Commentary Magazine


Topic: Egypt

Have Patience with the Arab Spring

Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

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Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

France, after all, transitioned from absolute monarchy by way of the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror. This was followed by numerous further upheavals that Berman does not mention, including the Bourbon restoration from 1815 to 1830, the July Revolution of 1830, the Revolution of 1848, the proclamation of the Second Empire in 1851, the creation of the Third Republic in 1870, the Vichy regime from 1940 to 1944, and, finally, in 1958 the overthrow of the Fourth Republic and the birth of the Fifth Republic which has lasted to this day.

Germany, for its part, was forcibly created by Bismarck out of numerous smaller states in the decades leading up to 1871 and democracy did not emerge until after World War I—only to be snuffed out starting in 1933 by Adolf Hitler. Out of the post-war rubble emerged a West Germany that was democratic and an East Germany that was not. A unified, democratic Germany was not created until 1990.

As for Italy, it, too, did not emerge as a unified state until relatively late (1870). And it, too, saw its nascent democracy usurped by a fascist (Benito Mussolini), and it did not become a true liberal democracy until after World War II.

Nor was the process of democratization painless in the United States: It took two outright wars (the War of Independence and the Civil War) to establish self-government and another period of violent upheaval (the Civil Rights era of the 1950s-60s) to realize the potential of the Constitution.

Considering the tribulations suffered by the U.S. and Europe on the road to democracy, it is hardly surprising that the process of political reform is proving painful in the Middle East. As Berman reminds us: “Stable liberal democracy requires more than just a shift in political forms; it also involves eliminating the antidemocratic social, cultural, and economic legacies of the old regime. Such a process takes lots of time and effort, over multiple tries.”

She is right. Anyone who reads her article, “The Promise of the Arab Spring,” should gain a measure of patience and understanding for what it is currently happening in the Middle East. We cannot expect overnight miracles, but that does not mean that it is possible to cling to the rule of discredited strongmen—any more than Europe today could possibly return to the rule of absolute monarchs.

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A Russia-Brotherhood Rapprochement?

The New York Times reported last week that Russia finally seemed to be ready to give up on Bashar al-Assad. Russia, the report noted, “was making contingency plans to evacuate its citizens from the country, the Kremlin’s last beachhead in the Middle East.” But in the world of aspiring great power politics, “last beachheads” usually become gateways to the next beachhead. In danger of losing its influence in the region, and aware that Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt isn’t especially picky about his allies, Russia is seeking closer ties with Egypt.

There’s a problem, however. “How come you are asking to have a strong relationship with us while you see [us] as a terrorist group?” Mahmoud Ghozlan recently asked Russia’s ambassador in Cairo. Ghozlan is a spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood–an organization outlawed as a terrorist group in Russia due to its history of aiding and egging on the Islamist rebels in the North Caucasus. In only the latest example of the Muslim Brotherhood’s newfound respectability on the world stage just by virtue of taking power in Egypt, Russia may let bygones be bygones:

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The New York Times reported last week that Russia finally seemed to be ready to give up on Bashar al-Assad. Russia, the report noted, “was making contingency plans to evacuate its citizens from the country, the Kremlin’s last beachhead in the Middle East.” But in the world of aspiring great power politics, “last beachheads” usually become gateways to the next beachhead. In danger of losing its influence in the region, and aware that Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt isn’t especially picky about his allies, Russia is seeking closer ties with Egypt.

There’s a problem, however. “How come you are asking to have a strong relationship with us while you see [us] as a terrorist group?” Mahmoud Ghozlan recently asked Russia’s ambassador in Cairo. Ghozlan is a spokesman for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood–an organization outlawed as a terrorist group in Russia due to its history of aiding and egging on the Islamist rebels in the North Caucasus. In only the latest example of the Muslim Brotherhood’s newfound respectability on the world stage just by virtue of taking power in Egypt, Russia may let bygones be bygones:

Russia may ease restrictions on the Muslim Brotherhood soon to improve relations with Egypt and rebuild influence lost during the Arab Spring revolutions, diplomatic sources say.

The election of President Mohammed Mursi, propelled to power by the Islamist group, offers President Vladimir Putin a chance to improve relations with Cairo that were strained during the long rule of Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in 2011.

It’s easy to forget just how seriously Russia takes its ongoing conflict in the Caucasus–in part because Russian officials pretend there is no problem and in part because Western newspapers rarely mention the name of Doku Umarov, though he is a household name in the intelligence and counterterrorism communities. But every so often the world gets a reminder that Umarov’s boys mean business.

Russian officials tend to brush off the threat from the Caucasus Emirate in public in order to deprive the rebels of publicity, but they take the conflict personally. This is especially true of Vladimir Putin, since his prosecution of the Second Chechen War was his dramatic election-year introduction to the Russian people as he prepared to take over for the ailing Boris Yeltsin. Putin’s identity thus was crafted through his response to the Chechen threat.

Leaders in the Muslim world have been sensitive to this. As Ray Takeyh writes in Hidden Iran, the Islamic Republic’s leaders may have proclaimed their loyalty to the Islamic revolution and to oppressed Muslims everywhere, but Russia’s friendship was strategically important to them, and they watched what they said and did in that regard:

The full scope of Iran’s pragmatism became evident during the Chechnya conflict. At a time when the Russian soldiers were indiscriminately massacring Muslim rebels and aggressively suppressing an Islamic insurgency, Iran’s response was a mere statement declaring the issue to be an internal Russian affair. At times, when Russia’s behavior was particularly egregious, Iran’s statements would be harsher. However, Tehran never undertook practical measures such as dispatching aid to the rebels or organizing the Islamic bloc against Moscow’s policy. Given that Iran had calculated that its national interests lay in not excessively antagonizing the Russian Federation, it largely ignored the plight of the Chechens despite the Islamic appeal of their cause.

There is some evidence that Chechen Islamists joined the anti-Assad forces in Syria as well.

Morsi is reportedly expected to make a trip to Moscow next year. Putin’s Russia has not exactly been a constructive partner for the West in the current Mideast strife, nor is it likely to be any more helpful in Egypt. A developing Egypt-Hamas partnership with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Putin should continue to disabuse the West of the notion that Morsi intends to be an improvement upon his predecessor, or that fading American influence is anything but a recipe to empower illiberal forces in its place.

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Morsi’s Defiant, Confrontational Speech

If there is anything that the current situation in Egypt teaches, it is how hard it is to create a functioning liberal democracy after decades of oppression. It is, in fact, a lot harder than simply having an election. Because after the voting, it is imperative for the winners to show respect for the losers and not simply try to consolidate all power in their own hands while trying to crush the opposition.

By that standard, Mohamed Morsi is failing as Egypt’s new president. In recent weeks he has tried to claim for himself powers that are above even judicial review, and now he is trying to ram through a new constitution, which is to be voted on mere weeks after being drafted in a secretive process declared invalid by the opposition. When Egyptians opposed to this power grab have taken to the streets they have been met by thuggish Muslim Brotherhood supporters and violence has broken out.

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If there is anything that the current situation in Egypt teaches, it is how hard it is to create a functioning liberal democracy after decades of oppression. It is, in fact, a lot harder than simply having an election. Because after the voting, it is imperative for the winners to show respect for the losers and not simply try to consolidate all power in their own hands while trying to crush the opposition.

By that standard, Mohamed Morsi is failing as Egypt’s new president. In recent weeks he has tried to claim for himself powers that are above even judicial review, and now he is trying to ram through a new constitution, which is to be voted on mere weeks after being drafted in a secretive process declared invalid by the opposition. When Egyptians opposed to this power grab have taken to the streets they have been met by thuggish Muslim Brotherhood supporters and violence has broken out.

Today, speaking from an office ringed by tanks, Morsi sounded a lot like his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. In fact the only difference between the two appeared to be the backdrop they used for their televised addresses—red for Morsi, blue for Mubarak. Morsi was positively Mubarak-like in blaming the protests on “infiltrators” funded by unnamed third parties—it must be counted as considerable restraint on his part not to come right out and blame the perfidious Zionists. When he vowed that those guilty of violence “will not escape punishment” it sounded like a veiled threat against the opposition; certainly it is hard to imagine him jailing Muslim Brothers who have attacked secular opposition activists or Coptic Christians.

Indeed the menacing tone of his remarks did much to undermine the message of unity that was contained in his call for a dialogue with the opposition. For such talks to be fruitful, Morsi will have to acknowledge that the opposition is not motivated by a desire to undermine Egypt or bring back the old regime—but rather that the opposition is as concerned about the country’s welfare as he is. That, however, would require a monumental intellectual and moral leap that only a few heroes, such as Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi, have been able to make. Most of those who have spent long periods of time in underground organizations plotting against the state emerge bitter and ruthless and determined not to allow anyone else to oust them from power as they ousted the previous incumbent. Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong are the ultimate 20th-century examples. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq is a much lesser and less malign example: he is not a mass murderer but he has a conspiratorial, winner-take-all outlook which leads him to persecute political opponents such as the Sunni Vice President Tariq al Hashemi. Unfortunately for Egypt’s future, Morsi, alas, fits more closely into the Maliki mindset than in the Mandela-Havel-Suu Kyi mold.

