Commentary Magazine


Topic: Foreign Ministry

Flotsam and Jetsam

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.'”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

Terrible news: Carly Fiorina is hospitalized.

Rotten outlook for the Dems from Charlie Cook: “The Cook Political Report’s pre-election House outlook is a Democratic net loss of 48 to 60 seats, with higher losses possible. A turnover of just 39 seats would tip majority status into Republican hands. The midterm maelstrom pulling House Democrats under shows no signs of abating, if anything it has intensified.”

Dismal outlook for Virginia Democrats: Dick Boucher may be denied his 16th term.

Noxious moral equivalence from the UN: “‘Israeli officials slammed UN special envoy Robert Serry’s comments Tuesday equating alleged settler vandalism against olive trees to terrorism, saying such an equation was “absurd” and “reprehensible.” As for the use of the word “terror,” does he want to make believe that there are Israeli suicide bombers attacking Palestinians buses?’ [Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor] said.  ‘One cannot understand this absurd equation. The Israeli government has acted with determination against violence directed against Palestinians, with a number of offenders brought to trial and an unambiguous approach by the Israeli justice system to this problem.'”

On the good-news front, many sharp GOP foreign policy gurus will have new prominence in Congress. Josh Rogin has the rundown.

Fabulous entertainment value ahead: “Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) will likely represent himself at his mid-November ethics trial, setting up a potential spectacle less than two weeks after what’s expected to be a disappointing — if not devastating — election for Democrats.”

A positive development for conservative Hoosiers: “House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence  of Indiana is considering stepping down from his post in the GOP leadership in preparation for a possible bid for president or governor in 2012. Pence, a darling of the conservative movement, would leave the leadership job with a blunt explanation to colleagues that he can’t commit to a two-year term in House leadership, a source familiar with his deliberations told POLITICO Tuesday.”

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Israel Needs to Face Facts About Turkey

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

Israel’s effort to adjust to the new reality of a hostile Islamist Turkey often seems like “one step forward, two steps back.” This week was a giant step back. Yet even so, progress has been made.

This week’s setback was Israel’s decision to participate in a UN probe of May’s raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Several leading Israeli ministers said the decision was made partly “to restore ties with Turkey.” As one senior official put it, “Hopefully the combination of lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and establishing an international investigation will meet the Turkish demands and lead to a restoration of ties.”

This is appeasement of the worst kind. In order to “restore ties” with a government that has made its hostility crystal-clear, Israel for the first time gave its imprimatur to an investigation by one of the world’s most anti-Israel bodies, which has never sought to probe similar incidents in other countries. That sets a dangerous precedent.

Even worse, this decision comes just days after Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced concern over the new Turkish intelligence chief’s close ties with Iran. Noting that years of military cooperation had left many Israeli secrets in Turkish hands, he worried that Hakan Fidan might pass them to Tehran. What normal country seeks a closer relationship with a government it suspects of sharing its secrets with its worst enemy?

Yet in its soberer moments, the government has, with considerable success, begun reaching out to some of Turkey’s traditional opponents. Last month, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou paid an official visit to Israel, becoming the first Greek leader to do so in over 30 years. And in May, the Greek and Israeli air forces conducted joint exercises over the Aegean Sea. Turkey used to be a major venue for such exercises, but lately, it has canceled them repeatedly. And these exercises are vital because they enable pilots to train over longer distances and different terrain than Israel offers.

Ties with Cyprus have also warmed. In May, for instance, Cyprus said it would stop letting Gaza-bound flotillas use its ports, and in June, the Free Gaza movement, which has organized several such flotillas, said this decision had forced it to relocate its headquarters from the island.

But Israel’s schizophrenic behavior is damaging — something even Foreign Ministry professionals, trained to favor diplomacy above all, have recognized. When Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer met Turkey’s foreign minister in June in a bid to mend ties, one senior Foreign Ministry professional told Haaretz (Hebrew only):

The American government is giving Turkey the cold shoulder, Jewish organizations are boycotting it and the whole world is uncomfortable with Turkey’s behavior. Amid all this, we’re the ones who want to embrace them. So how will we be able to object to the world [doing the same] afterward?

This week’s decision shows the damage is only getting worse. It’s time for Jerusalem to face facts: as long as Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in power, Turkey will never again be an ally. Better to cut its losses and focus on building other more fruitful relationships.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When debating illegal immigration, let’s remember who wants to come here: “those ill-used souls who, having braved coyotes both literal and figurative to get here, are now, with the submissive resignation of the most forbearing lama, slaving away washing dishes in restaurant kitchens, or bent double picking grapes in Napa, or cleaning the toilets of people who look right through them as if they were not flesh and blood, and whose children are serving honorably in the United States military.” Read the whole thing.

When looking for media bias, you can always count on the New York Times. In this hatchet job, it’s pretty obvious that the Humane Society and MADD roped the Gray Lady into going after their antagonist, the libertarian activist Richard Berman, who seems to be doing nothing illegal despite the Times‘s inferences. (Indeed, the IRS investigated a Berman entity and “found nothing that would warrant a revocation of its tax exemption.”)

When world leaders awoke from their Obama daze, they reacted like many Americans: “They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U.S. power. For example, Obama has asserted that America is not at war with the Muslim world. The problem is that parts of the Muslim world are at war with America and the West. Obama feels, fairly enough, that America must be contrite in its dealings with the Muslim world. … America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies.”

When will Jewish non-leaders start demanding that we withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council? “The United States and its allies suffered a series of setbacks at the United Nations on Friday as the Human Rights Council flirted with media censorship and was poised to elevate an anti-American politician and a Cuban to key positions. Concerns about censorship were raised after the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has tremendous sway in the United Nations, successfully pushed through a resolution that creates a watchdog to monitor how religion is portrayed in the media.” (And for this, we needed a new ambassador to the OIC? Doesn’t seem like the ambassador is persuading the OIC of anything — or is the point to demonstrate that we don’t care to oppose its totalitarian impulses?)

