Commentary Magazine


Topic: Doha

Smart-Power Whiplash

During her Senate confirmation hearing in January of 2009, Hillary Clinton described smart power — her preferred approach to American foreign policy — as “picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.” Two years later, we’re finally getting a sense of what this means. Recent events and statements have been clarifying.

When the situation is a conference on democracy, the right tool is a pro-democracy statement. Thus Clinton said to the attendees at this year’s Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. . . . The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

But when the situation is an actual and potentially democratic Arab revolt, the right tool is fence-sitting. When Clinton was asked for her thoughts on the popular uprising against the corrupt regime in Tunisia, she said, “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.”

When the situation is the announcement of planned elections after said uprising, the right tool is, once again, a pro-democracy statement. Today, after Clinton spoke with Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane and interim Tunisian leader Mohammed Ghannouchi, she told the press, “I’m encouraged by the direction that they are setting towards inclusive elections that will be held as soon as practicable.”

But when the situation is once again a potentially democratic Arab uprising, the right tool is urging restraint and giving cover to the repressive Arab regime being opposed. Today thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest the Mubarak government, and Reuters reports the following: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people’s aspirations.”

For those playing along at home, that’s defending democracy and Hosni Mubarak in the same day. Imagine how difficult it would be to practice smart power if you actually believed in something.

During her Senate confirmation hearing in January of 2009, Hillary Clinton described smart power — her preferred approach to American foreign policy — as “picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.” Two years later, we’re finally getting a sense of what this means. Recent events and statements have been clarifying.

When the situation is a conference on democracy, the right tool is a pro-democracy statement. Thus Clinton said to the attendees at this year’s Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. . . . The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

But when the situation is an actual and potentially democratic Arab revolt, the right tool is fence-sitting. When Clinton was asked for her thoughts on the popular uprising against the corrupt regime in Tunisia, she said, “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.”

When the situation is the announcement of planned elections after said uprising, the right tool is, once again, a pro-democracy statement. Today, after Clinton spoke with Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane and interim Tunisian leader Mohammed Ghannouchi, she told the press, “I’m encouraged by the direction that they are setting towards inclusive elections that will be held as soon as practicable.”

But when the situation is once again a potentially democratic Arab uprising, the right tool is urging restraint and giving cover to the repressive Arab regime being opposed. Today thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest the Mubarak government, and Reuters reports the following: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people’s aspirations.”

For those playing along at home, that’s defending democracy and Hosni Mubarak in the same day. Imagine how difficult it would be to practice smart power if you actually believed in something.

Read Less

RE: The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

Following up on Pete Wehner’s item about Sy Hersh: it’s hardly news that Hersh has, to put it mildly, a peculiar view of the world. Back in 2005, in this Los Angeles Times column, I wrote that Hersh is

the journalistic equivalent of Oliver Stone: a hard-left zealot who subscribes to the old counterculture conceit that a deep, dark conspiracy is running the U.S. government. In the 1960s the boogeyman was the “military-industrial complex.” Now it’s the “neoconservatives.” “They overran the bureaucracy, they overran the Congress, they overran the press, and they overran the military!” Hersh ranted at UC Berkeley on Oct. 8, 2004.

Hersh doesn’t make any bones about his bias. “Bush scares the hell out of me,” he said. He told a group in Washington, “I’m a better American than 99% of the guys in the White House,” who are “nuts” and “ideologues.” In another speech he called Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft “demented.” Hersh has also compared what happened at Abu Ghraib with Nazi Germany. (Were American MPs gassing inmates?) He has claimed that since 2001 a “secret unit” of the U.S. government “has been disappearing people just like the Brazilians and Argentinians did.” And in his lectures he has spread the legend of how a U.S. Army platoon was supposedly ordered to execute 30 Iraqis guarding a granary.

Similar nuttiness comes pouring out every time Hersh opens his mouth in public. His most recent speech, as Pete noted, was in Doha, where he made the rather imaginative charges that the Knights of Malta and Opus Dei run the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command and that Vice President Cheney had a plan to “change mosques into cathedrals” in Iraq. For wisdom like that, you normally have to turn to the likes of Jared Loughner. Not that Hersh is about to spray anyone with gunfire. What he does instead is spray venomous accusations around.

That, I suppose, is his prerogative. But what on earth is a supposedly reputable magazine like the New Yorker (to which I am, I admit, a subscriber) doing keeping him on its payroll? Shouldn’t Hersh’s rantings be limited to blogs and Twitter, where he would have plenty of company among the conspiracy crowd?

Read Less

The Unraveling of Seymour Hersh

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh seems to be unraveling. According to a story posted on Foreignpolicy.com, in a speech in Doha, Qatar, Hersh

delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

“Just when we needed an angry black man,” he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, “we didn’t get one.”

It quickly went downhill from there.

Blake Hounshell reports that Hersh, who is writing a book on what he calls the “Cheney-Bush years,” charged that U.S. foreign policy had been hijacked by a cabal of neoconservative “crusaders” in the former vice president’s office and now in the special operations community. “What I’m really talking about is how eight or nine neoconservative, radicals if you will, overthrew the American government. Took it over,” he said of his forthcoming book. “It’s not only that the neocons took it over but how easily they did it — how Congress disappeared, how the press became part of it, how the public acquiesced.”

During his remarks, Hersh brought up the widespread looting that took place in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. “In the Cheney shop, the attitude was, ‘What’s this? What are they all worried about, the politicians and the press, they’re all worried about some looting? … Don’t they get it? We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. And when we get all the oil, nobody’s gonna give a damn.'”

“That’s the attitude,” Hersh continued. “We’re gonna change mosques into cathedrals. That’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Joint Special Operations Command.”

Hersh also alleged that General Stanley McChrystal, who headed Joint Special Operations Command before becoming the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and his successor, Vice Admiral William McRaven, as well as many within JSOC, “are all members of, or at least supporters of, Knights of Malta.”

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They seem themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

“They have little insignias, these coins they pass among each other, which are crusader coins,” he continued. “They have insignia that reflect the whole notion that this is a culture war. … Right now, there’s a tremendous, tremendous amount of anti-Muslim feeling in the military community.”

These are the mutterings of a fevered, obsessive mind. His strange, conspiracy-plagued world is dominated by neo-conservatives and Opus Dei crusaders who are reliving the 13th century. Such writers now find a welcoming home at the New Yorker.

David Remnick must be so proud.

Read Less

For Once, Israel Prefers an Ally to an Enemy

Recent articles about the Obama administration’s preference for enemies over allies ring depressingly familiar to Israelis, whose country is a past master of that perverse art (see, for instance, its treatment of the South Lebanon Army and the Druze). Thus it was encouraging to learn that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has for once preferred an ally to an enemy, by twice rejecting Qatar’s offer to restore low-level relations.

Qatar opened trade relations with Israel in 1996, then severed them during Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. But about six months ago, Haaretz reported, Qatar offered to let Israel reopen its trade mission in Doha if Israel would let it bring large quantities of cement and other construction material into Gaza, grant it leadership over efforts to rebuild the Strip, acknowledge its regional status, and publicly laud its regional role. It reiterated this offer four months later. Both times, Israel refused.

The initial report attributed Israel’s refusal to security concerns: fear that Hamas would use the Qatari construction material “to build bunkers and reinforced positions for missile launches against Israel.” That in itself was encouraging: after 17 years of “risks for peace” that, without exception, led to suicide bombings and rocket barrages, it’s reassuring to know that this government puts security first. Still, reasonable people could disagree over whether the risk truly outweighed the benefits of relations with another Arab country.

