Commentary Magazine


Topic: Der Spiegel

BREAKING: In Gaza, Sometimes People Surf a Lot

This update brought to you courtesy of Agence France-Presse, which yesterday published an article and uploaded to YouTube an accompanying video on the startling phenomenon. It’s a good thing they did too, because you might have missed the staggeringly critical geopolitical importance of Gaza surfing when it was covered in 2007 by the Los Angeles Times or in 2009 by Der Spiegel and ABC News or in 2010 by CNN and the Atlantic and the BBC.

In any case, make sure you revisit those pieces before tackling this one, both for deep background and because you wouldn’t want to miss exemplars of hard-nosed journalism like “the surfer paddled out from the shore. Lying on his battered board, he scanned the horizon. The turquoise water glittered in the midday sun … he caught a wave, effortlessly” and “dirt poor and mainly from refugee camps, they find joy riding waves, often on makeshift boards, in the green waters off Gaza’s beaches.” You can also prepare by watching ABC News’s 2009 YouTube video on the subject.

Gaza surfing, it turns out, is a hopelessly multivalenced topic. Sometimes the upshot is that Israel imposes insurmountable hardships on Palestinians. Sometimes the upshot is that Palestinians surmount Israeli hardships. Sometimes it’s both in the same story, with the Palestinians surmounting insurmountable Israeli hardships in the same way that the industrious and booming Gaza economy is perennially crippled by Israeli self-defense measures. But always, per the 700-plus-word BBC treatise on the subject, there is a fundamental lesson to be learned: “Palestinians are people like in any other country.” We love to surf, they love to surf, they’re just like us.

In Gaza, they also bomb Christian bookstores, turn hospitals into ammo dumps, create armies of suicide-bomber women and children, produce movies about how killing enemy Jews is the height of religious worship, hold summer camps to create child soldiers, stage school plays demonizing Israelis, air children’s TV brimming with vulgar and violent bigotry, and fascistically regulate women’s bodies — all the while overwhelmingly supporting Iranian proxies bent on eradicating millions of Jews — but whatever. Gaza is just like Venice Beach, right?

Anyway — obviously — these stories aren’t so much journalism as they are agitprop. They don’t even cover actual issues about Gaza beaches, such as whether Hamas has loosened its “modest” beach dress code, a proxy for Gaza Islamism, or whether critically endangered sea turtles are still getting hacked up by grinning children and their beaming fathers. But why report on women in Islam or Mediterranean keystone species when there are clumsy and pathos-soaked odes to the indefatigable Palestinian spirit to be penned?

This update brought to you courtesy of Agence France-Presse, which yesterday published an article and uploaded to YouTube an accompanying video on the startling phenomenon. It’s a good thing they did too, because you might have missed the staggeringly critical geopolitical importance of Gaza surfing when it was covered in 2007 by the Los Angeles Times or in 2009 by Der Spiegel and ABC News or in 2010 by CNN and the Atlantic and the BBC.

In any case, make sure you revisit those pieces before tackling this one, both for deep background and because you wouldn’t want to miss exemplars of hard-nosed journalism like “the surfer paddled out from the shore. Lying on his battered board, he scanned the horizon. The turquoise water glittered in the midday sun … he caught a wave, effortlessly” and “dirt poor and mainly from refugee camps, they find joy riding waves, often on makeshift boards, in the green waters off Gaza’s beaches.” You can also prepare by watching ABC News’s 2009 YouTube video on the subject.

Gaza surfing, it turns out, is a hopelessly multivalenced topic. Sometimes the upshot is that Israel imposes insurmountable hardships on Palestinians. Sometimes the upshot is that Palestinians surmount Israeli hardships. Sometimes it’s both in the same story, with the Palestinians surmounting insurmountable Israeli hardships in the same way that the industrious and booming Gaza economy is perennially crippled by Israeli self-defense measures. But always, per the 700-plus-word BBC treatise on the subject, there is a fundamental lesson to be learned: “Palestinians are people like in any other country.” We love to surf, they love to surf, they’re just like us.

In Gaza, they also bomb Christian bookstores, turn hospitals into ammo dumps, create armies of suicide-bomber women and children, produce movies about how killing enemy Jews is the height of religious worship, hold summer camps to create child soldiers, stage school plays demonizing Israelis, air children’s TV brimming with vulgar and violent bigotry, and fascistically regulate women’s bodies — all the while overwhelmingly supporting Iranian proxies bent on eradicating millions of Jews — but whatever. Gaza is just like Venice Beach, right?

Anyway — obviously — these stories aren’t so much journalism as they are agitprop. They don’t even cover actual issues about Gaza beaches, such as whether Hamas has loosened its “modest” beach dress code, a proxy for Gaza Islamism, or whether critically endangered sea turtles are still getting hacked up by grinning children and their beaming fathers. But why report on women in Islam or Mediterranean keystone species when there are clumsy and pathos-soaked odes to the indefatigable Palestinian spirit to be penned?

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Der Spiegel Is Worried About Jewish Revenge

This week’s Der Spiegel magazine cover story is titled “Israel’s secret killer commandos. David’s avengers.” Photos of alleged Israeli intelligence agents involved in last year’s assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas official involved in Iranian arms smuggling, are on the cover and imposed over a Star of David.

Der Spiegel is widely considered to be Germany’s most important weekly newsmagazine and carries the weight of an opinion-making publication for the chattering classes. And the magazine, like most German media, has a peculiar obsession with Jews and Israel.

German journalism’s exploitation of Jewish religious symbols coupled with worries about Jews seeking to create disorder and secure revenge has a long history in post-Holocaust Germany. The Spiegel cover deliberately conjures up not only German angst about Israel and fabricated Jewish revenge fantasies but also the clichés use of language when writing about Israel in the Federal Republic.

Take as an example the headline of the article in the current issue documenting a chronology of the planned hit on Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his posh Dubai hotel: it screams out “An eye for an eye, a murder for a murder.” The cheap wordplay on a section from the Hebrew Bible further reinforces widespread European prejudices against Jews. Der Spiegel’s editors know they are playing with anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish sentiments. But expanding circulation counts, and preaching to the choir of resentments in Germany takes priority over fact-based reporting.

This week’s Der Spiegel magazine cover story is titled “Israel’s secret killer commandos. David’s avengers.” Photos of alleged Israeli intelligence agents involved in last year’s assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas official involved in Iranian arms smuggling, are on the cover and imposed over a Star of David.

Der Spiegel is widely considered to be Germany’s most important weekly newsmagazine and carries the weight of an opinion-making publication for the chattering classes. And the magazine, like most German media, has a peculiar obsession with Jews and Israel.

German journalism’s exploitation of Jewish religious symbols coupled with worries about Jews seeking to create disorder and secure revenge has a long history in post-Holocaust Germany. The Spiegel cover deliberately conjures up not only German angst about Israel and fabricated Jewish revenge fantasies but also the clichés use of language when writing about Israel in the Federal Republic.

Take as an example the headline of the article in the current issue documenting a chronology of the planned hit on Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his posh Dubai hotel: it screams out “An eye for an eye, a murder for a murder.” The cheap wordplay on a section from the Hebrew Bible further reinforces widespread European prejudices against Jews. Der Spiegel’s editors know they are playing with anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish sentiments. But expanding circulation counts, and preaching to the choir of resentments in Germany takes priority over fact-based reporting.

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Cut and Run Was No Strategy for Iraq and Isn’t One for Afghanistan

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment). Read More

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment).

In his Journal op-ed arguing for undoing the surge in Afghanistan, Haass lays out the “broader reasons to recast policy.” They include:

The greatest threat to U.S. national security stems from our own fiscal crisis. Afghanistan is a significant contributor to this situation and could play an important role in reducing it. A savings of $75 billion a year could help finance much-needed military modernization and reduce the deficit.

