Commentary Magazine


Topic: Foreign Secretary

Margaret Thatcher and Defensible Borders

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

Among the documents released last week by the British National Archives is a February 14, 1980, memorandum to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, entitled “Arab/Israel” — and another document showing her handwritten reaction to it. The documents should be read in connection with Harry Kanigel’s excellent article on defensible borders for Israel in yesterday’s American Thinker.

Lord Hailsham’s memorandum responded to a plan that the British foreign secretary, Lord Peter Carrington, wanted Thatcher to approve. Carrington argued that the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan provided a “unique opportunity” for the West to form an alliance with Islamic countries but that the “main obstacle” was those countries’ dissatisfaction with U.S. policy in the Arab/Israel conflict. He wanted to “build a bridge between the US and the Arabs” with a UN resolution endorsing a Palestinian “right of self-determination” and “the right of Palestinian refugees … to return to their homes,” while assuring Israel of its security “within its 1967 frontiers.”

The Lord Chancellor wrote to Thatcher that he did not share Carrington’s optimism on the prospects of his proposed initiative — “unless, of course, we are prepared to sacrifice things which are too important morally, and too valuable to our interest to sacrifice.”

Were [Israel] to be destroyed by an aggressive war the devastating effects on the rule of law throughout the world could hardly be exaggerated. … Prior to 1967 the physical boundaries of Israel were virtually untenable militarily. South of the Jezreel valley, the geography of Israel is starkly simple, consisting virtually of three parallel straight lines running North and South, the sea, the Judean hills and the Jordan valley. Whoever commands the hills commands the rest. Prior to 1967 the waist-line of Israel was only 10 miles broad, and its main centers of population [were] exposed to artillery fire as well as the prospect of devastating air raids. After 1967 Israel has enjoyed reasonably viable military frontiers consisting of the Judean hills (and the no less important frontier heights on the Syrian border). Jerusalem is built on the Judean hills. [emphasis added]

He also noted that Jewish opinion was “fanatically involved in the fate of Israel” and that Manchester, Leeds, and the whole of North London would be “profoundly affected” by Jewish hostility on this issue. Then he concluded as follows:

If there be a reasonable chance of success without losing our honor yet again over the Balfour declaration; go ahead. But have we not enough on our plate just now not to consider leaving this hot potato alone?

On reading the Hailsham memorandum, perhaps Thatcher recalled the confrontation with Menachem Begin eight months before, when Begin told her that without settlements, Israel could be “at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria.” Perhaps she was impressed by Lord Hailsham’s immense stature as Lord Chancellor and his reference to British honor. Perhaps she took his point about Jewish opinion.

In any event, the files contain a note apparently written to her by her cabinet secretary that appeared to side with Carrington, asserting that “losing our honor” was not involved and suggesting that Jewish hostility was “a different kind of problem.” On the note, Thatcher wrote a single-sentence rebuttal: “I agree with the Lord Chancellor.”

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When Menachem Met Margaret

Under its “30-year rule,” the British National Archives has released a November 1979 cable quoting Margaret Thatcher telling French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that she “never had a more difficult man to deal with” than Menachem Begin, whose West Bank policy was “absurd.”

But there was more to the 1979 meeting between Thatcher and Begin than is reflected in the cable, evidenced by Yehuda Avner’s account of the meeting in his extraordinary new book, The Prime Ministers.

Thatcher, with British Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington, hosted Begin for a lunch in May 1979 that Avner attended as Begin’s note taker. The book is based on shorthand notes he transcribed at the time: “anything [in my book] in inverted commas are the words actually spoken.”

The lunch went well until Carrington suddenly confronted Begin about settlements:

“Your settlement policy is expansionist. It is intemperate. It is a barrier to peace. The settlements are built on occupied Arab soil. They rob Palestinians of their land. They unnecessarily arouse the animosity of the moderate Arabs. They are contrary to international law — the Geneva Convention. They are inconsistent with British interests.”

