Commentary Magazine


Topic: deputy prime minister

Should We Feel Encouraged About an Iranian Nuke in Three Years?

Israel’s deputy prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, caused something of a stir on Wednesday when he told Israel Radio that he believed Iran would be capable of creating a nuclear weapon within three years. But as alarming as that may sound, it seems that Ya’alon, the former IDF chief of staff who currently also serves as strategic affairs minister, was sounding a note of optimism, since he credited the delay to “technological difficulties.”

This is being widely interpreted as meaning the Israelis believe the Stuxnet virus has dealt the Iranian nuclear program a serious setback. On Fox News, John Bolton speculated that this statement may mean “Stuxnet worked better than some of us thought.” While the former UN ambassador admitted that it was “hard to know the truth” about the state of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear capability, he said the one thing we do know about their program is “that they are determined” to achieve it.

Given that we know very little about Stuxnet or any other covert action undertaken by either the United States or Israel, it’s difficult to assess the current level of danger of an Iranian breakthrough. It may be that Israel is trying to dampen speculation about an imminent IDF attack on Iranian targets, but it is not clear whether such an attack would be launched in the face of almost certain American opposition.

While some may take comfort from Ya’alon’s statement, it is not exactly encouraging to know that, in spite of all the difficulties they have encountered, Iran is likely to be in possession of a nuclear weapon by the end of 2013. Even if we believe that Stuxnet has been a success, all it has accomplished is to push off the day of reckoning, and not by all that much. We already know that diplomacy won’t work; that serious sanctions are unlikely to ever gain international support; and, as we learned last week, that even the United States is not enforcing those sanctions against Iran that are already in place.

Bolton noted that “the Iranians have zero fear” of an American attack on their nuclear facilities so long as Barack Obama is president, and he is almost certainly right about that. The Iranians have taken Obama’s measure in the last two years, and their actions speak volumes about their lack of respect for the president and their belief that he is not to be taken seriously as a world leader. They have mocked U.S. efforts at diplomacy and disregarded America’s half-hearted attempts to mobilize world opinion against Tehran. So even if the virus or other clandestine operations have hampered the Iranians, the mullahs and Ahmadinejad have good reason to feel optimistic about their chances of ultimate success. If the best face we can put on this problem is the certain knowledge that in the absence of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack, an Iranian bomb will exist in three years, the Ya’alon announcement is no cause for celebration.

Israel’s deputy prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, caused something of a stir on Wednesday when he told Israel Radio that he believed Iran would be capable of creating a nuclear weapon within three years. But as alarming as that may sound, it seems that Ya’alon, the former IDF chief of staff who currently also serves as strategic affairs minister, was sounding a note of optimism, since he credited the delay to “technological difficulties.”

This is being widely interpreted as meaning the Israelis believe the Stuxnet virus has dealt the Iranian nuclear program a serious setback. On Fox News, John Bolton speculated that this statement may mean “Stuxnet worked better than some of us thought.” While the former UN ambassador admitted that it was “hard to know the truth” about the state of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear capability, he said the one thing we do know about their program is “that they are determined” to achieve it.

Given that we know very little about Stuxnet or any other covert action undertaken by either the United States or Israel, it’s difficult to assess the current level of danger of an Iranian breakthrough. It may be that Israel is trying to dampen speculation about an imminent IDF attack on Iranian targets, but it is not clear whether such an attack would be launched in the face of almost certain American opposition.

While some may take comfort from Ya’alon’s statement, it is not exactly encouraging to know that, in spite of all the difficulties they have encountered, Iran is likely to be in possession of a nuclear weapon by the end of 2013. Even if we believe that Stuxnet has been a success, all it has accomplished is to push off the day of reckoning, and not by all that much. We already know that diplomacy won’t work; that serious sanctions are unlikely to ever gain international support; and, as we learned last week, that even the United States is not enforcing those sanctions against Iran that are already in place.

Bolton noted that “the Iranians have zero fear” of an American attack on their nuclear facilities so long as Barack Obama is president, and he is almost certainly right about that. The Iranians have taken Obama’s measure in the last two years, and their actions speak volumes about their lack of respect for the president and their belief that he is not to be taken seriously as a world leader. They have mocked U.S. efforts at diplomacy and disregarded America’s half-hearted attempts to mobilize world opinion against Tehran. So even if the virus or other clandestine operations have hampered the Iranians, the mullahs and Ahmadinejad have good reason to feel optimistic about their chances of ultimate success. If the best face we can put on this problem is the certain knowledge that in the absence of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack, an Iranian bomb will exist in three years, the Ya’alon announcement is no cause for celebration.

