Commentary Magazine


Topic: Dubai

More Like This Please

I can understand why Dubai authorities aren’t happy about the killing of Hamas senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, presumably by Israeli Mossad agents, in one of the city-state’s hotel rooms last month. More than most countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has stayed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and would rather it not wash up on the beach.

Even as European Union officials perfunctorily squawk about the use of forged passports by the assassins, few others have grounds to complain. Al-Mabhouh was a terrorist commander on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game. He would have been fair game for even an air strike if he were in Gaza. As he was, instead, in Dubai, he was taken out quietly without even alerting, let alone harming, any of the civilians around him.

If only Israel could fight all its battles this way. It would be the cleanest and least-deadly war in the history of warfare. Even some of Israel’s harshest critics should understand that.

“The Goldstone Report,” Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.”

Hamas and Hezbollah use civilians as human shields. Hezbollah uses an entire country as a vast human shield. Some critics, for various reasons, are more interested in lambasting Israel than the terrorist organizations it’s fighting. That’s easy when you live in New York or Brussels. People in the Middle East have to live with (or die because of) what happens. How Middle Easterners fight wars isn’t political or academic to me. I’ve never been inside Gaza, but I once lived in Lebanon, I travel there regularly, and there’s a real chance I’ll be there when the next war pops off. I’d rather not be used as a human shield if that’s OK with those who give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass. And I’d much rather read about Hezbollah leaders getting whacked by mysterious assassins with forged passports than dive into a Beirut bomb shelter during Israeli air raids.

But I’m not particularly concerned about my own skin here. Nobody forces me to travel to war zones. I don’t have to visit the Middle East ever again if I don’t want to. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been voluntary, and I can leave whenever I’ve had enough.

A lot of people I care about live in Lebanon, and some of them can’t leave. They never volunteered to be used as human shields by Hezbollah, and in fact had their neighborhood — my old neighborhood — shot up and blown up by Hezbollah gunmen recently. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t consult them or their elected officials on his foreign policy and would sooner shoot them than be relieved of his ability to declare war unilaterally or on the orders of Tehran.

It’s unlikely that Israel can avert the next war by assassinating its enemy’s leadership, but it’s always better to take out a high-level target in person whenever possible than with a blockbuster bomb from a distance. I can’t help but wonder if those griping about the recent hit in Dubai — assuming the Mossad actually did it — care less about the lives of real human beings than the latest excuse to bash Israel. If the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue — and it will continue — civilians on both sides should prefer combatants be taken off the board quietly while everyone else goes about their daily business in peace.

I can understand why Dubai authorities aren’t happy about the killing of Hamas senior military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, presumably by Israeli Mossad agents, in one of the city-state’s hotel rooms last month. More than most countries in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has stayed out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and would rather it not wash up on the beach.

Even as European Union officials perfunctorily squawk about the use of forged passports by the assassins, few others have grounds to complain. Al-Mabhouh was a terrorist commander on a mission to acquire Iranian weapons for use against civilians. He was a combatant. Unlike his victims, he was fair game. He would have been fair game for even an air strike if he were in Gaza. As he was, instead, in Dubai, he was taken out quietly without even alerting, let alone harming, any of the civilians around him.

If only Israel could fight all its battles this way. It would be the cleanest and least-deadly war in the history of warfare. Even some of Israel’s harshest critics should understand that.

“The Goldstone Report,” Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post, “suggests that Israel cannot lawfully fight Hamas rockets by wholesale air attacks. Richard Goldstone, in his interviews, has suggested that Israel should protect itself from these unlawful attacks by more proportionate measures, such as commando raids and targeted killing of terrorists engaged in the firing of rockets. Well, there could be no better example of a proportionate and focused attack on a combatant deeply involved in the rocket attacks on Israel than the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.”

Hamas and Hezbollah use civilians as human shields. Hezbollah uses an entire country as a vast human shield. Some critics, for various reasons, are more interested in lambasting Israel than the terrorist organizations it’s fighting. That’s easy when you live in New York or Brussels. People in the Middle East have to live with (or die because of) what happens. How Middle Easterners fight wars isn’t political or academic to me. I’ve never been inside Gaza, but I once lived in Lebanon, I travel there regularly, and there’s a real chance I’ll be there when the next war pops off. I’d rather not be used as a human shield if that’s OK with those who give Hamas and Hezbollah a pass. And I’d much rather read about Hezbollah leaders getting whacked by mysterious assassins with forged passports than dive into a Beirut bomb shelter during Israeli air raids.

But I’m not particularly concerned about my own skin here. Nobody forces me to travel to war zones. I don’t have to visit the Middle East ever again if I don’t want to. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been voluntary, and I can leave whenever I’ve had enough.

A lot of people I care about live in Lebanon, and some of them can’t leave. They never volunteered to be used as human shields by Hezbollah, and in fact had their neighborhood — my old neighborhood — shot up and blown up by Hezbollah gunmen recently. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah doesn’t consult them or their elected officials on his foreign policy and would sooner shoot them than be relieved of his ability to declare war unilaterally or on the orders of Tehran.

It’s unlikely that Israel can avert the next war by assassinating its enemy’s leadership, but it’s always better to take out a high-level target in person whenever possible than with a blockbuster bomb from a distance. I can’t help but wonder if those griping about the recent hit in Dubai — assuming the Mossad actually did it — care less about the lives of real human beings than the latest excuse to bash Israel. If the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue — and it will continue — civilians on both sides should prefer combatants be taken off the board quietly while everyone else goes about their daily business in peace.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

A good question triggered by the assassination of the Hamas terrorist in Dubai and our decision to send an ambassador to Syria: “Will the safe haven Damascus continues to provide terrorists such as Mabhouh, who would erase Israel from the Middle-Eastern map—to say nothing of the foreign fighters trained by al Qaeda and/or armed by Iran who are still entering Iraq across the Syrian border to kill American soldiers—be a subject of discussion for America’s newly appointed ambassador to Syria once he’s presented his credentials?”

If you thought the Ivy League–educated Oval Office occupier Obama’s populism was fake: “If last year’s bailout of the financial industry caused you to start muttering words like investment banker and robber baron in the same sentence, it may cheer you to know that Timothy Geithner, the man responsible for crafting much of that bailout, agrees with you. ‘I am,’ he says, seated in his Washington, D.C., office, an intimidatingly ornate room worthy of a Hogwarts headmaster, ‘incredibly angry at what happened to our country.'”

A lot of people excited about a potential 2012 run by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels will be excited to hear this: “During an interview at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association here over the weekend, Daniels said he has now been persuaded to keep open the door to a possible candidacy.”

Is Marco Rubio running away with the GOP Senate primary race? The latest Rasmussen poll has him up by 18 points.

Democrats are on the defensive in Illinois: “Illinois’ Republican Party is keeping up a steady drumbeat of pressure on Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias to answer questions about his family’s Broadway Bank. ‘Why is Alexi hiding?’ the party asked in an e-mail to reporters a week after the election and after news conferences Giannoulias had held in Chicago and Springfield. … In at least 10 e-mails sent out since the election, the party says Giannoulias is ducking questions about loans he authorized four years ago as vice-president of his family’s Broadway Bank and about the bank’s current troubled financial state.”

CATO’s Michael Tanner on the latest version of ObamaCare: “Faced with public opinion polls showing that 58 percent of the public are opposed to his health care proposal, President Obama has gone back to the drawing board and brought forth a new health care plan that looks almost exactly like his old health care bill. Actually that’s not quite true. This proposal is more expensive, pushing its cost up close to $1 trillion in the first 10 years, and raising taxes by some $629 billion.”