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U.S. Should Stand with Egypt’s Democrats

With tanks deployed in the streets of Cairo, following clashes that have left at least half a dozen people dead, it is obvious that the political turmoil which forced Hosni Mubarak out of office has returned. Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak’s successor, has no one to blame but himself for these street clashes. They are a direct response to what is widely seen as his extra-constitutional grab for power and his tendency to demonize his opponents in inflammatory language by claiming they are former regime stooges.

Morsi’s process of consolidating authority is set to continue in just nine days’ time if the referendum he has scheduled on a hastily cobbled together new constitution is still held. The constitution, based on the existing one that justified decades of dictatorial rule, is full of amorphous language that secularists and Coptic Christians fear could inaugurate a new tyranny by the Muslim Brotherhood. It certainly does nothing to change the military’s unaccountable position, outside of political control—something that can be good or bad depending on whether the military sees its role as shepherding in secular democracy (as in Turkey) or serving as enforcers for the Islamists in power (as in Iran).

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With tanks deployed in the streets of Cairo, following clashes that have left at least half a dozen people dead, it is obvious that the political turmoil which forced Hosni Mubarak out of office has returned. Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak’s successor, has no one to blame but himself for these street clashes. They are a direct response to what is widely seen as his extra-constitutional grab for power and his tendency to demonize his opponents in inflammatory language by claiming they are former regime stooges.

Morsi’s process of consolidating authority is set to continue in just nine days’ time if the referendum he has scheduled on a hastily cobbled together new constitution is still held. The constitution, based on the existing one that justified decades of dictatorial rule, is full of amorphous language that secularists and Coptic Christians fear could inaugurate a new tyranny by the Muslim Brotherhood. It certainly does nothing to change the military’s unaccountable position, outside of political control—something that can be good or bad depending on whether the military sees its role as shepherding in secular democracy (as in Turkey) or serving as enforcers for the Islamists in power (as in Iran).

The encouraging news of recent days is that the political opposition is not going quietly—it is protesting not only in the streets but with some newspapers suspending publication temporarily, judges speaking out, and even some of Morsi’s own aides resigning in protest. It is far from clear where these clashes are heading: are we seeing another Egyptian revolution or (more likely) protests that will be put down?

Whatever the case, the U.S. position is clear–or ought to be: We must stand with the democrats in Egypt by insisting on checks and balances in the political system and more moderate rule from Morsi. So far President Obama has been extremely cautious in making his views clear. This is not necessarily wrong—speaking out in public can make it harder to apply private pressure to Morsi. But whatever tactics he chooses to employ, Obama cannot simply sit by and allow the Egyptian revolution to be undermined. With our billions of dollars of military and economic aid to Egypt, the U.S. has an important say in what happens. Doing nothing isn’t an option—that signals support for the status quo. Obama must use what leverage he has to press Morsi to create a more liberal government, not a new dictatorship.

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U.S. Policy Toward Egypt Shouldn’t Revert to Mubarak-Era Form

In the third presidential debate, President Obama highlighted his administration’s policy toward Egypt to buttress his foreign policy legacy. He said: “In Egypt we stood on the side of democracy. In Libya we stood on the side of the people. And as a consequence there is no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed.” But in fact at the time, the latter statement wasn’t true, and by now the former appears to have evaporated as well. In June, months before Obama bragged about Egyptians’ opinion of the U.S., Pew released the findings of its poll on global attitudes toward America. It found that opinion of the U.S. in the age of Obama had returned to its low point, and that Egyptians overwhelmingly, according to Pew, wanted Obama to be a one-term president.

It is unlikely that with the president’s virtual silence over Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s power grab those numbers will improve much. In the latest of several days of protesting, Egyptians chanted at Morsi: “Shave your beard, show your disgrace, you will find that you have Mubarak’s face!” Funny, yes–but it shouldn’t be disregarded as a joke. In fact, as the realist approach to the region lay in ruins around the Middle East, the Obama administration may be making the very same blunders in pursuit of the mirage of stability in the desert.

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In the third presidential debate, President Obama highlighted his administration’s policy toward Egypt to buttress his foreign policy legacy. He said: “In Egypt we stood on the side of democracy. In Libya we stood on the side of the people. And as a consequence there is no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed.” But in fact at the time, the latter statement wasn’t true, and by now the former appears to have evaporated as well. In June, months before Obama bragged about Egyptians’ opinion of the U.S., Pew released the findings of its poll on global attitudes toward America. It found that opinion of the U.S. in the age of Obama had returned to its low point, and that Egyptians overwhelmingly, according to Pew, wanted Obama to be a one-term president.

It is unlikely that with the president’s virtual silence over Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s power grab those numbers will improve much. In the latest of several days of protesting, Egyptians chanted at Morsi: “Shave your beard, show your disgrace, you will find that you have Mubarak’s face!” Funny, yes–but it shouldn’t be disregarded as a joke. In fact, as the realist approach to the region lay in ruins around the Middle East, the Obama administration may be making the very same blunders in pursuit of the mirage of stability in the desert.

Of course, the pursuit of stability is reasonable enough. But what we’ve learned from the last few years is that stability purchased by selling out the rights and freedoms of the people of the Arab world presents not only as a moral problem, but also as one of efficacy. So-called realists disregard the dignity of the oppressed as mere idealism, but this practice just plain fails at its objective: Arab police states provided the illusion of stability, but in effect undermined it.

This was certainly Mubarak’s approach. While the political dominance of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is not exactly a welcome development, to say the least, it was made nearly inevitable by Mubarak’s policy of suppressing any and all political organization he could. Only the Brotherhood’s Islamism, kept alive underground and in the mosques, and long preceding Egypt’s current political establishment, was able to withstand the regime’s tyranny.

The other institution that was and remains strong is Egypt’s military. The Brotherhood allied with the military to hold early elections before the non-Islamist movements could coalesce into a more serious rival, and they were rewarded by Morsi. As the Washington Post editorializes today, “The Egyptian military is given virtual autonomy, with a defense minister appointed from within its ranks and a budget determined by a national security council rather than by parliament.”

The Post continues:

The deeper problem is that Mr. Morsi’s government appears content to steamroll, rather than seek accommodation with, secular opponents. While his spokesmen say they recognize that some of the protesters are peaceful members of the movement that overthrew Mr. Mubarak, they claim that the crowds contain paid thugs and provocateurs.

Obama shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to defend the rights Egyptians finally thought they had within their grasp out of fear of upsetting a stable balance; it isn’t there. Nor should Obama worry about the perception that he would be insulting the Egyptian people’s religious sensibilities; Morsi’s reputation as “Mubarak with a beard” is an indication that many Egyptians believe Morsi has hijacked and abused their faith as a means to subjugate them and collect power for himself. And with regard to his popularity, Obama doesn’t have much to lose there either; as Pew showed, Egyptians don’t think much of him–and he’s not giving them a reason to reconsider.

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Hamas’s All-of-the-Above Approach to Regional Alliances

The New York Times has a hopeful but ultimately unconvincing analysis today proclaiming the rise of a more constructive Sunni “axis” in the Middle East. The theory is that Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt are challenging the hegemonic Iran and the civil war-torn Syria, and that this trio’s closer relationship to the Hamas terrorist gang running the Gaza Strip will prize diplomacy and stability over war while weakening Iran.

Of course this is what Western diplomats have hoped–and continue to hope–will one day become a reality. But at this point, not only is it premature to announce this new Middle East, but the thesis has actually taken quite a beating in the last two weeks. Here’s the Times describing the opportunity for a regional shift:

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The New York Times has a hopeful but ultimately unconvincing analysis today proclaiming the rise of a more constructive Sunni “axis” in the Middle East. The theory is that Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt are challenging the hegemonic Iran and the civil war-torn Syria, and that this trio’s closer relationship to the Hamas terrorist gang running the Gaza Strip will prize diplomacy and stability over war while weakening Iran.

Of course this is what Western diplomats have hoped–and continue to hope–will one day become a reality. But at this point, not only is it premature to announce this new Middle East, but the thesis has actually taken quite a beating in the last two weeks. Here’s the Times describing the opportunity for a regional shift:

But uprising, wars and economics have altered the landscape of the region, paving the way for a new axis to emerge, one led by a Sunni Muslim alliance of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey. That triumvirate played a leading role in helping end the eight-day conflict between Israel and Gaza, in large part by embracing Hamas and luring it further away from the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah fold, offering diplomatic clout and promises of hefty aid.