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RE: Russian Impunity, Obama’s Indifference

Eli Lake has more on the attack on Boris Nemtsov:

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, said in an interview that those who assaulted him were linked to a pro-Putin youth group known as the Nashi. In a telephone interview, he said the assailants sneaked up on him at the airport after he retrieved his luggage and cleared customs and threw a fishing net onto him and proceeded to take photos. “I guess I am a big fish,” he told The Washington Times.

Two U.S. senators spoke out forcefully:

“I was disturbed to learn that he was attacked today at a Moscow airport upon his return to Russia after suggesting at the event that top Kremlin advisers, including Vladislav Surkov, be blacklisted from the United States,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Helsinki Commission, said this week.

“In the attack on Mr. Nemtsov, occurring at a major international airport, it would seem there would be ample evidence and eyewitnesses to facilitate a thorough investigation,” Mr. Cardin said. …

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview that the harassment of Mr. Nemtsov was “part of a continuation of the disappearance of democracy and rights of the individual in Russia, particularly if you were part of previous administrations and speak out in opposition to the present repression of the press and people who are in opposition to the Putin administration.”

And what about the administration? It continues to talk “quietly” to Russian authorities, so quietly that its entreaties have apparently been ignored. The message is unmistakable: in order to preserve “reset,” we are willing to downplay concerns about human rights:

The Obama administration has sought to engage Mr. Medvedev while marginalizing the former president and current prime minister, Mr. Putin. But some critics say the White House approach is too soft on democracy and human rights in Russia.

“We all know one of the major reasons why the Berlin Wall came down in the first place is because of the steadfastness of support for those standing up for risks for freedom behind the Iron Curtain,” Mr. McCain said. “Obviously, this administration is far more interested in pushing the quote reset button.”

If we actually were getting something for our appeasement, the approach would be amoral, but understandable. But we are not — Russian help on Afghanistan is minimal, and it has helped construct the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. The Nemtsov incident is just the latest example of the Obama administration’s obsequiousness; it has stern words only for our allies.

Eli Lake has more on the attack on Boris Nemtsov:

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, said in an interview that those who assaulted him were linked to a pro-Putin youth group known as the Nashi. In a telephone interview, he said the assailants sneaked up on him at the airport after he retrieved his luggage and cleared customs and threw a fishing net onto him and proceeded to take photos. “I guess I am a big fish,” he told The Washington Times.

Two U.S. senators spoke out forcefully:

“I was disturbed to learn that he was attacked today at a Moscow airport upon his return to Russia after suggesting at the event that top Kremlin advisers, including Vladislav Surkov, be blacklisted from the United States,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Helsinki Commission, said this week.

“In the attack on Mr. Nemtsov, occurring at a major international airport, it would seem there would be ample evidence and eyewitnesses to facilitate a thorough investigation,” Mr. Cardin said. …

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview that the harassment of Mr. Nemtsov was “part of a continuation of the disappearance of democracy and rights of the individual in Russia, particularly if you were part of previous administrations and speak out in opposition to the present repression of the press and people who are in opposition to the Putin administration.”

And what about the administration? It continues to talk “quietly” to Russian authorities, so quietly that its entreaties have apparently been ignored. The message is unmistakable: in order to preserve “reset,” we are willing to downplay concerns about human rights:

The Obama administration has sought to engage Mr. Medvedev while marginalizing the former president and current prime minister, Mr. Putin. But some critics say the White House approach is too soft on democracy and human rights in Russia.

“We all know one of the major reasons why the Berlin Wall came down in the first place is because of the steadfastness of support for those standing up for risks for freedom behind the Iron Curtain,” Mr. McCain said. “Obviously, this administration is far more interested in pushing the quote reset button.”

If we actually were getting something for our appeasement, the approach would be amoral, but understandable. But we are not — Russian help on Afghanistan is minimal, and it has helped construct the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. The Nemtsov incident is just the latest example of the Obama administration’s obsequiousness; it has stern words only for our allies.