But a subsequent report removed all doubts about the decision’s wisdom. The real reason for Israel’s refusal, it said, was not security but Egypt’s objection: at a time when Cairo is taking enormous flak from the Arab world for blockading Gaza’s southern border, at Israel’s request, it would be intolerable for Israel to let Qatar become the Arab world’s hero by breaking the blockade.

Israel has many legitimate grievances against Egypt, from its viciously anti-Semitic state-controlled press to its insane effort to make Israel, rather than Iran, the focus of this month’s NPT Review Conference. Nevertheless, Egypt has on balance proved a valuable ally. Qatar has proved the opposite.

Unlike Qatar, Egypt has never used Israel’s counterterrorism efforts as an excuse for severing its ties with Jerusalem. Moreover, it has led Arab opposition to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas front, whereas Qatar has cozied up to this front: for instance, Doha brokered the 2008 agreement that granted Hezbollah veto power over Lebanon’s government, and it is planning joint military exercises with Iran.

And unlike Qatar, which seeks to bolster Gaza’s Hamas government by rebuilding the Strip, Egypt, after some initial faltering, is now striving to undermine Hamas by enforcing the blockade. And it’s working: in part because Hamas can no longer smuggle large quantities of cash across the Egyptian border, its revenues have fallen steeply, forcing it to impose new taxes that have proved deeply unpopular.

Thus for all its flaws, the Egyptian alliance is worth preserving — and certainly shouldn’t be sacrificed to gain a “friend” like Qatar, which has consistently worked against Israel’s interests. That may seem self-evident. But given Israel’s history of favoring enemies over allies, Netanyahu’s government deserves kudos for recognizing it.

Recent articles about the Obama administration’s preference for enemies over allies ring depressingly familiar to Israelis, whose country is a past master of that perverse art (see, for instance, its treatment of the South Lebanon Army and the Druze). Thus it was encouraging to learn that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has for once preferred an ally to an enemy, by twice rejecting Qatar’s offer to restore low-level relations.

Qatar opened trade relations with Israel in 1996, then severed them during Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in January 2009. But about six months ago, Haaretz reported, Qatar offered to let Israel reopen its trade mission in Doha if Israel would let it bring large quantities of cement and other construction material into Gaza, grant it leadership over efforts to rebuild the Strip, acknowledge its regional status, and publicly laud its regional role. It reiterated this offer four months later. Both times, Israel refused.

The initial report attributed Israel’s refusal to security concerns: fear that Hamas would use the Qatari construction material “to build bunkers and reinforced positions for missile launches against Israel.” That in itself was encouraging: after 17 years of “risks for peace” that, without exception, led to suicide bombings and rocket barrages, it’s reassuring to know that this government puts security first. Still, reasonable people could disagree over whether the risk truly outweighed the benefits of relations with another Arab country.

But a subsequent report removed all doubts about the decision’s wisdom. The real reason for Israel’s refusal, it said, was not security but Egypt’s objection: at a time when Cairo is taking enormous flak from the Arab world for blockading Gaza’s southern border, at Israel’s request, it would be intolerable for Israel to let Qatar become the Arab world’s hero by breaking the blockade.

Israel has many legitimate grievances against Egypt, from its viciously anti-Semitic state-controlled press to its insane effort to make Israel, rather than Iran, the focus of this month’s NPT Review Conference. Nevertheless, Egypt has on balance proved a valuable ally. Qatar has proved the opposite.

Unlike Qatar, Egypt has never used Israel’s counterterrorism efforts as an excuse for severing its ties with Jerusalem. Moreover, it has led Arab opposition to the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas front, whereas Qatar has cozied up to this front: for instance, Doha brokered the 2008 agreement that granted Hezbollah veto power over Lebanon’s government, and it is planning joint military exercises with Iran.

And unlike Qatar, which seeks to bolster Gaza’s Hamas government by rebuilding the Strip, Egypt, after some initial faltering, is now striving to undermine Hamas by enforcing the blockade. And it’s working: in part because Hamas can no longer smuggle large quantities of cash across the Egyptian border, its revenues have fallen steeply, forcing it to impose new taxes that have proved deeply unpopular.

Thus for all its flaws, the Egyptian alliance is worth preserving — and certainly shouldn’t be sacrificed to gain a “friend” like Qatar, which has consistently worked against Israel’s interests. That may seem self-evident. But given Israel’s history of favoring enemies over allies, Netanyahu’s government deserves kudos for recognizing it.

Read Less

“Rescue” Jerusalem

What a difference a year makes. In January 2009, Arab League summitry was in disarray. Members assembling to discuss the Gaza crisis couldn’t even agree on holding a single, unified summit: “moderates” met in Kuwait that month and “radicals” in Doha, Qatar, with factional differences centering on suspicion of Iran and the rift between Fatah and Hamas. When the annual Arab League summit convened in March 2009, observers largely agreed with this assessment that the meeting ended ingloriously, yielding no decisions of substance.

The atmosphere is markedly different as the 2010 summit opens this week in Sirte, Libya. For one thing, with Libya acting as host, it appears that longstanding disputes between Muammar Qaddafi and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are being papered over. Lebanon’s President Suleiman will not attend the summit due to a Lebanese grudge against Qaddafi dating to 1978, but he’s the only holdout. Lebanon will probably send a lower-level delegation; pressure is mounting for a show of unity by the league’s membership. Saudi Arabia is also hard at work on brokering a last-minute reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas so that a unified Palestinian delegation can be assembled for the leaders’ meetings on March 27 and 28.

The push for unity, in conjunction with Libya’s de facto readmission to the ranks of the respectable, distinguishes this summit from its predecessors over the past decade. And there is no mistaking the basis on which Libya has been restored to the fold: Qaddafi has spent the past 18 months accusing Israel of fomenting strife in Africa, charging Israel with genocide in the UN, and agreeing with Bashar al-Assad that the Arab nations must “unite against Israel.”

Reports this week have concentrated on the upcoming summit’s agenda of unifying Arabs to “rescue Jerusalem.” The wording of that theme seems to have emerged after the Obama administration overreacted to Israel’s March 9 announcement on construction in East Jerusalem. A presentation outlining the “occupation” of Jerusalem since 1967 is now promised as a summit event, with the yet-to-be-assembled Palestinian delegation on the hook to brief it.

In light of the energy building for this summit, Tuesday’s news that the Arab League is seeking closer cooperation with Iran strikes an ominous note. The impetus for that move comes as much from the regional perception that U.S. policy is ineffective as from any other source. Obama proposes, moreover, to shore up the Arab nations against Iran by arming them, an approach hardly calculated to act as a brake on anti-Israel rhetoric or actions. With Russia making landmark arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Libya (as well as Kuwait and Algeria), conditions are ripening for partisan saber-rattling — as they deteriorate for honestly brokered negotiations and a peaceful resolution.

Support for Israel in the U.S. Congress is an encouraging sign after the barrage of rhetorical attacks from the Obama administration. But it’s the president whose signals are typically decisive for both allies and opponents abroad. The Arab League’s members have been reading Obama’s signals for more than a year now. Their posture in Sirte this weekend will be a reflection of the effect he has had.