Begin responded that:

“The settlements, sir, are not an obstacle to peace. The Arabs refused to make peace before there was a single settlement anywhere. No Palestinian Arab sovereignty has ever existed in the biblical provinces of Judea and Samaria, where most of the new settlements are located, hence the Geneva Convention does not apply. Besides, we are building the settlements on state-owned, not Arab-owned land. Their construction is an assertion of our basic historic rights, not to speak of their critical importance to our national security.” Read More

Under its “30-year rule,” the British National Archives has released a November 1979 cable quoting Margaret Thatcher telling French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that she “never had a more difficult man to deal with” than Menachem Begin, whose West Bank policy was “absurd.”

But there was more to the 1979 meeting between Thatcher and Begin than is reflected in the cable, evidenced by Yehuda Avner’s account of the meeting in his extraordinary new book, The Prime Ministers.

Thatcher, with British Foreign Secretary Lord Peter Carrington, hosted Begin for a lunch in May 1979 that Avner attended as Begin’s note taker. The book is based on shorthand notes he transcribed at the time: “anything [in my book] in inverted commas are the words actually spoken.”

The lunch went well until Carrington suddenly confronted Begin about settlements:

“Your settlement policy is expansionist. It is intemperate. It is a barrier to peace. The settlements are built on occupied Arab soil. They rob Palestinians of their land. They unnecessarily arouse the animosity of the moderate Arabs. They are contrary to international law — the Geneva Convention. They are inconsistent with British interests.”

Begin responded that:

“The settlements, sir, are not an obstacle to peace. The Arabs refused to make peace before there was a single settlement anywhere. No Palestinian Arab sovereignty has ever existed in the biblical provinces of Judea and Samaria, where most of the new settlements are located, hence the Geneva Convention does not apply. Besides, we are building the settlements on state-owned, not Arab-owned land. Their construction is an assertion of our basic historic rights, not to speak of their critical importance to our national security.”

Then Begin turned to Thatcher:

“Madame Prime Minister, your foreign secretary dismisses my country’s historic rights and pooh-poohs our vital security needs. So I shall tell you why the settlements are vital: because I speak of the Land of Israel, a land redeemed, not occupied; because without those settlements Israel could be at the mercy of a Palestinian state astride the commanding heights of Judea and Samaria. We would be living on borrowed time. And whenever we Jews are threatened or attacked we are always alone. Remember in 1944, how we came begging for our lives — begging at this very door?”

“Is that when you wanted us to bomb Auschwitz?”

“No, Madame, not Auschwitz. We asked you to bomb the railway lines leading to Auschwitz. In the summer of 1944, Eichmann was transporting to their deaths a hundred thousand Hungarian Jews a week along those lines to Auschwitz.”

Carrington abruptly challenged Begin again: “And what does this have to do with the settlements?”

“Lord Carrington, please have the goodness not to interrupt me when I am in the middle of a conversation with your prime minister. … As I said, whenever we are threatened or attacked, we have only our own fellow Jews to rely on.”

“Peter,” said Mrs. Thatcher softly, “I think an admission of regret is called for.” …

“Quite right, Prime Minister. … Somehow, your little country, Mr. Begin, evokes all sorts of high emotional fevers. Stirs up the blood, so to speak.”

Begin, his composure regained, smiled at him, the smile not reaching his eyes. “The story of our people is very much a tale of having to defend ourselves against bouts of irrationality and hysteria. It happens in every generation.”

In 1979, Begin signed a peace treaty with Egypt, returning land exceeding the size of Israel. He offered Palestinians a quasi-state autonomy; they rejected it. Thirty years later, we know, five times over, that settlements were not an obstacle to peace; to the contrary, their removal in Gaza resulted in a new rocket war.

In the West Bank, a holdover regime wants a state but repeatedly turns one down; refuses to recognize a Jewish state; insists that Israel retreat to the indefensible 1967 lines; demands a “right of return” to delegitimize it demographically; and demands compensation for Arab refugees from the 1948 war the Arabs commenced, but not for the larger number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The appropriate word for this collection of positions is “absurd.”

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WikiLeaks Precedent Points to the Proper U.S. Response: Get Over It!

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

Leave it to master historian and COMMENTARY contributor Andrew Roberts to come up with a historical precedent for the latest WikiLeaks fiasco. In today’s Daily Beast, Roberts writes that Julian Assange’s assault on America’s secrets is not so very different from what happened to Benjamin Disraeli’s British government back in 1878.