When you see evidence like this, you also see just how lacking in goodwill toward Israel Obama is, such that he would insist the Jewish state be the subject of an inquest: “New footage from the Mavi Marmara was released by the Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon, this time showing IHH head Bülent Yildirim inciting to violence against Israeli commandos hours before the encounter that claimed the lives of nine Turkish passengers. ‘We follow in the footsteps of the martyrs,’ Yildirim could be seen declaring to a large crowd of activists. ‘You shall see, we will definitely claim one or two victories. … If you send the commandos, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated in front of the whole world. … If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!'”

When Obama can’t decide whether to send an aircraft carrier to take part in South Korean naval exercises because it might upset North Korea and China – after promising our ally unequivocal support — you get an idea of how much trouble we and our allies are in.

When you return a terrorist to the heart of Wahhabism, guess what happens? “The United States have sent back around 120 Saudis from the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, set up after the U.S. launched a ‘war on terror’ following the September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi suicide hijackers sent by al Qaeda.” The Saudi running the fake rehab operation (“religious re-education by clerics and financial help to start a new life”) blames “strong personal ties among former prisoners but also tough U.S. tactics as the reason why some 20 percent of the returned Saudis relapsed into militancy compared to 9.5 percent overall in the rehabilitation program.” The Saudis consider the plan such a smashing success that they are building five new centers. Yes, it is madness for us to facilitate this.

When debating illegal immigration, let’s remember who wants to come here: “those ill-used souls who, having braved coyotes both literal and figurative to get here, are now, with the submissive resignation of the most forbearing lama, slaving away washing dishes in restaurant kitchens, or bent double picking grapes in Napa, or cleaning the toilets of people who look right through them as if they were not flesh and blood, and whose children are serving honorably in the United States military.” Read the whole thing.

When looking for media bias, you can always count on the New York Times. In this hatchet job, it’s pretty obvious that the Humane Society and MADD roped the Gray Lady into going after their antagonist, the libertarian activist Richard Berman, who seems to be doing nothing illegal despite the Times‘s inferences. (Indeed, the IRS investigated a Berman entity and “found nothing that would warrant a revocation of its tax exemption.”)

When world leaders awoke from their Obama daze, they reacted like many Americans: “They are no longer dazzled by his rock star personality and there is a sense that there is something amateurish and even incompetent about how Obama is managing U.S. power. For example, Obama has asserted that America is not at war with the Muslim world. The problem is that parts of the Muslim world are at war with America and the West. Obama feels, fairly enough, that America must be contrite in its dealings with the Muslim world. … America right now appears to be unreliable to traditional friends, compliant to rivals, and weak to enemies.”

When will Jewish non-leaders start demanding that we withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council? “The United States and its allies suffered a series of setbacks at the United Nations on Friday as the Human Rights Council flirted with media censorship and was poised to elevate an anti-American politician and a Cuban to key positions. Concerns about censorship were raised after the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which has tremendous sway in the United Nations, successfully pushed through a resolution that creates a watchdog to monitor how religion is portrayed in the media.” (And for this, we needed a new ambassador to the OIC? Doesn’t seem like the ambassador is persuading the OIC of anything — or is the point to demonstrate that we don’t care to oppose its totalitarian impulses?)

When you see evidence like this, you also see just how lacking in goodwill toward Israel Obama is, such that he would insist the Jewish state be the subject of an inquest: “New footage from the Mavi Marmara was released by the Foreign Ministry on Friday afternoon, this time showing IHH head Bülent Yildirim inciting to violence against Israeli commandos hours before the encounter that claimed the lives of nine Turkish passengers. ‘We follow in the footsteps of the martyrs,’ Yildirim could be seen declaring to a large crowd of activists. ‘You shall see, we will definitely claim one or two victories. … If you send the commandos, we will throw you down from here and you will be humiliated in front of the whole world. … If they board our ship, we will throw them into the sea, Allah willing!'”

When Obama can’t decide whether to send an aircraft carrier to take part in South Korean naval exercises because it might upset North Korea and China – after promising our ally unequivocal support — you get an idea of how much trouble we and our allies are in.

When you return a terrorist to the heart of Wahhabism, guess what happens? “The United States have sent back around 120 Saudis from the detention camp at the U.S. naval base in Cuba, set up after the U.S. launched a ‘war on terror’ following the September 11 attacks by mostly Saudi suicide hijackers sent by al Qaeda.” The Saudi running the fake rehab operation (“religious re-education by clerics and financial help to start a new life”) blames “strong personal ties among former prisoners but also tough U.S. tactics as the reason why some 20 percent of the returned Saudis relapsed into militancy compared to 9.5 percent overall in the rehabilitation program.” The Saudis consider the plan such a smashing success that they are building five new centers. Yes, it is madness for us to facilitate this.

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China Announcement Means More Stalling on Iran

Yesterday’s announcement that China had agreed to enter talks about the language of a new United Nations resolution about Iran’s nuclear program was hyped by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as evidence that all five Security Council members were “unified” on the issue. Of course, even Clinton conceded that this meant that there would be “a great deal of further consultation” in the weeks and months ahead.

But even before President Obama’s foreign-policy cheering section had a chance to get excited about this supposed breakthrough, the Chinese poured cold water on the president’s expectation that sanctions would happen soon. Today, the New York Times reports that it appears China’s position hasn’t moved at all: “Qin Gang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, appeared to steer clear from any commitment for sanctions. ‘On the Iranian nuclear issue, China will continue to endeavor toward a peaceful resolution,’ he said during a regular news conference on Thursday, emphasizing that the crisis should be resolved by ‘diplomatic means.’ ”

If this sounds remarkably similar to what China has said before in a series of statements on Iran in the last year, it’s not an accident. This is pretty much what they have been saying all along as they refused to countenance Iranian sanctions that either “bite” or are “crippling,” to use the words Clinton has employed to describe what the United States desires.