Another factor is the increased possibility of a conflict with a reckless North Korea and the continued possibility of a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. U.S. military forces must be freed up to contend with these issues. The perception that we are tied down in Afghanistan makes it more difficult to threaten North Korea or Iran credibly—and makes it more difficult to muster the forces to deal with either if necessary.

Haass’s somewhat novel argument, then, is that in order to preserve our capacity to wage future wars, we should lose (in the guise of de-escalation) our current ones. He doesn’t take into account that retreating in Afghanistan would be (rightly) interpreted by nations like Iran and North Korea as weakness on the part of America, thereby emboldening our adversaries. And nowhere does Haass explain how his recommended offshore counterterrorism strategy would work, since credible counterterrorism strikes depend on good intelligence, which is best gathered by ground forces that enjoy the trust of the local population. If we pull out our troops, we lose even that capacity.

One cannot help but suspect that Haass has arrived at a position based on a theory he holds to with dogmatic certitude and has gone in search of arguments to support it. This may explain why Haass is forced to mimic David Stockman on the deficit and Richard Perle on Iran. It’s not a terribly persuasive pose.

Mr. Haass concludes his op-ed this way:

Ultimately Afghanistan is a strategic distraction. U.S. interests there are limited. So, too, are the resources available for national security. It is not surprising that the commander in the field, Gen. David Petraeus, is calling for committing greater resources to the theater. But it is the commander-in-chief’s responsibility to take into account the nation’s capacity to meet all of its challenges, national and international. It is for this reason that the perspectives of Gen. Petraeus and President Obama must necessarily diverge.

The notion that Afghanistan is nothing more than a “strategic distraction” is not terribly serious. Events of the past decade have turned it into something very much more than that.

Defeat there would have profound, negative effects on, among other nations, nuclear-armed Pakistan. While it’s obviously true that events in Afghanistan don’t have unlimited effects on Pakistan, Haass’s insistence that they are almost completely unrelated will come as news to the Pakistani government and virtually everyone else in the region. The capitulation of the United States and the fall of the existing government in a neighboring state, Afghanistan, would have significant ramifications in Pakistan. It would be an enormously important psychological victory for jihadists and the Taliban. Islamists all over the world would assume that if they wait long enough, the U.S. will cut out and move on. And defeat in Afghanistan would have baleful consequences for the people, and especially the women, of Afghanistan (though that dimension of this issue doesn’t appear to enter into Haass’s calculus at all).

When it comes to both military planning and strategic thinking, General Petraeus is simply in a different league than Mr. Haass. The four-star general and Princeton Ph.D. has proved himself to be far wiser, more prescient, and more knowledgeable than the former State Department official. Which is why I’m thankful that America’s 44th president, like America’s 43rd president, is listening to David Petraeus rather than to Richard Haass.

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WikiLeaks: Nihilism in the Guise of Transparency

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

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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.

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Fed’s Plan to Rev Up Printing Press Gets Thumbs Down

As I noted last week, the Fed’s decision to print up $600B in order to purchase bonds is not without its risks — or its critics. One of those, Kevin Warsh, a Fed governor, takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn that we’ve been pursuing the wrong policies:

Policy makers should be skeptical of the long-term benefits of temporary fixes to do the hard work of resurrecting the world’s great economic power. Since early 2008, the fiscal authorities have sought to fill the hole left by the falloff in demand through large, temporary stimulus—checks in the mail to spur consumption, temporary housing rebates to raise demand, one-time cash-for-clunkers to move inventory, and temporary business tax credits to spur investment.

What we need, he cautions are pro-growth policies that include free trade and tax reform. “The U.S. and world economies urgently need stronger growth, and the adoption of pro-growth economic policies would strengthen incentives to invest in capital and labor over the horizon, paving the way for robust job-creation and higher living standards.” Then he aims at “Helicopter Ben” and his plan to dump more greenbacks into the world economy:

The Fed’s increased presence in the market for long-term Treasury securities poses nontrivial risks that bear watching. The prices assigned to Treasury securities—the risk-free rate—are the foundation from which the price of virtually every asset in the world is calculated. As the Fed’s balance sheet expands, it becomes more of a price maker than a price taker in the Treasury market. If market participants come to doubt these prices—or their reliance on these prices proves fleeting—risk premiums across asset classes and geographies could move unexpectedly.

Overseas—as a consequence of more-expansive U.S. monetary policy and other distortions in the international monetary system—we see an increasing tendency by policy makers to intervene in currency markets, administer unilateral measures, institute ad hoc capital controls, and resort to protectionist policies. Extraordinary measures tend to beget extraordinary countermeasures. Heightened tensions in currency and capital markets could result in a more protracted and difficult global recovery.

In plain English: we are going down the wrong road. Read More

As I noted last week, the Fed’s decision to print up $600B in order to purchase bonds is not without its risks — or its critics. One of those, Kevin Warsh, a Fed governor, takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn that we’ve been pursuing the wrong policies:

Policy makers should be skeptical of the long-term benefits of temporary fixes to do the hard work of resurrecting the world’s great economic power. Since early 2008, the fiscal authorities have sought to fill the hole left by the falloff in demand through large, temporary stimulus—checks in the mail to spur consumption, temporary housing rebates to raise demand, one-time cash-for-clunkers to move inventory, and temporary business tax credits to spur investment.

What we need, he cautions are pro-growth policies that include free trade and tax reform. “The U.S. and world economies urgently need stronger growth, and the adoption of pro-growth economic policies would strengthen incentives to invest in capital and labor over the horizon, paving the way for robust job-creation and higher living standards.” Then he aims at “Helicopter Ben” and his plan to dump more greenbacks into the world economy:

The Fed’s increased presence in the market for long-term Treasury securities poses nontrivial risks that bear watching. The prices assigned to Treasury securities—the risk-free rate—are the foundation from which the price of virtually every asset in the world is calculated. As the Fed’s balance sheet expands, it becomes more of a price maker than a price taker in the Treasury market. If market participants come to doubt these prices—or their reliance on these prices proves fleeting—risk premiums across asset classes and geographies could move unexpectedly.

Overseas—as a consequence of more-expansive U.S. monetary policy and other distortions in the international monetary system—we see an increasing tendency by policy makers to intervene in currency markets, administer unilateral measures, institute ad hoc capital controls, and resort to protectionist policies. Extraordinary measures tend to beget extraordinary countermeasures. Heightened tensions in currency and capital markets could result in a more protracted and difficult global recovery.

In plain English: we are going down the wrong road.

He’s in good company. The Germans, who have learned a thing or two about the risks of devaluing currency and resisted the Obama administration’s entreaties to spend with abandon, also are complaining about the Fed:

German officials, concerned that Washington could be pushing the global economy into a downward spiral, have launched an unusually open critique of U.S. economic policy and vowed to make their frustration known at this week’s Group of 20 summit.

Leading the attack is Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who said the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision last week to pump an additional $600 billion into government securities won’t help the U.S. economy or its global partners.

The Fed’s decisions are “undermining the credibility of U.S. financial policy,” Mr. Schäuble said in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine published over the weekend, referring to the Fed’s move, known as “quantitative easing” and designed to spur demand and keep interest rates low. “It doesn’t add up when the Americans accuse the Chinese of currency manipulation and then, with the help of their central bank’s printing presses, artificially lower the value of the dollar.”

At an economics conference in Berlin Friday, Mr. Schäuble said the Fed’s action shows U.S. policy makers are “at a loss about what to do.”

The president is weakened at home and under assault overseas for the feckless economic policies that threaten to bring stagflation not only to the U.S. but also to our trading partners. It is ironic that the American political messiah who caused so many to swoon in Europe is now the object of their concern, and indeed disdain. Well, many Americans can relate.