Let’s start with the obvious objection to this theory, which the Times itself offers in the next paragraph, noting that “while these Sunni leaders are willing to work with Washington, unlike the mullahs in Tehran, they also promote a radical religious-based ideology that has fueled anti-Western sentiment around the region.” They certainly do promote this ideology, and this ideology stands at odds with freedom, peace, and human rights–three things needed in the neighborhood much more than guns, missiles and no-strings-attached cash. This ideology prioritizes “resistance”–code for terrorism against Israel–and as such actually spreads support for resorting to violence rather than act as a break on the inclination.

The second problem with this theory is that Hamas never actually “broke with” Iran, which the article claims. Hamas, in fact, gets weapons from Iran. Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’s political chief, went on CNN at the tail end of Operation Pillar of Defense to announce his continuing relationship with Iran. Last night, Palestinians in Gaza put up billboards in four languages thanking Iran for helping them attempt to wage permanent war against Israel.

Is it possible to accept long-range missiles from Iran and $400 million checks from Qatar? Indeed it is, and that certainly appears to be what Hamas is doing.

And of course there is reason to believe that the support for Hamas coming from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership and Turkey’s increasingly Islamist (and, at times, approaching fanatical) government may have the opposite of the intended effect. (Or, rather, the opposite of the effect the Times wishes were intended; Turkey and Egypt probably know exactly what they are doing.)

As Jonathan has written, Egypt’s support for Hamas has emboldened the terrorist group. This is only logical, as Hamas now has a major Arab state that shares a border both with Israel and the Strip that is its ideological ally. I shed no tears for the demise of the Mubarak regime, whose fault much of this is, but from Hamas’s perspective the country went from actively suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood to being dominated by it. The belief that this will cause Hamas to moderate seems like wishful thinking–there certainly is no evidence of it.

Turkey, meanwhile, as the Times has recently reported, has marginalized itself with its support of Hamas. Far from being a regional power broker, its extremist drift has been a major factor in its geopolitical divorce with Israel, robbing the country of its previous claim to fame as the only trusted mediator in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab states.

The Times is certainly correct, however, that the fall of the House of Assad would strike a serious blow to Iran’s influence in the region. Unfortunately, reports of Assad’s fall have been greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, even a weakened Assad–which is surely what he is now–is good for the region in the long run, though is mostly a source of death, destruction, and instability in the near-term. And it’s hard to argue that Qatar isn’t preferable to Syria as a regional actor. But again, many of these developments have yet to actually happen.

The new Middle East is, for now, strikingly similar to the old Middle East.

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Israel-Hamas Cease-fire a Work in Progress

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that Israel would finally respond to Hamas’s rocket barrage from Gaza, his knee-jerk critics issued two very silly judgments almost immediately. They said Netanyahu was ordering this counteroffensive to boost his reelection chances in January, and that his decision was an open challenge to newly reelected President Barack Obama.

Though neither of these theories made much sense from the outset, Operation Pillar of Defense conclusively debunked them once and for all. Netanyahu’s cautious, limited approach to the conflict was panned in opinion polls; Israelis wanted to see Hamas more thoroughly beaten, perhaps through a ground invasion by troops already called up for service just in case. And though more hawkish elements in his cabinet wanted either more favorable cease-fire terms for Israel or no cease-fire at all, Netanyahu sided with the Obama administration in its desire to see the end of hostilities as soon as possible. And Tzipi Livni removed all doubt about public opinion toward Pillar of Defense when announcing her new political party today in Tel Aviv:

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When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that Israel would finally respond to Hamas’s rocket barrage from Gaza, his knee-jerk critics issued two very silly judgments almost immediately. They said Netanyahu was ordering this counteroffensive to boost his reelection chances in January, and that his decision was an open challenge to newly reelected President Barack Obama.

Though neither of these theories made much sense from the outset, Operation Pillar of Defense conclusively debunked them once and for all. Netanyahu’s cautious, limited approach to the conflict was panned in opinion polls; Israelis wanted to see Hamas more thoroughly beaten, perhaps through a ground invasion by troops already called up for service just in case. And though more hawkish elements in his cabinet wanted either more favorable cease-fire terms for Israel or no cease-fire at all, Netanyahu sided with the Obama administration in its desire to see the end of hostilities as soon as possible. And Tzipi Livni removed all doubt about public opinion toward Pillar of Defense when announcing her new political party today in Tel Aviv:

“Everything is upside down,” Livni said, and went on to allude to the government’s ceasefire negotiations with Hamas versus the lack of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority: “The government enters dialogue with those who support terror and avoids the camp that has prevented terror, that fights for two states.”

Livni, who is not quite a dove but by no means among the more hawkish elements of Israel’s political spectrum today, thinks she can run to Netanyahu’s right on the Hamas cease-fire. Meanwhile, a report in today’s New York Times demonstrates why the cease-fire may continue to be a drag on Netanyahu: the two sides still can’t agree on the terms of a cease-fire that was supposed to have already taken effect. The Times notes that Palestinians in Gaza have already violated the truce, and Hamas is looking for concessions to keep playing ball:

Israeli officials refused even to confirm that a delegation had arrived in Cairo. It was not immediately clear whether this stemmed from an agreement between the sides to maintain discretion, or if it was part of an Israeli effort to play down the idea it was making any concessions to Hamas.

Netanyahu is probably not in danger of losing votes to Livni over this, since anyone already to Netanyahu’s right will probably stay there rather than cross over and run to Netanyahu’s left by voting for politicians even less likely to take positions they agree with. But if the Palestinians keep violating the truce, and these negotiations continue to drag on, the lack of “closure” on the mission may be a headache for Netanyahu going forward.

Ironically, Livni’s great hope was once that Obama preferred her to Netanyahu. Her current political position will only alienate her American admirers without gaining many Israeli supporters instead, while Netanyahu’s broadened rightist party and cooperation with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton enables him to cast a wide net in search votes. In an attempt to grab the center, Livni may end up on the margins.

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What Kirsten Powers Gets Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians

Kirsten Powers is a thoughtful liberal who’s willing to challenge the party line. At times, though, her arguments strike me as misguided. Such is the case with her column in The Daily Beast titled, “What Evangelicals Get Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians.”

Ms. Powers quotes Todd Deatherage, co-founder of the Telos Group, an organization that “works with American evangelicals to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” According to Mr. Deatherage, “What a lot of Christians don’t understand is the importance of realizing both people [the Israelis and the Palestinians] have legitimate connections to the land.” American evangelicals, we’re told, need to “understand the Palestinian perspective.” 

“Palestinians have a need for dignity and respect, and a deep attachment to the land,” according to Deatherage. As for Powers, she criticizes American evangelicals for their “blind loyalty to Israel, with little to no regard for the plight of the Palestinian people.” She then asks, in the context of the Palestinians, “Since when is dehumanizing people—God’s creation—an acceptable Christian view?”

The answer, of course, is never. But it seems to me that both Powers and Deatherage are missing some important points.

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Kirsten Powers is a thoughtful liberal who’s willing to challenge the party line. At times, though, her arguments strike me as misguided. Such is the case with her column in The Daily Beast titled, “What Evangelicals Get Wrong About Israel and the Palestinians.”

Ms. Powers quotes Todd Deatherage, co-founder of the Telos Group, an organization that “works with American evangelicals to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” According to Mr. Deatherage, “What a lot of Christians don’t understand is the importance of realizing both people [the Israelis and the Palestinians] have legitimate connections to the land.” American evangelicals, we’re told, need to “understand the Palestinian perspective.” 

“Palestinians have a need for dignity and respect, and a deep attachment to the land,” according to Deatherage. As for Powers, she criticizes American evangelicals for their “blind loyalty to Israel, with little to no regard for the plight of the Palestinian people.” She then asks, in the context of the Palestinians, “Since when is dehumanizing people—God’s creation—an acceptable Christian view?”

The answer, of course, is never. But it seems to me that both Powers and Deatherage are missing some important points.

Let’s start with some historical ones.

From 1948 through 1967 Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza—and during that time neither nation lifted a finger to establish a Palestinian state. The Arab world seemed strangely indifferent to the Palestinians’ “deep attachment” and “legitimate connections” to the land. In fact, in 1970 King Hussein of Jordan slaughtered tens of thousands of Palestinians and eradicated the PLO from Jordan. And for those who maintain that the animosity against Israel is because of the occupied territories and settlements, there is this inconvenient fact: the PLO, whose declared purpose was the elimination of Israel, was founded in 1964—three years before the West Bank and Gaza fell under Israeli control. And what explains the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel, before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue?