So let’s recap the past 15 months of American diplomacy on Iran. After several months of fruitless attempts to “engage” Iran to get them to play nice, the Obama administration set several deadlines that ultimately turned out to be Jan. 1, 2010, for the Iranians to respond. Of course, the Iranians didn’t respond, a development that triggered three months of the United States talking about getting Iran’s defenders on the Security Council — China and Russia — to talk about sanctions. And after this diplomatic offensive, all the Chinese have agreed to do is, you guessed it, talk some more about what eventually might be the language of a resolution. Which means that even if the Chinese aren’t merely stalling, the best we can hope for is several months of negotiations followed by the possible passage of a watered-down UN resolution that will neither “bite” nor “cripple” Iran.

That means that after wasting all 2009 on feckless appeasement and failed diplomacy, the most Obama can possibly hope to show for 2010 will be more failed diplomacy that produces a sanctions resolution that will do nothing to punish Iran or persuade it to back away from its drive for nuclear weapons. While we don’t doubt that the president’s acolytes will trumpet this as a great achievement, it translates into two free years of nuclear development for a regime that, as we learned last weekend, isn’t shy about letting the world know about its plans for developing even more nuclear sites.

Rather than placing pressure on Iran, what Obama has done is to grant it impunity to continue on a path toward nuclear development that will further empower this tyrannical Islamist regime and destabilize the Middle East. Though the administration continues to insist that stopping Iran is a priority, everything it has done has given Tehran confidence to continue toward its nuclear goal. All of which compels us to ask again: is Obama merely an incompetent foreign-policy president, or is he so focused on distancing himself from Israel and outreach to the Muslim world that he is actually prepared to live with a nuclear Iran?

Yesterday’s announcement that China had agreed to enter talks about the language of a new United Nations resolution about Iran’s nuclear program was hyped by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as evidence that all five Security Council members were “unified” on the issue. Of course, even Clinton conceded that this meant that there would be “a great deal of further consultation” in the weeks and months ahead.

But even before President Obama’s foreign-policy cheering section had a chance to get excited about this supposed breakthrough, the Chinese poured cold water on the president’s expectation that sanctions would happen soon. Today, the New York Times reports that it appears China’s position hasn’t moved at all: “Qin Gang, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, appeared to steer clear from any commitment for sanctions. ‘On the Iranian nuclear issue, China will continue to endeavor toward a peaceful resolution,’ he said during a regular news conference on Thursday, emphasizing that the crisis should be resolved by ‘diplomatic means.’ ”

If this sounds remarkably similar to what China has said before in a series of statements on Iran in the last year, it’s not an accident. This is pretty much what they have been saying all along as they refused to countenance Iranian sanctions that either “bite” or are “crippling,” to use the words Clinton has employed to describe what the United States desires.

So let’s recap the past 15 months of American diplomacy on Iran. After several months of fruitless attempts to “engage” Iran to get them to play nice, the Obama administration set several deadlines that ultimately turned out to be Jan. 1, 2010, for the Iranians to respond. Of course, the Iranians didn’t respond, a development that triggered three months of the United States talking about getting Iran’s defenders on the Security Council — China and Russia — to talk about sanctions. And after this diplomatic offensive, all the Chinese have agreed to do is, you guessed it, talk some more about what eventually might be the language of a resolution. Which means that even if the Chinese aren’t merely stalling, the best we can hope for is several months of negotiations followed by the possible passage of a watered-down UN resolution that will neither “bite” nor “cripple” Iran.

That means that after wasting all 2009 on feckless appeasement and failed diplomacy, the most Obama can possibly hope to show for 2010 will be more failed diplomacy that produces a sanctions resolution that will do nothing to punish Iran or persuade it to back away from its drive for nuclear weapons. While we don’t doubt that the president’s acolytes will trumpet this as a great achievement, it translates into two free years of nuclear development for a regime that, as we learned last weekend, isn’t shy about letting the world know about its plans for developing even more nuclear sites.

Rather than placing pressure on Iran, what Obama has done is to grant it impunity to continue on a path toward nuclear development that will further empower this tyrannical Islamist regime and destabilize the Middle East. Though the administration continues to insist that stopping Iran is a priority, everything it has done has given Tehran confidence to continue toward its nuclear goal. All of which compels us to ask again: is Obama merely an incompetent foreign-policy president, or is he so focused on distancing himself from Israel and outreach to the Muslim world that he is actually prepared to live with a nuclear Iran?

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Egypt Does PR Right

Credit where it is due: The Egyptians know how to deal with Hamas and especially with the useful idiots who have turned Gaza into a cause celebre. When George Galloway and his traveling roadshow of activists showed up in Egypt to make trouble, the Egyptians simply threw all of them out of the country.

“George Galloway is considered persona non grata and will not be allowed to enter into Egypt again,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. The activist left Egypt Friday morning from Cairo airport. … “He was told that he is a trouble maker and his behavior is undermining Egyptian security.”

This is no exaggeration. The arrival of Galloway’s “relief convoy” was accompanied by Hamas-staged riots along the Gaza border in which a Hamas sniper killed an Egyptian border guard. As a result, “Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit said his country would ban aid convoys from entering its territory.”

Where are the outraged Human Rights Watch press releases? When are the UN Human Rights Council hearings? Where is the collective outrage of the British media? We have banned aid convoys to Gaza — this statement would cause global apoplexy if uttered by the Israeli foreign minister.

But Egypt isn’t done:

Mosques throughout Egypt took advantage of Friday prayers to criticize Hamas…London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Saturday that most of the 140,000 mosques operating under the auspices of Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf took part in the verbal onslaught on the Palestinian Islamist group. …

According to another imam, Hamas is to blame for the blockade imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza. “Its leaders want to stay in power, even at the cost of their own people’s expulsion and starvation,” the imam said during a sermon at Cairo’s Al-Rahma Mosque.