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A Counter View to Fouad Ajami’s Skepticism Regarding Afghanistan

Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

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Fouad Ajami is one of the world’s most respected and influential analysts of the Middle East — and for good reason. He has consistently spoken hard truths about the Arab world that few of his colleagues in academia dare broach. And he has been a staunch supporter of the war effort in Iraq even through its darkest of days — a deeply unfashionable view that speaks to his intellectual fearlessness and iconoclasm. So when he expresses deep doubts about the viability of the American mission in Afghanistan, it is well worth paying attention — even if you don’t necessarily agree with hm.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ajami castigates President Hamid Karzai for showing “little, if any, regard” for the “sacrifices” made by Americans to protect his country from the Taliban. He lashes at Karzai accepting cash from Iran — “He has been brazen to the point of vulgarity,” Ajami writes — and for his accusations that Americans are supporting private security companies that are killing Afghans, adding, “It is fully understood that Mr. Karzai and his clan want the business of the contractors for themselves.” Ajami endorses the publicly leaked 2009 cable from Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, which read: “Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.” In disgust, he concludes, “Unlike the Third world clients of old, this one does not even bother to pay us the tribute of double-speak and hypocrisy.” This causes Ajami to doubt the entire mission:

The idealism has drained out of this project. Say what you will about the Iraq war — and there was disappointment and heartbreak aplenty — there always ran through that war the promise of a decent outcome: deliverance for the Kurds, an Iraqi democratic example in the heart of a despotic Arab world, the promise of a decent Shiite alternative in the holy city of Najaf that would compete with the influence of Qom. No such nobility, no such illusions now attend our war in Afghanistan.

As I suggested before, I respect Ajami’s views but in this case I do not agree with him. I believe there is just as much nobility to the war in Afghanistan as to the one in Iraq. We are, after all, fighting to make good on our post-9/11 promises to drive the Taliban out of power and establish a representative government in Afghanistan that will not sponsor terrorism or abuse its own people. The Taliban are as cruel as they come and sparing the people of Afghanistan from their misrule is a noble cause. So too is honoring the memory of America’s 9/11 shaheeds (martyrs) — the victims of al-Qaeda and their Taliban facilitators.

The problem is that in carrying out this mission we must work with wholly imperfect allies. Karzai is no angel. But then neither is Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq — a leader whom Ajami presciently championed even when others scoffed at his potential to rise above his sectarian roots. In many ways, Maliki has been an even more troubling ally than Karzai. For all his faults, Karzai is not known to be personally sympathetic to the Taliban, who killed his father. By contrast, Maliki had a lot of sympathy for Shiite sectarianism. He has been surrounded by Iranian agents and Shiite extremists, who were deeply implicated in the work of the death squads that were killing hundreds of Sunnis every night in 2006-2007. It may be discouraging to hear that Karzai accepts a couple of million dollars in cash from Iran but is there any doubt that Maliki has taken far more money from Tehran? And not just money. As this article noted, Iran actually provided Maliki with his presidential jet, complete with Iranian pilots. Say what you will about Karzai, but at least he doesn’t routinely entrust his life to an Iranian aircraft.

Moreover, Maliki has been as notorious as Karzai for showing a lack of gratitude toward American efforts to save his county. As I noted in this 2008 op-ed, Maliki has had a pattern of dismissing the American contribution to Iraqi security, saying, for instance, in May 2006, that “[Iraqi] forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within a year and a half.” Maliki opposed the surge, which saved his country in 2007 and even when it succeeded refused to give us credit. As I noted:

In the famous interview with Der Spiegel last weekend, he was asked why Iraq has become more peaceful. He mentioned “many factors,” including “the political rapprochement we have managed to achieve,” “the progress being made by our security forces,” “the deep sense of abhorrence with which the population has reacted to the atrocities of al-Qaida and the militias,” and “the economic recovery.” No mention of the surge.

Yet for all of Maliki’s maddening imperfections — which stand in high relief now as he ruthlessly maneuvers for another term — he showed ability to rise above his sectarian origins. He displayed real political courage in ordering his forces to attack the Sadrists in Basra and Sadr City in 2008. Now, of course, he is cutting deals with those same Sadrists. That, alas, is how the political game is played in unstable countries like Iraq — or Afghanistan. That should not cause us to despair of either country’s future.

If we could work with Maliki, we can certainly work with Karzai. The former, after all, does not speak English and spent years of exile living in Syria and Iran, two of the most anti-American states in the world. Karzai, by contrast, is a fluent English-speaker with several brothers who have lived in the U.S. for years and even hold U.S. citizenship. He is, in many ways, a more natural fit as an ally than Maliki. There is little doubt that he and his brothers are implicated in the corruption of Afghani politics, but at least, unlike Maliki, they are not cozying up to Iranian-backed death squads. To the extent that Karzai has cozied up to Ahmadinejad and the mullahs, it has been as a hedge against a precipitous American pullout. But Karzai also knows that the Iranians are double-dealing — they are supporting the Taliban too — which can give Karzai little confidence that Iran would be a reliable ally. At the end of the day, Karzai knows that his future and his country’s rests with the United States and NATO; that we are all that is keeping him from death or exile.

It would be nice if Karzai showed more political courage in working with us and refrained from denouncing us, but some of his denunciations have, alas, the ring of truth — and some of his actions are actually well intentioned. Take his attempts to close down private security companies that are terrorizing ordinary Afghanis and driving them into the arms of the Taliban. Most of these companies are, in fact, directly or indirectly, funded by American taxpayers — just as Karzai alleges. Many of them are also run by Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and by others linked to the Karzai clan. (See this report from the Institute for the Study of War for details.) So by closing down these firms, Karzai seems to be moving against his family’s economic interests. If he were simply interested in continuing to exploit this lucrative economic niche, he would leave the existing situation alone.

I don’t know what motivates Karzai but I suspect that, like most people, he is moved by a combination of noble and ignoble impulses — idealism and selfishness, self-interest and the public interest. He is no Adenaeur or De Gaulle or Ataturk or Washington — but then neither is Maliki. He is deeply imperfect, but he is the president of Afghanistan, and I do believe it is possible to work with him. Luckily, we have in Kabul the same general — David Petraeus — who skillfully worked with Maliki at a time when many Americans wrote him off as incorrigible. Already Petreaus has shown a similar ability to get useful concessions out of Karzai, for instance winning the president’s approval for setting up the Afghan Local Police, an initiative to supplement the Afghan Security Forces, which Karzai initially opposed.

Running through Ajami’s article is a deep skepticism not only about Karzai but also about Barack Obama. He criticizes Obama, rightly, for displaying irresolution. I too have been dismayed by the deadline Obama laid out for our withdrawal from Afghanistan — but I have been cheered to see, as I have noted in previous posts, that Obama is backing off that deadline. What foes for Karzai also goes for Obama: you go to war with the leaders you have — not the ones you would like to have. But I don’t believe that either Karzai or Obama is so flawed that it is impossible to prevail in Afghanistan — especially not when we have so many outstanding troops on the ground led by our greatest general.

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The West Is in Denial over Turkey

Last week, I criticized Israel’s schizophrenia toward Turkey. But Israel is far ahead the rest of the West, where outright denial still reigns. Three reports this week highlighted Turkey’s growing role as an international problem child, yet Western governments seem oblivious.

One, which Jennifer cited yesterday, is the news that Turkey is deliberately undermining new sanctions on Iran by boosting its own gasoline exports to the mullahs. As this report notes, the sanctions were actually having an impact: “Iran’s gasoline imports fell 50 percent last month as sanctions spurred traders to halt supplies, according to Energy Market Consultants Ltd.” But Turkey moved quickly to fill the breach and has already become one of Iran’s top two suppliers (the other being China).

Western countries have repeatedly asserted that a nuclear Iran would be disastrous, but so would military action against Tehran. That means they have a vital interest in the success of sanctions because they have no Plan B. Yet Turkey has now openly pledged to do its best to make sanctions fail — and the Western response has been a deafening silence.
Then there is Corriere della Serra’s report that Turkey plans to ship arms to Hezbollah. This, too, directly undercuts a professed Western interest, that of preventing another Mideast war. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the better armed Hezbollah is, the more confident it will feel about launching military assaults on Israel — and eventually, Israel will have to respond.