Some are in a tizzy: “Critics left and right are accusing Rahm Emanuel of disloyalty-by-proxy after a Dana Milbank column in Sunday’s Washington Post defended the White House chief of staff — while trashing reputed Emanuel rivals Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs. ” Actually, he’s been leaking his opposition to the entire anti-terrorism approach for some time, so this should come as no shock.

Thanks to the teachers’ union, the Los Angeles Unified School District has given up trying to fire bad teachers.

Oh good grief: “Last August, former Iowa Republican congressman Jim Leach took office as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  What exactly were his qualifications for this post, other than being an Obamaphile Republican and thus a safely ‘bipartisan’ appointment, was and remains a mystery. Since his appointment, unsurprisingly, Leach has appeared to take little interest in the actual work of the NEH—support for research, publication, and education in the humanities—and instead has been gallivanting around the country on a 50-state ‘civility tour,’ giving mostly forgettable speeches … whose goal seems to be to get Americans to stop criticizing Barack Obama in terms that offend Chairman Leach.”

A good question triggered by the assassination of the Hamas terrorist in Dubai and our decision to send an ambassador to Syria: “Will the safe haven Damascus continues to provide terrorists such as Mabhouh, who would erase Israel from the Middle-Eastern map—to say nothing of the foreign fighters trained by al Qaeda and/or armed by Iran who are still entering Iraq across the Syrian border to kill American soldiers—be a subject of discussion for America’s newly appointed ambassador to Syria once he’s presented his credentials?”

If you thought the Ivy League–educated Oval Office occupier Obama’s populism was fake: “If last year’s bailout of the financial industry caused you to start muttering words like investment banker and robber baron in the same sentence, it may cheer you to know that Timothy Geithner, the man responsible for crafting much of that bailout, agrees with you. ‘I am,’ he says, seated in his Washington, D.C., office, an intimidatingly ornate room worthy of a Hogwarts headmaster, ‘incredibly angry at what happened to our country.'”

A lot of people excited about a potential 2012 run by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels will be excited to hear this: “During an interview at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association here over the weekend, Daniels said he has now been persuaded to keep open the door to a possible candidacy.”

Is Marco Rubio running away with the GOP Senate primary race? The latest Rasmussen poll has him up by 18 points.

Democrats are on the defensive in Illinois: “Illinois’ Republican Party is keeping up a steady drumbeat of pressure on Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Alexi Giannoulias to answer questions about his family’s Broadway Bank. ‘Why is Alexi hiding?’ the party asked in an e-mail to reporters a week after the election and after news conferences Giannoulias had held in Chicago and Springfield. … In at least 10 e-mails sent out since the election, the party says Giannoulias is ducking questions about loans he authorized four years ago as vice-president of his family’s Broadway Bank and about the bank’s current troubled financial state.”

CATO’s Michael Tanner on the latest version of ObamaCare: “Faced with public opinion polls showing that 58 percent of the public are opposed to his health care proposal, President Obama has gone back to the drawing board and brought forth a new health care plan that looks almost exactly like his old health care bill. Actually that’s not quite true. This proposal is more expensive, pushing its cost up close to $1 trillion in the first 10 years, and raising taxes by some $629 billion.”

Some are in a tizzy: “Critics left and right are accusing Rahm Emanuel of disloyalty-by-proxy after a Dana Milbank column in Sunday’s Washington Post defended the White House chief of staff — while trashing reputed Emanuel rivals Valerie Jarrett and Robert Gibbs. ” Actually, he’s been leaking his opposition to the entire anti-terrorism approach for some time, so this should come as no shock.

Thanks to the teachers’ union, the Los Angeles Unified School District has given up trying to fire bad teachers.

Oh good grief: “Last August, former Iowa Republican congressman Jim Leach took office as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.  What exactly were his qualifications for this post, other than being an Obamaphile Republican and thus a safely ‘bipartisan’ appointment, was and remains a mystery. Since his appointment, unsurprisingly, Leach has appeared to take little interest in the actual work of the NEH—support for research, publication, and education in the humanities—and instead has been gallivanting around the country on a 50-state ‘civility tour,’ giving mostly forgettable speeches … whose goal seems to be to get Americans to stop criticizing Barack Obama in terms that offend Chairman Leach.”

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Israel Derangement Syndrome in the British Press

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

At this point, the most interesting thing about the Dubai assassination isn’t what happened in that hotel room; it is a hysteria about the story in the British press that is bordering on mob lunacy.

Few new details are emerging, so the press is engaged in an increasingly unconvincing attempt at propelling the story along by self-generated outrage. Here is a perfect example from the UK Times. It begins ominously:

David Miliband will press his Israeli counterpart today to explain what his Government knows about the use of stolen British identities in the Mahmoud al-Mabhouh killing.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, will meet separately with his British, French and Irish counterparts in Brussels, in a diplomatic showdown over Mossad’s use of fraudulent European passports.

The Israelis are in big trouble! Well, maybe not. Down at the very bottom we read:

Mr Lieberman’s meetings in Brussels with the British, French and Irish foreign ministers have been long planned.

The writer of this piece, someone named Catherine Philip, actually has no idea whether there will be a “diplomatic showdown” in Brussels. There will probably be pro forma words exchanged about the passport issue, and the Europeans will grumble and complain, as they do on an almost daily basis these days about Israel. The piece is littered with other unproven claims, all written in the passive voice: “There is speculation that” the Israelis are in deepening trouble, and something else “has raised the possibility” of the trouble getting even deeper, all written in the smarmy tone of someone with serious unspoken resentments. Does Israel’s willingness to take risks and act boldly on behalf of its own security shame British elites, who show no such courage today?

Philip’s contribution to the larger campaign of speculation and innuendo is no worse than most of the others. What a spectacle Britain is making of itself these days.

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Re: A Dubai Victory

I’m with Noah Pollak. I fail to see how the rub-out of Hamas leader Muhammad al-Mabhouh in Dubai was a debacle and embarrassment for Israel, as so widely proclaimed. That is the premise of this Wall Street Journal article by Israeli analyst Ronen Bergman. He calls the mission “a diplomatic nightmare for Israel”: “The sovereignty of Dubai was violated, and the passports of four European countries were used for the purpose of committing a crime. Several rows Israel can ill-afford are currently brewing with England, Germany and France.” True, but those rows will blow over. There is a certain ritualistic, not to say hypocritical, aspect to these controversies — since there is little doubt that intelligence operatives of all the countries involved use false passports on occasion. Sometimes even — gasp – they use false passports purportedly issued by other countries. Were Mossad agents supposed to show up in Dubai using Israeli passports?

The bigger point is that Israeli operatives succeeded in killing a dangerous foe and made a clean getaway. Even their identities remain unknown, despite the posting of surveillance video. In short, this was nothing like the attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal in 1997. Now that was a truly bungled operation. Two Mossad agents in Amman injected Mishal with a lethal nerve toxin but they were chased down and caught by his bodyguards. King Hussein of Jordan then forced Israel to provide the antidote; the agents were later released in return for the Israeli release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s founder. Yassin, in turn, was killed by a Hellfire missile fired by an Israeli helicopter in 2004.

Funny how no one seriously objects when U.S. Predators carry out similar hits on al-Qaeda operatives but the whole world is in uproar when the Israelis target members of Hamas — an organization that is morally indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. The Dubai uproar only highlights once again the double standard to which Israel is constantly subjected. But Israel cannot and should not use that double standard as an excuse to avoid taking vital action in its self-defense. The leaders of terrorist organizations are legitimate military targets, and Israel should spare itself the agonizing and hand-wringing over this targeted killing.