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There Is a Moral Void in the Oval Office

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

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Obama Boxed In

Obama has been postponing the inevitable — the eventual realization that there is no Middle East peace agreement to be had at this stage (or any time soon). For reasons that not even the PA can fathom, the Obami chirped optimistically about the prospects for success. Somehow, the Obama team expected to keep everyone in the room to at least continue talking and mask the failure of his Middle East policy. Obama would publicly pressure Bibi on the settlement moratorium. He would plead with Abbas. And if the talks ended, the blame could be placed (after all, the groundwork has already been laid) on Bibi.

Unfortunately for Obama, Bibi and Israel’s supporters wised up this time around. As I noted yesterday, Bibi has already made clear that the basic issue is not settlements but Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state and give up the dream of a one-state solution. Bibi is laying some groundwork of his own, it seems. Read More

Obama has been postponing the inevitable — the eventual realization that there is no Middle East peace agreement to be had at this stage (or any time soon). For reasons that not even the PA can fathom, the Obami chirped optimistically about the prospects for success. Somehow, the Obama team expected to keep everyone in the room to at least continue talking and mask the failure of his Middle East policy. Obama would publicly pressure Bibi on the settlement moratorium. He would plead with Abbas. And if the talks ended, the blame could be placed (after all, the groundwork has already been laid) on Bibi.

Unfortunately for Obama, Bibi and Israel’s supporters wised up this time around. As I noted yesterday, Bibi has already made clear that the basic issue is not settlements but Abbas’s refusal to recognize the Jewish state and give up the dream of a one-state solution. Bibi is laying some groundwork of his own, it seems.

Deputy Prime Minister Danny Ayalon got into the act, too:

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad angrily left a UN Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee  meeting and canceled a scheduled subsequent press conference with Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon in New York on Tuesday, after Ayalon refused to approve a summary of the meeting which said “two states” but did not include the words “two states for two peoples.”

“What I say is that if the Palestinians are not willing to talk about two states for two peoples, let alone a Jewish state for Israel, then there’s nothing to talk about,” Ayalon told the Post in a telephone interview. “And also, I said if the Palestinians mean, at the end of the process, to have one Palestinian state and one bi-national state, this will not happen.”

But that wasn’t all. As this report makes clear, Israel’s American supporters have been busy — and clever:

A bipartisan group of senators are circulating a new letter urging President Obama to speak out publicly to pressure the Palestinian leadership not to abandon the Middle East peace talks.

The new initiative comes ahead of the Sept. 26 deadline expiration of Israel’s 10-month settlement construction moratorium, which presents the first obstacle to the direct peace talks being spearheaded by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly stated that he will withdraw from the negotiations if settlement construction resumes, but Israeli leaders have been equally adamant that they will not extend the moratorium.

President Obama has told Jewish leaders to ignore negative public statements by Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, calling it all part of the diplomatic game. But the administration has publicly called on Israel to extend the freeze, at least in part.

Lawmakers, who have also bristled at the administration’s public pressure on Netanyahu, are now calling on Obama to make it clear to Abbas that even if the freeze isn’t extended, he should stay at the table.

It is a not-so-subtle message from lawmakers (Barbara Boxer, Robert Casey, Johnny Isakson, and Richard Burr are the initial sponsors, more signatories are expected) that there will be little patience with finger-pointing at Bibi should/when the talks collapse:

“Obviously this is a direct message to President Abbas, and President Obama, that many in Congress … want the Palestinian leadership to stop making what they see as threats and to put public pressure on the Palestinian Authority to move their position,” said one Capitol Hill insider who had seen the letter.

“Many Capitol Hill office see Abbas quitting the talks over the settlements as him using the same issue he was clinging to when trying to set preconditions for the talks in the first place.”

No, these letters don’t just appear on their own, so credit goes not only to the clear-minded senators but also to pro-Israel advocates who decided it would be much more productive to box in Obama than to gloss over his anti-Israel moves (e.g., opening the door to a UN investigation of the flotilla incident). This is, I would suggest, one more sign that Obama’s prestige and authority are slipping fast. Lawmakers and Jewish groups aren’t about to put up with Obama’s Israel-bashing any longer and have decided that they’ve carried enough water for him when it comes to the Middle East.