Moreover, aside from the quantitative boost they would give Hezbollah, Turkish arms could provide a major qualitative boost, as Turkey has access to all the most sophisticated NATO weaponry. This means that any new Israel-Hezbollah war would be far more devastating than the last because Israel would be forced to use more of its own capabilities to counter Hezbollah’s bigger, more sophisticated arsenal.

Western intelligence agencies reportedly “view the Turkish-Iranian plot with concern.” But Western governments haven’t uttered a peep.

Finally, there is Der Spiegel’s report that the Turks have used chemical weapons against the Kurds. German experts have deemed the evidence credible, and some German politicians, to their credit, are demanding an international investigation. Yet the German government has declined to take any diplomatic action, and other Western countries have been similarly mute.

Given the West’s professed concern for human rights, one might think it would be bothered by a NATO member adopting Saddam Hussein’s tactics. But where Turkey is concerned, it would apparently rather shut its eyes.

The accumulating evidence all points to the same conclusion: Turkey has switched its allegiance from the West to the radical axis led by Iran. And it seems doubtful that any Western action could reverse this shift totally. But because Turkey still needs the West in many ways, a strong Western response probably could at least moderate its behavior.
Instead, Ankara has able to undermine Western interests ever more blatantly without the West exacting any penalties whatsoever. And as long as Turkey can keep spurning the West cost-free, its slide toward Iran will only accelerate.

Last week, I criticized Israel’s schizophrenia toward Turkey. But Israel is far ahead the rest of the West, where outright denial still reigns. Three reports this week highlighted Turkey’s growing role as an international problem child, yet Western governments seem oblivious.

One, which Jennifer cited yesterday, is the news that Turkey is deliberately undermining new sanctions on Iran by boosting its own gasoline exports to the mullahs. As this report notes, the sanctions were actually having an impact: “Iran’s gasoline imports fell 50 percent last month as sanctions spurred traders to halt supplies, according to Energy Market Consultants Ltd.” But Turkey moved quickly to fill the breach and has already become one of Iran’s top two suppliers (the other being China).

Western countries have repeatedly asserted that a nuclear Iran would be disastrous, but so would military action against Tehran. That means they have a vital interest in the success of sanctions because they have no Plan B. Yet Turkey has now openly pledged to do its best to make sanctions fail — and the Western response has been a deafening silence.
Then there is Corriere della Serra’s report that Turkey plans to ship arms to Hezbollah. This, too, directly undercuts a professed Western interest, that of preventing another Mideast war. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the better armed Hezbollah is, the more confident it will feel about launching military assaults on Israel — and eventually, Israel will have to respond.

Moreover, aside from the quantitative boost they would give Hezbollah, Turkish arms could provide a major qualitative boost, as Turkey has access to all the most sophisticated NATO weaponry. This means that any new Israel-Hezbollah war would be far more devastating than the last because Israel would be forced to use more of its own capabilities to counter Hezbollah’s bigger, more sophisticated arsenal.

Western intelligence agencies reportedly “view the Turkish-Iranian plot with concern.” But Western governments haven’t uttered a peep.

Finally, there is Der Spiegel’s report that the Turks have used chemical weapons against the Kurds. German experts have deemed the evidence credible, and some German politicians, to their credit, are demanding an international investigation. Yet the German government has declined to take any diplomatic action, and other Western countries have been similarly mute.

Given the West’s professed concern for human rights, one might think it would be bothered by a NATO member adopting Saddam Hussein’s tactics. But where Turkey is concerned, it would apparently rather shut its eyes.

The accumulating evidence all points to the same conclusion: Turkey has switched its allegiance from the West to the radical axis led by Iran. And it seems doubtful that any Western action could reverse this shift totally. But because Turkey still needs the West in many ways, a strong Western response probably could at least moderate its behavior.
Instead, Ankara has able to undermine Western interests ever more blatantly without the West exacting any penalties whatsoever. And as long as Turkey can keep spurning the West cost-free, its slide toward Iran will only accelerate.

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Spinning Obama’s Foreign-Policy Flops

Earlier this month, Jackson Diehl detailed Obama’s lack of success in forging productive relationships with foreign leaders. Now Obama’s dutiful flacks and media handmaidens take to the front page of Diehl’s paper to explain Obama was merely making use of his “charisma.” Now he is getting around to those relationships. There is this jaw-dropping bit of spin:

The change from a year ago is stark. In his widely broadcast address in Cairo last June, Obama called Israeli settlements in the occupied territories “illegitimate.” By contrast, he met last week at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for two hours, urging him privately to freeze Jewish settlement construction.

What relationship is Obama making use of there? If this is Obama’s idea of a forging bonds with foreign leaders (condemning his country, reading the prime minister the riot act, twice snubbing Netanyahu during his White House visits), our foreign-policy apparatus surely is guilty of gross malfeasance. Then the blind quotes are trotted out to — surprise, surprise — ding George W. Bush and explain how Obama’s newfound personal diplomacy is vastly superior to his predecessor’s:

“Obama is not the sort of guy who looks for a best buddy, and that’s very different than Bush,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about perceptions of U.S. leaders abroad. “Sometimes being too personal is not a good thing. You can make mistakes.”

No, Obama is the sort of guy who returns the Winston Churchill bust, gives Gordon Brown and the Queen of England cheap-o gifts, bows to dictators, and slams the elected prime minister of Israel. Completely different. But even the Washington Post must concede that Obama has not forged really any productive relationships with world leaders:

Obama, who was an Illinois state senator just four years before he was elected president, knew few world leaders upon taking office. Since then, he has developed mostly arm’s-length relationships with fellow heads of state, including many from developing countries that previous presidents largely ignored or shunned to protect U.S. relationships with more traditional allies.

Let’s get real — Obama has not really used his charisma to promote anything but himself:

Republican critics say the approach has unsettled the United States’ best friends, and failed more than succeeded in promoting American interests on some of the most far-reaching foreign policy challenges of the day.

Obama’s direct appeal to the people of China and Iran[ Did we miss this? Was he championing democracy at some point?], for example, has produced little change in the attitude of their governments, showing the limits of a bottom-up approach when it comes to dealing with authoritarian countries. Middle East peace talks remain moribund after the administration’s so-far-unsuccessful attempts to end Israeli settlement construction or to persuade Arab governments to make even token diplomatic gestures toward the Jewish state.

As Simon Serfaty of theCenter for Strategic and International Studies notes, “He is beginning to face a crisis of efficacy.” In other words, despite all the reverential treatment by liberal elites, Obama has yet to develop effective ties with allies or used public diplomacy to further American interests. His infatuation with dictatorial regimes, his embrace of multilateralism, and his willingness to kick allies (e.g., Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, Britain, Honduras) in the shins have left America more isolated and rogue states more emboldened than ever before. An assessment from Der Spiegel put it this way, recalling Obama’s Cairo speech (which the Obami still laud as an achievement of some sort):

The applause for Obama’s Cairo speech died away in the vast expanses of the Arabian Desert long ago. “He says all the right things, but implementation is exactly the way it has always been,” says Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Obama’s failure in the Middle East is but one example of his weakness, though a particularly drastic and vivid one. The president, widely celebrated when he took office, cannot claim to have achieved sweeping successes in any area. When he began his term more than a year ago, he came across as an ambitious developer who had every intention of completing multiple projects at once. But after a year, none of those projects has even progressed beyond the early construction phase. And in some cases, the sites are nothing but deep excavations. … Obama can hardly count on gaining the support of allies, partly because he doesn’t pay much attention to them. The American president doesn’t have a single strong ally among European heads of state

Perhaps less time spent crafting stories for the Post and more time working on a viable foreign policy built on American interests rather than Obama’s ego would be in order.

