department negotiators scorned the idea that the North had a serious enrichment capability. …

The last thing Washington should do now is resurrect the failed six-party talks or start bilateral negotiations with the North. Instead, serious efforts need to be made with China on reunifying the Korean peninsula, a goal made ever more urgent by the clear transition of power now underway in Pyongyang as Kim Jong Il faces the actuarial tables. North Korea’s threat will only end when it does, and that day cannot come soon enough.

What is clear is that the North Koreans perceive no downside to acts of aggression against their neighbor. So long as Obama has only words in response, the barrages are not likely to end. And meanwhile, Iran and our other foes look on.

Read Less

When Washington Has Amnesia, Israelis and Palestinians Pay the Price

My last two posts (here and here) discussed why no peace deal is likely to emerge from Barack Obama’s drive to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But if this drive merely proves futile, the entire region will breathe a sigh of relief. The fear among those outside the White House/State Department cocoon is that it will produce a bloodbath.

Two notable signs of this fear are the latest poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre and Maplecroft’s new Terrorism Risk Index.

As I noted yesterday, a plurality of Palestinians, 22.4 percent, rated the economy as their top concern in the poll. But among Gazans — whose economy, we are relentlessly told, is being strangled by Israel — the economy actually ranked only fourth. Their top priority, by a 29.8 percent plurality, was Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

In the much larger West Bank, however, 27.6 percent put the economy first. And that, at first glance, seems bizarre, because the West Bank economy is booming: it grew by 8.5 percent last year and 9 percent in the first half of 2010. International aid is also soaring: just last week, the U.S. announced another $150 million. Yet fully 49.2 percent of West Bankers expected the economy to deteriorate in the coming year, while only 38.5 percent foresaw improvement.

The poll didn’t give reasons for this gloomy forecast, but there’s one obvious explanation: Obama’s peace push. First, if he does force Israel to freeze settlement construction again, thousands of Palestinian construction workers will lose their jobs. This concern was evident in JMCC’s June poll, in which 60 percent of Palestinians opposed their own government’s proposed ban on working in settlements.

More important, however, Palestinians remember exactly what happened the last time an American president forced an unwilling Palestinian leader into final-status talks that were certain to fail: the talks collapsed, and two months later, the second intifada erupted. And another intifada would destroy the West Bank economy: investments would dry up, while all the trade-hampering checkpoints the Netanyahu government has removed would reappear.

At first glance, Maplecroft’s new TRI seems equally bizarre. Israel’s ranking moved from 17 in February to 14 this month, making it one of 16 countries the consultancy deems at “extreme risk” of terrorism. But the rankings are based on data from June 2009-June 2010, plus a “historical component” covering 2007-2009. And throughout these years, terrorism in Israel was virtually nonexistent.

Indeed, the U.S. has suffered as many attacks as Israel this year, and those attacks involved a much greater chance of mass casualties — another factor Maplecroft considers. Yet America ranked only 33.

So why did Israel, during a period of almost total calm, suddenly soar in Maplecroft’s rankings? The individual country reports are subscription-only, but it’s not hard to guess. The index is meant to be “forward-looking.” And Maplecroft’s experts, too, undoubtedly remember what happened last time an American president dragged an unwilling Palestinian leader into fruitless final-status talks.

Indeed, it seems the only people who don’t remember are that president’s wife, now secretary of state, and her boss in the White House. Unfortunately, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are liable to pay the price of their amnesia.

My last two posts (here and here) discussed why no peace deal is likely to emerge from Barack Obama’s drive to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. But if this drive merely proves futile, the entire region will breathe a sigh of relief. The fear among those outside the White House/State Department cocoon is that it will produce a bloodbath.

Two notable signs of this fear are the latest poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre and Maplecroft’s new Terrorism Risk Index.

As I noted yesterday, a plurality of Palestinians, 22.4 percent, rated the economy as their top concern in the poll. But among Gazans — whose economy, we are relentlessly told, is being strangled by Israel — the economy actually ranked only fourth. Their top priority, by a 29.8 percent plurality, was Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

In the much larger West Bank, however, 27.6 percent put the economy first. And that, at first glance, seems bizarre, because the West Bank economy is booming: it grew by 8.5 percent last year and 9 percent in the first half of 2010. International aid is also soaring: just last week, the U.S. announced another $150 million. Yet fully 49.2 percent of West Bankers expected the economy to deteriorate in the coming year, while only 38.5 percent foresaw improvement.