I’m with Noah Pollak. I fail to see how the rub-out of Hamas leader Muhammad al-Mabhouh in Dubai was a debacle and embarrassment for Israel, as so widely proclaimed. That is the premise of this Wall Street Journal article by Israeli analyst Ronen Bergman. He calls the mission “a diplomatic nightmare for Israel”: “The sovereignty of Dubai was violated, and the passports of four European countries were used for the purpose of committing a crime. Several rows Israel can ill-afford are currently brewing with England, Germany and France.” True, but those rows will blow over. There is a certain ritualistic, not to say hypocritical, aspect to these controversies — since there is little doubt that intelligence operatives of all the countries involved use false passports on occasion. Sometimes even — gasp – they use false passports purportedly issued by other countries. Were Mossad agents supposed to show up in Dubai using Israeli passports?

The bigger point is that Israeli operatives succeeded in killing a dangerous foe and made a clean getaway. Even their identities remain unknown, despite the posting of surveillance video. In short, this was nothing like the attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khalid Mishal in 1997. Now that was a truly bungled operation. Two Mossad agents in Amman injected Mishal with a lethal nerve toxin but they were chased down and caught by his bodyguards. King Hussein of Jordan then forced Israel to provide the antidote; the agents were later released in return for the Israeli release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas’s founder. Yassin, in turn, was killed by a Hellfire missile fired by an Israeli helicopter in 2004.

Funny how no one seriously objects when U.S. Predators carry out similar hits on al-Qaeda operatives but the whole world is in uproar when the Israelis target members of Hamas — an organization that is morally indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. The Dubai uproar only highlights once again the double standard to which Israel is constantly subjected. But Israel cannot and should not use that double standard as an excuse to avoid taking vital action in its self-defense. The leaders of terrorist organizations are legitimate military targets, and Israel should spare itself the agonizing and hand-wringing over this targeted killing.

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Is Barack Obama the Last Best Hope of Hamas?

Barack Obama’s belief in “engagement” with America’s enemies hasn’t worked out too well with Iran but that doesn’t stop his No.1 fan at Time magazine from encouraging the president to try his luck with Tehran’s ally Hamas. That’s the upshot of Joe Klein’s lament, in which he criticizes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tough talk with the Arab world at the Brooking Institution’s U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar. Klein, along on the junket with Hillary, wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran. But he did have harsh words for her summary of the situation in Gaza, which she rightly blamed on Hamas’s violence. The fate of Gaza, solidly in the hands of Iran’s terrorist proxy, would, she said, have to await a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, as long as an Islamist rejectionist group controls Gaza, nothing can be done about the place.

That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein. The writer places the blame on Israel for Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East, while ignoring the fact that neither the supposedly moderate Palestinians of Fatah nor the extremists of Hamas have any interest in learning to live with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

Yet rather than concentrating our energies on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — a development that would undermine the security of most of the Arab world as well as present an existential threat to Israel — Klein wants the United States to concentrate its energies on finding a way to lift the partial international blockade on the terrorist state in Gaza. The blockade of Hamasistan allows food and medical supplies to enter the area but seeks to prevent the import of building materials (which can be used to bolster Hamas’s thriving small-arms industry) or weapons from abroad. The three conditions that Israel has placed on lifting the blockade are an end to the terrorist missile fire from Gaza into southern Israel, a stop to arms smuggling, and the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Klein is right that the missile fire has come to what may be a temporary halt. He also believes that the smuggling issue can be resolved, although, as shown by the death of a Hamas leader in Dubai at a time when he was seeking to facilitate the transport of weapons from Iran to Gaza, this is not a minor point. As for Shalit’s ordeal, Klein dismisses it as “an insane sticking point.”

So what’s his solution? The United States must “engage” the Hamas terrorists. That’s something that both Obama and Clinton have rightly pledged not to do — but, according to the columnist, “if Obama’s policy really is about engaging our enemies, he needs to engage Hamas — and Hamas needs to respond. Quickly.” According to Klein, the problem for Hamas is that the alternative to dealing with Obama is a return to the policies of the dread Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives. He concludes: “The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress. After Obama, the deluge.”

While a more sensible foreign policy may well have to await the election of a new president, 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. Rather, it should be our policy to isolate and hopefully oust them from power. But if any argument is designed to undermine the appeal of the president’s discredited engagement policy, it is Klein’s belief that Barack Obama is the last best hope of one of the world’s most vicious terrorist groups.

Barack Obama’s belief in “engagement” with America’s enemies hasn’t worked out too well with Iran but that doesn’t stop his No.1 fan at Time magazine from encouraging the president to try his luck with Tehran’s ally Hamas. That’s the upshot of Joe Klein’s lament, in which he criticizes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s tough talk with the Arab world at the Brooking Institution’s U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar. Klein, along on the junket with Hillary, wasn’t terribly interested in the secretary’s obituary of Obama’s failed outreach to Iran. But he did have harsh words for her summary of the situation in Gaza, which she rightly blamed on Hamas’s violence. The fate of Gaza, solidly in the hands of Iran’s terrorist proxy, would, she said, have to await a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, as long as an Islamist rejectionist group controls Gaza, nothing can be done about the place.

That answer pleased neither the Arabs nor Klein. The writer places the blame on Israel for Obama’s acknowledged failure in the Middle East, while ignoring the fact that neither the supposedly moderate Palestinians of Fatah nor the extremists of Hamas have any interest in learning to live with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

Yet rather than concentrating our energies on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons — a development that would undermine the security of most of the Arab world as well as present an existential threat to Israel — Klein wants the United States to concentrate its energies on finding a way to lift the partial international blockade on the terrorist state in Gaza. The blockade of Hamasistan allows food and medical supplies to enter the area but seeks to prevent the import of building materials (which can be used to bolster Hamas’s thriving small-arms industry) or weapons from abroad. The three conditions that Israel has placed on lifting the blockade are an end to the terrorist missile fire from Gaza into southern Israel, a stop to arms smuggling, and the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Klein is right that the missile fire has come to what may be a temporary halt. He also believes that the smuggling issue can be resolved, although, as shown by the death of a Hamas leader in Dubai at a time when he was seeking to facilitate the transport of weapons from Iran to Gaza, this is not a minor point. As for Shalit’s ordeal, Klein dismisses it as “an insane sticking point.”

So what’s his solution? The United States must “engage” the Hamas terrorists. That’s something that both Obama and Clinton have rightly pledged not to do — but, according to the columnist, “if Obama’s policy really is about engaging our enemies, he needs to engage Hamas — and Hamas needs to respond. Quickly.” According to Klein, the problem for Hamas is that the alternative to dealing with Obama is a return to the policies of the dread Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives. He concludes: “The leaders of Hamas — and other potential interlocutors, like the Syrians — need to understand that this may be their last best chance for progress. After Obama, the deluge.”

While a more sensible foreign policy may well have to await the election of a new president, 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. Rather, it should be our policy to isolate and hopefully oust them from power. But if any argument is designed to undermine the appeal of the president’s discredited engagement policy, it is Klein’s belief that Barack Obama is the last best hope of one of the world’s most vicious terrorist groups.

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A Dubai Victory

It’s fascinating to watch the world try to turn the Dubai assassination into a debacle for Israel — all because the team members were captured on CCTV and the British and Irish authorities are making a momentary stink about the use of forged British and Irish passports.

You, the reader of this post, will be captured on CCTV a dozen times today simply going about your business. The people calling the operation “sloppy” and a “debacle” seem to actually believe that the Mossad is unaware that there are video cameras in airports and hotels today, or that the passport photos of the agents would not be revealed to the public. Really.