Earlier this month, Jackson Diehl detailed Obama’s lack of success in forging productive relationships with foreign leaders. Now Obama’s dutiful flacks and media handmaidens take to the front page of Diehl’s paper to explain Obama was merely making use of his “charisma.” Now he is getting around to those relationships. There is this jaw-dropping bit of spin:

The change from a year ago is stark. In his widely broadcast address in Cairo last June, Obama called Israeli settlements in the occupied territories “illegitimate.” By contrast, he met last week at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for two hours, urging him privately to freeze Jewish settlement construction.

What relationship is Obama making use of there? If this is Obama’s idea of a forging bonds with foreign leaders (condemning his country, reading the prime minister the riot act, twice snubbing Netanyahu during his White House visits), our foreign-policy apparatus surely is guilty of gross malfeasance. Then the blind quotes are trotted out to — surprise, surprise — ding George W. Bush and explain how Obama’s newfound personal diplomacy is vastly superior to his predecessor’s:

“Obama is not the sort of guy who looks for a best buddy, and that’s very different than Bush,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about perceptions of U.S. leaders abroad. “Sometimes being too personal is not a good thing. You can make mistakes.”

No, Obama is the sort of guy who returns the Winston Churchill bust, gives Gordon Brown and the Queen of England cheap-o gifts, bows to dictators, and slams the elected prime minister of Israel. Completely different. But even the Washington Post must concede that Obama has not forged really any productive relationships with world leaders:

Obama, who was an Illinois state senator just four years before he was elected president, knew few world leaders upon taking office. Since then, he has developed mostly arm’s-length relationships with fellow heads of state, including many from developing countries that previous presidents largely ignored or shunned to protect U.S. relationships with more traditional allies.

Let’s get real — Obama has not really used his charisma to promote anything but himself:

Republican critics say the approach has unsettled the United States’ best friends, and failed more than succeeded in promoting American interests on some of the most far-reaching foreign policy challenges of the day.

Obama’s direct appeal to the people of China and Iran[ Did we miss this? Was he championing democracy at some point?], for example, has produced little change in the attitude of their governments, showing the limits of a bottom-up approach when it comes to dealing with authoritarian countries. Middle East peace talks remain moribund after the administration’s so-far-unsuccessful attempts to end Israeli settlement construction or to persuade Arab governments to make even token diplomatic gestures toward the Jewish state.

As Simon Serfaty of theCenter for Strategic and International Studies notes, “He is beginning to face a crisis of efficacy.” In other words, despite all the reverential treatment by liberal elites, Obama has yet to develop effective ties with allies or used public diplomacy to further American interests. His infatuation with dictatorial regimes, his embrace of multilateralism, and his willingness to kick allies (e.g., Israel, Poland, the Czech Republic, Britain, Honduras) in the shins have left America more isolated and rogue states more emboldened than ever before. An assessment from Der Spiegel put it this way, recalling Obama’s Cairo speech (which the Obami still laud as an achievement of some sort):

The applause for Obama’s Cairo speech died away in the vast expanses of the Arabian Desert long ago. “He says all the right things, but implementation is exactly the way it has always been,” says Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Obama’s failure in the Middle East is but one example of his weakness, though a particularly drastic and vivid one. The president, widely celebrated when he took office, cannot claim to have achieved sweeping successes in any area. When he began his term more than a year ago, he came across as an ambitious developer who had every intention of completing multiple projects at once. But after a year, none of those projects has even progressed beyond the early construction phase. And in some cases, the sites are nothing but deep excavations. … Obama can hardly count on gaining the support of allies, partly because he doesn’t pay much attention to them. The American president doesn’t have a single strong ally among European heads of state

Perhaps less time spent crafting stories for the Post and more time working on a viable foreign policy built on American interests rather than Obama’s ego would be in order.

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Der Spiegel: “An Israeli Affront Against Germany”

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either — NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

The headline is breathless, and the article is stupid. The German paper claims that both the failure of the Shalit talks and the Dubai assassination were grave Israeli insults to Germany.

This marks the second time that the Germans have been snubbed. [The first time, Der Spiegel says, was when the Mossad did not tell the German mediator in the Shalit talks that the Dubai assassination was about to take place. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either — NP] In late December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected at the last moment a detailed agreement that his negotiator Hagai Hadas had hammered out with Hamas via the German intelligence agency. …

Zahar said it had been difficult to convince Khalid Mashaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas in Damascus, Syria, to approve the deal. Netanyahu’s subsequent rejection seriously damaged his reputation within Hamas, says Zahar. “I have suffered a lot internally,” he adds. “I am not ready to negotiate anymore.”

So Israel rejected a prisoner swap and hung Mahmoud Zahar out to dry? This is pure Hamas spin — and therefore very attractive to Western journalists. The reality of the negotiations is that Israel has been waiting on a Hamas answer on the prisoner swap since December, an answer that has not been forthcoming because of a rift between Hamas’s Gaza and Damascus leadership. The Gazans want to do the swap; the Syrian leadership does not:

Last December, at the conclusion of a round of mediated negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the deal to the inner cabinet on security matters, which gave a conditional approval to the German offer.

Since then, Hamas has avoided providing its own response to the offer. It may be that this was part of an effort to avoid having the blame for failure directed at the organization. However, the absence of a response also reflected genuine disagreement between al-Zahar and others in the organization.

Intelligence sources in the West and Israel have said that al-Zahar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza Strip, are aware of the severity of the crisis that the organization is experiencing as a result of more than three years of siege on the Gaza Strip, and are eager to reach a compromise that would permit them to also show some gain in the form of a large prisoner release.

It is not unusual in the least for leaders of Palestinian terrorist groups to baldly lie about any number of things; holy warriors grant themselves many indulgences. What should be unusual is the willingness of Western reporters to reprint these lies as journalistic fact. One would think that a German paper should be especially careful about breathlessly repeating false allegations against the Jewish state.

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Deterring Ourselves

Two news reports from the last day highlight poignantly the paralysis of the West in the face of a nuclearizing Iran. One is a Washington Times piece by Eli Lake outlining recent and prospective developments with the financial “pressure track” against Iran.  The other is Der Spiegel Online’s account of the sanctions package being prepared by the EU nations.

The Lake piece is less remarkable: one of many that clarify how heavily dependent any sanctions regime will be on the honest participation of China. The piece makes a telling foil to the Der Spiegel report, however, in part because the two articles share a particular rhetorical characteristic. They lead with language that evokes strength and energy in the approach of the West to Iran. Momentum-sapping caveats are sequestered at the end of each article, receiving little treatment of any kind and certainly not consideration commensurate with their significance.

Der Spiegel’s report has quite a promising tone overall: “massive sanctions,” “choke off imports,” “banish the Iranian central bank.” But read to the end and you find that the emerging European proposal is hostage to two self-imposed constraints listed briefly in the final paragraph: a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution as a legal foundation, and the backing of nations like Turkey, Brazil, and the Persian Gulf states.

Getting a UNSC resolution is, of course, dependent on Russia and China, which can exercise vetoes. That challenge has proved insuperable for years. But the stated reason for the second constraint — obtaining the backing of non-Western nations — is a window on the soul of the modern West. The purpose is not the practical one we might expect: to strengthen the effectiveness of sanctions, which Turkey and the Gulf states in particular could easily undermine. The concern is rather that Iran could complain of being targeted by a Western conspiracy, or the “vassals of Israel.”

To give the Europeans the benefit of the doubt, we may assume that they’re thinking of the backlash from Islamists in their own capitals if Iran claims such victimhood. But this point is only superficially persuasive. For one thing, the mullahs accuse everyone who opposes Iran of conspiracy and vassalage to Israel. It’s reflexive, not contingent on the exact nature of what anyone else does. Moreover, any backlash would probably create worse domestic problems for Turkey and the Gulf nations than it would for Europe, so attempts to gain their overt political support are unlikely to meet with success.