What a difference a year makes. In January 2009, Arab League summitry was in disarray. Members assembling to discuss the Gaza crisis couldn’t even agree on holding a single, unified summit: “moderates” met in Kuwait that month and “radicals” in Doha, Qatar, with factional differences centering on suspicion of Iran and the rift between Fatah and Hamas. When the annual Arab League summit convened in March 2009, observers largely agreed with this assessment that the meeting ended ingloriously, yielding no decisions of substance.

The atmosphere is markedly different as the 2010 summit opens this week in Sirte, Libya. For one thing, with Libya acting as host, it appears that longstanding disputes between Muammar Qaddafi and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are being papered over. Lebanon’s President Suleiman will not attend the summit due to a Lebanese grudge against Qaddafi dating to 1978, but he’s the only holdout. Lebanon will probably send a lower-level delegation; pressure is mounting for a show of unity by the league’s membership. Saudi Arabia is also hard at work on brokering a last-minute reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas so that a unified Palestinian delegation can be assembled for the leaders’ meetings on March 27 and 28.

The push for unity, in conjunction with Libya’s de facto readmission to the ranks of the respectable, distinguishes this summit from its predecessors over the past decade. And there is no mistaking the basis on which Libya has been restored to the fold: Qaddafi has spent the past 18 months accusing Israel of fomenting strife in Africa, charging Israel with genocide in the UN, and agreeing with Bashar al-Assad that the Arab nations must “unite against Israel.”

Reports this week have concentrated on the upcoming summit’s agenda of unifying Arabs to “rescue Jerusalem.” The wording of that theme seems to have emerged after the Obama administration overreacted to Israel’s March 9 announcement on construction in East Jerusalem. A presentation outlining the “occupation” of Jerusalem since 1967 is now promised as a summit event, with the yet-to-be-assembled Palestinian delegation on the hook to brief it.

In light of the energy building for this summit, Tuesday’s news that the Arab League is seeking closer cooperation with Iran strikes an ominous note. The impetus for that move comes as much from the regional perception that U.S. policy is ineffective as from any other source. Obama proposes, moreover, to shore up the Arab nations against Iran by arming them, an approach hardly calculated to act as a brake on anti-Israel rhetoric or actions. With Russia making landmark arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Libya (as well as Kuwait and Algeria), conditions are ripening for partisan saber-rattling — as they deteriorate for honestly brokered negotiations and a peaceful resolution.

Support for Israel in the U.S. Congress is an encouraging sign after the barrage of rhetorical attacks from the Obama administration. But it’s the president whose signals are typically decisive for both allies and opponents abroad. The Arab League’s members have been reading Obama’s signals for more than a year now. Their posture in Sirte this weekend will be a reflection of the effect he has had.

Read Less

Joe Klein’s Unhinged Attack on COMMENTARY

On Thursday, I wrote about the latest column of Joe Klein on Time magazine, in which he took on the Obama administration’s refusal to “engage” with the Hamas terrorists in charge of Gaza. While covering a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Qatar, Klein ignored the main story of Clinton’s talking tough about Iran and instead focused on her defense of Israel and on America’s continued support for efforts to isolate Hamas. As I concluded then, “what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas.”

This rather gentle rebuke provoked the notoriously thin-skinned Klein to respond in a post on the Time website, in which he returned to the style that has become all too familiar to readers of his work in recent years. Rather than engage on the issues or face up to the faults in his reasoning, he claims that responses are full of errors and chooses to launch wild attacks on his antagonists and to pose as the victim of extremists who accuse him of anti-Semitism. It is useful to go through his litany of false charges and calumnies to see just how out of whack his thinking is these days.

First, as to the “errors” he charges me with, they don’t amount to much.

One is that, according to him, I was wrong to say that he was “along on the junket with Hillary” — since, he says, he was not part of the secretary’s traveling party. Fair enough. But the point of this was to point out that he was in Qatar on a junket to attend the conference at which she spoke, not to imply that he and Hillary were sitting next to each other on the plane or sharing a hotel suite. And, as Klein then admits, his presence at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum was in the capacity of an invited member of a conference working group, not as a member of the working press.

Next, he says that I falsely claimed that he criticized Clinton’s remarks on Iran. Wrong. What I said was that “Klein wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran.”

Then he claims that I did not mention that the delegates to the conference were displeased by Clinton’s remarks on Gaza. But my mention of that displeasure was the whole point of my piece and I noted that they were unhappy with it (more about that statement in a minute).

Then Klein claims that I said he blamed Israel for the Gaza impasse. But what I said was that Klein blamed Israel for “Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East,” which referenced Klein’s own line that “U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s slow-moving effort to start talks tanked because of Israel’s unwillingness to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land.” He says instead that he blamed the Gaza standoff on Hamas for not releasing Gilad Shalit but, as I pointed out, what he wrote was that he considered the Shalit ordeal to be “an insane sticking point” to be holding up progress toward lifting the blockade of Hamas in Gaza.

According to Klein, my post was merely “bile and bullying” and amounted to me accusing him of being “anti-Semitic.” but as Eric Fingerhut wrote of his crazed response:

Whoa! Anti-Israel? Anti-Semitic? Where’d you get that, Joe? Tobin’s piece said your proposal to engage with Hamas was a bad one because it wasn’t in America’s interest to help out terrorists. Tobin may be right, he may be wrong, but he never said anything about you being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” anywhere in the piece. He didn’t even imply it. He just didn’t like your ideas, and didn’t like your statement that Israel was at fault for the failure of George Mitchell’s efforts. But in your attempt to make yourself out to be some courageous truth-teller, you claim you’ve been smeared — when you’re the one doing the smearing.

But if you think that canard from Klein was bad, the worst was yet to come. Klein then writes:

The barely concealed anti-Arab bigotry so frequently found on the COMMENTARY blog, reveals itself in this sentence: “That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein.” In fact, it was a U.S.-Islamic Forum: Arabs comprised maybe half the Islamic delegates.

What? Does Klein really think it is bigoted to refer to Arabs as “Arabs?” It may well be that there were non-Arabs at the conference but it was Klein who wrote in his column that “Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.” Not only was my reference entirely neutral as opposed to prejudicial, but it was based on Klein’s own comment.

Unlike Klein’s response, my original post never attacked him personally; I just took aim at his wrongheaded advice to Obama. And far from throwing “calumnies” at the president, I defended Obama’s current stand on Hamas. In return, he falsely accuses COMMENTARY of errors and makes bizarre charges of bigotry. This is something he has done before with others who have criticized him, especially for his attacks on Israeli policy and American supporters of Israel. One would expect that any sensible writer would, after some consideration, back down and apologize for his slurs against me and this magazine, even while defending his ideas. But given the unhinged and hate-filled nature of his writing on this subject, I have no such expectation.

On Thursday, I wrote about the latest column of Joe Klein on Time magazine, in which he took on the Obama administration’s refusal to “engage” with the Hamas terrorists in charge of Gaza. While covering a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Qatar, Klein ignored the main story of Clinton’s talking tough about Iran and instead focused on her defense of Israel and on America’s continued support for efforts to isolate Hamas. As I concluded then, “what Klein fails to understand is that no matter who sits in the White House, it is not in America’s interest to rescue the killers of Hamas.”