More important, the fact of the matter is that the team got into Dubai, rubbed out a bad guy, and got out. No drama, nobody was captured, and nobody knows the real identities of the team or where they are now. Given the extraordinary risk and complexity of the operation, that’s a win in my book. And now the Iranians, Syrians, and their terrorist clients have been given another reminder that their people aren’t safe anywhere — even in the heart of the Arab world.

And as for the people who are whining about “passport fraud” misdemeanors while ignoring the felony staring them in the face: what do you say about the fact that the terrorist in charge of illegally smuggling missiles from Iran to Hamas apparently had an open invite to hang out in Dubai? This isn’t a problem?

The Israelis either deal with high-level terrorists discreetly, or they leave them alone to go about their work, which means more and better arms in Gaza and Lebanon, which means a more destructive war down the road for the Arabs who live in these combat zones. Those who are pretending to be scandalized by the Dubai assassination tend to be the same people who pretend to care deeply about Palestinian civilians. I wonder if they’re aware of their own hypocrisy.

It’s fascinating to watch the world try to turn the Dubai assassination into a debacle for Israel — all because the team members were captured on CCTV and the British and Irish authorities are making a momentary stink about the use of forged British and Irish passports.

You, the reader of this post, will be captured on CCTV a dozen times today simply going about your business. The people calling the operation “sloppy” and a “debacle” seem to actually believe that the Mossad is unaware that there are video cameras in airports and hotels today, or that the passport photos of the agents would not be revealed to the public. Really.

More important, the fact of the matter is that the team got into Dubai, rubbed out a bad guy, and got out. No drama, nobody was captured, and nobody knows the real identities of the team or where they are now. Given the extraordinary risk and complexity of the operation, that’s a win in my book. And now the Iranians, Syrians, and their terrorist clients have been given another reminder that their people aren’t safe anywhere — even in the heart of the Arab world.

And as for the people who are whining about “passport fraud” misdemeanors while ignoring the felony staring them in the face: what do you say about the fact that the terrorist in charge of illegally smuggling missiles from Iran to Hamas apparently had an open invite to hang out in Dubai? This isn’t a problem?

The Israelis either deal with high-level terrorists discreetly, or they leave them alone to go about their work, which means more and better arms in Gaza and Lebanon, which means a more destructive war down the road for the Arabs who live in these combat zones. Those who are pretending to be scandalized by the Dubai assassination tend to be the same people who pretend to care deeply about Palestinian civilians. I wonder if they’re aware of their own hypocrisy.

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Dubai Does PR Right

It’s always funny to hear people talk about Zionist manipulation of the media, because the truth of the matter is that there’s hardly anything I can think of that the Zionists are more incompetent at. I wish the Zionists were manipulating the media. Israel vs. the media generally has the feel of the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters.

An example of a government doing a skillful job of using the media is on display in the case of the assassinated Hamas agent in Dubai. The Dubai police quickly and efficiently tracked down video footage of the (alleged) hit team, assembled the clips to show the progression of the team through passport control, into the hotel, in the hallway outside the target’s room, and so on. This video was narrated in English, broadcast on the local news, and then uploaded to YouTube for the entire world to see.

I think it’s great news that a senior member of Hamas has been knocked off, and I congratulate whomever did it for their courage and intrepidity. But it’s understandable that the Dubai authorities aren’t pleased that it happened on their soil, and so they’re doing their best to expose the assassins.

Now imagine if the Israeli government had shown the same speed, efficiency, and common sense in getting information out to the world about, say, a headline-making Arab claim that the IDF had committed an atrocity (pick one among dozens: the Al-Dura affair, the Gaza beach explosion, the “Jenin massacre,” or any number of incidents from the Lebanon and Gaza wars).

The relevant officials would start by not reflexively apologizing; then they would quickly determine what happened; put together a short video presentation, with English narration; complete said presentation while the story was still in the headlines — in days, not weeks, months, or years later; and get it online and sent to journalists and bloggers around the world.

The Dubai authorities did this on the fly in a one-off crisis. The Israeli authorities have been dealing with crises on a constant basis for decades, and they still can’t put something like this together, even when they have months to prepare. Has anyone seen the slightest effort by the Israelis to discredit, say, the Goldstone Report in a way that is accessible and relevant to ordinary people? (Ordinary people don’t read 1,000-page documents.) I sure haven’t, and they’ve had a year to work on it.

It’s always funny to hear people talk about Zionist manipulation of the media, because the truth of the matter is that there’s hardly anything I can think of that the Zionists are more incompetent at. I wish the Zionists were manipulating the media. Israel vs. the media generally has the feel of the Washington Generals vs. the Harlem Globetrotters.

An example of a government doing a skillful job of using the media is on display in the case of the assassinated Hamas agent in Dubai. The Dubai police quickly and efficiently tracked down video footage of the (alleged) hit team, assembled the clips to show the progression of the team through passport control, into the hotel, in the hallway outside the target’s room, and so on. This video was narrated in English, broadcast on the local news, and then uploaded to YouTube for the entire world to see.

I think it’s great news that a senior member of Hamas has been knocked off, and I congratulate whomever did it for their courage and intrepidity. But it’s understandable that the Dubai authorities aren’t pleased that it happened on their soil, and so they’re doing their best to expose the assassins.

Now imagine if the Israeli government had shown the same speed, efficiency, and common sense in getting information out to the world about, say, a headline-making Arab claim that the IDF had committed an atrocity (pick one among dozens: the Al-Dura affair, the Gaza beach explosion, the “Jenin massacre,” or any number of incidents from the Lebanon and Gaza wars).

The relevant officials would start by not reflexively apologizing; then they would quickly determine what happened; put together a short video presentation, with English narration; complete said presentation while the story was still in the headlines — in days, not weeks, months, or years later; and get it online and sent to journalists and bloggers around the world.

The Dubai authorities did this on the fly in a one-off crisis. The Israeli authorities have been dealing with crises on a constant basis for decades, and they still can’t put something like this together, even when they have months to prepare. Has anyone seen the slightest effort by the Israelis to discredit, say, the Goldstone Report in a way that is accessible and relevant to ordinary people? (Ordinary people don’t read 1,000-page documents.) I sure haven’t, and they’ve had a year to work on it.

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Assassination, Spielberg-Style

I have no idea whether these details, reported in Haaretz, about the assassination last month in Dubai of Hamas honcho Mahmoud al-Mabhouh are accurate, but they certainly sound plausible. Citing a Paris-based intelligence journal, Haaretz reports:

One of the female agents dressed herself in the uniform of a reception clerk at Al Bustan Rotana, the hotel where Mabhouh was staying, and then knocked on his door.

When he opened it her fellow operatives rushed him and stunned him with an electric device, the journal said, then they injected poison into his veins, in order to disguise the cause of death.

All 10 agents carried European passports, the journal said.

Sounds like something out of Munich, the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie that presented a fictionalized account of how Israeli agents hunted down and killed members of the Black September organization responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Spielberg put a spin of moral equivalence on the operation, with Mossad agents worrying that they were becoming as bad as the Palestinian terrorists. That’s ridiculous. Members of terrorist organizations are legitimate targets for elimination — whether they are killed by Predators over Pakistan or by hit teams in Dubai. If Mossad was indeed responsible for Mabhouh’s demise, it deserves the thanks of all civilized countries. Such targeted killings won’t eliminate the threat from Hamas, but they will certainly help to diminish, at least in the short-term, that odious organization’s capacities for mayhem.