But the more profound concern is that if no action is taken, and taken soon, the outcome will be a nuclear-armed theocratic pariah state, one whose leaders have an apocalyptic vision of their nation’s role on earth. This nation already sponsors terrorism and insurgencies abroad. Having nuclear arms will give Iran’s disruptive activism a new strategic cover. Europe will be in range of Iranian nuclear missiles before North America is. Yet the West clearly doesn’t take this threat seriously enough to lift the self-imposed constraints — even the patently absurd ones — that are the main obstacles to action.

If Iran’s revolutionary regime does acquire nuclear weapons, the reported EU concern about a pre-nuclear Iran playing the victim card for effect will go down as one of the most foolish in history. Surely, future generations might say, the men and women of the 2010s didn’t stay their hand against Iran because of that.

Two news reports from the last day highlight poignantly the paralysis of the West in the face of a nuclearizing Iran. One is a Washington Times piece by Eli Lake outlining recent and prospective developments with the financial “pressure track” against Iran.  The other is Der Spiegel Online’s account of the sanctions package being prepared by the EU nations.

The Lake piece is less remarkable: one of many that clarify how heavily dependent any sanctions regime will be on the honest participation of China. The piece makes a telling foil to the Der Spiegel report, however, in part because the two articles share a particular rhetorical characteristic. They lead with language that evokes strength and energy in the approach of the West to Iran. Momentum-sapping caveats are sequestered at the end of each article, receiving little treatment of any kind and certainly not consideration commensurate with their significance.

Der Spiegel’s report has quite a promising tone overall: “massive sanctions,” “choke off imports,” “banish the Iranian central bank.” But read to the end and you find that the emerging European proposal is hostage to two self-imposed constraints listed briefly in the final paragraph: a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution as a legal foundation, and the backing of nations like Turkey, Brazil, and the Persian Gulf states.

Getting a UNSC resolution is, of course, dependent on Russia and China, which can exercise vetoes. That challenge has proved insuperable for years. But the stated reason for the second constraint — obtaining the backing of non-Western nations — is a window on the soul of the modern West. The purpose is not the practical one we might expect: to strengthen the effectiveness of sanctions, which Turkey and the Gulf states in particular could easily undermine. The concern is rather that Iran could complain of being targeted by a Western conspiracy, or the “vassals of Israel.”

To give the Europeans the benefit of the doubt, we may assume that they’re thinking of the backlash from Islamists in their own capitals if Iran claims such victimhood. But this point is only superficially persuasive. For one thing, the mullahs accuse everyone who opposes Iran of conspiracy and vassalage to Israel. It’s reflexive, not contingent on the exact nature of what anyone else does. Moreover, any backlash would probably create worse domestic problems for Turkey and the Gulf nations than it would for Europe, so attempts to gain their overt political support are unlikely to meet with success.

But the more profound concern is that if no action is taken, and taken soon, the outcome will be a nuclear-armed theocratic pariah state, one whose leaders have an apocalyptic vision of their nation’s role on earth. This nation already sponsors terrorism and insurgencies abroad. Having nuclear arms will give Iran’s disruptive activism a new strategic cover. Europe will be in range of Iranian nuclear missiles before North America is. Yet the West clearly doesn’t take this threat seriously enough to lift the self-imposed constraints — even the patently absurd ones — that are the main obstacles to action.

If Iran’s revolutionary regime does acquire nuclear weapons, the reported EU concern about a pre-nuclear Iran playing the victim card for effect will go down as one of the most foolish in history. Surely, future generations might say, the men and women of the 2010s didn’t stay their hand against Iran because of that.

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Misunderstanding Massachusetts

The Washington correspondent of Der Spiegel reacts to the Massachusetts election by suggesting Obama’s troubles may simply reflect “a case of the best US president at the worst time” — a great man understandably unable to bring “change” because he has to deal with so many crises:

Barack Obama has spent his first year in office fighting one crisis after another. Now he faces a political crisis of his own — the defeat in Massachusetts threatens his health care reform, his most important domestic project. Is it a case of the best US president at the worst time? …

In times of crisis, insecurity and defensiveness trump any openness to change. And since his inauguration Obama has had to deal almost exclusively with crisis management. The financial crisis, the automotive crisis, the jobs crisis, the climate crisis, the global crisis. There have never been quite so many crises.

The five crises do not quite compare with inheriting the Great Depression (FDR) or World War II (Truman), and memories are short about what George W. Bush faced in his first year: a recession caused by a burst Internet bubble; the failure of the seventh largest company in the country (Enron) and one of the Big Five accounting firms (Arthur Andersen); an attack on New York and Washington, D.C.; a stock market that crashed and an economy that tottered; the need to mobilize the country for a war in Afghanistan; a failed “peace process” inherited on Inauguration Day (with a new Palestinian war against Israel already in its fifth month); etc.

The difference is that Bush did not spend his first year blaming Bill Clinton for the Internet bubble or the inherited recession, or the ineffective response to the first World Trade Center attack and the multiple attacks thereafter, or the bungled peace process. Bush got tax cuts enacted that helped restore the economy; began his war on terror that kept the country safe for the next seven years; worked cooperatively with Ted Kennedy on major education legislation; and so on.

Obama spent his first year responding to the financial crisis with massive borrowed-money bailouts; to the automotive crisis with a government takeover and a transfer of wealth from secured creditors to unions; to the jobs crisis with a trillion dollar “stimulus” that didn’t work; to the climate “crisis” with a nonbinding international agreement featuring a blank appendix; and to the “global crisis” with … what?

Most of his time was devoted to ObamaCare, something unrelated to the five “crises” he faced and something that got more unpopular the more people understood it. He made a lot of trips and speeches, most of them reminding the country that now was the moment and telling the world that his hand was outstretched. For the coming year, he plans a huge tax increase in the guise of letting current tax rates “expire” and has no plan for the real crisis he will face: Iran.

He has not been the best president and these are not the worst of times — and the sort-of-God/best-president-ever treatment he received from the mainstream media contributed significantly to the problem he now faces. His belief that he just needs to slow down and “explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing” is a more-cowbell response that ignores what Massachusetts was trying to tell him.

The Washington correspondent of Der Spiegel reacts to the Massachusetts election by suggesting Obama’s troubles may simply reflect “a case of the best US president at the worst time” — a great man understandably unable to bring “change” because he has to deal with so many crises:

Barack Obama has spent his first year in office fighting one crisis after another. Now he faces a political crisis of his own — the defeat in Massachusetts threatens his health care reform, his most important domestic project. Is it a case of the best US president at the worst time? …

In times of crisis, insecurity and defensiveness trump any openness to change. And since his inauguration Obama has had to deal almost exclusively with crisis management. The financial crisis, the automotive crisis, the jobs crisis, the climate crisis, the global crisis. There have never been quite so many crises.

The five crises do not quite compare with inheriting the Great Depression (FDR) or World War II (Truman), and memories are short about what George W. Bush faced in his first year: a recession caused by a burst Internet bubble; the failure of the seventh largest company in the country (Enron) and one of the Big Five accounting firms (Arthur Andersen); an attack on New York and Washington, D.C.; a stock market that crashed and an economy that tottered; the need to mobilize the country for a war in Afghanistan; a failed “peace process” inherited on Inauguration Day (with a new Palestinian war against Israel already in its fifth month); etc.

The difference is that Bush did not spend his first year blaming Bill Clinton for the Internet bubble or the inherited recession, or the ineffective response to the first World Trade Center attack and the multiple attacks thereafter, or the bungled peace process. Bush got tax cuts enacted that helped restore the economy; began his war on terror that kept the country safe for the next seven years; worked cooperatively with Ted Kennedy on major education legislation; and so on.

Obama spent his first year responding to the financial crisis with massive borrowed-money bailouts; to the automotive crisis with a government takeover and a transfer of wealth from secured creditors to unions; to the jobs crisis with a trillion dollar “stimulus” that didn’t work; to the climate “crisis” with a nonbinding international agreement featuring a blank appendix; and to the “global crisis” with … what?

