Commentary Magazine


Topic: Europe

The President’s Speech: An Irresponsible Performance

State of the Union speeches are typically unimpressive and unmemorable. Last night’s address by President Obama was in that tradition. While his delivery was fine, the speech itself was mediocre — flat, undisciplined and unfocused, at times pedestrian and banal, with goals seemingly pulled out of thin air (e.g., by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources).

The speech was also oddly uncreative, with Obama dusting off slogans and ideas from past State of the Union speeches. For example, on the campaign trail in 2008 and during the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama portrayed himself as the great enemy of earmarks. Perhaps the reason he has to keep reminding us of his antipathy for earmarks is because he has repeatedly signed into law legislation that contained thousands of them.

Still, this doesn’t mean the speech was unimportant. It was, in fact, quite significant in terms of highlighting the president’s cast of mind and how he understands, or fails to understand, the moment we’re in.

The State of the Union address reaffirmed that Barack Obama remains a man of the left. He spent most of the speech championing an array of new programs, explaining why he believes we need to expand the size, reach, scope, and cost of the federal government.

It was as if the president were awakening Leviathan from a two-year slumber rather than two years of hyperactivity.

Beyond that, though, Obama spoke as if he were living in an alternate universe — one where a $14 trillion debt and trillion dollar a year deficit don’t exist; where our entitlement programs are basically solvent and sound, in need of, at most, tweaking around the margins; and where the 2010 midterm election wasn’t a repudiation of the president’s progressive agenda.

The president dealt with our fiscal crisis as if it were a triviality, its importance on par with the need for more solar panels and high-speed rails.

Mr. Obama, I think, is misreading the public mood. Many Americans are unnerved by our fiscal imbalance, which helps explain the rise of the Tea Party movement. But whether or not Obama is out of touch with the public is, in one respect, irrelevant. Facts are stubborn things — and the fact is that we’re facing a crushing entitlement crisis that is getting worse literally by the hour. If we don’t come to grips with it soon, we are likely to experience something similar to the social unrest that is sweeping Europe.

More than mediocre, then, I found the president’s speech to be irresponsible. As the elected leader of the nation — and as one of the architects of our fiscal crisis — Obama has an obligation to address it in a serious, systematic, and intellectually honest manner. Instead, he is eschewing his governing duties. He is living in a world of his own imagination. That might be fine for writers of fiction and fairy tales. But for the president of the United States, it is quite a bad thing indeed.

State of the Union speeches are typically unimpressive and unmemorable. Last night’s address by President Obama was in that tradition. While his delivery was fine, the speech itself was mediocre — flat, undisciplined and unfocused, at times pedestrian and banal, with goals seemingly pulled out of thin air (e.g., by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources).

The speech was also oddly uncreative, with Obama dusting off slogans and ideas from past State of the Union speeches. For example, on the campaign trail in 2008 and during the first two years of his presidency, Barack Obama portrayed himself as the great enemy of earmarks. Perhaps the reason he has to keep reminding us of his antipathy for earmarks is because he has repeatedly signed into law legislation that contained thousands of them.

Still, this doesn’t mean the speech was unimportant. It was, in fact, quite significant in terms of highlighting the president’s cast of mind and how he understands, or fails to understand, the moment we’re in.

The State of the Union address reaffirmed that Barack Obama remains a man of the left. He spent most of the speech championing an array of new programs, explaining why he believes we need to expand the size, reach, scope, and cost of the federal government.

It was as if the president were awakening Leviathan from a two-year slumber rather than two years of hyperactivity.

Beyond that, though, Obama spoke as if he were living in an alternate universe — one where a $14 trillion debt and trillion dollar a year deficit don’t exist; where our entitlement programs are basically solvent and sound, in need of, at most, tweaking around the margins; and where the 2010 midterm election wasn’t a repudiation of the president’s progressive agenda.

The president dealt with our fiscal crisis as if it were a triviality, its importance on par with the need for more solar panels and high-speed rails.

Mr. Obama, I think, is misreading the public mood. Many Americans are unnerved by our fiscal imbalance, which helps explain the rise of the Tea Party movement. But whether or not Obama is out of touch with the public is, in one respect, irrelevant. Facts are stubborn things — and the fact is that we’re facing a crushing entitlement crisis that is getting worse literally by the hour. If we don’t come to grips with it soon, we are likely to experience something similar to the social unrest that is sweeping Europe.

More than mediocre, then, I found the president’s speech to be irresponsible. As the elected leader of the nation — and as one of the architects of our fiscal crisis — Obama has an obligation to address it in a serious, systematic, and intellectually honest manner. Instead, he is eschewing his governing duties. He is living in a world of his own imagination. That might be fine for writers of fiction and fairy tales. But for the president of the United States, it is quite a bad thing indeed.

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A Moment for Political Courage

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before. Read More

According to media accounts, in his State of the Union address, President Obama is going to avoid dealing with our entitlement crisis. The question is: will Republicans?

That is setting up to be the key debate of the next several months.

There is one line of argument, articulated by Ramesh Ponnuru, that insists that for House Republicans to take on entitlement reform would be noble but politically suicidal. The reasoning is that (a) for the next two years, reform is impossible unless and until President Obama takes the lead on it; (b) Republicans have no mandate for reform even if they wanted to; and (c) every time they have tried to reform entitlements in the past (George W. Bush on Social Security and Newt Gingrich on Medicare), they have paid a high political price.

The more responsible approach would be to champion cuts in discretionary spending and continue to insist on the repeal of ObamaCare. That would be entirely enough, this argument goes; to do more will require a Republican president willing to educate the nation on the entitlement crisis and to do something about it.

The counterargument is that we are in a new and different moment when it comes to entitlement reform. Due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the spending habits of President Obama and the 111th Congress, what was a serious problem has become an acute one. In the past, the deficit and debt were manageable; now, every serious person who has studied this matter concedes, the situation is unsustainable. The public understands this in one way or another; and if they’re not yet ready to take on entitlement reforms, they are certainly educable in a way that has never been the case before.

The way to frame this argument, according to those who want to take on entitlement programs, is to simply state the reality of the situation: we can act now, in a relatively incremental and responsible way, in order to avoid the painful austerity measures that are occurring in Europe and elsewhere. Or we can delay action and, at some point not far into the future, be unable to avoid cuts that will cause a great deal of social unrest.

So we’re clear, the entitlement that really matters is Medicare. “The fact is,” my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin told Michael Gerson, “Medicare is going to crush the government, and if Republicans leave it unreformed then the debt picture is very, very ugly. They might never — literally never — show the budget reaching balance. Not in the 10-year window and not if they take their graphs out a hundred years. Obama could probably show balance just past the budget window in the middle of the next decade because of the massive Medicare cuts he proposes, even if in practice they will never actually happen.”

To get a sense of what we’re talking about, Veronique de Rugy has put together a very useful chart that can be found here.

It makes the point that cutting discretionary spending only makes a small difference in the overall budget picture. She lays out the difference between the Republican Study Committee plan, which cuts $2 trillion over 10 years and is therefore a good deal more aggressive than the House Republican leadership proposal, and where spending would be without those cuts over the next 10 years. As you will see, it’s a small difference. Spending keeps growing rapidly either way. Without entitlement reform, then, this is about as much as we could reasonably do — and it just isn’t that much.