I have no idea whether these details, reported in Haaretz, about the assassination last month in Dubai of Hamas honcho Mahmoud al-Mabhouh are accurate, but they certainly sound plausible. Citing a Paris-based intelligence journal, Haaretz reports:

One of the female agents dressed herself in the uniform of a reception clerk at Al Bustan Rotana, the hotel where Mabhouh was staying, and then knocked on his door.

When he opened it her fellow operatives rushed him and stunned him with an electric device, the journal said, then they injected poison into his veins, in order to disguise the cause of death.

All 10 agents carried European passports, the journal said.

Sounds like something out of Munich, the 2005 Steven Spielberg movie that presented a fictionalized account of how Israeli agents hunted down and killed members of the Black September organization responsible for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Spielberg put a spin of moral equivalence on the operation, with Mossad agents worrying that they were becoming as bad as the Palestinian terrorists. That’s ridiculous. Members of terrorist organizations are legitimate targets for elimination — whether they are killed by Predators over Pakistan or by hit teams in Dubai. If Mossad was indeed responsible for Mabhouh’s demise, it deserves the thanks of all civilized countries. Such targeted killings won’t eliminate the threat from Hamas, but they will certainly help to diminish, at least in the short-term, that odious organization’s capacities for mayhem.

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Profile Me if You Must

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

I don’t want to be profiled at the airport. It has happened before, and I hate it. Volunteering for more isn’t what I feel like doing right now, but our airport security system is so half-baked and dysfunctional it may as well not even exist, and flying is about to become more miserable anyway. So rather than doubling down on grandma and micromanaging everyone on the plane, we might want to pay as much attention to people as to their luggage, especially military-aged males who make unusual and suspicious-looking travel arrangements. That’s what the Israelis do, and that’s why security agents take me into a room and interrogate me every time I pass through Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Israeli airport security is the most thorough and strict in the world, as one might expect in one of the most terrorized countries. No plane leaving Ben-Gurion has ever been hijacked or otherwise attacked by a terrorist. The system works, yet you don’t have to take off your shoes in the security line, no one cares if you pack perfume from the duty-free in your carry-on, you can listen to your iPod 55 minutes before landing, and you don’t have to stand in front of invasive and expensive body-scanning machines.

The Israelis look for weapons, of course. You aren’t at all likely to sneak one on board. Just as important, though, the Israelis are on the look-out for terrorists. Who would you rather sit next to? A woman carrying shampoo and tweezers, or 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta, even if he’s not carrying anything?

Israeli security agents interview everyone, and they subject travelers who fit certain profiles to additional scrutiny. I don’t know exactly what their criteria are, but I do know they aren’t just taking Arabs and Muslims aside. They take me aside, too, partly because of my gender and age but mostly because a huge percentage of my passport stamps are from countries with serious terrorist problems.

“Does anyone in Lebanon know you’re here?” they usually ask me. They’ve also asked if I’ve ever met with anyone in Hezbollah. I am not going to lie during an airport security interview, especially not when the answer can be easily found using Google. They know I’ve met with Hezbollah. That’s why my luggage gets hand-searched one sock at a time while elderly tourists from Florida skate through. I can’t say I enjoy this procedure, but I don’t take it personally, and it makes a lot more sense than letting me skate through while grandma’s luggage is hand-searched instead.

The United States need not and should not import the Israeli system. It’s labor intensive, slow, and at times incredibly aggravating. Americans wouldn’t put up with it, and it wouldn’t scale well. The one thing we can and should learn from the Israelis, though, is that we need to pay as much attention to who gets on airplanes as to what they’re bringing on board.

I don’t like being profiled, but the Israelis aren’t wrong for looking more closely at me than at, say, an 80-year-old black woman from Kansas or a 12-year-old kid from Japan. When I get on a plane in the United States, though, I often breeze past women decades older than me while they’re being frisked. Almost every single person in line knows it’s ridiculous. We don’t say anything, partly because we don’t want to get in trouble, and partly because it feels vaguely “fair.”

Maybe it is, but it’s no way to catch terrorists. And it’s not as if the only alternative is a separate policy for Arabs and Muslims. Racial and religious profiling won’t even work. Shoe bomber Richard Reid wouldn’t have been caught that way, and it’s probably safe to let a 90 year-old woman from Dubai through with minimal hassle.

Right now there appears to be no effort whatsoever to discriminate among passengers using any criteria, let alone racist criteria. “Pants bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did not have a passport, did not have any luggage, and bought a one-way ticket with cash. His name is in a database of possible terrorists. Any Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or all-American white boys from Iowa who fit that description should be stopped. Abdulmutallab wasn’t stopped. In 2004, though, Senator Ted Kennedy found himself with his name on the no-fly list.

The TSA’s whole mindset is wrong. Its agents confiscate things, even harmless things, and they apply additional scrutiny to things carried by people selected at random. If they were also tasked with looking for dangerous people, they would rightly ease up on grandmothers and senators, and they’d have a competently compiled list in the computer of those who are known to be dangerous. And if some kind of broad profiling means I’ll have to suffer the indignity of being frisked while the nun in line behind me does not, it’s no worse, really, than the embarrassment and contempt I’ll feel if the nun gets frisked instead.

Security agents will never find everything or everyone. It’s impossible. Abdulmutallab sewed a bomb into his underwear. Not even the most draconian new rules imaginable will allow agents to search inside anyone’s underwear. Patting down grandpa below the mid-thigh won’t do any good. Patting down Abdulmutallab below the mid-thigh wouldn’t have done any good either — all the more reason to start paying as much attention to people as to what they carry.

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The Dubai Effect

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules. Read More

Max Boot is quite right that the Middle East needs Dubai, and not only because it embraces modernity and flouts the region’s taboos. It’s also an example of good government, at least by the Arab world’s standards, and good economics if you look past its excesses.

The United Arab Emirates’ most extravagant city-state has a more or less transparent market economy and a degree of personal freedom rarely found elsewhere in the Middle East outside Israel and Lebanon. The government doesn’t micromanage the personal lives of its citizens as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor does it smother the economy with heavy state socialism as in Egypt and Syria. Its bureaucracy is efficient — investors don’t spend years acquiring permits and filling out paperwork before they can open a shopping center, a hotel, or a Starbucks. The Islamic religion is respected as it is everywhere else in the Middle East, but clerics don’t make the rules.

Lebanon and Iraq have both been hailed as possible models for the rest of the region, but they aren’t really. Maybe they will be someday, but they aren’t today. Freewheeling Lebanon is more or less democratic, but it’s unstable. It blows up every year. The Beirut Spring in 2005 ousted the Syrian military dictatorship, but shaking off Iran and its private Hezbollah militia has proved nearly impossible. Iraq is likewise still too violent and dysfunctional to be an inspiring model right now.

Many of the skyscrapering steel and glass cities of the Persian Gulf feel like soulless shopping malls. It wouldn’t occur to anyone to suggest that one of these places is “the Paris of the Middle East,” as Beirut has often been called. Dubai’s outrageous attractions and socially liberal atmosphere, however, makes it something like a Las Vegas of the Middle East as a traveler’s destination. And it really is something like a Hong Kong or Singapore as a place to do business.

It features prominently in Vali Nasr’s compelling new book Forces of Fortune, where he argues that the Middle East may finally liberalize politically after it has first been transformed economically by a middle-class commercial revolution. Most in the West haven’t noticed, but that revolution has already begun. And what he calls “the Dubai effect” is a key part of it.

“People in the region who visit Dubai,” he writes, “return home wondering why their governments can’t issue passports in a day or provide clean mosques and schools, better airports, airlines and roads, and above all better government.”

He’s right. Most Beirutis I know look down on Dubai as artificial and gimmicky, but just about everyone else in the region who isn’t a radical Islamist thinks it’s amazing.