For more than 18 months, Obama and his hapless envoy, George Mitchell, have made zero progress in promoting peace in the Middle East. Rather, they have strained relations with Israel, raised and then dashed the Palestinians’ hopes, annoyed American Jews, and emphasized the growing alienation of Obama from his own party. If friends of Israel thought it would help, they might suggest that Mitchell join Larry Summers in the “retired in failure” club. But so long as Obama is in the Oval office, there is little possibility that our Middle East diplomacy will get any smarter. Let’s pray it doesn’t get worse.

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Hillary Announces Proximity Talks

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

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Broadcasting Obama

Barack Obama supporters often argue that a black U.S. president, such as Obama, will be welcomed by the world as a sign of American­ progress and inclusiveness, a signal to all nations that the U.S. is open to the talents and contributions of diverse peoples. But the idea that the rest of the world shares Americans’ faith in redemption through diversity is itself an unwitting exercise in American solipsism. The perception of the globe as a collection of integrated, post-racial states just speaks to Americans’ capacity to see the entire world as a reflection of our values and standards.

Is it an accident that the rest of the Western world has yet to produce anything approaching a black head of state? In France, for example, only one of approximately 600 members of Parliament is a member of a racial minority. England fares slightly better with fifteen out of 645. Germany’s largest minority, ethnic Turks, make up ten percent of the population, yet they hold less than one percent of the seats in Parliament. Spain’s number are worse than any of the above. Italy is poised to appoint as deputy prime minister a man from the racist Northern League party, who once said that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding [in the World Cup] niggers, Muslims and communists.”

As you read this, Europe grows less tolerant still, with far-right nationalists making their way to higher and higher office. Still, Europe is a hippie musical compared to Asia and Africa, where ethnic and religious segregation is not only institutional, but fatal. Moving east to west: There are frequent, sometimes deadly, clashes between Hui Muslims and Han Chinese. Throughout the Arab world, racism against blacks is rampant, and in Mauritania pockets of Arab-on-black chattel slavery still exist. Then backtrack a little to the Levant. In 2006, when Condoleezza Rice was on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East, the daily Palestinian Authority periodical, Al Hayat Al Jadida consistently referred to her in racist terms and ran a cartoon of the Secretary of State pregnant with a monkey.

Yet Jimmy Carter, who’s made the Palestinian cause his pet project, insists that, in the eyes of the world, Barack Obama “will bring to the presidency a brand new picture of what the White House and Washington and the United States ought to be.” And he’s not alone. The refrain is constant.

With Obama’s nomination a lock, there’s been increasing discussion of what his Presidency might produce. Time and again, conversation comes back to this question of a black president and America’s image abroad. Yet, no one can name a single country that isn’t ages behind the U.S. in terms of diversity and integration. The notion that there’s a soft and cuddly world just waiting for America to catch up is not “global consciousness” but the very opposite: it is an American fantasy born of prosperity and isolation. If neoconservatives are criticized for their arrogance in assuming the universality of American ideals, how will Obama supporters of this stripe answer similar charges?

Barack Obama supporters often argue that a black U.S. president, such as Obama, will be welcomed by the world as a sign of American­ progress and inclusiveness, a signal to all nations that the U.S. is open to the talents and contributions of diverse peoples. But the idea that the rest of the world shares Americans’ faith in redemption through diversity is itself an unwitting exercise in American solipsism. The perception of the globe as a collection of integrated, post-racial states just speaks to Americans’ capacity to see the entire world as a reflection of our values and standards.

Is it an accident that the rest of the Western world has yet to produce anything approaching a black head of state? In France, for example, only one of approximately 600 members of Parliament is a member of a racial minority. England fares slightly better with fifteen out of 645. Germany’s largest minority, ethnic Turks, make up ten percent of the population, yet they hold less than one percent of the seats in Parliament. Spain’s number are worse than any of the above. Italy is poised to appoint as deputy prime minister a man from the racist Northern League party, who once said that France had “sacrificed its identity by fielding [in the World Cup] niggers, Muslims and communists.”