In other words, if Republicans don’t take on Medicare, their credibility as a party of fiscal responsibility and limited government will be shattered. The math guarantees it. The GOP, having made the 2010 election largely (though not exclusively) a referendum on the deficit and the debt, will be viewed as fraudulent.

Compounding the problem is the fact that, as Gerson explains, if Republicans don’t touch Medicare, their budget approach — on paper, at least — will have less long-term debt reduction than Obama’s, both because Obama supports tax increases and he uses a slew of budget gimmicks to make his health-care plan appear to be far more affordable than it really is.

It’s a pretty good bet that the president will advance the same kind of gimmicks in his 2012 budget. If so, then unless Republicans are willing to champion Medicare reform (meaning changing it from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program), Obama will be able to position himself as a budget hawk, at least compared to the GOP. This could have devastating political effects, including dispiriting the Republican base and the Tea Party movement. Having just elected Republicans in large measure to stop the financial hemorrhage and to restore fiscal balance, voters will not react well when they are told, in so many words, “Never Mind.”

So count me as one who believes Republicans need to embrace entitlement reform in general, and Medicare reforms in particular, because not doing so is irresponsible. It means willfully avoiding what everyone knows needs to be done in the hope that at some future, as-yet-to-be-determined date, a better and easier moment will arrive.

Sometime a political party needs to comfort itself with the axiom that good policy makes good politics. That isn’t always the case, certainly, but often it is. In any event, if the GOP avoids reforming Medicare, there is no way any Republican lawmaker, when pressed by reporters on fiscal matters, can make a plausible argument that their actions are remotely consistent with their stated philosophy.

They will hem and haw and duck and dodge and try to change the subject — and they will emerge as counterfeit, deceptive, and unserious. Here it’s worth recalling the words of the columnist Walter Lippmann, who wrote:

With exceptions so rare that they are regarded as miracles and freaks of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular — not whether it will work well and prove itself but whether the active talking constituents like it immediately.

Perhaps I’m asking GOP lawmakers to prove themselves to be miracles and freaks of nature. But if I am right in my analysis, that is what is called for. It would mean Republicans have an enormous public-education campaign ahead of them. They will have to explain why their policies are the most responsible and humane. They will need to articulate the case not simply for entitlement reform but also for limited government. And they will need to explain, in a compelling and accessible way, why limited government is crucial to civic character.

None of this is easy — but lawmakers weren’t elected to make easy decisions. They were elected to make the right ones. And reforming Medicare is, in our time, the right decision.

Let’s get on with it.

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Civility Watch: Cohen Won’t Back Down on Comparing GOP to Nazis

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, the idea that this tragedy was to some extent the result of the lack of civility and verbal violence that has characterized political debates in the past two years has been a staple of liberal commentary. Indeed, even many of those who have acknowledged that the actions of an insane shooter with no discernible political ideology can’t be linked to the health-care debate have insisted that the atmosphere of discord somehow set the stage for this crime. Even more than that, they have argued that there is no doubt that conservatives in general, and Tea Party activists in particular, as well as garden-variety Republicans, are principally if not solely to blame for all the verbal mayhem. This sort of assertion is treated as self-evident, even though liberal TV talkers such as Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz and a host of other leftists who have consistently smeared their opponents need no lessons in talking smack about the right.

But last night, this claim was once again contradicted when we were treated to yet another instance of liberal verbal violence. But this time the slur wasn’t voiced by a talking head on MSNBC but, rather, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by a member of Congress.

As Peter Wehner wrote, during the debate on the repeal of ObamaCare, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the chamber that the majority’s argument that the health-care bill passed last year would dangerously increase the power of the government was “a big lie, just like Goebbels,” referring to Nazi Germany’s chief propagandist. He then likened the GOP campaign against the bill to the process by which Europe’s Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust: “The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it — believed it and you have the Holocaust.”

A day later Cohen wouldn’t back down and told CNN that he wasn’t calling the Republicans Nazis, just liars. But, of course, if his goal was to merely say that they weren’t telling the truth, he needn’t have compared them to Goebbels or analogized their campaign to mass murder.

Cohen’s explicit comparison of Republican tactics to the Nazis is incredibly offensive as well as false. Surely Americans can disagree about health care without either side invoking Hitler, something that ought to be considered out of bounds for anybody who is not actually talking about real Nazis. But this was no slip of the tongue. Cohen’s sleight-of-hand invocation of the process by which Jews were delegitimized was specifically intended to create the idea that there is no difference between the Tea Party and the Nazi Party. His goal is not to expose the deficiencies of the arguments of his opponents; it is their delegitimization.

In other words, Rep. Cohen is doing exactly what liberals have claimed that conservatives have done: poisoned the political atmosphere with outrageous and false assertions. Cohen may have some counterparts on the right, but he, and the many others on the left who have employed the same kind of tactics against the Bush administration and Obama’s Republican critics, are living proof that the left is equally responsible for the decline of civility.

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, the idea that this tragedy was to some extent the result of the lack of civility and verbal violence that has characterized political debates in the past two years has been a staple of liberal commentary. Indeed, even many of those who have acknowledged that the actions of an insane shooter with no discernible political ideology can’t be linked to the health-care debate have insisted that the atmosphere of discord somehow set the stage for this crime. Even more than that, they have argued that there is no doubt that conservatives in general, and Tea Party activists in particular, as well as garden-variety Republicans, are principally if not solely to blame for all the verbal mayhem. This sort of assertion is treated as self-evident, even though liberal TV talkers such as Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz and a host of other leftists who have consistently smeared their opponents need no lessons in talking smack about the right.

But last night, this claim was once again contradicted when we were treated to yet another instance of liberal verbal violence. But this time the slur wasn’t voiced by a talking head on MSNBC but, rather, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by a member of Congress.

As Peter Wehner wrote, during the debate on the repeal of ObamaCare, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the chamber that the majority’s argument that the health-care bill passed last year would dangerously increase the power of the government was “a big lie, just like Goebbels,” referring to Nazi Germany’s chief propagandist. He then likened the GOP campaign against the bill to the process by which Europe’s Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust: “The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it — believed it and you have the Holocaust.”

A day later Cohen wouldn’t back down and told CNN that he wasn’t calling the Republicans Nazis, just liars. But, of course, if his goal was to merely say that they weren’t telling the truth, he needn’t have compared them to Goebbels or analogized their campaign to mass murder.

Cohen’s explicit comparison of Republican tactics to the Nazis is incredibly offensive as well as false. Surely Americans can disagree about health care without either side invoking Hitler, something that ought to be considered out of bounds for anybody who is not actually talking about real Nazis. But this was no slip of the tongue. Cohen’s sleight-of-hand invocation of the process by which Jews were delegitimized was specifically intended to create the idea that there is no difference between the Tea Party and the Nazi Party. His goal is not to expose the deficiencies of the arguments of his opponents; it is their delegitimization.