Egyptian officials speak the terse and confident language of sovereignty. Israelis too frequently employ the defensive language of ethics, unaware that such noble rhetoric, when applied to foreign policy, invites little but skepticism and complaint.

Credit where it is due: The Egyptians know how to deal with Hamas and especially with the useful idiots who have turned Gaza into a cause celebre. When George Galloway and his traveling roadshow of activists showed up in Egypt to make trouble, the Egyptians simply threw all of them out of the country.

“George Galloway is considered persona non grata and will not be allowed to enter into Egypt again,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. The activist left Egypt Friday morning from Cairo airport. … “He was told that he is a trouble maker and his behavior is undermining Egyptian security.”

This is no exaggeration. The arrival of Galloway’s “relief convoy” was accompanied by Hamas-staged riots along the Gaza border in which a Hamas sniper killed an Egyptian border guard. As a result, “Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit said his country would ban aid convoys from entering its territory.”

Where are the outraged Human Rights Watch press releases? When are the UN Human Rights Council hearings? Where is the collective outrage of the British media? We have banned aid convoys to Gaza — this statement would cause global apoplexy if uttered by the Israeli foreign minister.

But Egypt isn’t done:

Mosques throughout Egypt took advantage of Friday prayers to criticize Hamas…London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Saturday that most of the 140,000 mosques operating under the auspices of Egypt’s Ministry of Awqaf took part in the verbal onslaught on the Palestinian Islamist group. …

According to another imam, Hamas is to blame for the blockade imposed on the Palestinians in Gaza. “Its leaders want to stay in power, even at the cost of their own people’s expulsion and starvation,” the imam said during a sermon at Cairo’s Al-Rahma Mosque.

Egyptian officials speak the terse and confident language of sovereignty. Israelis too frequently employ the defensive language of ethics, unaware that such noble rhetoric, when applied to foreign policy, invites little but skepticism and complaint.

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A Conference That Only Makes Sense

The blogosphere is in an uproar over this week’s unprecedented conference for all of Israel’s “heads of mission” – ambassadors and consuls – in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry’s news release acknowledges that this is the first such meeting ever convened for all Israeli heads of mission at one time. It makes a reasonable case that the conference is a policy-improvement measure of a kind common in other nations; but the conspiracy-minded see this simultaneous recall of all Israel’s diplomats as a sign that the bombing of Iran will commence shortly.

That is unlikely. The potential for an attack on Iran is undoubtedly a key topic at the conference, but as one agenda item rather than the primary purpose. Foreign policy in general is, in fact, enough of a pretext for the kind of conference going on this week. There are good reasons to believe Netanyahu perceives the U.S.-led world order to be in flux to the extent that Israeli foreign-policy thinking needs a larger scope. The assumption that Israel’s security conditions will be managed in a Washington-centered world order may soon become dangerously obsolete.

Clues that Netanyahu is seeking a broader footing for Israeli security ties have included the parade of Israeli officials to Russia in 2009 and Israel’s first high-level visits in decades to Latin America.  Bibi has always had strong links with the U.S., but Avigdor Lieberman’s links to Russia give him a special and valuable access to the alternative geopolitical thinking in Moscow. And there is definitely alternative thinking in Moscow, whether on Iran, the fierce intra-Asian competition for the natural gas trade, or the future security of Europe.

Netanyahu will not, of course, distance Israel from the U.S. He is seeking to supplement old ties, not supplant them. Like Japan, Brazil, India, and Turkey, which are all engaged in exactly such preparations, Israel will need a broader set of security links if the power shifts expected by many nations do, in fact, emerge from the rivalry of Russia and China.

President Obama could have taken the path of strengthening links that have gradually weakened in the U.S.-led global order since the end of the Cold War. But he has chosen instead to deliberately undermine some especially crucial ones: America’s commitment to missile defense as a non-negotiable security principle; and our posture as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Our reliability as a regional actor in Middle Eastern security matters is more questionable than at any time since the Carter administration.

Israel must perceive, as other nations do, that any new global patterns set in motion during Obama’s tenure might not be easily reversed by a successor. A nuclear-armed Iran is only one aspect of the changed world Israel can expect in the coming years. It would actually be more surprising to not see this week’s conference than it is to see Netanyahu’s foreign-policy team gathered to consider the watershed in Israel’s national life that is probably coming in 2010.

The blogosphere is in an uproar over this week’s unprecedented conference for all of Israel’s “heads of mission” – ambassadors and consuls – in Jerusalem. The Foreign Ministry’s news release acknowledges that this is the first such meeting ever convened for all Israeli heads of mission at one time. It makes a reasonable case that the conference is a policy-improvement measure of a kind common in other nations; but the conspiracy-minded see this simultaneous recall of all Israel’s diplomats as a sign that the bombing of Iran will commence shortly.

That is unlikely. The potential for an attack on Iran is undoubtedly a key topic at the conference, but as one agenda item rather than the primary purpose. Foreign policy in general is, in fact, enough of a pretext for the kind of conference going on this week. There are good reasons to believe Netanyahu perceives the U.S.-led world order to be in flux to the extent that Israeli foreign-policy thinking needs a larger scope. The assumption that Israel’s security conditions will be managed in a Washington-centered world order may soon become dangerously obsolete.

Clues that Netanyahu is seeking a broader footing for Israeli security ties have included the parade of Israeli officials to Russia in 2009 and Israel’s first high-level visits in decades to Latin America.  Bibi has always had strong links with the U.S., but Avigdor Lieberman’s links to Russia give him a special and valuable access to the alternative geopolitical thinking in Moscow. And there is definitely alternative thinking in Moscow, whether on Iran, the fierce intra-Asian competition for the natural gas trade, or the future security of Europe.