The land Israel did win in 1967—including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai desert and the Golan Heights—was the result of a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel. After its victory in the Six-Day War, Israel signaled to the Arab states its willingness to relinquish virtually all the territories it acquired in exchange for peace—but that hope was crushed in 1967 when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three noes”: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

The wave of anti-Israeli rage never subsided. Thirty-three years later, in 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered up an astonishing set of concessions to Yasir Arafat, including having Israel withdraw to virtually all of the 1949-1967 boundaries, so that a Palestinian state could be proclaimed with its capital in Jerusalem. Yet Arafat not only turned down the offer but responded with an intifada against Israel. And in 2005 then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israel did what no other nation—not the Jordanians, not the Egyptians, not the British, not anyone—has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. 

The record also shows that when Israel has an Arab interlocutor that is interested in authentic peace—such as Jordan and Egypt under Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak—it is quite willing to make peace and return land for peace (see the Sinai Desert, which Israel returned to Egypt and which is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in the 1967 war).  

I detail this history because it’s highly relevant to what is happening in the here and now. For while some “rejectionists” do exist among evangelical Christians in America and among some Jews in Israel, the reality is this: A two-state solution is the official policy of Israel. The obstacle to a Palestinian homeland doesn’t have to do with evangelical or Israeli rejectionists; it has to do with the inability of Hamas and the Palestinian leadership to make their own inner peace with the Jewish state of Israel. As long as that’s the case, it’s perfectly appropriate to distinguish between what Churchill called the fire brigade and the fire. And as the most recent conflict in Gaza has once again demonstrated, Hamas not only targets innocent Israeli civilians; it does everything it can to cause the deaths of innocent Palestinians (by using them as human shields) in order to score propaganda victories. Israel, on the other hand, takes extraordinary steps to try to prevent civilian deaths. Denying these realities—constructing a false narrative that fits a false hope—makes peace less, not more, likely.    

This doesn’t mean that every Israeli action and every Israeli government has acted wisely. Israel itself is constantly engaged in a lively discussion about its approach to everything from settlements to roadblocks. My point is simply that in the totality of its actions, facing organizations and nations dedicated to its destruction, Israel has acted in estimable ways. People demand of Israel what they demand of no other nation, and the moral double standard that is applied to it is repulsive.   

I want to turn, finally, to what it means to be genuinely pro-Palestinian. The old paradigm argues that to help the Palestinian people means applying pressure on Israel to hand over new land. But in Gaza we have just tested the proposition that the Palestinians, if given self-rule, would govern responsibly. The result wasn’t just escalated violence against Israel; it was destitution and suffering for Palestinians who lived under the leadership of Fatah and then (after a brief and bloody intra-Palestinian civil war) Hamas. Which brings us to a larger truth: the Palestinian people, many of whom are bone weary of war, have suffered horribly at the hands of other Arab nations, who have used them as pawns; and at the hands of a corrupt and malevolent Palestinian leadership. The few responsible Palestinian leaders who have emerged in recent years have proven to be much too weak to shape the course of events. 

Those who profess solidarity with the Palestinian people and want them to live lives of dignity and peace—which is an admirable and humane impulse—should focus their energy and efforts less on Israel and more on replacing the political elite and reforming the political culture of Palestinians who will not let their burning hatred for the Jewish state dim, even for a moment. Unless and until that happens, no amount of Israeli good will and no amount of territorial concessions will lead to peace. It will, in fact, only inflame the passions of Israel’s enemies and draw the Jewish and Palestinian people closer to days of violence, days of mourning, days of war. Surely that is something that those who long to be peacemakers and agents of reconciliation should understand.

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The Complicated Politics of the Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire

At the beginning of this year, as speculation over whether Israel was preparing to strike Iran’s nuclear program reached something of a crescendo, one of Israel’s most respected journalists sat down with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The journalist, Ronen Bergman, asked Barak about the former political and military figures who had begun to publicly argue against a strike. Barak responded with a reminder about the burden of responsibility he carries along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions,” Barak said. “But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.” Barak wasn’t trying to be dramatic; rather, he was making make a point about the historical weight that rests on nearly every major decision made by the Israeli leadership. Many in the press took this as a declaration by Barak that he would always err on the side of the hawks—why take any chances? But in reality, as we saw this week with Operation Pillar of Defense, it can often mean just the opposite. Barak Ravid reports:

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At the beginning of this year, as speculation over whether Israel was preparing to strike Iran’s nuclear program reached something of a crescendo, one of Israel’s most respected journalists sat down with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The journalist, Ronen Bergman, asked Barak about the former political and military figures who had begun to publicly argue against a strike. Barak responded with a reminder about the burden of responsibility he carries along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions,” Barak said. “But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.” Barak wasn’t trying to be dramatic; rather, he was making make a point about the historical weight that rests on nearly every major decision made by the Israeli leadership. Many in the press took this as a declaration by Barak that he would always err on the side of the hawks—why take any chances? But in reality, as we saw this week with Operation Pillar of Defense, it can often mean just the opposite. Barak Ravid reports:

At Tuesday’s meeting, just before U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived, it became clear to Israel that the principles for a cease-fire being proposed by Egypt were much closer to Hamas’ positions than to its own. The assumption voiced by intelligence officials at the triumvirate meeting was that, contrary to the situation during Mubarak’s era, the Egyptians are aligning with Hamas and trying to provide it with achievements.

This triggered an acerbic dispute between Barak and Lieberman. The defense minister, opposed to an expansion of the operation, thought Israel should respond positively to Egypt’s proposal for a cease-fire and end the operation. Barak said at the meeting that the precise wording of the Egyptian draft is not important since the end of fighting and Israel’s power of deterrence would be tested by the reality on the ground.

Despite a clear lack of trust in their Egyptian counterparts, Barak argued for, and Netanyahu accepted, the merits of ending the conflict without a ground incursion into Gaza. Netanyahu, as we’ve written here before, bears almost no relation to the caricature painted of him in the Western press. The journalists who have spent the last year or two republishing rumors of an imminent Israeli attack on Iran that never materialized too often believed their own spin. Netanyahu, they said, was a warmonger who would order risky comprehensive military operations over the objections of the Israeli public. But in fact, as we learned this week, the Israeli public opposed the cease-fire that brought an end to Operation Pillar of Defense—by a wide margin.

They tended to agree with Avigdor Lieberman, that Israel’s deterrence had not yet been restored. And this wasn’t coming from the peanut gallery sitting on the sidelines. As the Times of Israel reports, there was noticeable and vocal dissent within the military—soldiers who were called up just in case and expressed vehement disappointment that they were never ordered into Gaza.

Netanyahu’s acceptance of the cease-fire is certainly popular outside Israel, especially among his fellow diplomats and heads of state. But there is some risk here too; Netanyahu’s counterparts abroad don’t care what the terms of the deal are, and they don’t much care for Israel’s deterrent capability. They want, more than anything, for Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to look like a pragmatic dealmaker, to assuage Western fears that a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt will side with Hamas, which has its roots in the Brotherhood as well, rather than with Western interests.

And any goodwill Netanyahu earns will dissipate almost immediately; “Bibi the Peacemaker” runs counter to the narrative the media constructed and from which they seem constitutionally incapable of deviating. They told us Netanyahu was launching this conflict to shore up his reelection prospects. That it seems to have done the reverse—he is still favored, but looks to be somewhat weakened by the cease-fire—is an example of the difficult position in which Israel finds itself. Israelis prove time and again that their state can uphold both democracy and national security—two things increasingly unimportant to the Jewish state’s critics abroad.

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Cease-Fire Agreement Reached

Hillary Clinton announced the deal at a Cairo press conference this afternoon. Reports haven’t included all the details of the agreement just yet, but it’s supposed to take effect shortly:

Nov 21 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza had come at a crucial time for countries of the Middle East.

“This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace,” she said at a joint news conference with her Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr.

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Hillary Clinton announced the deal at a Cairo press conference this afternoon. Reports haven’t included all the details of the agreement just yet, but it’s supposed to take effect shortly:

Nov 21 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza had come at a crucial time for countries of the Middle East.

“This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace,” she said at a joint news conference with her Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr.

We’ll see what both sides get out of this, if anything but a return to the status quo. Hamas was demanding the lifting of Israel’s blockade. If that’s in the actual agreement — Reuters says it is not — Israel would have traded temporary peace for even bigger problems later on.

There’s also the question of how long this lasts. Israel has successfully destroyed almost all of the missile stockpiles and launching sites it was aware of, so the length of the cease-fire may just depend on how long it takes Hamas to replenish its supplies.

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Why Turkey’s Influence Is Fading Fast

Though most of the news out of Turkey in recent years has been dispiriting, the once-secular nation finally seems to be paying a price for its Islamist turn. As the New York Times reports today, Turkey is learning an age-old lesson about power politics in the Middle East: in alienating Israel in a bid to win the trust of the region’s Arab population, it has marginalized itself:

After prayers last Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosphorous here and dismissed a suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with its onetime ally, Israel, to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

“We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.