In other words, Rep. Cohen is doing exactly what liberals have claimed that conservatives have done: poisoned the political atmosphere with outrageous and false assertions. Cohen may have some counterparts on the right, but he, and the many others on the left who have employed the same kind of tactics against the Bush administration and Obama’s Republican critics, are living proof that the left is equally responsible for the decline of civility.

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The Berlin-Rome-Tehran Axis

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

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Morning Commentary

The street riots in Tunisia could lead to a democratic revolution, but they could also lead to the rise of an extremist government, like the 1979 Islamic revolution did in Iran. In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the potential outcomes of Tunisia’s political transition: “A month ago, they turned to street protests. So far, this is not an Islamic revolution — but it isn’t a democratic revolution yet, either. Instead, we are witnessing a demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders. Anyone who looked at the population numbers and job data could have guessed it might happen, and, as I say, many did.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and other Jewish leaders spoke out against the anti-Israel delegitimization movement at a south Florida summit on Sunday. While the boycott and divestment campaign hasn’t entered the mainstream in the U.S., it has been increasingly problematic in Europe: “‘When there is a boycott of Israeli products — buy them. When trade unions and universities want companies to divest of their holdings in Israeli companies — invest in them. When there is a speaker from Israel — attend the speech and make sure the speaker can be heard,’ Oren said. Most of all, ‘We must educate our community about BDS. We must unite actively to combat it,’ he said.”

Claudia Rosett wonders when Saudi Arabia is going to send Israel a thank-you note for Stuxnet. After all, if WikiLeaks has shown us anything, it’s that the Saudis fear a nuclear Iran almost as much as Israel and the U.S. do: “But if the broad picture painted by the Times is accurate (and there are gaps in the trail described), then surely there is another group of countries which for more wholesome reasons owe a profound thank you to Israel. Prominent among this crowd are the Middle East potentates, from the king of Saudi Arabia to the king of Bahrain to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, whose private pleadings — as made to U.S. officials and exposed by Wikileaks — were to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Stuxnet may be the first instance of cyberwarfare, writes Spencer Ackerman. But how far can these types of attacks go in helping us attain our national-security goals? “That also points to the downside. Just as strategic bombing doesn’t have a good track record of success, Stuxnet hasn’t taken down the Iranian nuclear program. Doctrine-writers may be tempted to view cyberwar as an alternative to a shooting war, but the evidence to date doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. Stuxnet just indicates that high-level cyberwarfare really is possible; it doesn’t indicate that it’s sufficient for achieving national objectives.”

Happy MLK Day. Foreign Policy’s Will Inboden asks President Obama to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for human rights and justice when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week: “As my Shadow Government colleague Mike Green pointed out in his excellent preview of the Hu visit, China’s imprisonment of democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo means that the White House meeting this week will be ‘our first summit (indeed, our first state visit) between a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a world leader who is imprisoning another Nobel Peace Prize laureate.’ Martin Luther King Jr. also won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964.”

The street riots in Tunisia could lead to a democratic revolution, but they could also lead to the rise of an extremist government, like the 1979 Islamic revolution did in Iran. In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the potential outcomes of Tunisia’s political transition: “A month ago, they turned to street protests. So far, this is not an Islamic revolution — but it isn’t a democratic revolution yet, either. Instead, we are witnessing a demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders. Anyone who looked at the population numbers and job data could have guessed it might happen, and, as I say, many did.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and other Jewish leaders spoke out against the anti-Israel delegitimization movement at a south Florida summit on Sunday. While the boycott and divestment campaign hasn’t entered the mainstream in the U.S., it has been increasingly problematic in Europe: “‘When there is a boycott of Israeli products — buy them. When trade unions and universities want companies to divest of their holdings in Israeli companies — invest in them. When there is a speaker from Israel — attend the speech and make sure the speaker can be heard,’ Oren said. Most of all, ‘We must educate our community about BDS. We must unite actively to combat it,’ he said.”

Claudia Rosett wonders when Saudi Arabia is going to send Israel a thank-you note for Stuxnet. After all, if WikiLeaks has shown us anything, it’s that the Saudis fear a nuclear Iran almost as much as Israel and the U.S. do: “But if the broad picture painted by the Times is accurate (and there are gaps in the trail described), then surely there is another group of countries which for more wholesome reasons owe a profound thank you to Israel. Prominent among this crowd are the Middle East potentates, from the king of Saudi Arabia to the king of Bahrain to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, whose private pleadings — as made to U.S. officials and exposed by Wikileaks — were to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Stuxnet may be the first instance of cyberwarfare, writes Spencer Ackerman. But how far can these types of attacks go in helping us attain our national-security goals? “That also points to the downside. Just as strategic bombing doesn’t have a good track record of success, Stuxnet hasn’t taken down the Iranian nuclear program. Doctrine-writers may be tempted to view cyberwar as an alternative to a shooting war, but the evidence to date doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. Stuxnet just indicates that high-level cyberwarfare really is possible; it doesn’t indicate that it’s sufficient for achieving national objectives.”

Happy MLK Day. Foreign Policy’s Will Inboden asks President Obama to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for human rights and justice when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week: “As my Shadow Government colleague Mike Green pointed out in his excellent preview of the Hu visit, China’s imprisonment of democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo means that the White House meeting this week will be ‘our first summit (indeed, our first state visit) between a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a world leader who is imprisoning another Nobel Peace Prize laureate.’ Martin Luther King Jr. also won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964.”

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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Some Thoughts on Israel’s Problematic New NGO Law

When a group like NGO Monitor — which has spent years fighting for more transparency and less bias from human rights groups — comes out against a law that will supposedly make NGOs more transparent, you know there’s a problem.

I spoke with NGO Monitor’s director, Gerald Steinberg, this morning, who elaborated more on his Jerusalem Post column from last week. The column — worth reading in full here — outlined his concerns about the Knesset’s recent creation of a committee that will investigate the funding of NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

One of Steinberg’s main issues with the law is that it politicized the very important matter of foreign NGO funding.

“What happened in the Knesset was that one party [Israel Beiteinu] chose to make this part of their partisan political agenda,” said Steinberg. “And instead of building the coalition for dealing with this issue, they basically alienated potential partners by attacking them.”

Steinberg is also concerned that the proponents of the bill used inaccurate information in an effort to push the law through. One of the bill’s supporters at the Knesset “talked about Arab government and terrorist-funded organizations. And [Avigdor] Lieberman talked about the claim that these organizations were active in supporting terror, and that claim has not been substantiated,” said Steinberg.

While it’s certainly possible that some of these groups are funded by Arab governments or terror groups, NGO Monitor hasn’t yet found evidence of this. But the group has found substantial evidence of European governments funding anti-Israel NGOs.

“If this ends up letting the European governments off the hook, then it will have been counterproductive,” said Steinberg. “What I’m concerned about is, through the focus on the investigation and the claims of McCarthyism, that these organizations that don’t want to have the transparency extended to their European funding will succeed in diverting the focus.”

And besides that, there is some reason to believe that the committee won’t even have the subpoena powers necessary to carry on any practical type of investigation. “I don’t think that a Knesset committee or investigation is the best vehicle to deal with this issue either,” said Steinberg, who believes the issue might be best left to government offices that can produce reports on NGO funding.