It’s different geopolitically, too. The government is more sincerely pro-American than the nominally pro-American governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Michael Yon put it this way when he visited in 2006 on his way to Iraq: “Our friends in the UAE want the Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan to succeed, and they are vocal about it. While much of the west, including many of our oldest allies, postures on about how the war on terror is a horrible mistake, the sentiment in the UAE is that it would be a horrible mistake not to face the facts about our common enemy, an enemy that might be just as happy to destroy the UAE as America.”

Its leadership has also stepped a long way back from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Neither Dubai nor any of the other UAE emirates have gone so far as to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but they also aren’t participating in the conflict or making it worse. Israeli citizens can and do visit, which is unthinkable almost everywhere else in the Arab world. A rotating tower designed by an Israeli architect is slated to be completed next year. There isn’t a chance that even Egypt or Jordan, both of which have signed peace treaties, would let an Israeli design one of their architectural set pieces.

Dubai has problems, of course, aside from the inevitable bursting of its financial bubble. Its government is a fairly benign dictatorship, especially compared with the likes of Syria and Iran, but it’s a dictatorship all the same. Many of its imported laborers live and work in ghastly conditions, and some are lured there under false pretenses.

It’s flawed, it’s weird, and its overall model of development can’t be ported everywhere else. Only so many cities can build ski resorts in the desert and underwater hotel rooms that go for $5,000 a night. But Dubai’s model needn’t be copied and pasted as-is, and Nasr’s “Dubai effect” is a powerful thing. The city proves to everyone who goes there that when an Arab Muslim country opens up its economy, keeps the clerics out of the saddle, and eschews radical causes, it can build places that are impressive not just by local standards but by international standards as well. If even half its foreign and domestic policies are adopted by its neighbors, the region will be a much nicer place for the people who live there, and less of a headache for everyone else.

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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.

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The World’s Largest Trope

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

Fareed Zakaria has stimulated an amusing discussion on the subject of whether America has lost its world supremacy because it no longer strives to build the biggest things on earth. Zakaria’s List of Giant Things Built Elsewhere

The world’s tallest building is in Taipei, and will soon be in Dubai. Its largest publicly traded company is in Beijing. Its biggest refinery is being constructed in India. Its largest passenger airplane is built in Europe. The largest investment fund on the planet is in Abu Dhabi; the biggest movie industry is Bollywood, not Hollywood…. The largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. The largest casino is in Macao, which overtook Las Vegas in gambling revenues last year….The Mall of America in Minnesota once boasted that it was the largest shopping mall in the world. Today it wouldn’t make the top ten. In the most recent rankings, only two of the world’s ten richest people are American….[O]nly ten years ago, the United States would have serenely topped almost every one of these categories.

–so displeased the businessman-blogger Jim Manzi that he went to Wikipedia to prove Zakaria was talking out of his hat, and, I fear, he succeeded:

Iran already had the world’s largest oil refinery by 1980. Russia had already built the world’s tallest Ferris wheel in 1995, topped by Japan in 1997. Canada had already built the world’s largest mall by 1986. Malaysia had already built the world’s tallest building in 1998. I couldn’t find any data on Bollywood in 1998. Using this data for 2001 and estimating back three years, it looks like Bollywood was already larger than Hollywood in 1998 in terms of films produced and total number of tickets sold.

Fareed’s larger point is that the rest of the world is on the rise, and that we are entering a “post-American world.” Like all superficially convincing Grand Theories of Everything, this one seems inarguably true for about three minutes. Then you spend a few seconds thinking deeply about it, as Manzi did, only to come up with a dozen ways in which it is false.

Still, Fareed has hit on something very interesting in this ill-conceived list of ways in which America is now #2, but it has nothing to do with the other nations and everything to do with America. What does it mean that this country evidently cares less and less about building capitalist monuments?

It may mean nothing more than we don’t have to — that the country itself is the capitalist monument par excellence, with a GDP that is almost triple what it was 25 years ago and a per capita income of nearly $46,000. When America began its frenzy of construction, it was trying to prove something; now it needs to prove nothing.  And Americans have gotten wise to the ambiguous nature of capitalist monument-building, since inevitably such things happen only with a considerable amount of taxpayer expenditure with no hope of return except to the private developer who takes on little risk and gets most of the reward.

Nonetheless, this does suggest America has lost some of its striver’s hunger. In New York City, for example, no major project can get off the ground, not even construction at Ground Zero. But this too is a double-edged sword. Most respectable opinion in the city supported a mammoth project in downtown Brooklyn to build a Frank Gehry stadium with 16 apartment buildings around it on the grounds that the stadium would sit on a platform above a rail yard in a mostly blighted neighborhood. Some people living an entire neighborhood away began to protest wildly and irrationally.

But in the five years since it was first proposed, the Brooklyn project has made less and less sense. The neighborhood, like the borough, has improved so radically that it really does seem as though the state’s power of eminent domain is being used to remove a perfectly functional middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood for the benefit of a private contractor (in this case, a developer named Bruce Ratner). And with the credit crunch now underway, it appears the project may die on the vine anyway.

On the one hand, the inability of very liberal New Yorkers to tolerate economic development offers a small-scale portrait of some of what ails this country. On the other hand, the notion that state power shouldn’t be used in this way and that private citizens can band together to prevent it is part of what makes this country such a remarkable world-historical experiment.

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The Failings of Successful Democracy

How best to acknowledge the precious democratic exercise in civic responsibility we’re witnessing this Tuesday? If you’re the New York Times, you run a disingenuous story about the failings of democracy. Today’s lesson in American hubris comes from Kuwait:

“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” [Parliamentary candidate Ali al-Rashed] said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”

It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.

[…]

The collapse of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the region and the continuing chaos in Iraq, just to the north–once heralded as the birthplace of a new democratic model–have also contributed to a popular suspicion that democracy itself is one Western import that has not lived up to its advertising.

The article’s writer, Robert F. Worth, has it on good authority that Kuwaitis are now suspicious of democracy. His source? The 24-year-old son of another Parliamentary candidate (who himself rejected that view). But that’s enough for a New York Times primary day headline.

It’s no surprise that Worth doesn’t cite any figures in trying to make the case that Kuwait’s economy and productivity is stalling. If he did, here’s what he’d confront: Kuwait’s human development is the highest in the Arab world. The country has the second-most free economy in the Middle East, and its GDP rate of growth is 5.7%, which makes its economy one of the fastest growing in the region.

The only attributable monarchy-envy comes from Worth himself, who virtually taunts Kuwaitis with their neighbors’ ostentation:

Although parts of Kuwait City were rebuilt after the Iraqi invasion of 1990, much of it looks faded and tatty, a striking contrast with the gleaming hyper-modernity of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar.

Well, you know how dingy free-market, parliamentary democracy can be.

How best to acknowledge the precious democratic exercise in civic responsibility we’re witnessing this Tuesday? If you’re the New York Times, you run a disingenuous story about the failings of democracy. Today’s lesson in American hubris comes from Kuwait:

“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” [Parliamentary candidate Ali al-Rashed] said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”

It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.

[…]

The collapse of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the region and the continuing chaos in Iraq, just to the north–once heralded as the birthplace of a new democratic model–have also contributed to a popular suspicion that democracy itself is one Western import that has not lived up to its advertising.

The article’s writer, Robert F. Worth, has it on good authority that Kuwaitis are now suspicious of democracy. His source? The 24-year-old son of another Parliamentary candidate (who himself rejected that view). But that’s enough for a New York Times primary day headline.