At that time, Dizzy’s last government was attempting to prop up the tottering Ottoman Empire at the Congress of Berlin by standing off an aggressive Russia that was looking to knock the Turks out of the Balkans. But while the world was focusing on the diplomats meeting in Germany, the Brits and Russians had already concluded a treaty sorting everything out to Disraeli’s satisfaction. But a copying clerk in Britain’s Foreign Office named Charles Marvin sold the secret treaty to the Globe newspaper for 40 pounds. The Globe published it in full, a development that might have thrown a less confident figure than Disraeli’s foreign secretary, the Marquess of Salisbury. As Roberts puts it:

Although Lord Salisbury initially described the scoop as “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate”—which Hillary Clinton can hardly do over WikiLeaks—he then basically told the chancelleries of Europe to get over it. Such was the self-confidence of the British Empire of the day, that the rest of Europe—though privately outraged at his duplicity—had little option but to comply.

Roberts’s point here is that for all the justified outrage about the WikiLeaks disclosures of diplomatic cables, Salisbury’s response is one that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should follow. Instead of “squirming with embarrassment,” the United States should tell the world to just get over it. American diplomats can and should pursue our country’s diplomatic and security ends and report candidly about their observations to the State Department. The problem is that not only does the feckless Obama administration lack the chutzpah to assume such an attitude but also that America’s current standing around the world is such that no one would accept it.

Roberts sums up the situation when he notes: “As well as being a snapshot of the retreat of American power, therefore, these WikiLeaks could also become a contributing factor to it. America should tell the world to get over it, but whether the world will listen is another matter.”

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International Outrage, Please

There are stories in the news right now that in most of their themes are similar to stories that recently set off waves of condemnation and hysteria in much of the world, especially in the delicate global conscience of “the international community.”

In the Gaza Strip, many of the residents have been left without electricity because of a fight that shut down the Strip’s power plant. Palestinians are suffering, with nothing to relieve the daytime heat and the nighttime darkness — but the world yawns.

In a nearby part of the Middle East, an unprovoked and disproportionate attack against civilians destroyed a building and damaged others. The EU has not called for an investigation, and currently the UN Security Council has not been convened to discuss this act of war. Remarkably, this aggression is not even mentioned on the front pages of British newspapers, which normally cover attacks on civilians in this region with great attentiveness.

Also in the Middle East, a repressive regime is razing the homes of a persecuted minority. According to reports, 90 percent of the buildings owned by this minority group have been destroyed in these acts of discrimination and ethnic cleansing. Surprisingly, the UN secretary-general and the Obama administration — which have both publicly and repeatedly criticized Israel for legally demolishing buildings that were constructed in violation of zoning laws — have said nothing about this grave offense.

Elsewhere, it has been discovered that a major figure in a spy ring that has just been broken up had been using a forged British passport for her travels — and we all know what happens when someone is accused of using a forged British passport: two weeks of utter pandemonium in the British media; journalists, politicians, and concerned citizens become profoundly shocked and appalled; the foreign secretary promises investigation, punishment, and diplomatic fallout; the intelligence relationship with the offending country is downgraded; and so on.

But today the denunciations are absent, the criticism muted, the calls for investigation nonexistent, and the world’s attention fixed firmly on other issues. Why could this be?

There are stories in the news right now that in most of their themes are similar to stories that recently set off waves of condemnation and hysteria in much of the world, especially in the delicate global conscience of “the international community.”

In the Gaza Strip, many of the residents have been left without electricity because of a fight that shut down the Strip’s power plant. Palestinians are suffering, with nothing to relieve the daytime heat and the nighttime darkness — but the world yawns.

In a nearby part of the Middle East, an unprovoked and disproportionate attack against civilians destroyed a building and damaged others. The EU has not called for an investigation, and currently the UN Security Council has not been convened to discuss this act of war. Remarkably, this aggression is not even mentioned on the front pages of British newspapers, which normally cover attacks on civilians in this region with great attentiveness.