The poll didn’t give reasons for this gloomy forecast, but there’s one obvious explanation: Obama’s peace push. First, if he does force Israel to freeze settlement construction again, thousands of Palestinian construction workers will lose their jobs. This concern was evident in JMCC’s June poll, in which 60 percent of Palestinians opposed their own government’s proposed ban on working in settlements.

More important, however, Palestinians remember exactly what happened the last time an American president forced an unwilling Palestinian leader into final-status talks that were certain to fail: the talks collapsed, and two months later, the second intifada erupted. And another intifada would destroy the West Bank economy: investments would dry up, while all the trade-hampering checkpoints the Netanyahu government has removed would reappear.

At first glance, Maplecroft’s new TRI seems equally bizarre. Israel’s ranking moved from 17 in February to 14 this month, making it one of 16 countries the consultancy deems at “extreme risk” of terrorism. But the rankings are based on data from June 2009-June 2010, plus a “historical component” covering 2007-2009. And throughout these years, terrorism in Israel was virtually nonexistent.

Indeed, the U.S. has suffered as many attacks as Israel this year, and those attacks involved a much greater chance of mass casualties — another factor Maplecroft considers. Yet America ranked only 33.

So why did Israel, during a period of almost total calm, suddenly soar in Maplecroft’s rankings? The individual country reports are subscription-only, but it’s not hard to guess. The index is meant to be “forward-looking.” And Maplecroft’s experts, too, undoubtedly remember what happened last time an American president dragged an unwilling Palestinian leader into fruitless final-status talks.

Indeed, it seems the only people who don’t remember are that president’s wife, now secretary of state, and her boss in the White House. Unfortunately, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are liable to pay the price of their amnesia.

Read Less

FPI Conference (Part 3)

There is an art that the best State Department functionaries master: to take hard questions that present troubling facts or contradictions in policy and to give in response a long, rambling answer that, by the end, dilutes the impact of the question and leaves the audience at a loss to remember what was orginally being asked. There is no one better at this than Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who wrapped up the FPI conference.

It was evident that the administration came with an olive branch to the right and with many fine sentiments about bipartisanship in foreign policy. Who can blame it? The administration’s biggest successes (e.g., Iraq, appointment of Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan) have been supported by conservatives. With an assertive Republican House and more conservative voices in the Senate, the administration doesn’t need more headaches, so foreign policy offers a chance to show its bipartisan inclinations. One way to do that is not to talk about the hard stuff. So, in his prepared remarks, Steinberg didn’t bring up Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Europe, human rights, Hugo Chavez, or other topics that are sources of disagreement between the Obama team and conservatives.

He did talk about Southeast Asia. It’s very important. We are making many trips there. We’re going to have “sustained engagement.” And we’re very “clear-eyed” about China.

His next topics were Iraq and Afghanistan, where he echoed many of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s remarks (and Sen. John McCain’s from the previous day). On Iraq, we need bipartisanship and, yes, more “sustained engagement.” On Afghanistan, again, we must maintain funding. In the Q&A, he expressed himself as delighted with the Afghanistan war-strategy process. It was “serious,” he intoned. He’s never seen a president so involved. And that 2011 deadline? With perfect earnestness he explained: “There is no ambiguity. It is the beginning of a transition.” Really, there was “never any intention to see it as a dramatic turning point. … If we need to do a better job of messaging, we’ll do a better job.”

The third topic was START. (During the conference, Sen. Jon Kyl declared it isn’t going to get a vote in the lame-duck session.) This should be a bipartisan issue too, he asserted. He added that “there are no restraints” on our ability to pursue missile defense, and it comes packaged with an unprecedented commitment to force modernization.

Things got a bit dicier in the Q&A conducted by Robert Kagan. What about human rights in Russia? Why aren’t we talking more about democracy in Egypt? Again, Steinberg, in measured tones, with no hint of defensiveness, argued that “it should be clear” that we remain committed to human rights in Russia. On our support for democracy and human rights in Egypt, you see, it is important “to say it when it matters.” (But not at public news conferences, I suppose.) Kagan pressed him on the G-20: how could we go in there with such dissention between the U.S. and Europe? Oh, now, now. We’ve had hard times with allies in the past. Why is China exhibiting such bullying behavior of late? Ah, it’s a transition period, and there are many voice there. Why aren’t we getting these free-trade agreements done? Well, on South Korea, sometimes the “work just is not ready,” so we’ll keep at it. Colombia? He’s very encouraged.