Netanyahu will not, of course, distance Israel from the U.S. He is seeking to supplement old ties, not supplant them. Like Japan, Brazil, India, and Turkey, which are all engaged in exactly such preparations, Israel will need a broader set of security links if the power shifts expected by many nations do, in fact, emerge from the rivalry of Russia and China.

President Obama could have taken the path of strengthening links that have gradually weakened in the U.S.-led global order since the end of the Cold War. But he has chosen instead to deliberately undermine some especially crucial ones: America’s commitment to missile defense as a non-negotiable security principle; and our posture as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. Our reliability as a regional actor in Middle Eastern security matters is more questionable than at any time since the Carter administration.

Israel must perceive, as other nations do, that any new global patterns set in motion during Obama’s tenure might not be easily reversed by a successor. A nuclear-armed Iran is only one aspect of the changed world Israel can expect in the coming years. It would actually be more surprising to not see this week’s conference than it is to see Netanyahu’s foreign-policy team gathered to consider the watershed in Israel’s national life that is probably coming in 2010.

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Cheapening Civil Rights

It’s disturbing when a self-proclaimed civil-rights organization seems to have no idea what civil rights actually means. Yet judging by the annual report it published this week, that is the case with Israel’s premier organization, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Take, for instance, its criticism of the proposed “Nakba Law.” The original bill (a private initiative, not government-sponsored) would indeed have seriously curtailed freedom of speech: it barred any commemoration of the Nakba — the Arabic term for Israel’s establishment, which literally means “catastrophe.” But public outrage forced its revision even before the Knesset began discussing it. Thus the proposal actually being considered would merely deny public funding to organizations that commemorate the Nakba.

Yet according to ACRI, even this “not only violates the rights of the Arab minority, but crosses a red line in suppressing freedom of expression for us all.”

That reflects a serious misunderstanding of freedom of expression, which merely allows people to express their views without fear of state-sponsored criminal or civil penalties. It does not require the state to finance these views. And it especially doesn’t require the state to finance views it deems detrimental to society’s welfare.

Indeed, ACRI undoubtedly would oppose state funding for some views — for instance, that Israel should expel all its Arabs. Yet if a group’s “right … to express its pain at what it considers to be a catastrophe” necessitates state funding for Nakba commemorations, on what grounds could the state refuse to finance expressions of right-wing extremists’ pain at what they consider a catastrophe — the existence of Israel’s Arab minority?

Nothing could be more inimical to Israel’s welfare than having 20 percent of its citizens teaching their children that the state’s very existence is a catastrophe that must be mourned. And no government should finance such views.

Or take ACRI’s critique of a Foreign Ministry decision to bar anyone who didn’t do either military or civilian national service from its diplomatic training course: “Conditioning basic rights – such as … the right to employment – upon military or national service contravenes the basic tenets of democracy.”

Well, not if it’s a relevant requirement for the job. And because Israel’s diplomats are supposed to represent it overseas, some minimal level of identification with the state certainly should be a requirement. Yet most Arabs shun national service precisely because their community views it as a form of identification with the state — even though they’re allowed to devote their service exclusively to helping their own community.

Conditioning diplomatic jobs on military service would be unfair because the army would probably reject many Arabs even if they applied. But civilian national service is open to everyone. And anyone so reluctant to be perceived as supporting the state that he won’t even volunteer in his own community has no business in Israel’s diplomatic corps.

ACRI’s report lists dozens of similar faux violations — alongside some real ones. The tragedy is that its inability to distinguish genuine civil rights from fake ones cheapens the value of those that truly matter.

It’s disturbing when a self-proclaimed civil-rights organization seems to have no idea what civil rights actually means. Yet judging by the annual report it published this week, that is the case with Israel’s premier organization, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Take, for instance, its criticism of the proposed “Nakba Law.” The original bill (a private initiative, not government-sponsored) would indeed have seriously curtailed freedom of speech: it barred any commemoration of the Nakba — the Arabic term for Israel’s establishment, which literally means “catastrophe.” But public outrage forced its revision even before the Knesset began discussing it. Thus the proposal actually being considered would merely deny public funding to organizations that commemorate the Nakba.

Yet according to ACRI, even this “not only violates the rights of the Arab minority, but crosses a red line in suppressing freedom of expression for us all.”

That reflects a serious misunderstanding of freedom of expression, which merely allows people to express their views without fear of state-sponsored criminal or civil penalties. It does not require the state to finance these views. And it especially doesn’t require the state to finance views it deems detrimental to society’s welfare.

Indeed, ACRI undoubtedly would oppose state funding for some views — for instance, that Israel should expel all its Arabs. Yet if a group’s “right … to express its pain at what it considers to be a catastrophe” necessitates state funding for Nakba commemorations, on what grounds could the state refuse to finance expressions of right-wing extremists’ pain at what they consider a catastrophe — the existence of Israel’s Arab minority?

Nothing could be more inimical to Israel’s welfare than having 20 percent of its citizens teaching their children that the state’s very existence is a catastrophe that must be mourned. And no government should finance such views.

Or take ACRI’s critique of a Foreign Ministry decision to bar anyone who didn’t do either military or civilian national service from its diplomatic training course: “Conditioning basic rights – such as … the right to employment – upon military or national service contravenes the basic tenets of democracy.”

Well, not if it’s a relevant requirement for the job. And because Israel’s diplomats are supposed to represent it overseas, some minimal level of identification with the state certainly should be a requirement. Yet most Arabs shun national service precisely because their community views it as a form of identification with the state — even though they’re allowed to devote their service exclusively to helping their own community.

Conditioning diplomatic jobs on military service would be unfair because the army would probably reject many Arabs even if they applied. But civilian national service is open to everyone. And anyone so reluctant to be perceived as supporting the state that he won’t even volunteer in his own community has no business in Israel’s diplomatic corps.