This rather gentle rebuke provoked the notoriously thin-skinned Klein to respond in a post on the Time website, in which he returned to the style that has become all too familiar to readers of his work in recent years. Rather than engage on the issues or face up to the faults in his reasoning, he claims that responses are full of errors and chooses to launch wild attacks on his antagonists and to pose as the victim of extremists who accuse him of anti-Semitism. It is useful to go through his litany of false charges and calumnies to see just how out of whack his thinking is these days.

First, as to the “errors” he charges me with, they don’t amount to much.

One is that, according to him, I was wrong to say that he was “along on the junket with Hillary” — since, he says, he was not part of the secretary’s traveling party. Fair enough. But the point of this was to point out that he was in Qatar on a junket to attend the conference at which she spoke, not to imply that he and Hillary were sitting next to each other on the plane or sharing a hotel suite. And, as Klein then admits, his presence at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum was in the capacity of an invited member of a conference working group, not as a member of the working press.

Next, he says that I falsely claimed that he criticized Clinton’s remarks on Iran. Wrong. What I said was that “Klein wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran.”

Then he claims that I did not mention that the delegates to the conference were displeased by Clinton’s remarks on Gaza. But my mention of that displeasure was the whole point of my piece and I noted that they were unhappy with it (more about that statement in a minute).

Then Klein claims that I said he blamed Israel for the Gaza impasse. But what I said was that Klein blamed Israel for “Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East,” which referenced Klein’s own line that “U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s slow-moving effort to start talks tanked because of Israel’s unwillingness to stop building illegal settlements on Palestinian land.” He says instead that he blamed the Gaza standoff on Hamas for not releasing Gilad Shalit but, as I pointed out, what he wrote was that he considered the Shalit ordeal to be “an insane sticking point” to be holding up progress toward lifting the blockade of Hamas in Gaza.

According to Klein, my post was merely “bile and bullying” and amounted to me accusing him of being “anti-Semitic.” but as Eric Fingerhut wrote of his crazed response:

Whoa! Anti-Israel? Anti-Semitic? Where’d you get that, Joe? Tobin’s piece said your proposal to engage with Hamas was a bad one because it wasn’t in America’s interest to help out terrorists. Tobin may be right, he may be wrong, but he never said anything about you being “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” anywhere in the piece. He didn’t even imply it. He just didn’t like your ideas, and didn’t like your statement that Israel was at fault for the failure of George Mitchell’s efforts. But in your attempt to make yourself out to be some courageous truth-teller, you claim you’ve been smeared — when you’re the one doing the smearing.

But if you think that canard from Klein was bad, the worst was yet to come. Klein then writes:

The barely concealed anti-Arab bigotry so frequently found on the COMMENTARY blog, reveals itself in this sentence: “That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein.” In fact, it was a U.S.-Islamic Forum: Arabs comprised maybe half the Islamic delegates.

What? Does Klein really think it is bigoted to refer to Arabs as “Arabs?” It may well be that there were non-Arabs at the conference but it was Klein who wrote in his column that “Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.” Not only was my reference entirely neutral as opposed to prejudicial, but it was based on Klein’s own comment.

Unlike Klein’s response, my original post never attacked him personally; I just took aim at his wrongheaded advice to Obama. And far from throwing “calumnies” at the president, I defended Obama’s current stand on Hamas. In return, he falsely accuses COMMENTARY of errors and makes bizarre charges of bigotry. This is something he has done before with others who have criticized him, especially for his attacks on Israeli policy and American supporters of Israel. One would expect that any sensible writer would, after some consideration, back down and apologize for his slurs against me and this magazine, even while defending his ideas. But given the unhinged and hate-filled nature of his writing on this subject, I have no such expectation.

Read Less

Klein of Arabia

Do you like fairy tales? Here’s one written by an American, Joe Klein, who went to the Middle East and got lost in a sandstorm. He writes that

Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.

How does he know this? Did he poll the Arabs at Doha? This claim — that Gaza is the most important thing to the Arabs, and whatever is most important for the Arabs is what should be most important for the U.S. — is a premise of his piece. It’s not an unimportant question. But during Hillary Clinton’s visit, the Saudis spoke bluntly in public about Iran and said nothing about Gaza. More important, much of public opinion in authoritarian Arab countries is a product of regime manipulation and propaganda. Klein is in essence arguing that the United States should validate anti-Israel propaganda by allowing Arab public opinion to dictate U.S. interests. He continues about Gaza, asserting that

the best way to resolve Gaza is for the U.S. to quietly convince Hamas that if it gives up Shalit — a huge issue for the Israelis — the U.S. would work to persuade Israel to lift the siege.

But Hamas has never been willing to give up Shalit merely in exchange for lifting the siege. Hamas has always required a prisoner swap of around a thousand terrorists. How could the United States’s “quiet convincing” cause Hamas to abandon its central, most important demand? Klein seems to think that strategy is based on passionate arguments, not the cold calculation of interests.

Three of the four interested parties — the Israelis, the West Bank Palestinians and Egypt — are more than happy to let Hamas suffer in perpetuity. That may make political sense in the short term, but it is creating an intractable long-term problem: the rise of a new generation that’s even more radical than Hamas and even more angry at Israel.

I hate to keep asking the same question, but how does he know this? The polling data show that Hamas has actually lost popularity in Gaza. One could just as easily write about “the rise of a new generation that’s even more disgusted with Hamas and even more disposed to a two-state solution.” Klein has no idea which is true, or if they’re both false, so he just writes whatever makes his argument look good.

He wraps it up with a final flourish of inanity:

The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress.

For this statement to make any sense, it would have to be true that the United States, Israel, Syria, and Hamas all have the same definition of progress. Joe Klein, like many desperate souls lost in the desert, is seeing mirages.

Do you like fairy tales? Here’s one written by an American, Joe Klein, who went to the Middle East and got lost in a sandstorm. He writes that

Clinton’s tough talk on Iran got most of the U.S. headlines, but her position on Gaza was far more important to the Islamic participants at Doha, especially the Arabs.

How does he know this? Did he poll the Arabs at Doha? This claim — that Gaza is the most important thing to the Arabs, and whatever is most important for the Arabs is what should be most important for the U.S. — is a premise of his piece. It’s not an unimportant question. But during Hillary Clinton’s visit, the Saudis spoke bluntly in public about Iran and said nothing about Gaza. More important, much of public opinion in authoritarian Arab countries is a product of regime manipulation and propaganda. Klein is in essence arguing that the United States should validate anti-Israel propaganda by allowing Arab public opinion to dictate U.S. interests. He continues about Gaza, asserting that

the best way to resolve Gaza is for the U.S. to quietly convince Hamas that if it gives up Shalit — a huge issue for the Israelis — the U.S. would work to persuade Israel to lift the siege.

But Hamas has never been willing to give up Shalit merely in exchange for lifting the siege. Hamas has always required a prisoner swap of around a thousand terrorists. How could the United States’s “quiet convincing” cause Hamas to abandon its central, most important demand? Klein seems to think that strategy is based on passionate arguments, not the cold calculation of interests.

Three of the four interested parties — the Israelis, the West Bank Palestinians and Egypt — are more than happy to let Hamas suffer in perpetuity. That may make political sense in the short term, but it is creating an intractable long-term problem: the rise of a new generation that’s even more radical than Hamas and even more angry at Israel.

I hate to keep asking the same question, but how does he know this? The polling data show that Hamas has actually lost popularity in Gaza. One could just as easily write about “the rise of a new generation that’s even more disgusted with Hamas and even more disposed to a two-state solution.” Klein has no idea which is true, or if they’re both false, so he just writes whatever makes his argument look good.