Steinberg is also concerned that the NGO law will make it more difficult to get more practical legislation through the Knesset. “There are a couple of other legislative processes going on in the Knesset. And the law that would require full transparency, like the FARA law — that’s a bipartisan bill that has been working its way through the Knesset,” he said. “And in many ways, this new initiative by [Danny] Ayalon potentially undermines the very narrow FARA-type legislation that does have much broader support.”

The NGO law has been extremely controversial since it passed, with critics alleging that it targets groups based on political ideology. But based on NGO Monitor’s assessment, there are even more serious reasons to oppose the plan. It would create a powerless investigative body that serves only to undermine support for useful legislation, make martyrs out of anti-Israel NGOs, and obscure the troubling reality of Europe’s financial contributions to the Israel delegitimization movement. For anyone who cares about NGO accountability, this is a lose-lose situation.

When a group like NGO Monitor — which has spent years fighting for more transparency and less bias from human rights groups — comes out against a law that will supposedly make NGOs more transparent, you know there’s a problem.

I spoke with NGO Monitor’s director, Gerald Steinberg, this morning, who elaborated more on his Jerusalem Post column from last week. The column — worth reading in full here — outlined his concerns about the Knesset’s recent creation of a committee that will investigate the funding of NGOs involved in the anti-Israel delegitimization movement.

One of Steinberg’s main issues with the law is that it politicized the very important matter of foreign NGO funding.

“What happened in the Knesset was that one party [Israel Beiteinu] chose to make this part of their partisan political agenda,” said Steinberg. “And instead of building the coalition for dealing with this issue, they basically alienated potential partners by attacking them.”

Steinberg is also concerned that the proponents of the bill used inaccurate information in an effort to push the law through. One of the bill’s supporters at the Knesset “talked about Arab government and terrorist-funded organizations. And [Avigdor] Lieberman talked about the claim that these organizations were active in supporting terror, and that claim has not been substantiated,” said Steinberg.

While it’s certainly possible that some of these groups are funded by Arab governments or terror groups, NGO Monitor hasn’t yet found evidence of this. But the group has found substantial evidence of European governments funding anti-Israel NGOs.

“If this ends up letting the European governments off the hook, then it will have been counterproductive,” said Steinberg. “What I’m concerned about is, through the focus on the investigation and the claims of McCarthyism, that these organizations that don’t want to have the transparency extended to their European funding will succeed in diverting the focus.”

And besides that, there is some reason to believe that the committee won’t even have the subpoena powers necessary to carry on any practical type of investigation. “I don’t think that a Knesset committee or investigation is the best vehicle to deal with this issue either,” said Steinberg, who believes the issue might be best left to government offices that can produce reports on NGO funding.

Steinberg is also concerned that the NGO law will make it more difficult to get more practical legislation through the Knesset. “There are a couple of other legislative processes going on in the Knesset. And the law that would require full transparency, like the FARA law — that’s a bipartisan bill that has been working its way through the Knesset,” he said. “And in many ways, this new initiative by [Danny] Ayalon potentially undermines the very narrow FARA-type legislation that does have much broader support.”

The NGO law has been extremely controversial since it passed, with critics alleging that it targets groups based on political ideology. But based on NGO Monitor’s assessment, there are even more serious reasons to oppose the plan. It would create a powerless investigative body that serves only to undermine support for useful legislation, make martyrs out of anti-Israel NGOs, and obscure the troubling reality of Europe’s financial contributions to the Israel delegitimization movement. For anyone who cares about NGO accountability, this is a lose-lose situation.

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RE RE: Palin and the Blood Libel

Jonathan, you make excellent points about the common use of the term “blood libel” to describe wider acts of anti-Semitic thinking and behavior other than its original meaning — and why the day-long  attack on Sarah Palin for using the phrase has an absurd tinge to it. Today, asked about the “blood libel,” for example, the political consultant and speechwriter Robert Shrum described it as “centuries of killing Jews in Europe,” which describes the result of the “blood libel” but not the term’s meaning. Shrum’s ignorance was mirrored by, for example, Nate Silver of the New York Times, who said on Twitter that he didn’t know the history of the “blood libel” either.

But neither Silver nor Shrum is equivalent to Palin. While Palin should not be faulted for saying things she didn’t say or committing errors she didn’t commit, the fact is she has achieved a kind of national stature that exists in tension with her general tendency toward speaking as a lone outsider battling larger forces. She is larger than many of those forces now, and large figures must move gracefully if they are not to topple over.

Complaining about “a blood libel” was a mistake in tone, as the fact that we are still discussing it indicates. Her talk was intended to still the waters, not roil them against her further. But her use of the phrase made that impossible. Whoever advises her should have known that, and if no one who advises her did know that, she needs to get a few more advisers with better judgment.

Jonathan, you make excellent points about the common use of the term “blood libel” to describe wider acts of anti-Semitic thinking and behavior other than its original meaning — and why the day-long  attack on Sarah Palin for using the phrase has an absurd tinge to it. Today, asked about the “blood libel,” for example, the political consultant and speechwriter Robert Shrum described it as “centuries of killing Jews in Europe,” which describes the result of the “blood libel” but not the term’s meaning. Shrum’s ignorance was mirrored by, for example, Nate Silver of the New York Times, who said on Twitter that he didn’t know the history of the “blood libel” either.

But neither Silver nor Shrum is equivalent to Palin. While Palin should not be faulted for saying things she didn’t say or committing errors she didn’t commit, the fact is she has achieved a kind of national stature that exists in tension with her general tendency toward speaking as a lone outsider battling larger forces. She is larger than many of those forces now, and large figures must move gracefully if they are not to topple over.

Complaining about “a blood libel” was a mistake in tone, as the fact that we are still discussing it indicates. Her talk was intended to still the waters, not roil them against her further. But her use of the phrase made that impossible. Whoever advises her should have known that, and if no one who advises her did know that, she needs to get a few more advisers with better judgment.

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RE: Palin and the Blood Libel

As Sarah Palin has just learned, keeping up with the rules about using phrases that are associated with Jewish history is not as simple as it used to be. I was under the impression that the list of phrases that were considered off limits for general consumption was confined more or less to those associated with the Holocaust. Meaning, for instance, that the use of the word “holocaust” should be confined to discussion of events surrounding the genocide of Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1945. But even that stricture has been hard to enforce. Indeed, when an episode of the TV show The X-Files once referred to the mysterious death of amphibians in a lake as a “frog holocaust,” you knew that the word had become more of a metaphor than a specific historical term.

But when it comes to some people, the rules are apparently even more stringent than any of us might have thought. Thus, today Sarah Palin is being widely condemned for using the term “blood libel” when referencing the slanderous suggestions that she is in some way connected to the tragedy in Arizona. According to those who claim that Palin has somehow caused pain to the Jewish people, it is wrong to use that phrase to describe anything other than the false accusation that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children and use their blood to help bake matzoh for Passover. This canard was popularized during the Middle Ages by European Christians and has been revived in recent decades in the Arab world as Jew-hatred has become an unfortunate staple of contemporary Islamic culture.