Steinberg is such an articulate and calm figure, the consummate professional, that you’d almost forget listening to him that Obama’s Middle East policy is in shambles, that Iran is on the ascendency and on the road to getting the bomb, that our human-rights policy is under attack by the left and right, that Russia and China are both feeling emboldened to extend their influence, and that our relations with Europe are badly frayed. But what comes across loud and clear is that the Obama team wants to be perceived as operating well within the bipartisan tradition of American foreign policy. If that entails an ongoing presence in Iraq, a sustained effort in Afghanistan, a determination to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a cessation of its foolhardy obsession with Israeli settlements, a competent and forceful free-trade policy, and consistent defense of human rights, then the administration will earn the support of conservatives and, more important, the respect of foes and the confidence of allies.

There is an art that the best State Department functionaries master: to take hard questions that present troubling facts or contradictions in policy and to give in response a long, rambling answer that, by the end, dilutes the impact of the question and leaves the audience at a loss to remember what was orginally being asked. There is no one better at this than Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who wrapped up the FPI conference.

It was evident that the administration came with an olive branch to the right and with many fine sentiments about bipartisanship in foreign policy. Who can blame it? The administration’s biggest successes (e.g., Iraq, appointment of Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan) have been supported by conservatives. With an assertive Republican House and more conservative voices in the Senate, the administration doesn’t need more headaches, so foreign policy offers a chance to show its bipartisan inclinations. One way to do that is not to talk about the hard stuff. So, in his prepared remarks, Steinberg didn’t bring up Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Europe, human rights, Hugo Chavez, or other topics that are sources of disagreement between the Obama team and conservatives.

He did talk about Southeast Asia. It’s very important. We are making many trips there. We’re going to have “sustained engagement.” And we’re very “clear-eyed” about China.

His next topics were Iraq and Afghanistan, where he echoed many of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s remarks (and Sen. John McCain’s from the previous day). On Iraq, we need bipartisanship and, yes, more “sustained engagement.” On Afghanistan, again, we must maintain funding. In the Q&A, he expressed himself as delighted with the Afghanistan war-strategy process. It was “serious,” he intoned. He’s never seen a president so involved. And that 2011 deadline? With perfect earnestness he explained: “There is no ambiguity. It is the beginning of a transition.” Really, there was “never any intention to see it as a dramatic turning point. … If we need to do a better job of messaging, we’ll do a better job.”

The third topic was START. (During the conference, Sen. Jon Kyl declared it isn’t going to get a vote in the lame-duck session.) This should be a bipartisan issue too, he asserted. He added that “there are no restraints” on our ability to pursue missile defense, and it comes packaged with an unprecedented commitment to force modernization.

Things got a bit dicier in the Q&A conducted by Robert Kagan. What about human rights in Russia? Why aren’t we talking more about democracy in Egypt? Again, Steinberg, in measured tones, with no hint of defensiveness, argued that “it should be clear” that we remain committed to human rights in Russia. On our support for democracy and human rights in Egypt, you see, it is important “to say it when it matters.” (But not at public news conferences, I suppose.) Kagan pressed him on the G-20: how could we go in there with such dissention between the U.S. and Europe? Oh, now, now. We’ve had hard times with allies in the past. Why is China exhibiting such bullying behavior of late? Ah, it’s a transition period, and there are many voice there. Why aren’t we getting these free-trade agreements done? Well, on South Korea, sometimes the “work just is not ready,” so we’ll keep at it. Colombia? He’s very encouraged.

Steinberg is such an articulate and calm figure, the consummate professional, that you’d almost forget listening to him that Obama’s Middle East policy is in shambles, that Iran is on the ascendency and on the road to getting the bomb, that our human-rights policy is under attack by the left and right, that Russia and China are both feeling emboldened to extend their influence, and that our relations with Europe are badly frayed. But what comes across loud and clear is that the Obama team wants to be perceived as operating well within the bipartisan tradition of American foreign policy. If that entails an ongoing presence in Iraq, a sustained effort in Afghanistan, a determination to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a cessation of its foolhardy obsession with Israeli settlements, a competent and forceful free-trade policy, and consistent defense of human rights, then the administration will earn the support of conservatives and, more important, the respect of foes and the confidence of allies.