Most of his time was devoted to ObamaCare, something unrelated to the five “crises” he faced and something that got more unpopular the more people understood it. He made a lot of trips and speeches, most of them reminding the country that now was the moment and telling the world that his hand was outstretched. For the coming year, he plans a huge tax increase in the guise of letting current tax rates “expire” and has no plan for the real crisis he will face: Iran.

He has not been the best president and these are not the worst of times — and the sort-of-God/best-president-ever treatment he received from the mainstream media contributed significantly to the problem he now faces. His belief that he just needs to slow down and “explain to people why we’re doing what we’re doing” is a more-cowbell response that ignores what Massachusetts was trying to tell him.

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The Unmasking of Barack Obama

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this. Read More

The overseas reviews for President Obama’s foreign policy are starting to pour in — and they’re not favorable. Bob Ainsworth, the British defense secretary, has blamed Obama for the decline in British public support for the war in Afghanistan. According to the Telegraph:

Mr. Ainsworth took the unprecedented step of publicly criticizing the U.S. President and his delays in sending more troops to bolster the mission against the Taliban. A “period of hiatus” in Washington — and a lack of clear direction — had made it harder for ministers to persuade the British public to go on backing the Afghan mission in the face of a rising death toll, he said. Senior British Government sources have become increasingly frustrated with Mr. Obama’s “dithering” on Afghanistan, the Daily Telegraph disclosed earlier this month, with several former British defense chiefs echoing the concerns.

The President is “Obama the Impotent,” according to Steven Hill of the Guardian. The Economist calls Obama the “Pacific (and pussyfooting) president.” The Financial Times refers to “relations between the U.S. and Europe, which started the year of talks as allies, near breakdown.” The German magazine Der Spiegel accuses the president of being “dishonest with Europe” on the subject of climate change. Another withering piece in Der Spiegel, titled “Obama’s Nice Guy Act Gets Him Nowhere on the World Stage,” lists the instances in which Obama is being rolled. The Jerusalem Post puts it this way: “Everybody is saying no to the American president these days. And it’s not just that they’re saying no, it’s also the way they’re saying no.” “He talks too much,” a Saudi academic who had once been smitten with Barack Obama tells the Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami. The Saudi “has wearied of Mr. Obama and now does not bother with the Obama oratory,” according to Ajami. But “he is hardly alone, this academic. In the endless chatter of this region, and in the commentaries offered by the press, the theme is one of disappointment. In the Arab-Islamic world, Barack Obama has come down to earth.”

Indeed he has — and only Obama and his increasingly clueless administration seem unaware of this.

On almost every front, progress is nonexistent. In many instances, things are getting worse rather than better. The enormous goodwill that Obama’s election was met with hasn’t been leveraged into anything useful and tangible. Rather, our allies are now questioning America’s will, while our adversaries are becoming increasingly emboldened. The United States looks weak and uncertain. It’s “amateur hour at the White House,” according to Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former official in the Carter administration. “Not only are things not getting fixed, they may be getting more broken,” according to Michael Hirsh at Newsweek. When even such strong Obama supporters as Gelb and Hirsh reach these conclusions, you know things must be unraveling.

It’s no mystery as to why. President Obama’s approach to international relations is simplistic and misguided. It is premised on the belief that American concessions to our adversaries will beget goodwill and concessions in return; that American self-abasement is justified; that the American decline is inevitable (and in some respects welcome); and that diplomacy and multilateralism are ends rather than means to an end.

Right now the overwhelming issue on the public’s mind is the economy, where Obama is also having serious problems. But national-security issues matter a great deal, and they remain the unique responsibility of the president. With every passing month, Barack Obama looks more and more like his Democratic predecessor Jimmy Carter: irresolute, unsteady, and overmatched. The president and members of his own party will find out soon enough, though, that Obama the Impotent isn’t what they had in mind when they elected him. We are witnessing the unmasking, and perhaps the unmaking, of Barack Obama.

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Nice to Whom?

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

In a blistering column from Der Spiegel, we get another list of the disasters that comprise the Obama foreign-policy agenda. A Middle East gambit gone bad, spurned allies, a failed Iran-engagement plan, a widely ridiculed Asia trip, and on it goes. We’re told that Obama’s foreign policy has been too “nice,” and now his advisers fret about “a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with [George W.] Bush.” (Because Bush was decisive in turning around a failing war strategy, presided over a robust relationship with Israel, got along swimmingly with the Eastern Europeans, and spoke passionately about human rights — so the chance of Obama’s being confused with Bush isn’t great, right?)

Well, it’s not actually a “niceness” problem. After all, Obama hasn’t been very “nice” to our ally Israel, our partners the Poles and the Czechs (who took on missile defense only to have the rug pulled out from under them), the many Iranians demonstrating in the streets, as well as the human-rights advocates of China, the unified civilian government of Honduras (which really preferred not to have a Hugo Chavez lackey running the place), the Brits (“Here’s your Churchill bust back, chaps”), and the French (who are frustrated over the president’s lack of resolve regarding the mullahs).

The problem, instead, is that Obama imagined that he could get our adversaries to give up their interests (e.g., acquiring nuclear weapons, intimidating neighbors) by being meek and accommodating, and by downplaying our interests and generally denigrating America’s track record. Throw in some unilateral disarmament, a huge helping of Obama’s cringey ingratiation (to the mullahs, any monarch in a receiving line), some very not-nice comments about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s being a small-picture kind of guy, and you have foreign-policy demolition derby, which has left both the U.S. and our allies nursing wounds.

Obama’s domestic record — a failed stimulus, a huge deficit, skyrocketing unemployment — is rather shabby. But compared with his foreign policy, it’s a brilliant record of achievement.

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Let’s Just Hire Der Spiegel

The always interesting Claudia Rosett has come up with this year’s best suggestion for President Bush: buy a subscription to Der Spiegel—and get rid of the bureaucracy that produces U.S. National Intelligence Estimates.

As CONTENTIONS readers know, the American intelligence community, in an NIE released last December, stated that it had “high confidence” that Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003. As Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified at the Senate Intelligence Committee this month, weapons design is “the least significant” portion of a nuclear weapons program. The most important is obtaining fissile material. In Iran’s case that would be enriched uranium.

The NIE talked about that issue too. It said that Tehran would probably be able to produce enough uranium for a single bomb sometime “during the 2010-2015 time frame.” Yet not everyone agrees with this view. “New simulations carried out by European Union experts come to an alarming conclusion: Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year,” reports Spiegel Online.

The end-2008 prediction is based on an assumption that Tehran’s technicians have figured out all they need to know about their centrifuges. That appears unlikely. Yet as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in November, Iran has made substantial progress recently. Even if the European Union has overestimated Iran’s technical capabilities, it would seem that Tehran will be in a position to build a bomb before the end of this decade, not the middle of the next one. That conclusion fits in with Israel’s estimate of 2010.

In any event, the EU simulations inject some urgency into the efforts to disarm the mullahs. European Union nations are planning in May at the earliest to offer a package of economic incentives to Iran if it gives up enrichment. The United States for its part looks as if it will succeed in persuading a sufficient number of other members of the Security Council to pass a third set of sanctions. Yet nobody expects the new measures, if they are in fact adopted, will actually stop the Iranians. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday about the Western efforts at the U.N., “They could spend 100 years passing resolutions but it wouldn’t change anything.

What is changing at this moment is Iran’s technical capability to enrich uranium. Yet, outside Israel and the offices of Der Spiegel, there seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency in stopping Tehran.

The always interesting Claudia Rosett has come up with this year’s best suggestion for President Bush: buy a subscription to Der Spiegel—and get rid of the bureaucracy that produces U.S. National Intelligence Estimates.