But the idea that this term cannot be used to describe anything else is something new. Granted, most of the uses of this phrase that come quickly to mind have had Jewish associations. For example, the accusation that right-wing Zionists were behind the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, a Labor Zionist official who was killed on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933, has always been called a “blood libel” by those who believed the failed effort to pin the killing on Labor’s Jewish opposition was a political plot to discredit them. In just the past couple of years, the term “blood libel” has been applied by writers here at COMMENTARY to describe the false charges put forward by Human Rights Watch and the UN Goldstone Commission against Israeli forces fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as to the malicious falsehoods published by a Swedish newspaper that claimed Israel was murdering Palestinians and then harvesting their organs for medical use.

So the claim that Palin has crossed some bright line in the sand and “stolen” a phrase that has always and should always be used to describe only one thing is absurd. Like so much else that has been heard from the left in the wake of the shootings in Arizona, this further charge against Sarah Palin is groundless. The fact is, those who are trying to link her or other conservatives to this crime are committing a kind of blood libel. Take issue with her politics or dislike her personality if that is your inclination, but the idea that she has even the most remote connection to this event is outrageous. So, too, is the manufactured controversy over “blood libel.”

As Sarah Palin has just learned, keeping up with the rules about using phrases that are associated with Jewish history is not as simple as it used to be. I was under the impression that the list of phrases that were considered off limits for general consumption was confined more or less to those associated with the Holocaust. Meaning, for instance, that the use of the word “holocaust” should be confined to discussion of events surrounding the genocide of Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1945. But even that stricture has been hard to enforce. Indeed, when an episode of the TV show The X-Files once referred to the mysterious death of amphibians in a lake as a “frog holocaust,” you knew that the word had become more of a metaphor than a specific historical term.

But when it comes to some people, the rules are apparently even more stringent than any of us might have thought. Thus, today Sarah Palin is being widely condemned for using the term “blood libel” when referencing the slanderous suggestions that she is in some way connected to the tragedy in Arizona. According to those who claim that Palin has somehow caused pain to the Jewish people, it is wrong to use that phrase to describe anything other than the false accusation that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children and use their blood to help bake matzoh for Passover. This canard was popularized during the Middle Ages by European Christians and has been revived in recent decades in the Arab world as Jew-hatred has become an unfortunate staple of contemporary Islamic culture.

But the idea that this term cannot be used to describe anything else is something new. Granted, most of the uses of this phrase that come quickly to mind have had Jewish associations. For example, the accusation that right-wing Zionists were behind the murder of Haim Arlosoroff, a Labor Zionist official who was killed on a Tel Aviv beach in 1933, has always been called a “blood libel” by those who believed the failed effort to pin the killing on Labor’s Jewish opposition was a political plot to discredit them. In just the past couple of years, the term “blood libel” has been applied by writers here at COMMENTARY to describe the false charges put forward by Human Rights Watch and the UN Goldstone Commission against Israeli forces fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as to the malicious falsehoods published by a Swedish newspaper that claimed Israel was murdering Palestinians and then harvesting their organs for medical use.

So the claim that Palin has crossed some bright line in the sand and “stolen” a phrase that has always and should always be used to describe only one thing is absurd. Like so much else that has been heard from the left in the wake of the shootings in Arizona, this further charge against Sarah Palin is groundless. The fact is, those who are trying to link her or other conservatives to this crime are committing a kind of blood libel. Take issue with her politics or dislike her personality if that is your inclination, but the idea that she has even the most remote connection to this event is outrageous. So, too, is the manufactured controversy over “blood libel.”

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Morning Commentary

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from his former Mossad chief’s assessment that Iran won’t acquire a nuclear weapon before 2015: “‘I think that intelligence estimates are exactly that, estimates,’ Netanyahu said. ‘They range from best case to worst case possibilities, and there is a range there, there is room for differing assessments.’”

With the Russian and Belarusian governments cracking down on opposition leaders, the U.S. needs to figure out what steps to take now that the reset strategy has failed: “[The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Lilia] Shevtsova said the similar authoritarian direction the two countries are pursuing calls for the United States and Europe to create a coordinated policy for dealing with repressive regimes, one that could be developed for Belarus and fine-tuned for Russia.”

More information has surfaced about the strange online life of Arizona shooter Jared Loughner. A UFO website has told reporters that he frequented its Web forum, where his strange messages apparently confused the other posters: “His postings, they said, revealed ‘someone who clearly has many questions for which answers have been elusive if not outright impossible to obtain. And despite the best efforts by many of our members, it seemed there were no answers to be found here for which he was satisfied.’”

Now that the initial shock over the Arizona shooting has waned, here comes the inevitable debate over gun control: “’This case is fundamentally about a mentally ill drug abuser who had access to guns and shouldn’t have,’ [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg said at a news conference Tuesday with members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”

Robert Verbruggen explains why stricter gun-control laws would probably not have prevented Loughner from carrying out his attack last weekend: “If someone intends to assassinate a public official, he’s already planning to break a few laws; there is absolutely no reason to believe that one more law — a law that will presumably mete out less punishment than do laws against murder — will affect his calculations. And given how easy it is to conceal a handgun until one’s target is in sight, there’s little hope that this law will help security or police officers disarm assassins before they commence shooting.”

The four-minute video that perfectly encapsulates the hypocrisy of the anti-violent-rhetoric crowd: “Sadly, it’s never war-mongers like Palin and Beck that get shot.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from his former Mossad chief’s assessment that Iran won’t acquire a nuclear weapon before 2015: “‘I think that intelligence estimates are exactly that, estimates,’ Netanyahu said. ‘They range from best case to worst case possibilities, and there is a range there, there is room for differing assessments.’”

With the Russian and Belarusian governments cracking down on opposition leaders, the U.S. needs to figure out what steps to take now that the reset strategy has failed: “[The Carnegie Moscow Center’s Lilia] Shevtsova said the similar authoritarian direction the two countries are pursuing calls for the United States and Europe to create a coordinated policy for dealing with repressive regimes, one that could be developed for Belarus and fine-tuned for Russia.”

More information has surfaced about the strange online life of Arizona shooter Jared Loughner. A UFO website has told reporters that he frequented its Web forum, where his strange messages apparently confused the other posters: “His postings, they said, revealed ‘someone who clearly has many questions for which answers have been elusive if not outright impossible to obtain. And despite the best efforts by many of our members, it seemed there were no answers to be found here for which he was satisfied.’”

Now that the initial shock over the Arizona shooting has waned, here comes the inevitable debate over gun control: “’This case is fundamentally about a mentally ill drug abuser who had access to guns and shouldn’t have,’ [New York Mayor Michael] Bloomberg said at a news conference Tuesday with members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.”

Robert Verbruggen explains why stricter gun-control laws would probably not have prevented Loughner from carrying out his attack last weekend: “If someone intends to assassinate a public official, he’s already planning to break a few laws; there is absolutely no reason to believe that one more law — a law that will presumably mete out less punishment than do laws against murder — will affect his calculations. And given how easy it is to conceal a handgun until one’s target is in sight, there’s little hope that this law will help security or police officers disarm assassins before they commence shooting.”

The four-minute video that perfectly encapsulates the hypocrisy of the anti-violent-rhetoric crowd: “Sadly, it’s never war-mongers like Palin and Beck that get shot.”