But by Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense, undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he headed to Gaza with an Arab League delegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.

The article contrasts Turkey’s standing in the current conflict with that of Egypt. Since both Egypt’s government and the Hamas rulers of Gaza spring from the Muslim Brotherhood, and since Egypt and Gaza share a border (though not in the ignorant minds of the “flotilla” activists), Egypt has a natural advantage over Turkey as a power broker in this case. Egypt also has history on its side, and in the Middle East, history counts for a lot. So this puts Turkey at a disadvantage to begin with, which it only compounded by making a series of unforced errors.

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Though most of the news out of Turkey in recent years has been dispiriting, the once-secular nation finally seems to be paying a price for its Islamist turn. As the New York Times reports today, Turkey is learning an age-old lesson about power politics in the Middle East: in alienating Israel in a bid to win the trust of the region’s Arab population, it has marginalized itself:

After prayers last Friday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped outside a mosque on the banks of the Bosphorous here and dismissed a suggestion that Turkey should talk directly with its onetime ally, Israel, to attempt to resolve the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

“We do not have any connections in terms of dialogue with Israel,” he said.

But by Tuesday, Turkey seemed to indicate that while its strident anti-Israel posture has been popular among Arabs, it has been at its own expense, undermining its ability to play the role of regional power broker by leaving it with little leverage to intercede in the Gaza conflict. As he headed to Gaza with an Arab League delegation on Tuesday, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, suggested to reporters that back-channel discussions had been opened with Israeli authorities.

The article contrasts Turkey’s standing in the current conflict with that of Egypt. Since both Egypt’s government and the Hamas rulers of Gaza spring from the Muslim Brotherhood, and since Egypt and Gaza share a border (though not in the ignorant minds of the “flotilla” activists), Egypt has a natural advantage over Turkey as a power broker in this case. Egypt also has history on its side, and in the Middle East, history counts for a lot. So this puts Turkey at a disadvantage to begin with, which it only compounded by making a series of unforced errors.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan keeps trying to close this credibility gap by aiming such venom at the Jewish state that even the Times calls him “anti-Israel.” Part of the problem for Erdogan is that he seems to believe the tales he tells himself. The Times notes that “Turkey’s stature in the Middle East has soared in recent years as it became a vocal defender of Palestinian rights and an outspoken critic of Israel.”

Erdogan is most certainly not a defender of Palestinian rights; he is a defender of Hamas, terrorist entity that executes Palestinians in the streets and pursues a brutish totalitarianism that continues to strangle the life–literally and figuratively–out of the Palestinians it governs.

Erdogan’s marginalization is a positive development, but it also highlights the need to marginalize and disempower the extremists like Hamas with whom Erdogan chooses to ally his country. The “forces of moderation” may be a relative term in the Middle East, but it doesn’t include Hamas, nor, any longer, Turkey.

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Destroy the Smuggling Tunnels

Jonathan Tobin is absolutely correct to warn against rewarding Hamas for its attacks on Israel by granting it any sort of diplomatic concession. After all, engrained in Hamas is an absolute refusal to abide by previous diplomacy, such as the agreements the Palestinian Authority had made with Israel as a precondition to the Authority’s 1994 formation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israeli officials, alas, can always be counted on for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Enter on cue Dan Harel, former deputy chief of the Israeli Defense Forces General Staff and a former head of its Southern Command, who quips that Israel is running out of targets.

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Jonathan Tobin is absolutely correct to warn against rewarding Hamas for its attacks on Israel by granting it any sort of diplomatic concession. After all, engrained in Hamas is an absolute refusal to abide by previous diplomacy, such as the agreements the Palestinian Authority had made with Israel as a precondition to the Authority’s 1994 formation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israeli officials, alas, can always be counted on for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Enter on cue Dan Harel, former deputy chief of the Israeli Defense Forces General Staff and a former head of its Southern Command, who quips that Israel is running out of targets.

There are several huge targets that Israel should destroy, lest they simply kick the can down the road and set the stage for a far more bloody conflict a few months or years down the road: The smuggling tunnels from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula into Gaza. As much as Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, other Islamist leaders, and prominent leftists like Noam Chomsky and the UN’s special rapporteur Richard Falk whine about Israel’s inspection regime for the Gaza Strip, the fact remains that Hamas had no problem rearming and building its arsenal since 2009. It achieved this through the sophisticated network of smuggling tunnels.

Israel should not waste the opportunity to systematically destroy these in their entirety. To accept a ceasefire while the mechanism by which a terrorist group resupplies itself remains functional would be strategic malpractice. For diplomats in the European Union and United States to turn a blind eye to these tunnels is no less irresponsible.  

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Obama Must Spike Hamas Demands

Last week, Hamas started a war with Israel that it could not win militarily. The hundreds of missiles it has fired at Israeli villages, towns and cities have terrorized millions of civilians, but thanks to effective civil defense procedures and a generally successful use of the Iron Dome system, they have failed to kill or injure many people. On the other hand, the Israel Defense Forces have exacted a heavy price from Hamas in terms of leaders and terrorists killed and destruction of their armaments. But Hamas still thinks it can win. As in the past, by hiding their missiles and fighters among civilians, they have deliberately endangered Palestinian civilians and created a toll of casualties with which they hope to distort the world’s view of the conflict. All it takes is one errant Israeli bomb that kills (as one did yesterday) a family to create an international incident in which the terrorist-run enclave can falsely represent itself as a victim rather than a perpetrator.

But Hamas is hoping for more than just the usual media gang-tackle aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s right to defend its borders and its people. This time, Hamas is counting on the diplomatic support of Egypt and Turkey to not only force Israel to accept a cease-fire before the terrorist group’s military infrastructure is significantly damaged, but also to extract concessions from the Israelis. Hamas is using the indirect negotiations for a halt to the fighting currently going on in Cairo to pursue an agenda that would effectively render it invulnerable to future Israeli counter-attacks as well as to strengthen its hold on Gaza. It goes almost without saying that no Israeli government could possibly consider agreeing to those terms even if meant that a costly ground attack on Gaza was the only alternative.

Hamas’s confidence is based on the idea not only that Egypt and Turkey have its back but also that the United States will not support Israel’s refusal to accept its demands. That is where President Obama, who has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Gaza fighting, becomes a crucial figure in its resolution.

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Last week, Hamas started a war with Israel that it could not win militarily. The hundreds of missiles it has fired at Israeli villages, towns and cities have terrorized millions of civilians, but thanks to effective civil defense procedures and a generally successful use of the Iron Dome system, they have failed to kill or injure many people. On the other hand, the Israel Defense Forces have exacted a heavy price from Hamas in terms of leaders and terrorists killed and destruction of their armaments. But Hamas still thinks it can win. As in the past, by hiding their missiles and fighters among civilians, they have deliberately endangered Palestinian civilians and created a toll of casualties with which they hope to distort the world’s view of the conflict. All it takes is one errant Israeli bomb that kills (as one did yesterday) a family to create an international incident in which the terrorist-run enclave can falsely represent itself as a victim rather than a perpetrator.

But Hamas is hoping for more than just the usual media gang-tackle aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s right to defend its borders and its people. This time, Hamas is counting on the diplomatic support of Egypt and Turkey to not only force Israel to accept a cease-fire before the terrorist group’s military infrastructure is significantly damaged, but also to extract concessions from the Israelis. Hamas is using the indirect negotiations for a halt to the fighting currently going on in Cairo to pursue an agenda that would effectively render it invulnerable to future Israeli counter-attacks as well as to strengthen its hold on Gaza. It goes almost without saying that no Israeli government could possibly consider agreeing to those terms even if meant that a costly ground attack on Gaza was the only alternative.

Hamas’s confidence is based on the idea not only that Egypt and Turkey have its back but also that the United States will not support Israel’s refusal to accept its demands. That is where President Obama, who has sought to avoid direct involvement in the Gaza fighting, becomes a crucial figure in its resolution.

Up until this point, the Obama administration’s stand on Gaza has been everything Israel and its supporters could have asked for. The president has himself spoken up on behalf of Israel’s right to self-defense and specifically said that the rocket fire from Gaza could not be tolerated. But he has also made it clear to Israel that the United States would oppose a ground attack into Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t need Obama to tell him that such a decision would be a disaster in terms of international opinion or that it would result in higher casualties on both sides. But he also understands that if Hamas sticks to its price for a halt to the rocket fire, the IDF may have no choice but to go in on the ground.

The only way to avoid that unpalatable scenario is for the president to make it clear to both the Turks and the Egyptians that not only will Israel not tolerate an end to the fighting that leaves Hamas the victor, but that the United States won’t accept it either. And if that means giving Israel the green light to take out even more of the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, so be it.

Unfortunately, Hamas has construed Obama’s friendship for the ruling Islamists in Turkey and his embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as being a green light to their own escalation of the conflict as well as their unrealistic demands being placed on Israel.