ACRI’s report lists dozens of similar faux violations — alongside some real ones. The tragedy is that its inability to distinguish genuine civil rights from fake ones cheapens the value of those that truly matter.

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China Debunks Obama’s Spin on Iran Diplomacy

Last week the decision of both Russia and China to endorse a condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency was touted by the New York Times and others as a victory for the Obama administration’s diplomacy. The Times quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel boasting that China’s support of Iran was proof that Obama’s trip to Beijing earlier this month wasn’t the disaster that virtually everyone thought it was. “This is the product of engagement,” Mr. Emanuel said, adding that it was “a direct result” of the trip.

But it appears as though Emanuel’s bloviating was yet another instance of the administration’s believing what it wanted to believe and ignoring the realities of the foreign-policy muddle that it has created. Far from demonstrating that China is ready to join America in a regime of “crippling sanctions” in 2010 against Iran, as Obama hoped, Beijing is doing what it has done for years on this issue: saying just enough to maintain its standing as an opponent of nuclear proliferation but remaining a steadfast opponent of any concrete action to stop Tehran.

That’s the only possible conclusion to be drawn from the reaction of China’s Foreign Ministry to Iran’s latest provocation: its statement over the past weekend, according to which Iran plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. While Europe and the United States deplored Iran’s raising of the stakes in this standoff and the Islamist regime’s lack of interest in stepping away from the nuclear ledge, the Chinese are back to their old tricks of opposing any measures that might actually compel Tehran to stand down. The Associated Press reports that the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that sanctions “are not the goal” of new UN pressure on Iran. “We should properly resolve this issue through dialogue,” he said. “All parties should step up diplomatic efforts.”

In other words, the United States is no closer to achieving Chinese support for sanctions today than a month ago. Obama’s engagement policy and his attempts to appease the Russians and the Chinese in an effort to gain support to stop Iran have been colossal failures. Obama has nothing to show for betraying the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to please Russia or for refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama to mollify the Chinese. His amateurish foreign policy, exemplified by his justly criticized trip to China, can only have convinced the Iranians that they have nothing to fear from the West as they get closer to reaching nuclear capability.

Last week the decision of both Russia and China to endorse a condemnation of Iran’s nuclear program by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency was touted by the New York Times and others as a victory for the Obama administration’s diplomacy. The Times quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel boasting that China’s support of Iran was proof that Obama’s trip to Beijing earlier this month wasn’t the disaster that virtually everyone thought it was. “This is the product of engagement,” Mr. Emanuel said, adding that it was “a direct result” of the trip.

But it appears as though Emanuel’s bloviating was yet another instance of the administration’s believing what it wanted to believe and ignoring the realities of the foreign-policy muddle that it has created. Far from demonstrating that China is ready to join America in a regime of “crippling sanctions” in 2010 against Iran, as Obama hoped, Beijing is doing what it has done for years on this issue: saying just enough to maintain its standing as an opponent of nuclear proliferation but remaining a steadfast opponent of any concrete action to stop Tehran.

That’s the only possible conclusion to be drawn from the reaction of China’s Foreign Ministry to Iran’s latest provocation: its statement over the past weekend, according to which Iran plans to build 10 more uranium-enrichment facilities. While Europe and the United States deplored Iran’s raising of the stakes in this standoff and the Islamist regime’s lack of interest in stepping away from the nuclear ledge, the Chinese are back to their old tricks of opposing any measures that might actually compel Tehran to stand down. The Associated Press reports that the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that sanctions “are not the goal” of new UN pressure on Iran. “We should properly resolve this issue through dialogue,” he said. “All parties should step up diplomatic efforts.”

In other words, the United States is no closer to achieving Chinese support for sanctions today than a month ago. Obama’s engagement policy and his attempts to appease the Russians and the Chinese in an effort to gain support to stop Iran have been colossal failures. Obama has nothing to show for betraying the Czech Republic and Poland on missile defense to please Russia or for refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama to mollify the Chinese. His amateurish foreign policy, exemplified by his justly criticized trip to China, can only have convinced the Iranians that they have nothing to fear from the West as they get closer to reaching nuclear capability.

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Covertly Raiding Pakistan

Today, Islamabad issued a warning that it will not allow any other country to conduct military operations inside Pakistan’s borders. “This has been conveyed at the highest level,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

Conveyed to whom? The assertion of sovereignty follows yesterday’s New York Times story that senior American officials are debating whether to increase the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military’s special operations forces to operate covertly in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The paper notes that the Bush administration is concerned that al Qaeda and the Taliban are stepping up their efforts against the Pakistani government. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and top White House security officials met on Friday to consider the proposal. According to the Times, “Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said.”

Well, Islamabad has now said “no thanks” to the proposed raids, and it’s not hard to see why. News of the deliberations in Washington is bound to further inflame public opinion in Pakistan. “At the moment when Musharraf is extremely unpopular, he will face more crisis,” predicts Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military and political analyst, commenting on American plans to intervene. In short, secret American raids could lead to the downfall of the leader Washington is trying to protect.

So it’s time for the Bush administration to accept Islamabad’s “no” and move on. Covert military action for the purpose of changing the internal situation inside Pakistan was never a good idea, especially in light of Washington’s miserable track record in meddling in the country over the course of decades—and over the course of the last two weeks.

Yet we should not let the terrorists run free in Pakistan. Afghanistan has a right to defend itself, and that right includes capturing and killing militants on Pakistani soil if Islamabad cannot prevent its territory from being used as a base for attacks. There’s nothing wrong with helping Kabul destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuary. Yet we should do so openly—and not for the wrong reasons.