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The EU’s Black-and-White World

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote that the European Union seems set to repeat its Cyprus error with the Palestinians. But perhaps that’s unsurprising. For in both cases, willful disregard of the evidence has subverted its policies.

In Cyprus, the EU effectively killed a peace plan by promising accession to Greek Cyprus regardless of the outcome of an April 2004 referendum, but to Turkish Cyprus only if both sides voted yes. Unsurprisingly, since Greeks had nothing to lose by holding out for more, 75 percent voted no, while Turks, having something to lose, voted yes. Indeed, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos openly opposed the plan, telling his countrymen they could get a better deal; so did the largest Greek Cypriot political party.

Subsequently, then-enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen accused Greek Cypriot leaders of “cheating” their way into the EU: they vowed support for reunification until accession was assured, then reversed course. But why did Europe deem their promises credible enough to justify sacrificing the accession card?

After all, evidence to the contrary wasn’t lacking. For instance, the Greeks refused to sign an earlier draft of the plan in December 2002 but were nevertheless offered membership later that month. They rejected another version in February 2003, yet the EU made no effort to postpone that April’s signing of the accession treaty, which made accession unstoppable. Indeed, Greek leaders repeatedly demanded more than the plan offered, while polls showed most Greeks opposing the requisite concessions.

The answer is that Europe viewed Cyprus in black and white: since Turkish Cyprus was created by Turkey’s 1974 invasion, it deemed Turkish Cypriots the villainous “occupiers” and Greek Cypriots the victims. Never mind that Turkey invaded in response to a war Greek Cypriots started by staging a coup, with backing from Athens, to create an all-Greek government and merge the island with Greece. Or that Greek Cypriots’ history of oppressing Turkish Cypriots gave the latter good reason to fear the coup and beg Ankara’s assistance, and Ankara good reason to intervene to protect them. Or that the war made thousands on both sides refugees.

Then, having assigned its roles, the EU simply assumed that the victims would “support peace” while the villains would oppose it, regardless of actual behavior. Thus in March 2004, while Papadopoulos and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart were both denouncing the plan’s latest draft, Verheugen still blamed Turkish Cyprus alone for the failed talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian parallels are obvious. Here, too, Europe ignores the fact that Israel conquered the territories in a defensive war, or that every previous Israeli withdrawal has exacerbated anti-Israel terror. It ignores repeated polls (see here and here) showing that Palestinians oppose two states if one of them remains Jewish. It ignores “moderate” Palestinian leaders’ unrelenting insistence on relocating all Palestinian “refugees” to Israel (here and here for instance), their claims that the Western Wall isn’t Jewish, their demand for judenrein territory. It even ignores their rejection of Israeli statehood offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Hence its growing support for recognizing “Palestine” without an agreement, thus killing any chance for negotiations.

The EU has decided that Israelis are villainous, peace-hating “occupiers” and Palestinians are peace-loving victims. And never mind the facts.

In Wednesday’s post, I wrote that the European Union seems set to repeat its Cyprus error with the Palestinians. But perhaps that’s unsurprising. For in both cases, willful disregard of the evidence has subverted its policies.

In Cyprus, the EU effectively killed a peace plan by promising accession to Greek Cyprus regardless of the outcome of an April 2004 referendum, but to Turkish Cyprus only if both sides voted yes. Unsurprisingly, since Greeks had nothing to lose by holding out for more, 75 percent voted no, while Turks, having something to lose, voted yes. Indeed, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos openly opposed the plan, telling his countrymen they could get a better deal; so did the largest Greek Cypriot political party.

Subsequently, then-enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen accused Greek Cypriot leaders of “cheating” their way into the EU: they vowed support for reunification until accession was assured, then reversed course. But why did Europe deem their promises credible enough to justify sacrificing the accession card?

After all, evidence to the contrary wasn’t lacking. For instance, the Greeks refused to sign an earlier draft of the plan in December 2002 but were nevertheless offered membership later that month. They rejected another version in February 2003, yet the EU made no effort to postpone that April’s signing of the accession treaty, which made accession unstoppable. Indeed, Greek leaders repeatedly demanded more than the plan offered, while polls showed most Greeks opposing the requisite concessions.

The answer is that Europe viewed Cyprus in black and white: since Turkish Cyprus was created by Turkey’s 1974 invasion, it deemed Turkish Cypriots the villainous “occupiers” and Greek Cypriots the victims. Never mind that Turkey invaded in response to a war Greek Cypriots started by staging a coup, with backing from Athens, to create an all-Greek government and merge the island with Greece. Or that Greek Cypriots’ history of oppressing Turkish Cypriots gave the latter good reason to fear the coup and beg Ankara’s assistance, and Ankara good reason to intervene to protect them. Or that the war made thousands on both sides refugees.

Then, having assigned its roles, the EU simply assumed that the victims would “support peace” while the villains would oppose it, regardless of actual behavior. Thus in March 2004, while Papadopoulos and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart were both denouncing the plan’s latest draft, Verheugen still blamed Turkish Cyprus alone for the failed talks.

The Israeli-Palestinian parallels are obvious. Here, too, Europe ignores the fact that Israel conquered the territories in a defensive war, or that every previous Israeli withdrawal has exacerbated anti-Israel terror. It ignores repeated polls (see here and here) showing that Palestinians oppose two states if one of them remains Jewish. It ignores “moderate” Palestinian leaders’ unrelenting insistence on relocating all Palestinian “refugees” to Israel (here and here for instance), their claims that the Western Wall isn’t Jewish, their demand for judenrein territory. It even ignores their rejection of Israeli statehood offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008. Hence its growing support for recognizing “Palestine” without an agreement, thus killing any chance for negotiations.

The EU has decided that Israelis are villainous, peace-hating “occupiers” and Palestinians are peace-loving victims. And never mind the facts.

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Anarchists, Unite (a Little)!

The New York Times reports on the latest European letter bomb, this one sent to the Greek embassy in Rome: “An Italian group called the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the defused letter bomb, as well as for two letter bombs that exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies to Rome on Dec. 23, seriously injuring two people. … Italian and Greek police officials say that anarchist groups across Europe maintain close ties with each other through the Internet, and often act to call attention to their cause.”

If the Informal Anarchist Federation sounds a bit wishy-washy, you’ve got to remember there are certain organizational challenges inherent in anarchism. Imagine the chat-room drama that led to this moniker.

–We need a name.

–What’s this “we” stuff, Mr. Dictator? I’m an anarchist. I have a name. It’s Bob, and it suits me fine, thank you very much.

–Point taken, Bob. But how do we, excuse me, I mean, how does one indicate solidarity or cohesion without a representative name of some sort? Read More

The New York Times reports on the latest European letter bomb, this one sent to the Greek embassy in Rome: “An Italian group called the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the defused letter bomb, as well as for two letter bombs that exploded at the Swiss and Chilean embassies to Rome on Dec. 23, seriously injuring two people. … Italian and Greek police officials say that anarchist groups across Europe maintain close ties with each other through the Internet, and often act to call attention to their cause.”

If the Informal Anarchist Federation sounds a bit wishy-washy, you’ve got to remember there are certain organizational challenges inherent in anarchism. Imagine the chat-room drama that led to this moniker.