Despite the pounding they have taken in the last week, Hamas still thinks it is winning the battle for public opinion. Even more important, it thinks it has the whip hand over Israel on the diplomatic playing field. The only way to correct their misperceptions is for the United States to make it clear that a Gaza cease-fire ought not to be allowed to make Hamas invulnerable or to strengthen the dubious legitimacy of the terrorist regime. If President Obama fails to speak out strongly on this point, the result will be exactly the escalation in fighting that he wants so desperately to avoid.

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“Tough” Israelis Understand Region Better than the New York Times

The most frustrating thing about being a liberal critic of Israel these days is the fact that the generally fractious people of the Jewish state are more or less united behind their government as it attempts to defend the country against terrorist assaults from Hamas. This consensus is rooted in the knowledge that neither the Islamist-controlled enclave in Gaza nor the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has the faintest interest in peace. Left without any peace partners, Israelis understand their nation’s only choice is to do what it must to lessen the peril from rocket attacks while preparing for even greater threats such as that of a nuclear Iran.

The need to take a realistic approach to an intractable problem is merely common sense, but it still grates on Israel’s critics who still prefer to blame the victim rather than the aggressors. A classic example of such thinking was found in the form of an op-ed masquerading as a news analysis on the front page of the New York Times yesterday. Writing by former Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner, the piece took as its premise that Israel was stuck in an outmoded mindset that refused to take into account the changing circumstances of the Middle East. Instead of realizing that the rise of a new wave of Islamist sentiment in the wake of the Arab Spring meant they should be more accommodating, Bronner wrote that the foolish Israelis are simply doubling down on their old tactics of being “tough” with the Arabs.

As Bronner writes:

What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one.

But what Bronner fails to comprehend is that the changes in the Arab world are exactly why Israel’s policies are correct.

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The most frustrating thing about being a liberal critic of Israel these days is the fact that the generally fractious people of the Jewish state are more or less united behind their government as it attempts to defend the country against terrorist assaults from Hamas. This consensus is rooted in the knowledge that neither the Islamist-controlled enclave in Gaza nor the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has the faintest interest in peace. Left without any peace partners, Israelis understand their nation’s only choice is to do what it must to lessen the peril from rocket attacks while preparing for even greater threats such as that of a nuclear Iran.

The need to take a realistic approach to an intractable problem is merely common sense, but it still grates on Israel’s critics who still prefer to blame the victim rather than the aggressors. A classic example of such thinking was found in the form of an op-ed masquerading as a news analysis on the front page of the New York Times yesterday. Writing by former Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner, the piece took as its premise that Israel was stuck in an outmoded mindset that refused to take into account the changing circumstances of the Middle East. Instead of realizing that the rise of a new wave of Islamist sentiment in the wake of the Arab Spring meant they should be more accommodating, Bronner wrote that the foolish Israelis are simply doubling down on their old tactics of being “tough” with the Arabs.

As Bronner writes:

What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one.

But what Bronner fails to comprehend is that the changes in the Arab world are exactly why Israel’s policies are correct.

At the heart of this critique is a belief that Israelis don’t care about peace. This is ridiculous since, even now, it is probable that a comfortable majority could be found for even the most far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians if it could be reasonably asserted that such a treaty would actually end the conflict rather than merely continue on terms that are less advantageous for the Jewish state. Unfortunately, that is all the Oslo peace process turned out to be. Both the collapse of Oslo in the terror of the second intifada and the transformation of Gaza after Israel’s complete withdrawal from that territory in 2005 into a missile launching pad has convinced the overwhelming majority of Israelis that peace is not possible in the foreseeable future.

That leaves them with no choice but to hang tough until a sea change in the political culture of Palestinians enables them to produce a leadership that might dare to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

That angers deluded observers who cling to the idea that the only real obstacles to peace are those created by Israeli policies. But unless you believe, as one Arab academic quoted in Bronner’s piece asserts, that Israel’s creation was a “crime” that must be rectified for there to be peace, the only rational response to Hamas attacks is a periodic effort to “cut the grass” that will make it harder for the terrorists to kill more Jews.

Taken out of the context of Arab intransigence and a fanatical Islamist determination to continue the conflict until Israel is weakened and ultimately destroyed, talk of “cutting the grass” in Gaza seems cynical and hard-hearted. That depiction dovetails with a mindset that views Israelis as military aggressors and out of touch with their neighbors. But it is Bronner’s piece that is detached from reality, not the Israeli grass cutters.

Israel tried repeatedly to make peace in the last 20 years, but only a tiny minority in the country has failed to comprehend that all they accomplished was to trade land for terror and to empower Hamas in the process. The decision of Turkey to abandon its alliance with Israel in pursuit of pan-Islamic glory and the transformation of Egypt from cold peace partner to active ally of Hamas (as well as the tacit acceptance of these developments by the United States) has rendered talk of more concessions even more absurd.

Most Israelis understand the choice facing their country is not between holding onto territory or settlements and peace. It is between death and survival in a war with Palestinian Islamists that has no end in sight. That is a reality that Israel’s liberal critics at the Times and elsewhere haven’t yet come to terms with.

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Hamas Can Win Even By Losing

Israel’s Defense Forces have, by all accounts, performed well during Operation Pillar of Defense. In the wake of the massive bombardment of southern Israel by Hamas, the IDF carried out a deft targeted assassination of the head of the group’s military wing and carried out a wave of pinpoint bombings of terrorist missile caches and arms factories inside Gaza. The leadership of the terrorist movement that governs Gaza with an iron fist is cowering in the bunkers. Though there have been some unfortunate civilian casualties, they have been kept to a minimum despite the fact that Hamas has tried to hide its armaments and its personnel among noncombatants.

But these achievements should not obscure the fact that although Israel’s military is doing everything it can to suppress the missile fire, the terrorists have still managed to launch hundreds in the last two days, with a few even penetrating as far as the greater Tel Aviv area. Just as troubling is the heavy-duty diplomatic support the group has received from its regional allies Egypt and Turkey in addition to Russia’s refusal to join the West in supporting Israel’s right to self-defense.

Though the group has taken a pounding from the IDF, it may well have achieved the objectives it had in mind when it decided to use the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election to escalate the conflict with Israel. Whatever else has happened in the last week, Hamas has demonstrated the irrelevance of the Palestinian Authority and made clear that it, and not PA head Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, is the face of Palestinian nationalism. By slamming hundreds of missiles in the last week into Israel it may have squandered part of the arsenal of more than 10,000 rockets it has amassed in the last four years and suffered a blow to its leadership. But it has also illustrated that the independent Palestinian state it has erected in Gaza is supported by the Arab and Muslim world and is, for all intents and purposes, invulnerable to international pressure or Israeli attacks. If that isn’t a victory for terrorism, I don’t know what else you could call it.

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Israel’s Defense Forces have, by all accounts, performed well during Operation Pillar of Defense. In the wake of the massive bombardment of southern Israel by Hamas, the IDF carried out a deft targeted assassination of the head of the group’s military wing and carried out a wave of pinpoint bombings of terrorist missile caches and arms factories inside Gaza. The leadership of the terrorist movement that governs Gaza with an iron fist is cowering in the bunkers. Though there have been some unfortunate civilian casualties, they have been kept to a minimum despite the fact that Hamas has tried to hide its armaments and its personnel among noncombatants.

But these achievements should not obscure the fact that although Israel’s military is doing everything it can to suppress the missile fire, the terrorists have still managed to launch hundreds in the last two days, with a few even penetrating as far as the greater Tel Aviv area. Just as troubling is the heavy-duty diplomatic support the group has received from its regional allies Egypt and Turkey in addition to Russia’s refusal to join the West in supporting Israel’s right to self-defense.

Though the group has taken a pounding from the IDF, it may well have achieved the objectives it had in mind when it decided to use the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election to escalate the conflict with Israel. Whatever else has happened in the last week, Hamas has demonstrated the irrelevance of the Palestinian Authority and made clear that it, and not PA head Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, is the face of Palestinian nationalism. By slamming hundreds of missiles in the last week into Israel it may have squandered part of the arsenal of more than 10,000 rockets it has amassed in the last four years and suffered a blow to its leadership. But it has also illustrated that the independent Palestinian state it has erected in Gaza is supported by the Arab and Muslim world and is, for all intents and purposes, invulnerable to international pressure or Israeli attacks. If that isn’t a victory for terrorism, I don’t know what else you could call it.

In comparing this conflict to the one Hamas provoked at the end of 2008 when Israel was forced to launch Operation Cast Lead to try to put an end to the battering of its southern region, it’s clear the IDF has learned from its mistakes. The stories about Israel slaughtering Palestinians in 2008 were false since the vast majority of the 1,400 Arabs killed in the conflict were armed fighters, not civilians. Nevertheless, even more care has been taken this time. Israel is also doing much better at getting its message about the necessity of self-defense out to the world via both conventional means and social media.