As CONTENTIONS readers know, the American intelligence community, in an NIE released last December, stated that it had “high confidence” that Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003. As Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell testified at the Senate Intelligence Committee this month, weapons design is “the least significant” portion of a nuclear weapons program. The most important is obtaining fissile material. In Iran’s case that would be enriched uranium.

The NIE talked about that issue too. It said that Tehran would probably be able to produce enough uranium for a single bomb sometime “during the 2010-2015 time frame.” Yet not everyone agrees with this view. “New simulations carried out by European Union experts come to an alarming conclusion: Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb by the end of this year,” reports Spiegel Online.

The end-2008 prediction is based on an assumption that Tehran’s technicians have figured out all they need to know about their centrifuges. That appears unlikely. Yet as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in November, Iran has made substantial progress recently. Even if the European Union has overestimated Iran’s technical capabilities, it would seem that Tehran will be in a position to build a bomb before the end of this decade, not the middle of the next one. That conclusion fits in with Israel’s estimate of 2010.

In any event, the EU simulations inject some urgency into the efforts to disarm the mullahs. European Union nations are planning in May at the earliest to offer a package of economic incentives to Iran if it gives up enrichment. The United States for its part looks as if it will succeed in persuading a sufficient number of other members of the Security Council to pass a third set of sanctions. Yet nobody expects the new measures, if they are in fact adopted, will actually stop the Iranians. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday about the Western efforts at the U.N., “They could spend 100 years passing resolutions but it wouldn’t change anything.

What is changing at this moment is Iran’s technical capability to enrich uranium. Yet, outside Israel and the offices of Der Spiegel, there seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency in stopping Tehran.

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Hitler’s Record Collection?

It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

Read More

It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

The London Times trumpeted the story about Hitler’s record collection with headlines like “Hitler’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ turn up in a dead Russian soldier’s attic” and “A cultivated taste that went for very best,” lauding the dictator’s musical acumen. This praise was based on information that the collection includes recordings by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin singing Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish Jew, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and pianist Artur Schnabel, an Austrian Jew, performing a Mozart sonata. These recordings are available on CD from Naxos, Pearl, and Music & Arts Records respectively; they are exceptional performances from a time when the choice of major musical repertory on disc was limited.

The London Times goes so far as to praise Hitler as a recordings connoisseur: “Hitler appeared to enjoy a good tune.” This sentiment echoes such mock kudos from Mel Brooks’s The Producers as “Hitler was a better dancer than Churchill.” Other media reports managed to find a moral to the story. A headline in the Australian proclaimed that “Hitler relaxed to music of Jews”; the article that followed suggested he was guilty of hypocrisy. The cellist Steven Isserlis claims in the Guardian that “racial rules could be stretched where the glory and comfort of supermen were concerned.”

Do we really need new reasons to despise Hitler? The hoopla surrounding this record collection rates as the most frivolous innovation in Third Reich studies since Lothar Machtan’s 2001 The Hidden Hitler claimed that Hitler was gay (an idea also advanced by The Producers). Even during the slow news days of summer, the media would do well to maintain a sense of the ridiculous, as well as a healthy suspicion of reports originating from deceased Soviet intelligence officers.

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Thoughts in a Freiburg Cemetery

As the Jewish world commemorated the Holocaust last weekend, I happened to be at a conference in what was once the heart of darkness. Freiburg, a small town in Germany, was the scene of perhaps the most notorious single example of trahison des clercs, the betrayal of reason by the intellectuals.

In May 1933, Martin Heidegger inaugurated his term as rector of the university by extolling the “glory and greatness” of the new Nazi state and its Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, on behalf of professors and students alike. Heidegger immediately distanced himself from those of his former friends and colleagues who were Jewish—with the partial exception of his lover Hannah Arendt—and above all from Edmund Husserl, to whom he had dedicated his masterpiece, Being and Time, in “admiration and friendship” only five years before. Even today, his record makes painful reading, though he has never lacked for apologists.

Read More

As the Jewish world commemorated the Holocaust last weekend, I happened to be at a conference in what was once the heart of darkness. Freiburg, a small town in Germany, was the scene of perhaps the most notorious single example of trahison des clercs, the betrayal of reason by the intellectuals.

In May 1933, Martin Heidegger inaugurated his term as rector of the university by extolling the “glory and greatness” of the new Nazi state and its Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, on behalf of professors and students alike. Heidegger immediately distanced himself from those of his former friends and colleagues who were Jewish—with the partial exception of his lover Hannah Arendt—and above all from Edmund Husserl, to whom he had dedicated his masterpiece, Being and Time, in “admiration and friendship” only five years before. Even today, his record makes painful reading, though he has never lacked for apologists.

The odious pettiness of Heidegger’s personal conduct, and the moral collapse that it implied, was brought home to me by a visit to the little cemetery in Günterstal, a suburb of Freiburg. We were there to pay our respects at the grave of Walter Eucken, the great economist whose work inspired the post-war “economic miracle” and helped to set Germany back on the path of liberty and democracy.

A stone’s throw away from the memorial to Eucken is the Husserl family grave. A young scholar at the Walter Eucken Institute, Nils Goldschmidt, told me how Freiburg treated the founder of phenomenology, who was then the most famous living German philosopher. Having already retired when Hitler came to power, Husserl avoided the teaching ban that was imposed on Jewish professors, but he was not even allowed to use the university library. Socially, not only Heidegger but practically all the professors at Freiburg shunned Husserl—with the exception of Eucken, whose wife Edith was herself partly Jewish and who continued to pay visits to the Husserls. While Heidegger was busily excising all references to his former master from new editions of Being and Time, Eucken made a point of quoting Husserl.

When Husserl died in 1938, only two professors attended his funeral: the economist Eucken and the historian Gerhard Ritter. Long afterwards, in an interview he gave to Der Spiegel in 1966, Heidegger excused himself by claiming that it was the Husserls who had broken off relations, not the other way round. But he admitted that “it was a human failing that I did not express once more my gratitude and my admiration” at the time of Husserl’s death. I do not think Heidegger ever grasped the enormity of his “human failing,” of which his treatment of his teacher was only a symbol. But it is Heidegger the Nazi who still basks in the posthumous limelight, while the names of Husserl and Eucken are known only to specialists.

On a warm April evening in that lovely place surrounded by hills, the stillness broken only by the church bell, I tried to imagine the unimaginable repeating itself here in Europe. A lifetime—threescore years and ten—now separates us from the great betrayal. Just long enough for a combination of anxiety and amnesia to wipe out the memory of those days. In British schools, many teachers are afraid to talk about the history of anti-Semitism because they fear confrontation with their Muslim students, who have often been told at the mosque that the Shoah is a myth.

Even in Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime, there is vast ignorance about both the past and its implications for the present. Few are prepared to entertain the thought that, unless Iran and other Islamist states or terrorists are prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, our generation, too, may witness another Holocaust. They do not seem to grasp that this time, Israel’s fate is directly linked to Europe’s.

One retired German professor, just old enough to remember the Third Reich, has this week made a symbolic commitment to that shared destiny. Joseph Ratzinger, writing under his own name, not as Pope Benedict XVI, has published the first part of a book about Jesus Christ. To judge from extracts in the German press, the main import of this work is finally to lay to rest the age-old enmity of the Church and the Jews. For the first time, a Pope has not only portrayed Jesus as an observant Jew, “the living embodiment of the Torah,” but has written with humility and love about the Jews of Jesus’ time. Gone is the old caricature of the Pharisee as hypocrite and the “Old Testament morality” as un-Christian. John Paul II already embraced the living covenant and divine purpose of Israel. But Benedict has gone even further: in his view, only the person of Jesus divides Jew and Christian, and the universal mission of Jesus is entirely compatible with the special status of the Jewish people.

A lifetime separates Heidegger’s betrayal from Ratzinger’s reconciliation. How long before Europe recognizes the present danger to Jew and Christian alike, and unites against the common enemies of Western civilization?

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