Today, Islamabad issued a warning that it will not allow any other country to conduct military operations inside Pakistan’s borders. “This has been conveyed at the highest level,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

Conveyed to whom? The assertion of sovereignty follows yesterday’s New York Times story that senior American officials are debating whether to increase the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military’s special operations forces to operate covertly in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The paper notes that the Bush administration is concerned that al Qaeda and the Taliban are stepping up their efforts against the Pakistani government. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and top White House security officials met on Friday to consider the proposal. According to the Times, “Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said.”

Well, Islamabad has now said “no thanks” to the proposed raids, and it’s not hard to see why. News of the deliberations in Washington is bound to further inflame public opinion in Pakistan. “At the moment when Musharraf is extremely unpopular, he will face more crisis,” predicts Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military and political analyst, commenting on American plans to intervene. In short, secret American raids could lead to the downfall of the leader Washington is trying to protect.

So it’s time for the Bush administration to accept Islamabad’s “no” and move on. Covert military action for the purpose of changing the internal situation inside Pakistan was never a good idea, especially in light of Washington’s miserable track record in meddling in the country over the course of decades—and over the course of the last two weeks.

Yet we should not let the terrorists run free in Pakistan. Afghanistan has a right to defend itself, and that right includes capturing and killing militants on Pakistani soil if Islamabad cannot prevent its territory from being used as a base for attacks. There’s nothing wrong with helping Kabul destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuary. Yet we should do so openly—and not for the wrong reasons.

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A Thanksgiving Insult

Yesterday, China’s Foreign Ministry, reversing a previous decision, announced that it had given the U.S. Navy’s Kitty Hawk carrier group permission to dock in Hong Kong for a four-day Thanksgiving visit. On Wednesday, the State Department announced that China had, at the last moment, refused permission for the port call. The Navy had already flown hundreds of dependents to that city in anticipation of the long-planned visit, and the six ships of the carrier group had been idling in circles in the South China Sea pending Beijing’s expected approval. The Foreign Ministry gave no explanation for its earlier refusal. It said that its later approval was based on “humanitarian considerations.”

The 8,000 crewmembers of the Kitty Hawk and its fleet spent Thanksgiving steaming back to the carrier’s home port of Yokosuka in Japan. “The ships will not be coming back,” said a spokesman from the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong. “They are 300 miles out to sea and there is a storm in the area.”

Storm or no storm, the Consulate should have announced that, after Beijing’s petty behavior, the Kitty Hawk would not be returning to Hong Kong—and that the Navy will no longer ask for permission to dock in Hong Kong or other Chinese ports. Why should we try to go where we are treated so poorly?

In 2006, American military personnel spent about $32 million in Hong Kong. Let’s support our friends in the region by calling at their ports, instead of those of petulant autocrats. How about, for instance, docking in Taiwan?

The Chinese were obviously trying to make some point with their insult. There has been speculation as to what they were upset about, but it really does not matter. It’s about time we stopped acting so magnanimously and started to make some points of our own.

Yesterday, China’s Foreign Ministry, reversing a previous decision, announced that it had given the U.S. Navy’s Kitty Hawk carrier group permission to dock in Hong Kong for a four-day Thanksgiving visit. On Wednesday, the State Department announced that China had, at the last moment, refused permission for the port call. The Navy had already flown hundreds of dependents to that city in anticipation of the long-planned visit, and the six ships of the carrier group had been idling in circles in the South China Sea pending Beijing’s expected approval. The Foreign Ministry gave no explanation for its earlier refusal. It said that its later approval was based on “humanitarian considerations.”

The 8,000 crewmembers of the Kitty Hawk and its fleet spent Thanksgiving steaming back to the carrier’s home port of Yokosuka in Japan. “The ships will not be coming back,” said a spokesman from the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong. “They are 300 miles out to sea and there is a storm in the area.”

Storm or no storm, the Consulate should have announced that, after Beijing’s petty behavior, the Kitty Hawk would not be returning to Hong Kong—and that the Navy will no longer ask for permission to dock in Hong Kong or other Chinese ports. Why should we try to go where we are treated so poorly?

In 2006, American military personnel spent about $32 million in Hong Kong. Let’s support our friends in the region by calling at their ports, instead of those of petulant autocrats. How about, for instance, docking in Taiwan?

The Chinese were obviously trying to make some point with their insult. There has been speculation as to what they were upset about, but it really does not matter. It’s about time we stopped acting so magnanimously and started to make some points of our own.

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Tempest over Tibet

Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.

The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.

On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.

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Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.

The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.

On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.

Unfortunately for the Chinese, they’re rapidly losing their ability to intimidate Western leaders over Tibet. All of them recognize Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibetan homelands, but increasingly few of them are willing to shun the Dalai Lama. In addition to Merkel, Australia’s John Howard and Austria’s Alfred Gusenbauer met with him over the course of the last few months. Canada’s Stephen Harper will receive the famous Tibetan this month.

Chinese diplomats are ramping up their threats, but few are listening. Nobody believes that human rights dialogues with Beijing are effective, and Wu’s trip to the United States was more for China’s benefit than ours. It’s a shame that China won’t attend the Berlin meeting on Iran, but that will be rescheduled—and in any event Chinese attendance would only complicate matters.

Who cares if the Chinese authoritarians huff and puff? They need the West more than the West needs them. So let them threaten all they want. Why should we prevent the Chinese from creating a diplomatic disaster for themselves?

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Abe’s Hard Road

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so far has defied predictions of his imminent political demise. Refusing to take the traditional Japanese path and accept responsibility for his party’s crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last month, he has instead forged a new cabinet of the leading politicians in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His bold tactic, however, may well make it even harder for him to govern, thus hastening the end of his premiership.

Abe’s party lost the last election due in no small part to scandals among his ministers. Today’s news brings word of yet two more resignations, these from a Cabinet not two weeks old. Abe’s tactic was to turn around his team and forge ahead on important domestic and foreign issues, but the opposition party will certainly push as hard as possible for early elections that would likely further weaken the LDP.