But it must be understood that Hamas is in a much stronger position than it was four years ago.

Rather than Hamas being isolated, as it was in 2008, the Islamist governments of Egypt and Turkey are now powerful supporters of the Gaza regime. The Egyptians are openly backing Hamas and even sending their prime minister to Gaza to express solidarity while the group’s missiles rain down on Israeli civilian targets. Rather than counting on foreign volunteers or Palestinian civilians to serve as human shields for its terrorist cadres, Hamas can now depend on high-ranking Egyptian officials to visit even while it is still shooting at Israel.

Hamas is also counting on the usual routine of international diplomacy to save them from the consequences of their aggression. Though the Obama administration, along with the West, is backing Israel’s right to self-defense, tolerance for Israeli counter-attacks is probably limited and it won’t be long before Washington joins Moscow in calling for a cease-fire that will rescue Hamas from having more of its leadership and its weaponry eliminated.

Hamas also knows that although Israel is calling up reserves and sending them to the border in an attempt to intimidate the group into ending the shooting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reluctant to launch a ground attack that will result in more casualties on both sides. A ground operation might do much to increase the pain for Hamas and to alter the cost-benefit ratio of their offensive so much as to perhaps turn this victory into a defeat. But that would come at a steep price for Israel in terms of its already shaky diplomatic situation.

All this means that if a cease-fire is agreed to in the next few days without much more damage being inflicted on the group, Hamas will have won a not inconsiderable victory.

Despite the Iron Dome anti-rocket system touted by both Israel and the United States, Hamas has shown it can still inflict tremendous pain on the Jewish state and even threaten metropolitan Tel Aviv. Iron Dome has intercepted less than half of the projectiles launched against Israel and saved many lives, but it can’t get all of them.

Hamas’s diplomatic support, particularly from Egypt, has demonstrated that it is invulnerable to pressure from the United States or anyone else. Israelis have also been reminded that no matter how outrageous the provocations of its enemies, much of the world will still insist that the Jewish state is at fault any time it defends itself.

While a cessation of missile fire will be a relief if it happens in the coming days, neither Israel’s government nor its population or its foreign supporters should take any satisfaction from what has happened this week. Netanyahu had no choice but to respond to Hamas and to do what he could to maintain Israel’s deterrence. But what we are watching shows that when you have a terrorist state on your doorstep that the world will not allow you to depose, there are no good options available to you and little chance for a good outcome.

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Arab World Chooses Hamas over Fatah in Palestinian Rivalry

It’s fair to say that an underappreciated obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas’s rule of Gaza. For such an agreement to take shape, Hamas would have to either consent or not be in charge of the strip. Though a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is unlikely, even if it were to happen, it might only bring about Hamas’s conquest of the West Bank, thereby doubling, rather than solving, the problem posed by Hamas. And since Hamas won’t abide a true peace with Israel, it’s difficult to solve the conflict under current conditions.

With that in mind, those who seek to end the isolation of Hamas are strengthening the terrorist group’s hand against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s main governing structure. In this scenario, it isn’t Israel that loses nearly as much as Abbas and Salam Fayyad, in whose corner the West claims to be. So while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the international community to help strengthen the PA’s balance sheet, the opponents of Palestinian reconciliation are helping Hamas, at Fatah’s expense. The latest such actor is the government of Qatar.

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It’s fair to say that an underappreciated obstacle to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians is Hamas’s rule of Gaza. For such an agreement to take shape, Hamas would have to either consent or not be in charge of the strip. Though a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is unlikely, even if it were to happen, it might only bring about Hamas’s conquest of the West Bank, thereby doubling, rather than solving, the problem posed by Hamas. And since Hamas won’t abide a true peace with Israel, it’s difficult to solve the conflict under current conditions.

With that in mind, those who seek to end the isolation of Hamas are strengthening the terrorist group’s hand against Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s main governing structure. In this scenario, it isn’t Israel that loses nearly as much as Abbas and Salam Fayyad, in whose corner the West claims to be. So while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleads with the international community to help strengthen the PA’s balance sheet, the opponents of Palestinian reconciliation are helping Hamas, at Fatah’s expense. The latest such actor is the government of Qatar.

In August, I wrote about Saudi Arabia’s $500 million investment in Gaza. Today, the New York Times reports on the emir of Qatar’s visit to Gaza and the announcement of his country’s $400 million pledged investment there:

“Today you are a big guest, great guest, declaring officially the breaking of the political and economic siege that was imposed on Gaza,” Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, told the emir and his cohort as they sat on sofas in a white shed in the southern town of Khan Yunis, where they plan to erect 1,000 apartments. “Today, we declare the victory on this siege through this blessed, historic visit.”

In the West Bank, allies of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who has struggled to preserve his own legitimacy, warned that the visit set a dangerous precedent of Arab leaders’ embracing Mr. Haniya as a head of state and thus cleaving the Palestinian people and territory in two. “We call on the Qatari prince or his representative to visit the West Bank too!” blared a headline on an editorial in the leading newspaper Al Quds.

That last part is actually quite embarrassing for Abbas. Begging for a visit from the Qatari emir is really begging for a visit from the Qatari emir’s checkbook, irrespective of whether the emir himself accompanies it on the trip. If the Hamas-Fatah rivalry is a zero-sum game–and it doesn’t always have to be, but usually is–then what we are witnessing in Gaza, thanks to the supposed friends of the Palestinians, is the construction of an entity that is arguably more of a state than what currently exists in the West Bank.

I mentioned yesterday that Jimmy Carter is making no secret of his attempts to impede the establishment of a Palestinian state by sabotaging negotiations and encouraging Abbas to declare statehood at the UN. In addition to all the obvious problems with this, what would stop it from setting a precedent that Hamas could follow in Gaza? Sure, the PA would ostensibly declare their state to include Gaza, but couldn’t Hamas then secede if it wanted to?

Of course that’s unlikely to happen, in part because the PA’s bid for statehood continues to be opposed by the West. But it’s long past time for Mideast watchers to at least acknowledge that the Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, are, like Carter, actively working to incentivize Palestinian radicalization rather than moderation.

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Aid to Egypt Makes Sense

I can see why some influential Republicans on Capitol Hill would be reluctant to support the administration’s request to provide $450 million in emergency aid to Egypt. The recent mob attack on our embassy in Cairo, and President Mohammad Morsi’s slowness in condemning the attack, are hardly an advertisement for the new regime. But ask yourself this: Is Egypt likely to produce more or fewer terrorists if its economy collapses?

The question answers itself, and to the extent that an emergency infusion of cash from the U.S. and IMF can tide over the Egyptian economy for a while, it is likely to promote stability and deter the potential radicalization of Egyptian youth. It may even buy time for the new Muslim Brotherhood government to implement some of the free-market reforms it promised during the campaign, if it is so inclined and if it can overcome intense internal resistance from many sectors including the army. Conversely if the Egyptian debt crisis blows up, a la Greece or Iceland, the results are likely to be much more serious than in those countries, given the number of Salafist radicals already present in Egypt and given Egypt’s important strategic position as the largest Arab state.

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I can see why some influential Republicans on Capitol Hill would be reluctant to support the administration’s request to provide $450 million in emergency aid to Egypt. The recent mob attack on our embassy in Cairo, and President Mohammad Morsi’s slowness in condemning the attack, are hardly an advertisement for the new regime. But ask yourself this: Is Egypt likely to produce more or fewer terrorists if its economy collapses?

The question answers itself, and to the extent that an emergency infusion of cash from the U.S. and IMF can tide over the Egyptian economy for a while, it is likely to promote stability and deter the potential radicalization of Egyptian youth. It may even buy time for the new Muslim Brotherhood government to implement some of the free-market reforms it promised during the campaign, if it is so inclined and if it can overcome intense internal resistance from many sectors including the army. Conversely if the Egyptian debt crisis blows up, a la Greece or Iceland, the results are likely to be much more serious than in those countries, given the number of Salafist radicals already present in Egypt and given Egypt’s important strategic position as the largest Arab state.

Foreign aid is intensely unpopular among American voters and it has often backfired and failed to produce growth, as Governor Romney noted in a recent speech. But in this case the U.S. aid is not designed to promote long-term growth; it is designed to tide Egypt over to prevent an immediate crisis. And extending more aid to Egypt actually enhances our leverage over the new government—something that President Obama was able to take advantage of after the embassy attack to tough talk with Morsi, forcing Egypt’s president to strongly condemn the anti-American violence and to order a more vigilant role by the security forces in protecting the American diplomatic outpost.