He wraps it up with a final flourish of inanity:

The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress.

For this statement to make any sense, it would have to be true that the United States, Israel, Syria, and Hamas all have the same definition of progress. Joe Klein, like many desperate souls lost in the desert, is seeing mirages.

Read Less

Heavy Meddle in Iran

The following is not hyperbole: the U.S. secretary of state has praised the freedom and pluralism of Iran’s Khomeinist revolution. In a lamentation for the passing of the good ol’ days, Hillary Clinton told an audience in Doha, Qatar, that today’s Iran is “a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.”

However, it’s what this praise is offered in service of that’s most reprehensible: the reassertion of centralized power by Tehran’s autocratic clerics and politicians. Clinton has determined that a Revolutionary Guard coup is underway, and she urged the government to “take back the authority which they should be exercising on behalf of the people.”

Because we know how admirably it wields such authority.

The way the Obama administration sees things, the pre–June 12 mullahgarchy was fine and dandy. Sure, it was “death to America, death to Israel” every day, and there were public child-hangings and other exotic goodies that go with any “great country”; but with a little “mutual respect” and “open-hand” treatment, the mullahs would deal on the nuclear issue. So when hordes of democratic protesters took to the streets to topple Washington’s negotiating partners, the administration would have none of it. President Obama would “bear witness” as the regime broke Iranian skulls and leave things at that. As Reuel Marc Gerecht put it, Obama “gives the distinct impression that he’d rather have a nuclear deal with Khamenei than see the messiness that comes when autocracy gives way to representative government.” A weak argument could be mounted in Obama’s defense if a nuclear deal with Khamenei were even the vaguest possibility.

Meanwhile, Obama fans applauded the president’s prudence and put their faith in, of all things, online social networking to spur regime change in Iran. As we learned from the poor February 11 protest turnout in Iran, it takes more than Twitter to change history.

Iran’s democratic revolution is ailing, yet Hillary Clinton is still worried about weaknesses in the Iranian regime. The Revolutionary Guard, she has decided, has wrested control from clerics and politicians; this cannot stand. Hence, the secretary of State’s confused endorsement.

Among the many points that elude the Obama administration is that the Revolutionary Guard serves as the Praetorian Guard for the very politicians Clinton is now rallying behind. While the internal balance of power of the Iranian regime is fluid, the essential fact remains that a brutal, theocratic machine is engaged in the violent crackdown of a pro-democracy movement. The more disturbing complication here is that America has taken every opportunity to align itself with the former party against the latter. Try to imagine what Iran’s democratic protesters hear when the American administration that gave them no support now urges the regime in Tehran to remain strong.

What a historically tragic test case for “smart power.” Having likely missed the opportunity to support Iran’s democratic revolution before it atomized, the administration now gets behind the Khomeinist Revolution. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains strong, the Revolutionary Guard sees to his dirty work, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad keeps the centrifuges spinning. Instead of supporting Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in hopes of negotiation, the U.S. should do everything in its power to turn Iran’s virtual democratic revolution into a real one. But that, alas, constitutes meddling. And we don’t do that anymore. This is how things end. Not with a bang but a Twitter.

The following is not hyperbole: the U.S. secretary of state has praised the freedom and pluralism of Iran’s Khomeinist revolution. In a lamentation for the passing of the good ol’ days, Hillary Clinton told an audience in Doha, Qatar, that today’s Iran is “a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.”

However, it’s what this praise is offered in service of that’s most reprehensible: the reassertion of centralized power by Tehran’s autocratic clerics and politicians. Clinton has determined that a Revolutionary Guard coup is underway, and she urged the government to “take back the authority which they should be exercising on behalf of the people.”

Because we know how admirably it wields such authority.

The way the Obama administration sees things, the pre–June 12 mullahgarchy was fine and dandy. Sure, it was “death to America, death to Israel” every day, and there were public child-hangings and other exotic goodies that go with any “great country”; but with a little “mutual respect” and “open-hand” treatment, the mullahs would deal on the nuclear issue. So when hordes of democratic protesters took to the streets to topple Washington’s negotiating partners, the administration would have none of it. President Obama would “bear witness” as the regime broke Iranian skulls and leave things at that. As Reuel Marc Gerecht put it, Obama “gives the distinct impression that he’d rather have a nuclear deal with Khamenei than see the messiness that comes when autocracy gives way to representative government.” A weak argument could be mounted in Obama’s defense if a nuclear deal with Khamenei were even the vaguest possibility.

Meanwhile, Obama fans applauded the president’s prudence and put their faith in, of all things, online social networking to spur regime change in Iran. As we learned from the poor February 11 protest turnout in Iran, it takes more than Twitter to change history.

Iran’s democratic revolution is ailing, yet Hillary Clinton is still worried about weaknesses in the Iranian regime. The Revolutionary Guard, she has decided, has wrested control from clerics and politicians; this cannot stand. Hence, the secretary of State’s confused endorsement.

Among the many points that elude the Obama administration is that the Revolutionary Guard serves as the Praetorian Guard for the very politicians Clinton is now rallying behind. While the internal balance of power of the Iranian regime is fluid, the essential fact remains that a brutal, theocratic machine is engaged in the violent crackdown of a pro-democracy movement. The more disturbing complication here is that America has taken every opportunity to align itself with the former party against the latter. Try to imagine what Iran’s democratic protesters hear when the American administration that gave them no support now urges the regime in Tehran to remain strong.

What a historically tragic test case for “smart power.” Having likely missed the opportunity to support Iran’s democratic revolution before it atomized, the administration now gets behind the Khomeinist Revolution. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains strong, the Revolutionary Guard sees to his dirty work, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad keeps the centrifuges spinning. Instead of supporting Khamenei and Ahmadinejad in hopes of negotiation, the U.S. should do everything in its power to turn Iran’s virtual democratic revolution into a real one. But that, alas, constitutes meddling. And we don’t do that anymore. This is how things end. Not with a bang but a Twitter.

Read Less

The Middle East Needs Dubai

There is a large element of Schadenfreude in the media coverage of Dubai’s financial mess. The Gulf emirate has suspended payment on the debt of its flagship holding company, Dubai World, causing financial jitters around the world and raising suspicions that its balance sheet is a lot worse than it has been letting on. For years Dubai has been on a spending binge, which includes building the world’s tallest building, an indoor ski slope, and a series of artificial islands in “an artificial archipelago that would reconfigure the Persian Gulf coast into a thicket of trees, a map of the world, a whirling galaxy, a scythe and a sun that looks like a spider.”

It is easy to look down one’s nose at the excesses of this global parvenu, which is trying to become the Hong Kong or Singapore of the Middle East, thereby usurping Beirut’s traditional position as the place where Arabs unwind. When I visited Dubai a couple of years ago with a group of foreign-policy analysts, we were all amazed by the frenetic pace of construction. A sizable proportion of the world’s building cranes had been arrayed in this city-state and they were putting up too many skyscrapers to count. It was pretty obvious that the good times wouldn’t last forever, and they haven’t. The result of a building boom, we all know, is a glut of new structures, a lack of tenants, and a crash. That’s what has happened in the U.S. with residential homes in the past few years and now it appears to be happening with commercial real estate in Dubai.