Most importantly, the presence of LDP heavyweights, including former foreign and defense ministers, has the potential both to dilute policy-making and neutralize Abe’s primacy. He will have to navigate among a group of experienced, equally ambitious leaders, who have been brought in precisely because Abe couldn’t deliver the first time around. Former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, moved from the Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the LDP, has already made clear his intent to try to succeed Abe. The tendency toward lowest-common-denominator politics after the roller coaster years of Koizumi and the first Abe cabinet may naturally assert itself.

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe so far has defied predictions of his imminent political demise. Refusing to take the traditional Japanese path and accept responsibility for his party’s crushing defeat in parliamentary elections last month, he has instead forged a new cabinet of the leading politicians in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). His bold tactic, however, may well make it even harder for him to govern, thus hastening the end of his premiership.

Abe’s party lost the last election due in no small part to scandals among his ministers. Today’s news brings word of yet two more resignations, these from a Cabinet not two weeks old. Abe’s tactic was to turn around his team and forge ahead on important domestic and foreign issues, but the opposition party will certainly push as hard as possible for early elections that would likely further weaken the LDP.

Most importantly, the presence of LDP heavyweights, including former foreign and defense ministers, has the potential both to dilute policy-making and neutralize Abe’s primacy. He will have to navigate among a group of experienced, equally ambitious leaders, who have been brought in precisely because Abe couldn’t deliver the first time around. Former Foreign Minister Taro Aso, moved from the Foreign Ministry to Secretary General of the LDP, has already made clear his intent to try to succeed Abe. The tendency toward lowest-common-denominator politics after the roller coaster years of Koizumi and the first Abe cabinet may naturally assert itself.

The result of this would be at best muddling through and at worst a rudderless leadership, at a time when Japan is facing serious domestic and foreign problems. Abe’s first major test is renewal of the special law permitting Japanese naval ships to refuel coalition forces in the Indian Ocean. Failure to secure the extension would further complicate relations with the United States, which are already under strain due to the Bush Administration’s continued negotiations with North Korea through the Six Party Talks. Tokyo has so far stuck fast to its refusal to participate further in the talks until North Korea releases the numerous Japanese citizens it has kidnapped.

Abe has to start showing results. The Japan-ASEAN free-trade agreement reached two weeks ago is an important and laudable achievement; it goes a long way toward maintaining Japan’s presence in Asia. But more needs to be done. Abe’s call for a partnership of democracies or his “arc of freedom and prosperity” is still just rhetoric. Abe’s values-based diplomacy has yet to move beyond mere words—what kinds of partnerships, organizations, or policies is he imagining? How will he move toward them? Will he embrace all democracies in the regions, including South Korea and Taiwan, or is he aiming at strategic partnerships with India and Australia? Just as important is the question of how well, if at all, Abe can balance his desire to engage China with his apparent strategy of countering its rise by promoting the partnership of democracies.

Abe’s refusal to scale back his ambitious vision for Japanese diplomacy is perhaps his one salient similarity to Koizumi, who was famous for doggedly sticking to a goal once he had pledged himself to it. Whether he can match Mr. Koizumi’s longevity in office, however, is another thing entirely.

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Should We Invade Pakistan?

On Friday, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported that U.S. military intelligence officials are trying to figure out what will happen to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if Pervez Musharraf, the nation’s leader, is overthrown. The strongman’s rule has looked increasingly fragile in recent months as a series of incidents has rocked the nation. CNN reports what everyone knows: Musharraf’s control over the military appears tenuous, as it is limited to influence over “top commanders and units.”

“Pakistan’s strategic assets are completely safe and secure, and the highest level of institutionalized protection is accorded to them,” the Foreign Ministry, replying to the CNN report, stated yesterday. “Pakistan’s command and control structure are not controlled by individual personalities but are institutionalized and multi-layered to ensure safety and security at multiple levels.”

Institutionalized? That is not comforting; Pakistan’s institutions are filled with fanatics. No matter how many internal checks exist, the country’s arsenal of about 50 nuclear devices could fall into extremists’ hands if there were extended turmoil in Islamabad.

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On Friday, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported that U.S. military intelligence officials are trying to figure out what will happen to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if Pervez Musharraf, the nation’s leader, is overthrown. The strongman’s rule has looked increasingly fragile in recent months as a series of incidents has rocked the nation. CNN reports what everyone knows: Musharraf’s control over the military appears tenuous, as it is limited to influence over “top commanders and units.”

“Pakistan’s strategic assets are completely safe and secure, and the highest level of institutionalized protection is accorded to them,” the Foreign Ministry, replying to the CNN report, stated yesterday. “Pakistan’s command and control structure are not controlled by individual personalities but are institutionalized and multi-layered to ensure safety and security at multiple levels.”

Institutionalized? That is not comforting; Pakistan’s institutions are filled with fanatics. No matter how many internal checks exist, the country’s arsenal of about 50 nuclear devices could fall into extremists’ hands if there were extended turmoil in Islamabad.

Pakistan, unfortunately, is the nation that conclusively disproved the optimistic notions of “realists” like Kenneth Waltz, who argued that nuclear weapons made their custodians responsible. After all, generals like Musharraf watched Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, make deals with Libya, Iran, North Korea—and, undoubtedly, other nations—for nuclear technology. Two Pakistani nuclear scientists met with al Qaeda representatives in 2000 and 2001, which indicates the strength of the ties between extremist elements and the nation’s nuclear programs. And agents in the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, have provided substantial support to al Qaeda and the Taliban. If the country’s military and civilian officials act this way, just imagine what its rogue elements will do. It’s safe to say that there are few responsible custodians of nuclear weaponry in the Pakistani government.

If fanatics take control of Islamabad, will we be willing to insert our military into Pakistan to secure its arsenal? If we are not, then are we prepared to let al Qaeda become the world’s 10th nuclear power?

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