Also in the Middle East, a repressive regime is razing the homes of a persecuted minority. According to reports, 90 percent of the buildings owned by this minority group have been destroyed in these acts of discrimination and ethnic cleansing. Surprisingly, the UN secretary-general and the Obama administration — which have both publicly and repeatedly criticized Israel for legally demolishing buildings that were constructed in violation of zoning laws — have said nothing about this grave offense.

Elsewhere, it has been discovered that a major figure in a spy ring that has just been broken up had been using a forged British passport for her travels — and we all know what happens when someone is accused of using a forged British passport: two weeks of utter pandemonium in the British media; journalists, politicians, and concerned citizens become profoundly shocked and appalled; the foreign secretary promises investigation, punishment, and diplomatic fallout; the intelligence relationship with the offending country is downgraded; and so on.

But today the denunciations are absent, the criticism muted, the calls for investigation nonexistent, and the world’s attention fixed firmly on other issues. Why could this be?

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The New British Government Is “Wobbly” on Afghanistan

I had low expectations for the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in the UK, but the coalition is turning out to be even worse than I expected on foreign policy. Witness the comments from new Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Minister Liam Fox, according to which Britain is eager to withdraw its 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they form the second-largest foreign contingent:

In an interview with The Times newspaper before arriving in Kabul, Fox made clear the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and that no new troops would be deployed.

“We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying.

“We have to reset expectations and timelines.

“National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened,” Fox said.

What a terrible message to send at precisely the wrong time, when American forces under the command of a British general in Regional Command-South are gearing up for a major offensive to retake control of Kandahar! President Obama has already blundered badly by suggesting that U.S. troops would start coming home next summer. The message from the incoming British government only reinforces the sense, which many Taliban no doubt already have, that insurgents can simply wait out coalition forces. This development places another obstacle in the way of ordinary Afghans who might be considering siding with the coalition. Why would they want to risk life and limb if their protectors are searching for an exit strategy?

In an ideal world, a Conservative government in London would press the American president not to go “wobbly” — as Margaret Thatcher famously did with George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. In this case, it seems that the Conservatives are bent on reinforcing Obama’s worst wobbly instincts. That’s not the kind of trans-Atlantic cooperation I would like to see.

I had low expectations for the Conservative-Liberal Democratic government in the UK, but the coalition is turning out to be even worse than I expected on foreign policy. Witness the comments from new Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Minister Liam Fox, according to which Britain is eager to withdraw its 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they form the second-largest foreign contingent:

In an interview with The Times newspaper before arriving in Kabul, Fox made clear the visit would focus on speeding up the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and that no new troops would be deployed.

“We need to accept we are at the limit of numbers now and I would like the forces to come back as soon as possible,” he was quoted as saying.

“We have to reset expectations and timelines.

“National security is the focus now. We are not a global policeman. We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th-century country. We are there so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened,” Fox said.

What a terrible message to send at precisely the wrong time, when American forces under the command of a British general in Regional Command-South are gearing up for a major offensive to retake control of Kandahar! President Obama has already blundered badly by suggesting that U.S. troops would start coming home next summer. The message from the incoming British government only reinforces the sense, which many Taliban no doubt already have, that insurgents can simply wait out coalition forces. This development places another obstacle in the way of ordinary Afghans who might be considering siding with the coalition. Why would they want to risk life and limb if their protectors are searching for an exit strategy?

In an ideal world, a Conservative government in London would press the American president not to go “wobbly” — as Margaret Thatcher famously did with George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. In this case, it seems that the Conservatives are bent on reinforcing Obama’s worst wobbly instincts. That’s not the kind of trans-Atlantic cooperation I would like to see.

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Sorry about my anti-Semitic remarks, now let me tell you about Zionist baby-killing

Great Britain is awash in anti-Semitism and Israel-hysteria, ho-hum. But this particular story has more entertainment value than most. A Labor Party MP and chairman of the “Labor Friends of Palestine,” Martin Linton, has been pounding away at Israel, declaring after the UK expelled an Israeli diplomat:

May I urge my right honorable friend [Foreign Secretary David Miliband] to take similar action every time Israel disregards the law, whether it is by building settlements, building the wall in occupied territory, the annexation of east Jerusalem, targeting civilians in Gaza or the use of human shields?