It’s no surprise that Worth doesn’t cite any figures in trying to make the case that Kuwait’s economy and productivity is stalling. If he did, here’s what he’d confront: Kuwait’s human development is the highest in the Arab world. The country has the second-most free economy in the Middle East, and its GDP rate of growth is 5.7%, which makes its economy one of the fastest growing in the region.

The only attributable monarchy-envy comes from Worth himself, who virtually taunts Kuwaitis with their neighbors’ ostentation:

Although parts of Kuwait City were rebuilt after the Iraqi invasion of 1990, much of it looks faded and tatty, a striking contrast with the gleaming hyper-modernity of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar.

Well, you know how dingy free-market, parliamentary democracy can be.

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Democracy Talk in The Apolitical Emirates

President Bush supposedly ratcheted up the tough talk against Tehran in his speech in the United Arab Emirates today. However, it’s hard to tease out any substantive change in the mere repetition of charges against Tehran: that “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere” is an undisputed matter of public record. It was somewhat more heartening to hear the President return to the democracy schema that sat on the back burner throughout the more trying phases of the Iraq War. CBS News reports:

In renewing his “Freedom Agenda” – Mr. Bush’s grand ambition to seed democracy around the globe — he declared that “democracy is the only form of government that treats individuals with the dignity and equality that is their right.”

“We know from experience that democracy is the only system of government that yields lasting peace and stability,” he added.

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal has a surreal companion piece to Bush’s speech in the form of an opinion article by Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The former ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and current vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates has penned something that reads more like a corporation’s quarterly letter to stockholders than a statesman’s declaration of policy. The fascinating document includes this gem:

“What are Dubai’s political ambitions?” Well, here’s my answer: We don’t have political ambitions. We don’t want to be a superpower or any other kind of political power. The whole region is over-politicized as it is. We don’t see politics as our thing, we don’t want it, we don’t think this is the right thing to do.

Sheikh Mohammed stresses the importance of capital investment in the path to well being. Someone should point out to him that there’s no such thing as opting out of politics, and that the Middle East doesn’t suffer from a shortage of capital, but from the lack of political institutions that enable the sharing of prosperity.

President Bush supposedly ratcheted up the tough talk against Tehran in his speech in the United Arab Emirates today. However, it’s hard to tease out any substantive change in the mere repetition of charges against Tehran: that “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere” is an undisputed matter of public record. It was somewhat more heartening to hear the President return to the democracy schema that sat on the back burner throughout the more trying phases of the Iraq War. CBS News reports:

In renewing his “Freedom Agenda” – Mr. Bush’s grand ambition to seed democracy around the globe — he declared that “democracy is the only form of government that treats individuals with the dignity and equality that is their right.”

“We know from experience that democracy is the only system of government that yields lasting peace and stability,” he added.

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal has a surreal companion piece to Bush’s speech in the form of an opinion article by Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The former ruler of the Emirate of Dubai and current vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates has penned something that reads more like a corporation’s quarterly letter to stockholders than a statesman’s declaration of policy. The fascinating document includes this gem:

“What are Dubai’s political ambitions?” Well, here’s my answer: We don’t have political ambitions. We don’t want to be a superpower or any other kind of political power. The whole region is over-politicized as it is. We don’t see politics as our thing, we don’t want it, we don’t think this is the right thing to do.

Sheikh Mohammed stresses the importance of capital investment in the path to well being. Someone should point out to him that there’s no such thing as opting out of politics, and that the Middle East doesn’t suffer from a shortage of capital, but from the lack of political institutions that enable the sharing of prosperity.

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Sarkozy, Nuke Salesman

Nicolas Sarkozy has earned high marks for reorienting French diplomacy in a more pro-American direction. But he is also undertaking a little-noticed and potentially dangerous initiative. This Financial Times article reports that he is actively promoting the sale of French nuclear-power technology to Middle Eastern countries:

Since becoming president in May he has signed nuclear co-operation agreements with Morocco, Algeria and Libya as well as overseeing the sale of two nuclear power stations to China.

France is also looking to provide nuclear facilities or technical assistance to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt and Jordan.

The motive for this initiative is undoubtedly innocent: The French nuclear power industry leads the world, and Sarkozy no doubt figures he can help his economy by generating more sales. He is also probably interested in strengthening French influence in a region that it has long seen as its backyard.

But the outcome may be not-so-innocent. Every nation that has acquired nuclear weapons since the 1940’s has done so initially by launching a “nuclear power” program. The expertise and facilities needed to generate nuclear power can readily be converted to create nuclear weapons. The West barely nipped Libya’s nuclear program in the bud in 2003. What is Sarko thinking in helping Libya to rebuild its capacity? Even giving aid to more pro-Western regimes (such as those in Egypt and Jordan) is a dubious move, since they might be tempted to acquire a nuclear arsenal if Iran leads the way. The result could be a destabilizing nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

The French claim there will be enough safeguards built in to their sales to prevent such a scenario. Let us hope so. But it still seems like an unnecessary risk simply to earn a few more euros.

Nicolas Sarkozy has earned high marks for reorienting French diplomacy in a more pro-American direction. But he is also undertaking a little-noticed and potentially dangerous initiative. This Financial Times article reports that he is actively promoting the sale of French nuclear-power technology to Middle Eastern countries:

Since becoming president in May he has signed nuclear co-operation agreements with Morocco, Algeria and Libya as well as overseeing the sale of two nuclear power stations to China.

France is also looking to provide nuclear facilities or technical assistance to Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt and Jordan.

The motive for this initiative is undoubtedly innocent: The French nuclear power industry leads the world, and Sarkozy no doubt figures he can help his economy by generating more sales. He is also probably interested in strengthening French influence in a region that it has long seen as its backyard.

But the outcome may be not-so-innocent. Every nation that has acquired nuclear weapons since the 1940’s has done so initially by launching a “nuclear power” program. The expertise and facilities needed to generate nuclear power can readily be converted to create nuclear weapons. The West barely nipped Libya’s nuclear program in the bud in 2003. What is Sarko thinking in helping Libya to rebuild its capacity? Even giving aid to more pro-Western regimes (such as those in Egypt and Jordan) is a dubious move, since they might be tempted to acquire a nuclear arsenal if Iran leads the way. The result could be a destabilizing nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region.

The French claim there will be enough safeguards built in to their sales to prevent such a scenario. Let us hope so. But it still seems like an unnecessary risk simply to earn a few more euros.

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Sharif’s Return

The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990’s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

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The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990’s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

The Saudis are understandably determined to preserve their long-standing links with Pakistan. The ties are long and deep: the Saudis and Pakistanis worked closely together in the 1980’s, for example, to support the mujahideen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis provided bases, training, and handlers; the Saudis (along with the Americans) provided the cash.

There are even unproven suspicions (denied vehemently by both sides) that the links may include Saudi financial contributions for the development of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, in return perhaps for an understanding that Pakistani nuclear technology will be made available to the Saudis should they ever need it. That possibility is no longer so far-fetched: If Iran develops its own nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia may well feel compelled to match the “Persians.”

That could set off a destabilizing Middle Eastern arms race and raise the odds that a nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of jihadist terrorists. But from the Saudi perspective, going nuclear could be a necessary step toward preserving their security and prestige. If so, it would be helpful to the Saudis to have in Pakistan a leader who would offer Riyadh all the cooperation it needs. And Sharif fits the bill better than Bhutto.