As you read this, Europe grows less tolerant still, with far-right nationalists making their way to higher and higher office. Still, Europe is a hippie musical compared to Asia and Africa, where ethnic and religious segregation is not only institutional, but fatal. Moving east to west: There are frequent, sometimes deadly, clashes between Hui Muslims and Han Chinese. Throughout the Arab world, racism against blacks is rampant, and in Mauritania pockets of Arab-on-black chattel slavery still exist. Then backtrack a little to the Levant. In 2006, when Condoleezza Rice was on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East, the daily Palestinian Authority periodical, Al Hayat Al Jadida consistently referred to her in racist terms and ran a cartoon of the Secretary of State pregnant with a monkey.

Yet Jimmy Carter, who’s made the Palestinian cause his pet project, insists that, in the eyes of the world, Barack Obama “will bring to the presidency a brand new picture of what the White House and Washington and the United States ought to be.” And he’s not alone. The refrain is constant.

With Obama’s nomination a lock, there’s been increasing discussion of what his Presidency might produce. Time and again, conversation comes back to this question of a black president and America’s image abroad. Yet, no one can name a single country that isn’t ages behind the U.S. in terms of diversity and integration. The notion that there’s a soft and cuddly world just waiting for America to catch up is not “global consciousness” but the very opposite: it is an American fantasy born of prosperity and isolation. If neoconservatives are criticized for their arrogance in assuming the universality of American ideals, how will Obama supporters of this stripe answer similar charges?

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Dealing with Hamas?

Noah Pollak is right to draw attention in an earlier post to events in Gaza of the last few days. Israel has taken out, stunningly, some of the top people in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Majed al-Harazin, their military commander, who has been responsible for hundreds of Kassam missiles launched at Israeli communities in recent months. The dramatic video of the takeout, shot from an IDF drone, can be seen here.

Yet the picture Noah describes of Israel stepping up pressure on “Hamas and Islamic Jihad” could be a little off. Israel is targeting only leaders of the Jihad, and Hamas’s response has been unusually subdued. After the attacks Monday night, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, told an Israeli TV reporter that he would be willing to talk with Israel through a third party. The organization has condemned the attacks, but stopped short of declaring that they will retaliate, as they usually do. And today Israel’s deputy Prime Minister and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz says that Israel should take Haniyeh up on his offer.

It’s pretty unclear what’s really going on. It could just be that Noah is right, and that Hamas’s leaders are moderating their tone because they fear they might be next on the hit list, as one analyst has suggested. But there’s another possibility as well: that these hits reflect some kind of deal worked out between Israel and Hamas. For instance: Israel takes out Hamas’s main Islamist rival in Gaza, helping consolidate Haniyeh’s hold on the strip, but also deals a blow to Kassam launchers, scores points with the Israeli public, and gives Olmert a much-needed miltiary success as he faces mutiny in his own party in advance of next month’s release of the Winograd Commission report, which may blame him for massive failure in last year’s Lebanon war. Either way, senior terrorists are taking a big hit, and power is shifting in the Strip.

Noah Pollak is right to draw attention in an earlier post to events in Gaza of the last few days. Israel has taken out, stunningly, some of the top people in Islamic Jihad in Gaza, including Majed al-Harazin, their military commander, who has been responsible for hundreds of Kassam missiles launched at Israeli communities in recent months. The dramatic video of the takeout, shot from an IDF drone, can be seen here.

Yet the picture Noah describes of Israel stepping up pressure on “Hamas and Islamic Jihad” could be a little off. Israel is targeting only leaders of the Jihad, and Hamas’s response has been unusually subdued. After the attacks Monday night, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, told an Israeli TV reporter that he would be willing to talk with Israel through a third party. The organization has condemned the attacks, but stopped short of declaring that they will retaliate, as they usually do. And today Israel’s deputy Prime Minister and former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz says that Israel should take Haniyeh up on his offer.

It’s pretty unclear what’s really going on. It could just be that Noah is right, and that Hamas’s leaders are moderating their tone because they fear they might be next on the hit list, as one analyst has suggested. But there’s another possibility as well: that these hits reflect some kind of deal worked out between Israel and Hamas. For instance: Israel takes out Hamas’s main Islamist rival in Gaza, helping consolidate Haniyeh’s hold on the strip, but also deals a blow to Kassam launchers, scores points with the Israeli public, and gives Olmert a much-needed miltiary success as he faces mutiny in his own party in advance of next month’s release of the Winograd Commission report, which may blame him for massive failure in last year’s Lebanon war. Either way, senior terrorists are taking a big hit, and power is shifting in the Strip.