–We need a name.

–What’s this “we” stuff, Mr. Dictator? I’m an anarchist. I have a name. It’s Bob, and it suits me fine, thank you very much.

–Point taken, Bob. But how do we, excuse me, I mean, how does one indicate solidarity or cohesion without a representative name of some sort?

–Hello? Anonymous?

–That’s taken. Anonymous goes by Anonymous.

–What do you mean anonymous goes by anonymous? Since when?

–Since they launched the DDOS attacks in support of WikiLeaks.

–Those attacks were anonymous.

–Right. I mean, wrong. The A was capitalized.

–Damn. Typo in my paper.

–Live and learn. Anyway, we, uh, I mean this still needs a name.

–I’m thinking. Got it! Nobody. Signed Nobody. Menacing, right?

–“Nobody bombed an embassy in Paris today”?  “Governments around the world have to worry about nobody”?

–Point taken.

–How about a simple, non-dramatic, descriptive approach? The Anarchist Federation.

–What’s your home address again?

–Why?

–Well, as an anarchist, I’m obligated to bomb federations not join them.

–Take it easy. I’m thinking of a compromise. How about the Loose Anarchist Federation?

–Uh, little acronym issue there.

–Right. Hmmm. The Informal Anarchist Federation?

–”Look out. The Informal Anarchist Federation is after you. Better institute dress-down Fridays.” Why not the Business Casual Anarchist Federation? The Half-Baked Anarchist Federation …

–Holy cow! I’m about to the miss the mailman. I’ve got to post this letter bomb by noon.

–See what happens when you waste time collaborating as fellow citizens?

–Informal going once, twice …

–Fine. Thank goodness our names aren’t attached to this thing.

–After this, I say we go back to the old A in the circle.

–Sure. Because anarchism is all about tradition and institutions and safe symbols, isn’t it. Wouldn’t want to think for ourselves, would we …

–Logging off, Bob.

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Open Minds Open Wallets

The AP has a story about how American businesses are now looking to market products to Muslim consumers:

The worldwide market for Islamically permitted goods, called halal, has grown to more than half a billion dollars annually. Ritually slaughtered meat is a mainstay, but the halal industry is much broader, including foods and seasoning that omit alcohol, pork products and other forbidden ingredients, along with cosmetics, finance and clothing.

Corporations have been courting immigrant Muslim communities in Europe for several years. Nestle, for example, has about 20 factories in Europe with halal-certified production lines and advertises to Western Muslims through its marketing campaign called “Taste of Home.” Nestle plans to increase its ethnic and halal offerings in Europe in coming years.

In the United States, iconic American companies such as McDonald’s (which already has a popular halal menu overseas) and Wal-Mart have entered the halal arena. In August, the natural grocery giant Whole Foods began selling its first nationally distributed halal food product — frozen Indian entrees called Saffron Road.

There is no reason to think that Muslims, in themselves, represent a uniquely promising niche market. What’s happening here is subtler. It’s about branding, not selling. Companies want to be seen by all potential consumers as being socially aware, on the side of the good guys, and behind fashionable causes. Four years ago, with An Inconvenient Truth dominating the culture, this meant offering bottles with 20 percent less plastic or toilet paper made from 100 percent recycled paper. But the market is turbulent and with the increased discrediting of global-warming alarmism, the popularity of green brands has taken a measurable hit.  Today, with cover stories apologizing for American Islamophobia, being a compassionate corporation means offering halal frozen dinners and Islamic themed fabric patterns. In case it escapes the average consumer that these companies are brave and compassionate beyond measure, the AP story is peppered with ridiculous allusions to the “risks” these right-thinking businesses are incurring. It goes without saying that the planet was no more doomed to heat up than American Muslims are threatened by their neighbors. Under the guise of the great American tradition of equality, these companies are capitalizing on the great American tradition of PR. They got this story out of it, didn’t they?

The AP has a story about how American businesses are now looking to market products to Muslim consumers:

The worldwide market for Islamically permitted goods, called halal, has grown to more than half a billion dollars annually. Ritually slaughtered meat is a mainstay, but the halal industry is much broader, including foods and seasoning that omit alcohol, pork products and other forbidden ingredients, along with cosmetics, finance and clothing.

Corporations have been courting immigrant Muslim communities in Europe for several years. Nestle, for example, has about 20 factories in Europe with halal-certified production lines and advertises to Western Muslims through its marketing campaign called “Taste of Home.” Nestle plans to increase its ethnic and halal offerings in Europe in coming years.

In the United States, iconic American companies such as McDonald’s (which already has a popular halal menu overseas) and Wal-Mart have entered the halal arena. In August, the natural grocery giant Whole Foods began selling its first nationally distributed halal food product — frozen Indian entrees called Saffron Road.

There is no reason to think that Muslims, in themselves, represent a uniquely promising niche market. What’s happening here is subtler. It’s about branding, not selling. Companies want to be seen by all potential consumers as being socially aware, on the side of the good guys, and behind fashionable causes. Four years ago, with An Inconvenient Truth dominating the culture, this meant offering bottles with 20 percent less plastic or toilet paper made from 100 percent recycled paper. But the market is turbulent and with the increased discrediting of global-warming alarmism, the popularity of green brands has taken a measurable hit.  Today, with cover stories apologizing for American Islamophobia, being a compassionate corporation means offering halal frozen dinners and Islamic themed fabric patterns. In case it escapes the average consumer that these companies are brave and compassionate beyond measure, the AP story is peppered with ridiculous allusions to the “risks” these right-thinking businesses are incurring. It goes without saying that the planet was no more doomed to heat up than American Muslims are threatened by their neighbors. Under the guise of the great American tradition of equality, these companies are capitalizing on the great American tradition of PR. They got this story out of it, didn’t they?

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Morning Commentary

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

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Exemptions Granted by U.S. Prove Iran Sanctions Won’t Work

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran. Read More

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran.

A story on the front page of today’s New York Times informs us that a “little known office of the Treasury Department has granted more than 10,000 licenses” allowing Americans to trade with Iran and other blacklisted countries. The companies that have gained these exemptions include some of the biggest, such as Kraft Food and Pepsi as well as major banks. While the purpose of the statute that allows for exemptions was to provide humanitarian aid, the Obama administration has let things like chewing gum, sports equipment and even hot sauce be sold to Iran. Even worse, it has allowed an American company to “bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation.”

An administration spokesman claimed that focusing on the vast number of exemptions “misses the forest for the trees,” since “no one can doubt that we are serious about this.” But as even former Clinton administration official Stuart Eizenstat told the Times, “When you create loopholes like this that you can drive a Mack truck through, you are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses.”

The loopholes in the law are bad enough. But, as the Times reports, they are widened by the influence of politicians who seek to grant favors to local businesses and contributors. In one instance, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) intervened to force the Treasury office to allow a company owned by one of his contributors to do business with a Chinese firm that had been banned for its role in selling missile technology to Iran and Pakistan.