So much, so familiar. But still for all of Dubai’s excesses it is a wonder that it has gotten this far. It deserves not ill-disguised glee at its misfortunes but a degree of respect for its willingness to flout traditional Arab taboos. It is, for example, a place where Emiratis in white robes rub shoulders with Russian hookers in mini-skirts — a place where it’s perfectly possible to get a nice cocktail (and not a “mocktail,” as in Kuwait) in a public bar, and to do so in the middle of Ramadan if you’re feeling parched at that point. No doubt some of Dubai’s competitors, the likes of Doha and Kuwait City and its sister emirate Abu Dhabi, are licking their chops at the prospect of benefitting from Dubai’s downturn but they will be hard put to it to match its dynamism because they remain much more in thrall to traditional Arab/Muslim pieties: a combination of religious and tribal traditions that have made the Middle East a laggard in many dimensions of development. Dubai has been a leader in the Arab world with respect to embracing modernity — which has repercussions both good and bad but in general is a force for positive change. We should all hope that it will get on its feet again soon. The Middle East needs Dubai.

There is a large element of Schadenfreude in the media coverage of Dubai’s financial mess. The Gulf emirate has suspended payment on the debt of its flagship holding company, Dubai World, causing financial jitters around the world and raising suspicions that its balance sheet is a lot worse than it has been letting on. For years Dubai has been on a spending binge, which includes building the world’s tallest building, an indoor ski slope, and a series of artificial islands in “an artificial archipelago that would reconfigure the Persian Gulf coast into a thicket of trees, a map of the world, a whirling galaxy, a scythe and a sun that looks like a spider.”

It is easy to look down one’s nose at the excesses of this global parvenu, which is trying to become the Hong Kong or Singapore of the Middle East, thereby usurping Beirut’s traditional position as the place where Arabs unwind. When I visited Dubai a couple of years ago with a group of foreign-policy analysts, we were all amazed by the frenetic pace of construction. A sizable proportion of the world’s building cranes had been arrayed in this city-state and they were putting up too many skyscrapers to count. It was pretty obvious that the good times wouldn’t last forever, and they haven’t. The result of a building boom, we all know, is a glut of new structures, a lack of tenants, and a crash. That’s what has happened in the U.S. with residential homes in the past few years and now it appears to be happening with commercial real estate in Dubai.

So much, so familiar. But still for all of Dubai’s excesses it is a wonder that it has gotten this far. It deserves not ill-disguised glee at its misfortunes but a degree of respect for its willingness to flout traditional Arab taboos. It is, for example, a place where Emiratis in white robes rub shoulders with Russian hookers in mini-skirts — a place where it’s perfectly possible to get a nice cocktail (and not a “mocktail,” as in Kuwait) in a public bar, and to do so in the middle of Ramadan if you’re feeling parched at that point. No doubt some of Dubai’s competitors, the likes of Doha and Kuwait City and its sister emirate Abu Dhabi, are licking their chops at the prospect of benefitting from Dubai’s downturn but they will be hard put to it to match its dynamism because they remain much more in thrall to traditional Arab/Muslim pieties: a combination of religious and tribal traditions that have made the Middle East a laggard in many dimensions of development. Dubai has been a leader in the Arab world with respect to embracing modernity — which has repercussions both good and bad but in general is a force for positive change. We should all hope that it will get on its feet again soon. The Middle East needs Dubai.

Read Less

Sarkozy: Still French

Throughout the six-month Lebanese presidential crisis, France remained the lone western party actively engaged in monitoring the Lebanese political process. In this vein, French President Nicholas Sarkozy pushed for the Hezbollah-led opposition to accept the will of the parliamentary majority and elect consensus candidate Michel Suleiman president without preconditions. In late December, Sarkozy demonstrated impressive guts when he publicly blamed Syria for the ongoing crisis and suspended contacts with Damascus until it ended its interference–all with Egypt’s diplomatic support. The move left Syria stunned, and France seemed to finally have a president who was willing to play hardball with anti-western forces.

Well, Sarkozy’s response to last week’s Doha agreement–which resolved the political crisis in terms favorable to Hezbollah–should dash such fantasies. Yesterday, Sarkozy phoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to thank him for his “tireless efforts” in support of the Doha agreement, vowing to strengthen economic and political ties between Damascus and Paris and restoring full diplomatic relations. This only adds to the political windfall that Syria achieved through the Doha agreement–which strengthened its allies within Lebanon–and the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency proudly posted photos of long-lost friends Sarkozy and Assad atop its website.

Make no mistake: Sarkozy’s phone call to Assad represents a diplomatic retreat of epic proportions, as Sarkozy has entirely negated his strong stance against Syria’s role in Lebanon while achieving none of his demands! Indeed, the Doha agreement–which grants Hezbollah veto power within the current cabinet–has all the telltale signs of Syrian interference. Moreover, as the Doha agreement gives Hezbollah substantial influence in formulating a new elections law, Syria has acquired a new means for interfering in Lebanese politics for many years to come.

Ultimately, Sarkozy seems to have embraced the Doha agreement for the same reason that the Bush administration has: because it resolved the Lebanese political crisis without a civil war, which-thanks to constantly increasing support from Iran via Syria-Hezbollah might have won. Yet, unlike the Bush administration–which bizarrely sat on the sidelines throughout the presidential standoff–Sarkozy made clear demands of Syria. To surrender those demands completely in favor of the Doha agreement’s short-term quiet is the ultimate appeasement.

Throughout the six-month Lebanese presidential crisis, France remained the lone western party actively engaged in monitoring the Lebanese political process. In this vein, French President Nicholas Sarkozy pushed for the Hezbollah-led opposition to accept the will of the parliamentary majority and elect consensus candidate Michel Suleiman president without preconditions. In late December, Sarkozy demonstrated impressive guts when he publicly blamed Syria for the ongoing crisis and suspended contacts with Damascus until it ended its interference–all with Egypt’s diplomatic support. The move left Syria stunned, and France seemed to finally have a president who was willing to play hardball with anti-western forces.

Well, Sarkozy’s response to last week’s Doha agreement–which resolved the political crisis in terms favorable to Hezbollah–should dash such fantasies. Yesterday, Sarkozy phoned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to thank him for his “tireless efforts” in support of the Doha agreement, vowing to strengthen economic and political ties between Damascus and Paris and restoring full diplomatic relations. This only adds to the political windfall that Syria achieved through the Doha agreement–which strengthened its allies within Lebanon–and the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency proudly posted photos of long-lost friends Sarkozy and Assad atop its website.

Make no mistake: Sarkozy’s phone call to Assad represents a diplomatic retreat of epic proportions, as Sarkozy has entirely negated his strong stance against Syria’s role in Lebanon while achieving none of his demands! Indeed, the Doha agreement–which grants Hezbollah veto power within the current cabinet–has all the telltale signs of Syrian interference. Moreover, as the Doha agreement gives Hezbollah substantial influence in formulating a new elections law, Syria has acquired a new means for interfering in Lebanese politics for many years to come.

Ultimately, Sarkozy seems to have embraced the Doha agreement for the same reason that the Bush administration has: because it resolved the Lebanese political crisis without a civil war, which-thanks to constantly increasing support from Iran via Syria-Hezbollah might have won. Yet, unlike the Bush administration–which bizarrely sat on the sidelines throughout the presidential standoff–Sarkozy made clear demands of Syria. To surrender those demands completely in favor of the Doha agreement’s short-term quiet is the ultimate appeasement.