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The Conference on Democracy and Security

With the U.S. military effort in Iraq having bogged down, with Islamists winning elections in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, with the rebirth of democracy in Lebanon thwarted by Syrian and Iranian intervention, the momentum of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, which had flowed high in the “Arab spring” of 2005, has ebbed. The Conference on Democracy and Security, which met in Prague June 4-6, grew out of former Soviet dissident and leading Israeli intellectual Natan Sharansky’s sense of the need to reinvigorate the Bush administration’s flagging project of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Sharansky found the ideal co-convener of the conference in Vaclav Havel. The former Czech president and the circle of one-time dissidents close to him (such as deputy prime minister Sacha Vondra and the Czech ambassador to Israel Michael Zantovsky) have demonstrated an unflagging and unparalleled dedication to the cause of freedom in the eighteen years since they won their own. They have, for example, set up a committee to monitor Beijing’s human-rights record during the 2008 Olympics and have had their diplomats succor dissidents in Cuba. In addition to their unusual dedication to principle, these Czech freedom-fighters keep a wary eye on Russia, where Vladimir Putin’s success in restoring dictatorship and a bullying foreign policy has put all of the former subject states of the Soviet empire on the qui vive.

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With the U.S. military effort in Iraq having bogged down, with Islamists winning elections in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, with the rebirth of democracy in Lebanon thwarted by Syrian and Iranian intervention, the momentum of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, which had flowed high in the “Arab spring” of 2005, has ebbed. The Conference on Democracy and Security, which met in Prague June 4-6, grew out of former Soviet dissident and leading Israeli intellectual Natan Sharansky’s sense of the need to reinvigorate the Bush administration’s flagging project of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Sharansky found the ideal co-convener of the conference in Vaclav Havel. The former Czech president and the circle of one-time dissidents close to him (such as deputy prime minister Sacha Vondra and the Czech ambassador to Israel Michael Zantovsky) have demonstrated an unflagging and unparalleled dedication to the cause of freedom in the eighteen years since they won their own. They have, for example, set up a committee to monitor Beijing’s human-rights record during the 2008 Olympics and have had their diplomats succor dissidents in Cuba. In addition to their unusual dedication to principle, these Czech freedom-fighters keep a wary eye on Russia, where Vladimir Putin’s success in restoring dictatorship and a bullying foreign policy has put all of the former subject states of the Soviet empire on the qui vive.

Spain’s former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar joined as a third sponsor of the conclave. Aznar, who lost his post in 2004 when Spanish voters succumbed to al Qaeda’s intimidation, has remained a steadfast friend of the U.S. despite the strong European trend to the contrary. (Although this trend will now perhaps change, with the ascents of Merkel and Sarkozy.)

President Bush delivered an outstanding keynote speech, notable for several reasons:

1) It was as forceful a statement of commitment to the global democratic cause as one could imagine from an elected leader, dispelling any idea of second thoughts and signaling his determination to soldier on as long as he is in office. “The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not bullets or bombs, it is the universal appeal of freedom,” Bush said. He then added a lovely line that may live on in the annals of presidential oratory: “Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every human soul.”

2) Bush’s delivery was smooth, well-paced, and confident, suggesting perhaps how comfortable he was with his audience and his subject. Not only did he avoid his trademark malapropisms, he even did a workmanlike job of pronouncing the names of Arab and eastern European dissidents.

3) In addition to its moving rhetoric, the speech contained a notable action point. The President said he had “asked Secretary Rice to send a directive to every U.S. ambassador in an unfree nation: seek out and meet with activists for democracy [and] those who demand human rights.”

4) In rattling off the names of five “dissidents who couldn’t join us because they are being unjustly imprisoned or held,” Bush mentioned figures in Belarus, Burma, Cuba, and Vietnam, all of which are easy to talk about. Then he named a tough one: Ayman Nour, the Egyptian presidential candidate currently languishing in jail. No country has been seen as more of a weather vane of U.S. determination about democracy promotion than Egypt, where Washington has so many other diplomatic interests. During Secretary Rice’s last visit to Egypt, her failure to mention Nour was widely read as a sign of American retreat. But if retreat it is, the Commander in Chief apparently hasn’t gotten the message.