The point here is not so much the corruption of our political system. Rather it is that as much as we doubted the determination of our allies to enforce sanctions, the United States government has shown itself to be equally incapable of getting tough with Iran. While concerned citizens can pray that clandestine operations, such as the Stuxnet virus, will undermine Iran’s nuclear program, the fact remains that the countdown toward an Iranian nuke proceeds. Though it was common knowledge that this administration, like its predecessor led by George W. Bush, seemed to lack the will to fully confront Iran, we didn’t know just how much our own government was allowing the existing sanctions to be flouted. In light of these revelations, it’s clear that sanctions will never work to halt the march of this terror sponsor toward nuclear capability. After reading this shocking story, there’s little doubt that Ahmadinejad and his tyrannical Islamist confederates are laughing at us.

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New START Was Salvaged in More Ways Than One

Although those who opposed the ratification of New START were lambasted as anti-American obstructionists, they ultimately managed to do their country a gargantuan service. In the end, people like Senator Jon Kyl successfully put pressure on the Senate to amend the resolution of the treaty so that America’s future missile-defense plans are explicitly not beholden to the conditions of the agreement. Specifically, this means retaining our ability to put missile-defense assets in Europe despite Russia’s disapproval. Not a bad day’s work for thoughtless partisan blockheads.

What’s interesting is the degree to which the press now considers important political dissent to be an alien and worrisome phenomenon. Anything short of across-the-board agreement with the administration’s first wishes is a sign of the ungovernabilty of America and the irrationality of conservatives. Bipartisanship, they have long forgotten, does not mean that which is dictated by one party and assented to by another. It is a state of affairs in which both parties contribute to an outcome. The ratification of New START is a flashy “Obama victory,” for sure. But in geostrategic terms, the treaty is a dud and the amendments that ensure the integrity of American missile defense are, frankly, more important.

Although those who opposed the ratification of New START were lambasted as anti-American obstructionists, they ultimately managed to do their country a gargantuan service. In the end, people like Senator Jon Kyl successfully put pressure on the Senate to amend the resolution of the treaty so that America’s future missile-defense plans are explicitly not beholden to the conditions of the agreement. Specifically, this means retaining our ability to put missile-defense assets in Europe despite Russia’s disapproval. Not a bad day’s work for thoughtless partisan blockheads.

What’s interesting is the degree to which the press now considers important political dissent to be an alien and worrisome phenomenon. Anything short of across-the-board agreement with the administration’s first wishes is a sign of the ungovernabilty of America and the irrationality of conservatives. Bipartisanship, they have long forgotten, does not mean that which is dictated by one party and assented to by another. It is a state of affairs in which both parties contribute to an outcome. The ratification of New START is a flashy “Obama victory,” for sure. But in geostrategic terms, the treaty is a dud and the amendments that ensure the integrity of American missile defense are, frankly, more important.

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The “Palestinian” Campaign

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response. Read More

As Alana Goodman writes today, the Palestinian Authority has announced that 10 European Union nations will be accepting fully accredited Palestinian embassies. I agree that skepticism is in order about the particulars of this claim, but there’s more to the relentless barrage of PA announcements than mere theatrical foot-dragging. The American focus on the peace process has tended to blind us to the fact that a separate campaign is underway to corner Israel and present it with a set of diplomatic faits accomplis. For this separate campaign, the peace process is not the principal vehicle for concerted action.

The campaign has been mounting like a drumbeat in the distance. Saeb Erekat’s newest claim about the 10 EU nations follows the recognition of a Palestinian state earlier this month by members of the Latin American Mercosur union (with three new nations signing up on Sunday). Nations across Europe and the Americas have upgraded the status of Palestinian diplomatic missions in the past year, including the U.S. and France in July, along with others like Spain, Norway, and Portugal.

Ongoing efforts at the UN, meanwhile, were outlined by John Bolton in a widely cited article in October. His concern in writing that article was that a UN resolution establishing an arbitrary Palestinian state was imminent and inevitable unless the U.S. could be relied on to veto it. The threat of such action has not subsided: today the Netanyahu government sent its envoys around the globe “urgent” instructions to oppose UN action on a statehood resolution or a resolution demanding a halt to settlement construction.

That urgency is not misplaced given the statements and actions of the PA itself. Bloggers noted the statement by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in early December that the PA “will not be a prisoner to the restrictions of Oslo” — and pointed out the disadvantages of that posture for the PA. But the advantage of abandoning the Oslo framework is greater for the project Fayyad has his name on: unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state in 2011. This is a serious plan of which Fayyad has spoken for more than a year, and its supporters in the West are exemplified by Thomas Friedman, who can’t say enough good things about “Fayyadism” and the 2011 plan. As an economic approach, “Fayyadism” doesn’t get high marks from all observers; but its political significance is that it poses a date and a question — 2011 and statehood — that require official response.

The 2011 plan is the one to keep an eye on. It has momentum and increasing buy-in, as demonstrated by the flurry of statehood recognitions from Latin America this month. U.S. mainstream media have not generally been presenting a coherent picture to American readers, but from a broader perspective, there is a confluence of events separate from the official peace process. It already appears, from the regional jockeying for Lebanon and the trend of Saudi activity, that nations in the Middle East are trying to position themselves for a decisive shift in the Israel-Palestine dynamic. Now, in a significant “informational” move, Russia’s ITAR-TASS is playing up the discussions of 2011 statehood from the meeting this past weekend of a Russian-government delegation with Salam Fayyad in Israel.

It may be too early to call the official peace process irrelevant or pronounce it dead. But the interest in it from the Palestinian Arabs and other parties in the Middle East is increasingly perfunctory (or cynical). It is becoming clear that there is more than recalcitrance on the Palestinian side; there is an alternative plan, which is being actively promoted. A central virtue of this plan for Fayyadists is that it can work by either of two methods: presenting Israel with a UN-backed fait accompli or alarming Israel into cutting a deal from fear that an imposed resolution would be worse.

John Bolton is right. Everything about this depends on what the U.S. does. America can either avert the 2011 plan’s momentum now or face a crisis decision crafted for us by others sometime next year. Being maneuvered into a UN veto that could set off bombings and riots across the Eastern Hemisphere — and very possibly North America as well — should not be our first choice.

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WikiLeaks Debunks History for Stupid People

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

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Streisand Returns from Political Exile

Barbra Streisand — an influential figure within Democratic circles — told Larry King that while they were “misguided,” both Presidents Reagan and Bush showed “real strength,” which voters admire. This stands in contrast to Obama — though she credits him for having an “open mind,” an “open heart,” and being “very smart.”

She also said that the problem with Democrats is that — you guessed it — they had a “communications problem.” They were unable to convey to the public all the great things they had done. And oh, by the way, Ms. Streisand fled to Europe because of the last election. Alas, she didn’t stay.

Barbra Streisand — an influential figure within Democratic circles — told Larry King that while they were “misguided,” both Presidents Reagan and Bush showed “real strength,” which voters admire. This stands in contrast to Obama — though she credits him for having an “open mind,” an “open heart,” and being “very smart.”

She also said that the problem with Democrats is that — you guessed it — they had a “communications problem.” They were unable to convey to the public all the great things they had done. And oh, by the way, Ms. Streisand fled to Europe because of the last election. Alas, she didn’t stay.

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RE: The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

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