Read Less

The Peace Process Letter(s)

Citing “Palestinian sources,” Ynet reports the Palestinians expect their own package of U.S. guarantees and financial incentives to persuade them to return to talks intended to give them a state:

The sources added that the American commitments would include setting the Palestinian state’s borders within three months and solving the refugee problem, including compensation through an international fund comprised of most of the region’s countries (including Israel). The sources also said that the American list of commitment[s] would include financial and diplomatic aid in exchange for returning to the direct negotiations.

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Spokesman P.J. Crowley seemed to confirm that something is being considered beyond merely restarting the talks (when a question has to be repeated to Crowley three times, you know he is withholding something):

QUESTION: … I’m just wondering, why does the Administration think that three months is enough time to get enough done on borders?

MR. CROWLEY: Well … all I will tell you is that we remain intensely engaged with the parties to try to get them back into negotiations. …

QUESTION: Yeah, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you think that three months is enough time to get some kind of progress on borders done, that keeps the process alive.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’m just emphasizing that our first step here in the process is to get them back in negotiations.  Once we get them back into negotiations, we’ll have a better view of how to get from where we are now to an ultimate agreement.

QUESTION: Well … I mean, surely you have some plan after negotiations resume.  Yeah?

MR. CROWLEY: Right.

QUESTION: And that plan would be … to get some kind of progress or some kind of loose agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state, which would then keep the parties at the table and get them onto perhaps more difficult issues.  So why do you think that that’s possible, to get that kind of progress in a three-month period?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’re trying to do, as the Secretary said, is to get them back into negotiations.  We’re working in advancing some ideas on both sides to help accomplish that. … [Emphasis added].

If news reports about what is being offered to Israel are accurate, Benny Avni’s conclusion that it is a bad deal for Israel, unlikely to produce peace, seems right. Moreover, if the letter Netanyahu is negotiating does not begin with “the U.S. reiterates its ‘steadfast commitments’ set forth in the presidential letter dated April 14, 2004,” Israel is making further concessions without confirming what it was already promised in the last presidential letter, given in exchange for a complete withdrawal from Gaza.

And words should matter.

Citing “Palestinian sources,” Ynet reports the Palestinians expect their own package of U.S. guarantees and financial incentives to persuade them to return to talks intended to give them a state:

The sources added that the American commitments would include setting the Palestinian state’s borders within three months and solving the refugee problem, including compensation through an international fund comprised of most of the region’s countries (including Israel). The sources also said that the American list of commitment[s] would include financial and diplomatic aid in exchange for returning to the direct negotiations.

At yesterday’s State Department news conference, Spokesman P.J. Crowley seemed to confirm that something is being considered beyond merely restarting the talks (when a question has to be repeated to Crowley three times, you know he is withholding something):

QUESTION: … I’m just wondering, why does the Administration think that three months is enough time to get enough done on borders?

MR. CROWLEY: Well … all I will tell you is that we remain intensely engaged with the parties to try to get them back into negotiations. …

QUESTION: Yeah, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why you think that three months is enough time to get some kind of progress on borders done, that keeps the process alive.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, I’m just emphasizing that our first step here in the process is to get them back in negotiations.  Once we get them back into negotiations, we’ll have a better view of how to get from where we are now to an ultimate agreement.

QUESTION: Well … I mean, surely you have some plan after negotiations resume.  Yeah?

MR. CROWLEY: Right.

QUESTION: And that plan would be … to get some kind of progress or some kind of loose agreement on the borders of a Palestinian state, which would then keep the parties at the table and get them onto perhaps more difficult issues.  So why do you think that that’s possible, to get that kind of progress in a three-month period?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what we’re trying to do, as the Secretary said, is to get them back into negotiations.  We’re working in advancing some ideas on both sides to help accomplish that. … [Emphasis added].

If news reports about what is being offered to Israel are accurate, Benny Avni’s conclusion that it is a bad deal for Israel, unlikely to produce peace, seems right. Moreover, if the letter Netanyahu is negotiating does not begin with “the U.S. reiterates its ‘steadfast commitments’ set forth in the presidential letter dated April 14, 2004,” Israel is making further concessions without confirming what it was already promised in the last presidential letter, given in exchange for a complete withdrawal from Gaza.

And words should matter.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

“Refudiate” is the word of the year? You betcha.