Read Less

Hezbollah’s Victory

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14’s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

Lebanon’s “March 14” majority coalition in parliament managed to hammer out a temporary agreement with the Hezbollah-led opposition in Doha, Qatar, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to raise a toast to the new peace in Beirut just yet. The streets are quiet and normal again for the most part, but none of Lebanon’s most serious problems have been resolved. While diplomats from Washington to Riyadh are pretending, for form’s sake, that this is a terrific breakthrough for stability and national unity, Charles Malik put it more bluntly and honestly at the Lebanese Political Journal. “The Doha negotiations were never meant to solve everything,” he wrote. “They were meant to stall the violence until after the summer tourist season is over.”

Supposedly this agreement, like most of Lebanon’s arrangements, is a compromise that leaves both parties unsatisfied. But I’m having a hard time figuring out what, exactly, Hezbollah has to be gloomy about. Eighteen months ago thousands of Hezbollah supporters built a tent city downtown and forced the semi-permanent closure of much of the city center. They demanded enough seats in the cabinet to wield veto power over any decision the government makes, despite the fact that they couldn’t win enough seats in the last election to earn it. Well, they finally got their long-demanded blocking minority status in Doha, so they happily took down their tent city. If this weren’t a victory, they’d still be seething downtown.

And it’s a dangerous precedent. A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

March 14’s biggest supposed “victory” at Doha is the election to the presidency of Lebanese Army Commander Michel Suleiman, who himself was always considered a compromise candidate. The majority coalition would never elect him if they could pick whomever they want. Suleiman is well-known as a moderate pro-Syrian. He may be an improvement over Lebanon’s last president, Emile Lahoud, who was nothing if not a tool of Syria’s tyrant Bashar Assad, but frankly no one could be worse than Lahoud outside the ranks of the blatantly fascist Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Hezbollah still gets to keep the unilaterally installed high-tech surveillance system in Lebanon’s only international airport, and of course its fighters will hold onto their illegal weapons. With freshly minted blocking minority powers, Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has effectively neutralized any and all government power that gets in the way of his own. He can’t rule the whole country; nobody can. But he and his militia have the radical freedom to do whatever they please. They can unilaterally start wars with other countries and murder anyone in Lebanon who gets in the way. Hezbollah’s power is now at its apogee.

It may take a while, but something will give. If disgruntled radical Sunnis don’t pick a fight with their belligerent Shia counterparts, Hezbollah will eventually face the Israel Defense Forces again. No one can know what exactly will happen and when, but more war is inevitable as long as violent “resistance” is Hezbollah’s raison d’être.

During Nasrallah’s July 2006 war against Israel, thousands of Shia refugees from Hezbollah’s bombarded strongholds fled north to Beirut as refugees. Christian and Sunni Lebanese took these people in despite anger at Hezbollah for starting a war no one else wanted. Don’t expect that to happen again. Hezbollah’s supporters may find themselves facing conflict on two fronts next time the Israel Defense Forces show up in a bad mood.

Read Less

Lebanon Recriminations

To add to Eric’s great post below, and to the thoughts of Michael Young and David Schenker, I think it’s appropriate, in the midst of the false denouement of the latest crisis, to take a moment and look at the dreadful behavior of the United Nations.

Remember UN Security Council Resolution 1559? It was passed way back in 2004, and it required the disarmament of Hezbollah. It was ignored. Then there is UNIFIL, the special UN blue-helmet force that, since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, has sat in southern Lebanon doing little other than timidly dissuading Hezbollah from rebuilding its infrastructure in plain view on Israel’s border. When Hezbollah wants UNIFIL to leave, UNIFIL will leave. Before the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, UNIFIL did even less, and in one famous case actually collaborated with Hezbollah in the murder of Israeli soldiers. The 2006 war ended under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which authorized an “enhanced” UNIFIL that was tasked with preventing Hezbollah’s re-armament. That resolution was violated before its approval made it into the morning papers, and continues to be ignored with impunity by everyone from Iran and Syria to UNIFIL itself; Hezbollah today is better-armed than it was before the 2006 war.

Whatever else one wants to say about the Doha meeting, at least it didn’t involve the United Nations.

To add to Eric’s great post below, and to the thoughts of Michael Young and David Schenker, I think it’s appropriate, in the midst of the false denouement of the latest crisis, to take a moment and look at the dreadful behavior of the United Nations.

Remember UN Security Council Resolution 1559? It was passed way back in 2004, and it required the disarmament of Hezbollah. It was ignored. Then there is UNIFIL, the special UN blue-helmet force that, since the end of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, has sat in southern Lebanon doing little other than timidly dissuading Hezbollah from rebuilding its infrastructure in plain view on Israel’s border. When Hezbollah wants UNIFIL to leave, UNIFIL will leave. Before the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, UNIFIL did even less, and in one famous case actually collaborated with Hezbollah in the murder of Israeli soldiers. The 2006 war ended under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which authorized an “enhanced” UNIFIL that was tasked with preventing Hezbollah’s re-armament. That resolution was violated before its approval made it into the morning papers, and continues to be ignored with impunity by everyone from Iran and Syria to UNIFIL itself; Hezbollah today is better-armed than it was before the 2006 war.

Whatever else one wants to say about the Doha meeting, at least it didn’t involve the United Nations.

Read Less

Doh! (As in Doha)

Yesterday’s Qatari-sponsored agreement among Lebanese factions represents a major victory for Hezbollah and Syria. After all, both parties finally got what they had long demanded: Hezbollah will receive eleven seats in the cabinet-one more than it needed to secure veto power over all governmental decisions. The agreement also spells a major loss for the Bush administration, which had long demanded that Hezbollah submit to the will of the Lebanese majority and confirm General Michel Suleiman as president without such preconditions.

Of course, this didn’t stop the State Department from trying to sell the agreement as a “positive step.” During his press conference yesterday, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch argued that the agreement advanced UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, saying that there is “quite a bit of language” in the agreement regarding Hezbollah’s disarmament. Moreover, he said, the agreement signified that the “moral plane” had shifted against Hezbollah’s favor, catalyzing progress-however slowly-on this critical issue.

Yet Welch’s optimism is confounding. Indeed, the agreement says nothing at all about Hezbollah’s disarmament. Rather, it calls for “dialogue over strengthening state authority over all parts of Lebanon”–in other words, dialogue over an issue that was supposed to have been resolved after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war! Moreover, it calls for “defining the relations between the state and the different political groups in the country”–a process that will now lean heavily in Hezbollah’s favor, given its strengthened position within the Lebanese cabinet. Finally, there’s good reason to doubt that security and military powers will be “solely in the hands of the state” and that this authority will be spread out “over all parts of the country so that outlaws will have no safe havens.” Again, this is something that was supposed to have been in place following the 2006 war, but which Hezbollah has long evaded thanks to its military superiority and sustained support from Iran and Syria.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the “Doha agreement” is its transience: it will expire prior to the 2009 parliamentary elections, lasting just long enough for Hezbollah to exert substantial influence in drafting a new elections law. As a result, the agreement sounds eerily similar to the “Mecca Accord” that Hamas and Fatah signed in February 2007, which heralded an era of “national unity” governance-that is, until Hamas seized Gaza four months later. Indeed, we have seen how Hezbollah and Hamas both resort to violence in lieu of political compromise (h/t Noah Pollak). These short-term agreements are an integral part of that strategy.