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FBI Can’t Get to Benghazi Because of “Security Fears”

President Obama has promised to bring the perpetrators of the Benghazi terrorist attack to justice, but over two weeks after the attack the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi. According to the New York Times, it’s because the security situation in Benghazi is too unstable:

Sixteen days after the death of four Americans in an attack on a United States diplomatic mission here, fears about the near-total lack of security have kept F.B.I. agents from visiting the scene of the killings and forced them to try to piece together the complicated crime from Tripoli, more than 400 miles away.

Investigators are so worried about the tenuous security, people involved in the investigation say, that they have been unwilling to risk taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy in Tripoli. Instead, the investigators have resorted to the awkward solution of questioning some witnesses in cars outside the embassy, which is operating under emergency staffing and was evacuated of even more diplomats on Thursday because of a heightened security alert.

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President Obama has promised to bring the perpetrators of the Benghazi terrorist attack to justice, but over two weeks after the attack the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi. According to the New York Times, it’s because the security situation in Benghazi is too unstable:

Sixteen days after the death of four Americans in an attack on a United States diplomatic mission here, fears about the near-total lack of security have kept F.B.I. agents from visiting the scene of the killings and forced them to try to piece together the complicated crime from Tripoli, more than 400 miles away.

Investigators are so worried about the tenuous security, people involved in the investigation say, that they have been unwilling to risk taking some potential Libyan witnesses into the American Embassy in Tripoli. Instead, the investigators have resorted to the awkward solution of questioning some witnesses in cars outside the embassy, which is operating under emergency staffing and was evacuated of even more diplomats on Thursday because of a heightened security alert.

This is mind-boggling. We are talking about a terrorist attack, carried out on American soil, on the anniversary of 9/11. And yet the FBI can’t even carry out a full investigation. The Times reports that even if law enforcement officials are eventually able to make it to the consulate, the unsecured “crime scene” has been so badly trampled that it may be impossible to collect evidence to use against the terrorists.

Why has this failed to register as a major scandal with the political media? There is ample evidence that the Obama administration intentionally misled the public in the days after the attack — while it designated it as a terrorist attack almost immediately, the administration insisted for over a week that it was a spontaneous uprising. The White House vowed bring the perpetrators to justice, and yet they’re slow-walking an FBI investigation that’s hampered by security restrictions and a lack of access to physical evidence.

Then there’s this:

President Obama has said the United States will bring to justice those responsible for the attacks. But there is little appetite in the White House to launch drone strikes or a Special Operations raid, like the one that killed Osama bin Laden, in yet another Muslim country.

American officials would prefer that Libyan officials lead any military or paramilitary operation, or work alongside American investigators, to arrest any suspects. But the transitional Libyan government still does not command a meaningful national army or national police force.

In other words, there’s a good chance many of the perpetrators will walk free. Instead of sending the FBI to sit around in Tripoli and wait for the transitional Libyan government to get its act together, perhaps what is needed is to send in the drones to pick these guys off. By the time the Libyans act, any chance of pinpointing the terrorists (and any evidence that could be used to try them in court) will likely be long gone.

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That FBI Investigation in Benghazi Hasn’t Even Started Yet

For over a week, the Obama administration has tried to dodge questions on the Benghazi attack by saying it’s waiting for information to come in from the FBI. But apparently the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi — at least not as of last night. Instead, CNN reports that the bureau just arrived in Tripoli, and hasn’t been to the scene of the attack that happened over two weeks ago:

More than two weeks after four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, FBI agents have not yet been granted access to investigate in the eastern Libyan city, and the crime scene has not been secured, sources said.

“They’ve gotten as far as Tripoli now, but they’ve never gotten to Benghazi,” CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend said Wednesday, citing senior law enforcement officials.

Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that an FBI team had reached Libya earlier in the week.

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For over a week, the Obama administration has tried to dodge questions on the Benghazi attack by saying it’s waiting for information to come in from the FBI. But apparently the FBI still hasn’t made it to Benghazi — at least not as of last night. Instead, CNN reports that the bureau just arrived in Tripoli, and hasn’t been to the scene of the attack that happened over two weeks ago:

More than two weeks after four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, FBI agents have not yet been granted access to investigate in the eastern Libyan city, and the crime scene has not been secured, sources said.

“They’ve gotten as far as Tripoli now, but they’ve never gotten to Benghazi,” CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend said Wednesday, citing senior law enforcement officials.

Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that an FBI team had reached Libya earlier in the week.

Just as shocking, CNN reports that the State Department apparently hasn’t secured the consulate since the attack, despite requests from the FBI. That means any investigation might be meaningless at this point, since evidence could have been removed or tampered with or compromised over the past two weeks. The more that comes out about the attack, the more it sounds like the administration has been stringing along reporters and the public since day one.

Then there is the next piece of the puzzle, one which the Obama administration may not want answered until after the election. Did the U.S. embassy riots in Egypt and Yemen coincidentally erupt on the same day as the terrorist attack at our Benghazi consulate, or were they coordinated in advance? As the Weekly Standard noted recently, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri’s little brother, fresh out of prison in Egypt, has claimed credit as an organizer of the Cairo protest. The timing is certainly suspect — that anti-Islam film was available on YouTube months before the riots, and yet it didn’t become an issue until days before the attack.

Keep in mind that what we call the “Arab Spring,” the jihadists call the “Islamic awakening.” Unfortunately for al-Qaeda, there’s been no evidence that the public in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, etc. have embraced their twisted ideology. Hence, the need to manufacture some.

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Obama’s Apology Tour Continues at UN

President Obama was expected to discuss the anti-Islam YouTube film during his UN speech today, and he didn’t disappoint. He devoted over 1,000 words to the topic, much of which had already been said repeatedly by the White House, the State Department, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and government-sponsored commercials in Pakistan:

At times, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe, and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening. In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others. And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.

For as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe.

We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them. I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

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President Obama was expected to discuss the anti-Islam YouTube film during his UN speech today, and he didn’t disappoint. He devoted over 1,000 words to the topic, much of which had already been said repeatedly by the White House, the State Department, UN Ambassador Susan Rice and government-sponsored commercials in Pakistan:

At times, the conflicts arise along the fault lines of race or tribe, and often they arise from the difficulties of reconciling tradition and faith with the diversity and interdependence of the modern world. In every country, there are those who find different religious beliefs threatening. In every culture, those who love freedom for themselves must ask themselves how much they’re willing to tolerate freedom for others. And that is what we saw play out in the last two weeks, where a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world. Now, I have made it clear that the United States government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity. It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well.

For as the city outside these walls makes clear, we are a country that has welcomed people of every race and every faith. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country. We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe.

We understand why people take offense to this video because millions of our citizens are among them. I know there are some who ask why don’t we just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws. Our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech.

Obama did defend the First Amendment rights of “those who slander the prophet of Islam” in the speech, as well — but it came off as more as an explanation of why we haven’t banned the video or locked up the video producer than anything else. As I’ve written before, there’s no problem with Obama condemning the film, as any reasonable person should. But this is a matter of emphasis. Obama had a global platform, and he could have used it to primarily call out the Islamist leaders who encouraged the violence and reaffirm American resolve against the terror-supporters who raised Salafist flags above our embassies.

If no insulting video can justify violence, as Obama said during his speech, then why spend so much time apologizing for it? Why take paragraphs to explain that the U.S. does not support or agree with it? If the film is not responsible for the riots, then issue a press release criticizing it, and that should be the end of story.

Obama mainly just reheated the same old lines his administration has been saying for weeks, but he also threw some of his trademark cliches and straw men into the mix:

It is time to marginalize those who, even when not directly resorting to violence, use hatred of America or the West or Israel as the central organizing principle of politics, for that only gives cover and sometimes makes an excuse for those who do resort to violence. That brand of politics, one that pits East against West and South against North, Muslims against Christians and Hindu and Jews, can’t deliver on the promise of freedom.

To the youth, it offers only false hope. Burning an American flag does nothing to provide a child an education. Smashing apart a restaurant does not fill an empty stomach. Attacking an embassy won’t create a single job. That brand of politics only makes it harder to achieve what we must do together, educating our children and creating the opportunities that they deserve, protecting human rights and extending democracy’s promise.

The above may be the most meaningless paragraph of all time. Burning an American flag doesn’t provide children with education? Really? Those rioters in Pakistan must feel pretty foolish to learn they’ve been going about their childhood education advocacy all wrong. Good thing President Obama came out to set them straight.

This is Obama’s fundamental error. The mobs burning our embassies and attacking police are not seeking freedom, or gender equality or jobs. They are seeking the destruction of America and the Western world. We have no reason to apologize to them, nor is it prudent to do so. Not only are they our enemies, they’re the enemies of the liberals we’re supposed to be supporting in these countries. They’re the people who killed Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, threw acid at schoolgirls in Afghanistan, and burned Coptic churches in Egypt. They don’t care about “creating opportunities,” “protecting human rights,” and “extending democracy’s promise.” Quite the opposite, actually.

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