Word has it they are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic advisers at the White House. “Call it a shakeup or call it a natural turnover halfway through the term, but the White House is preparing for significant change throughout its top ranks. Much of the movement, though, will involve new posts for longtime aides to President Barack Obama.”

Words, words. You didn’t really take the State Department seriously, did you? “Mideast peace talks may not reach fruition before their initial September 2011 deadline, a U.S. State Department official said on Monday, citing recent negotiations deadlock over Israel’s refusal to extend its moratorium on settlement building as one reason for the delay. Speaking prior to September’s relaunch of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said that the administration thought it could negotiate an agreement ‘within a one-year time frame.'”

“Fortunate” is not the word most of us have in mind. Donna Brazile waxes lyrical: “This week, visitors entering Washington’s Union Station are greeted by a work of art — a two-story, red open-toed lady’s dress shoe. It reminds me of Cinderella’s lost glass slipper. I thought to myself, if someone is looking for the woman big enough to fill this, they need look no further than Nancy Pelosi. The nation is fortunate, not to mention the Democratic Party and the president, that Ms. Pelosi will be re-elected Democratic leader for the next Congress, because we are surely entering one of the nation’s most difficult eras.”

Rep. Paul Ryan doesn’t mince words: “Congress should act now to prevent across-the-board tax increases from hitting nearly all Americans on Jan. 1. Sustained job creation and economic growth are urgently needed — higher tax rates are not. The failure to take decisive action on this issue further heightens the uncertainty holding our economy back.” Is there any Republican better able to explain conservative economic positions better than he? I haven’t found him/her yet.

Words of advice for Sen. Joe Lieberman. “‘He’d probably be best off running as a Republican as far as getting re-elected,’ said [John] Droney [a Lieberman ally and former chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party], who stays in regular contact with Lieberman and encouraged him to run as an Independent in 2006. ‘I’d recommend him doing it now.”

You have to love the word choice. A “giveaway” is when people get to keep their own money. “Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said extending the tax breaks for those earning more than $250,000 a year represents ‘a giveaway’ to wealthy Americans that would saddle the country in unnecessary debt.”

“Refudiate” is the word of the year? You betcha.

Word has it they are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic advisers at the White House. “Call it a shakeup or call it a natural turnover halfway through the term, but the White House is preparing for significant change throughout its top ranks. Much of the movement, though, will involve new posts for longtime aides to President Barack Obama.”

Words, words. You didn’t really take the State Department seriously, did you? “Mideast peace talks may not reach fruition before their initial September 2011 deadline, a U.S. State Department official said on Monday, citing recent negotiations deadlock over Israel’s refusal to extend its moratorium on settlement building as one reason for the delay. Speaking prior to September’s relaunch of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said that the administration thought it could negotiate an agreement ‘within a one-year time frame.'”

“Fortunate” is not the word most of us have in mind. Donna Brazile waxes lyrical: “This week, visitors entering Washington’s Union Station are greeted by a work of art — a two-story, red open-toed lady’s dress shoe. It reminds me of Cinderella’s lost glass slipper. I thought to myself, if someone is looking for the woman big enough to fill this, they need look no further than Nancy Pelosi. The nation is fortunate, not to mention the Democratic Party and the president, that Ms. Pelosi will be re-elected Democratic leader for the next Congress, because we are surely entering one of the nation’s most difficult eras.”

Rep. Paul Ryan doesn’t mince words: “Congress should act now to prevent across-the-board tax increases from hitting nearly all Americans on Jan. 1. Sustained job creation and economic growth are urgently needed — higher tax rates are not. The failure to take decisive action on this issue further heightens the uncertainty holding our economy back.” Is there any Republican better able to explain conservative economic positions better than he? I haven’t found him/her yet.

Words of advice for Sen. Joe Lieberman. “‘He’d probably be best off running as a Republican as far as getting re-elected,’ said [John] Droney [a Lieberman ally and former chairman of the Connecticut Democratic Party], who stays in regular contact with Lieberman and encouraged him to run as an Independent in 2006. ‘I’d recommend him doing it now.”

You have to love the word choice. A “giveaway” is when people get to keep their own money. “Reps. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) and Lynn Woolsey (Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said extending the tax breaks for those earning more than $250,000 a year represents ‘a giveaway’ to wealthy Americans that would saddle the country in unnecessary debt.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.