Yesterday’s Qatari-sponsored agreement among Lebanese factions represents a major victory for Hezbollah and Syria. After all, both parties finally got what they had long demanded: Hezbollah will receive eleven seats in the cabinet-one more than it needed to secure veto power over all governmental decisions. The agreement also spells a major loss for the Bush administration, which had long demanded that Hezbollah submit to the will of the Lebanese majority and confirm General Michel Suleiman as president without such preconditions.

Of course, this didn’t stop the State Department from trying to sell the agreement as a “positive step.” During his press conference yesterday, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch argued that the agreement advanced UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, saying that there is “quite a bit of language” in the agreement regarding Hezbollah’s disarmament. Moreover, he said, the agreement signified that the “moral plane” had shifted against Hezbollah’s favor, catalyzing progress-however slowly-on this critical issue.

Yet Welch’s optimism is confounding. Indeed, the agreement says nothing at all about Hezbollah’s disarmament. Rather, it calls for “dialogue over strengthening state authority over all parts of Lebanon”–in other words, dialogue over an issue that was supposed to have been resolved after the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war! Moreover, it calls for “defining the relations between the state and the different political groups in the country”–a process that will now lean heavily in Hezbollah’s favor, given its strengthened position within the Lebanese cabinet. Finally, there’s good reason to doubt that security and military powers will be “solely in the hands of the state” and that this authority will be spread out “over all parts of the country so that outlaws will have no safe havens.” Again, this is something that was supposed to have been in place following the 2006 war, but which Hezbollah has long evaded thanks to its military superiority and sustained support from Iran and Syria.

But perhaps the most troubling aspect of the “Doha agreement” is its transience: it will expire prior to the 2009 parliamentary elections, lasting just long enough for Hezbollah to exert substantial influence in drafting a new elections law. As a result, the agreement sounds eerily similar to the “Mecca Accord” that Hamas and Fatah signed in February 2007, which heralded an era of “national unity” governance-that is, until Hamas seized Gaza four months later. Indeed, we have seen how Hezbollah and Hamas both resort to violence in lieu of political compromise (h/t Noah Pollak). These short-term agreements are an integral part of that strategy.

Read Less

The Fruits of “Diplomacy”

Poor Obama. He might have to start backing away from his statement about wanting to sit down with our enemies. AFP just reported the following:

DOHA (AFP) — Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi told leaders of the Gulf Arab state of Qatar on Wednesday that his country was willing to put its controversial nuclear expertise at the service of all Muslim states.

“Iran is determined to make the best use of this technology not only for Iran but also for all Muslim states,” Shahroudi told a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha.

When A.Q. Khan was busted for illegally selling nuclear know-how, at least he was busted. Inaction on Iran has led to an openly boastful illicit nuke network. Even if the most deliriously hopeful reading of the NIE on Iran proves to be the correct one, this pledge from the Ayatollah should trouble us profoundly.

Poor Obama. He might have to start backing away from his statement about wanting to sit down with our enemies. AFP just reported the following:

DOHA (AFP) — Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi told leaders of the Gulf Arab state of Qatar on Wednesday that his country was willing to put its controversial nuclear expertise at the service of all Muslim states.

“Iran is determined to make the best use of this technology not only for Iran but also for all Muslim states,” Shahroudi told a news conference in the Qatari capital Doha.

When A.Q. Khan was busted for illegally selling nuclear know-how, at least he was busted. Inaction on Iran has led to an openly boastful illicit nuke network. Even if the most deliriously hopeful reading of the NIE on Iran proves to be the correct one, this pledge from the Ayatollah should trouble us profoundly.

Read Less

Bush the “Madman”

Back in April 2004, Tony Blair and George Bush had a chat about the war in Iraq. In the course of it, Bush reportedly suggested bombing the Arab broadcasting station Al Jazeera, headquartered in Doha, Qatar. The White House has adamantly denied that such a proposal was ever made, calling the accusation “outlandish and inconceivable.”

But a British diplomatic communication about their conversation, marked “Secret-Personal,” evidently says otherwise—the subject may indeed have been broached, but possibly only in jest. Addressed to the British Foreign Secretary, the document began: “This letter is extremely sensitive. It must not be copied further and must be seen only by those with a need to know.”

We know about this document because a British cryptographer by the name of David Keogh, responsible for handling British diplomatic cable traffic, passed it on to an anti-war member of parliament who then disclosed its contents to the press. His objective, Keogh has frankly explained, was to intervene in America’s elections, helping John Kerry’s presidential bid by making George W. Bush appear to be a “madman.”

Read More

Back in April 2004, Tony Blair and George Bush had a chat about the war in Iraq. In the course of it, Bush reportedly suggested bombing the Arab broadcasting station Al Jazeera, headquartered in Doha, Qatar. The White House has adamantly denied that such a proposal was ever made, calling the accusation “outlandish and inconceivable.”

But a British diplomatic communication about their conversation, marked “Secret-Personal,” evidently says otherwise—the subject may indeed have been broached, but possibly only in jest. Addressed to the British Foreign Secretary, the document began: “This letter is extremely sensitive. It must not be copied further and must be seen only by those with a need to know.”

We know about this document because a British cryptographer by the name of David Keogh, responsible for handling British diplomatic cable traffic, passed it on to an anti-war member of parliament who then disclosed its contents to the press. His objective, Keogh has frankly explained, was to intervene in America’s elections, helping John Kerry’s presidential bid by making George W. Bush appear to be a “madman.”

Such behavior is profoundly undemocratic. A civil servant in a technical position took upon himself a responsibility reserved for elected officials: namely, running British foreign policy.

Here in the United States such conduct would be called a “leak,” and the leaker would be celebrated in some quarters as a “whistleblower.” His actions would be lauded by the press, which would in turn circle the wagons to keep the whistleblower from being apprehended. Pulitzer prizes might even be won (as they were by the New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Licthblau in the NSA terrorist surveillance case) for transmitting information from the leaker to the public about the hidden workings of government.

But T.S. Ellis, III, the federal judge who presided over the trial of the Pentagon official Lawrence Franklin for passing classified information to two employees of AIPAC, has a different view—and it is the correct one.

One can have all sorts of legitimate reservations about the Franklin and AIPAC prosecutions, and how they came about, and their highly selective nature—I have expressed my own doubts about them here and in the Los Angeles Times, and Dorothy Rabinowitz has persuasively done so in the Wall Street Journal. Nonetheless, in sentencing Franklin to more than twelve years in prison, Ellis had one very compelling point:

What this case is truly significant for is the rule of law. The law says what it says. The merits of the law really are committed to Congress. If it’s not sensible, it ought to be changed. But they’re—that’s the body that changes it. . . .

There is a law that says that if you have authorized possession of national defense information, you can’t disclose it to unauthorized people. . . .

It doesn’t matter that you think that you were really helping. That’s arrogating to yourself the decision of whether to adhere to a statute passed by Congress or not. And we can’t do that in this country. . . .

And it doesn’t matter who you disclosed it to. It doesn’t matter whether you disclose it to a newspaper. It doesn’t matter whether you disclose it to people who are fierce American patriots, or anything else. It doesn’t matter. It can’t be disclosed. That’s the rule of law.

The British courts agree. Calling David Keogh’s actions “reckless and irresponsible,” a judge on Wednesday sentenced him to six months in jail for breaching the Official Secrets Act.

Read Less




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

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

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

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

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