But the Saudis had better be careful what they wish for. If Sharif is less dogged than, say, Bhutto would be in cracking down on jihadists, the results could come back to haunt the Saudis. Pakistan, after all, has become a haven of al Qaeda extremists who hate the Saudi regime at least as much as they hate America and Israel. It is in the Saudis’ interests to have the Pakistan government defeat the jihadists—something that Pervez Musharraf has not been willing or able to do and that Sharif may or may not be willing to do either, but that Bhutto has promised to do. Of course the ability of any of these leaders to stop the growth of Islamic radicalism may be limited because of the unwillingness or inability of many in the Pakistani security forces to fight especially hard against their Muslim “brothers.” But it would certainly be helpful to have a leader who appears more emotionally committed to the fight than Musharraf has been or than Sharif may be.

There is nothing wrong with allowing Sharif to compete in free elections; they would not have any credibility if he were barred. But one wonders how much covert support the Saudis may be providing him beyond simply his plush ticket back.

The Saudis had better be careful not to compromise their long-term interests in return for short-term gain—a mistake they last made in the 1990’s when, working hand-in-glove with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, they funded the most radical mujahideen groups fighting in Afghanistan. Many of those Afghan veterans then journeyed back to Saudi Arabia and formed the nucleus of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group that Saudi security forces have been battling for the last several years.

Saudi Arabia has already imported one plague bacillus; it should be wary of a re-infection.

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Alien Investors

The last I heard of Lawrence Summers, he was performing somersaults as president of Harvard, trying to ingratiate himself with the faculty he had offended by, among other things, frankly discussing some ideas–taboo in academia–about the linkages between sex and success.

The somersaults were to no avail. Summers’s tenure as president came to an abrupt end last year and he returned to his post teaching economics as the Charles W. Eliot university professor. This was Harvard’s loss and our gain, for whatever one made of his ridiculous efforts to back away from his own thoughtful if provocative words, he is back in the public eye not as an administrator of an impossible faculty but as an economist with his finger on a number of vital issues.

One such issue is the accumulation of capital reserves and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) in the developing world. Governments ruling industrializing countries are sitting on huge and growing piles of cash. They need to park this money somewhere. Increasingly, as Summers is not alone in pointing out, they are shopping abroad and “are now accumulating various kinds of stakes in what were once purely private companies.”

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The last I heard of Lawrence Summers, he was performing somersaults as president of Harvard, trying to ingratiate himself with the faculty he had offended by, among other things, frankly discussing some ideas–taboo in academia–about the linkages between sex and success.

The somersaults were to no avail. Summers’s tenure as president came to an abrupt end last year and he returned to his post teaching economics as the Charles W. Eliot university professor. This was Harvard’s loss and our gain, for whatever one made of his ridiculous efforts to back away from his own thoughtful if provocative words, he is back in the public eye not as an administrator of an impossible faculty but as an economist with his finger on a number of vital issues.

One such issue is the accumulation of capital reserves and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) in the developing world. Governments ruling industrializing countries are sitting on huge and growing piles of cash. They need to park this money somewhere. Increasingly, as Summers is not alone in pointing out, they are shopping abroad and “are now accumulating various kinds of stakes in what were once purely private companies.”

The pace is accelerating, notes Summers:

In the last month we have seen government-controlled Chinese entities take the largest external stake (albeit non-voting) in Blackstone, a big private-equity group that, indirectly through its holdings, is one of the largest employers in the U.S. The government of Qatar is seeking to gain control of J. Sainsbury, one of Britain’s largest supermarket chains. Gazprom, a Russian conglomerate in effect controlled by the Kremlin, has strategic interests in the energy sectors of a number of countries and even a stake in Airbus. Entities controlled by the governments of China and Singapore are offering to take a substantial stake in Barclays, giving it more heft in its effort to pull off the world’s largest banking merger, with ABN Amro.

What exactly is the problem with this? Discussion of this trend, notes Summers, has focused almost entirely on issues of local control, openness in decision-making, and in certain sectors, the national-security implications, as in last year’s scuttled attempt by Dubai to buy a company that manages American ports. Although those issues are all worthy of close scrutiny, Summers sees a deeper problem:

The logic of the capitalist system depends on shareholders causing companies to act so as to maximize the value of their shares. It is far from obvious that this will over time be the only motivation of governments as shareholders. They may want to see their national companies compete effectively, or to extract technology or to achieve influence.

We have seen the degree of concern over News Corp’s attempt to buy the Wall Street Journal. How differently should one feel about a direct investment stake of a foreign government in a media or publishing company?

If these are not yet burning issues, the foreign acquisitions of recent months, and the growing quantity of cash available to governments like China’s, tell us that they will be soon.

Congress, however, shows no sign of paying heed to the implications of foreign governmental investment. Yet what would be the consequences, for example, of a shield-law for journalists, of the kind Congress is once again considering, if some of the reporters making use of such protection to ferret out, say, Pentagon secrets, were the employees of, and under the control of, a rival or hostile power?

Is anyone thinking about such things, and what is to be done? Summers himself does not have an answer, but at least he has made the problem a focus of debate. If that seems inadequate, it also seems wise.

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The GOP’s Immigration Meltdown

The debate over immigration reform has once more shown its capacity to fracture the Republican coalition. John McCain, a co-author of last week’s reform bill, recently engaged in a nasty exchange on the Senate floor with fellow Republican John Cornyn of Texas, who opposed the bill. And bill supporters Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina were roundly booed at their respective state conventions.

So far, the response by the Republican faithful to the Bush-Kennedy-McCain immigration reform proposal is redolent of both the 1976 uproar surrounding the Panama Canal treaty (which would help make Reagan president in 1980) and the current administration’s Dubai ports fiasco. As with the Panama Canal treaty, which roused patriotic sentiment, immigration in general touches on American’s sense of national identity. But the phenomenon of illegal immigration, which this bill was designed to address, strikes closer to the heart of citizens: working and middle-class voters feel that they have been made foreigners in their own localities by the influx of cheap labor. As with the Dubai ports deal, the Bush administration seems to be undermining its own core principles by failing to put security first.

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The debate over immigration reform has once more shown its capacity to fracture the Republican coalition. John McCain, a co-author of last week’s reform bill, recently engaged in a nasty exchange on the Senate floor with fellow Republican John Cornyn of Texas, who opposed the bill. And bill supporters Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Lindsay Graham of South Carolina were roundly booed at their respective state conventions.

So far, the response by the Republican faithful to the Bush-Kennedy-McCain immigration reform proposal is redolent of both the 1976 uproar surrounding the Panama Canal treaty (which would help make Reagan president in 1980) and the current administration’s Dubai ports fiasco. As with the Panama Canal treaty, which roused patriotic sentiment, immigration in general touches on American’s sense of national identity. But the phenomenon of illegal immigration, which this bill was designed to address, strikes closer to the heart of citizens: working and middle-class voters feel that they have been made foreigners in their own localities by the influx of cheap labor. As with the Dubai ports deal, the Bush administration seems to be undermining its own core principles by failing to put security first.

The Washington Post noted in a front-page story that there is little reason to believe that the (deservedly maligned) Department of Homeland Security will be up to the enormous administrative task of implementing the legislation. Similarly, many voters will remember the 1986 immigration reform bill, which provided amnesty for illegal immigrants in exchange for enforcement provisions that never took hold.

McCain will no doubt be hurt by the fallout from the deal and his show of temper in defending it; Mitt Romney, in yet another flip-flop, now claims to oppose the bill. Rudy Giuliani has done little other than question the bill’s security implications. Though immigration is unlikely to boost a second-tier candidate into the top rank, it might provide the opportunity for an outsider like Tom Tancredo (who has already murmured about running) to put together a breakaway campaign based on his opposition to both abortion and illegal immigration. Whatever happens, it is obvious that for the Republican party, the political costs of this deal are going to be high.

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