Tomorrow, I’ll report on some of the other highlights of the conference.

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Israel and the German Bishops

“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

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“In the morning at Yad Vashem, photos of the inhuman Warsaw Ghetto; in the afternoon, we go to the ghetto in Ramallah. It’s enough to make you blow your top.” This outburst in Bethlehem by Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt was only one of several provocative comments made during a much-heralded pilgrimage to Israel and the Palestinian terroritories by all 27 German Catholic bishops last week.

The Bishop of Augsburg, Walter Mixa, accused the Israelis of “racism,” while the most senior member of the delegation, the Cardinal Archbishop of Cologne, Joachim Meisner, compared Israel’s security fence to the Berlin Wall and predicted that it, too, would be torn down. “This is something that is done to animals, not people,” Cardinal Meisner declared.

While in Israel, the bishops were given VIP treatment by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and other senior officials. At the Yad Vashem memorial, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the chairman of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a respectful speech. But the tone changed dramatically after the bishops left Israel and entered Palestinian-controlled territory.

Despite sharp reactions from Shimon Stein, the Israeli ambassador to Germany, and from German Jewish leaders (described by the Iranian news agency as “German Zionist lobbyists”), the bishops seem unrepentant. They issued a statement vehemently denying that they had “demonized” Israel, adding that the “emotional consternation” of their visit to Bethlehem had evoked some “very personal remarks” that had already been “self-critically corrected.” In fact, however, Bishop Hanke merely said that “comparisons between the Holocaust and the present situation in Palestine are unacceptable and were not intended.” Neither he nor Cardinal Meisner and Bishop Mixa offered any apology.

I do not know what to make of this lamentable tale. Do the German bishops really need to be reminded of the collaboration with the Nazis of many of their predecessors during the Third Reich? Do they need to be reminded of what the Germans actually did in the Warsaw Ghetto? Does an East German like Cardinal Meisner need to be reminded of the difference between the Berlin Wall, built to stop people fleeing from Communist tyranny, and Israel’s fence, built to protect its people from Palestinian terrorists? Do the German bishops still know so little of the tragic struggle for survival of the Jewish people that they need to be reminded of their own unique responsibility, as Germans and as Christians, to counter the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe?

I hope that Pope Benedict XVI will summon the offending bishops to Rome and discipline them. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he encouraged John Paul II to make unprecedented gestures toward the Jewish people and the state of Israel. As the first German pope for a thousand years, he declared his intention to continue to lead the Church down the path of reconciliation. As a man who knows the Third Reich from personal experience—he was a member of the Hitler Youth and served in an anti-aircraft unit during the last months of the war—Pope Benedict has a special duty to distance the Catholic Church from comparisons between Israel and the Nazis. Such comparisons, though commonplace in the Islamic world, are not a Muslim monopoly.

This incident has a particular resonance for me, as a philo-Semitic Catholic, a friend both of Israel and of Germany. Quite simply, I feel ashamed of these bishops. Nobody wants the Germans to be perpetually beating their breasts to atone for the crimes of the Nazis. Like anybody else, they are entitled to criticize the Israeli government. After all, Israelis themselves criticize their own government all the time. But I am angry that German bishops, of all people, should come out with extremist propaganda that delegitimizes Israel, a state that is threatened with a second Holocaust at the hands of a nuclear-armed Iran.

These campaigns of vilification against Israel have done terrible harm. A new BBC poll conducted in 27 countries finds that Israel has the most negative image of all, ahead of Iran, the United States, and North Korea. This grotesque attitude to the beleaguered Jewish state is fuelled by comments like those of the German bishops, and reinforced by their failure to apologize.

In medieval times, Christians knew how to do penance for their sins. The German Emperor Henry IV went to Canossa, in Tuscany, to beg Pope Gregory VII to lift a sentence of excommunication. The monarch stood in the snow outside the castle for three days, wearing only a hairshirt, before the pope forgave him.

To repair the damage they have done to German-Israeli and Catholic-Jewish relations, these three German bishops must make their own journey to Canossa. They don’t have to wear hairshirts, but they do need to show that they have grasped the magnitude of their folly. They owe that much to the younger generation of Germans—some of whom last week destroyed a medieval Jewish cemetery in Bavaria.

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