A couple of days ago, he said that “There are long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends.” In Great Britain circa 2010, accusing Israel of intentionally killing civilians is a matter of routine and acceptable political discourse, but accusing Israel of trying to influence the British political system is over the line.

So Linton set a new record for weaselly non-apology apologies by saying he was “sorry if a word I used caused unintended offence because of connotations of which I was unaware.” I mean, don’t get carried away in contrition or anything. Remember the scene in Family Guy where Mel Gibson apologizes to the Jews? That’s exactly what’s going on here.

Great Britain is awash in anti-Semitism and Israel-hysteria, ho-hum. But this particular story has more entertainment value than most. A Labor Party MP and chairman of the “Labor Friends of Palestine,” Martin Linton, has been pounding away at Israel, declaring after the UK expelled an Israeli diplomat:

May I urge my right honorable friend [Foreign Secretary David Miliband] to take similar action every time Israel disregards the law, whether it is by building settlements, building the wall in occupied territory, the annexation of east Jerusalem, targeting civilians in Gaza or the use of human shields?

A couple of days ago, he said that “There are long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends.” In Great Britain circa 2010, accusing Israel of intentionally killing civilians is a matter of routine and acceptable political discourse, but accusing Israel of trying to influence the British political system is over the line.

So Linton set a new record for weaselly non-apology apologies by saying he was “sorry if a word I used caused unintended offence because of connotations of which I was unaware.” I mean, don’t get carried away in contrition or anything. Remember the scene in Family Guy where Mel Gibson apologizes to the Jews? That’s exactly what’s going on here.

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From Screaming to Silence

The Obama administration, acting like a wounded spouse, has now migrated from screaming at Israel to the silent treatment. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton had meetings with Bibi Netanyahu. But if the relationship was as “rock solid” as Hillary disingenuously proclaimed in her AIPAC speech, you’d never know it :

No reporters, or even photographers, were invited when Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden on Monday or when he met with Obama on Tuesday night. There was no grand Rose Garden ceremony. Official spokesmen issued only the blandest of statements.

This is petulance, if not rudeness. Can one imagine any other “ally” receiving such dismissive treatment? The Obami are, I suppose, technically abiding by the advice to move their disputes with Bibi behind closed doors. But the snippy reception that telegraphs their anger with Bibi over his continuing to allow Jews to live anywhere in Israel’s eternal capital is just more of the same Obama gambit in another guise. The message to Israel, to the Muslim World, and to the Palestinians is the same: the U.S. is in a snit over Israel’s housing policy, and a significant gap between the two countries has not been healed. The contrast between the warm greeting from members of Congress and the stony silence from the White House only highlighted the point.

The result is real and troubling: when the U.S. backs away from Israel, we send a signal to our allies that Israel deserves the cold shoulder:

The cooling in the U.S.-Israel relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel’s diplomatic isolation. Anger has grown in Europe in the wake of Israel’s suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the expulsion of a senior diplomat over the incident, an unusually drastic step for an ally. Relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim friend of Israel for decades, have hit a new low.

As the Washington Post notes, the Obami have made hash out of the Middle East from the get-go:

The Obama administration has struggled from the start to find its footing with Israel and the Palestinians. Obama took office soon after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which had ruptured peace talks nurtured by the George W. Bush administration. Obama appointed a special envoy, former senator George J. Mitchell, on his second day in office. But then the administration tried to pressure Israel to freeze all settlement expansion — and failed. The United States further lost credibility when Clinton embraced Netanyahu’s compromise proposal, which fell short of Palestinian expectations, as “unprecedented.”

U.S. pressure at the time also backfired because it appeared to let the Palestinians off the hook. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter into direct talks before a settlement freeze, even though he had done so before. The administration had to settle for indirect talks, with Mitchell shuttling back and forth. The recent disagreement has set back that effort.

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (“Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

The Obama administration, acting like a wounded spouse, has now migrated from screaming at Israel to the silent treatment. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton had meetings with Bibi Netanyahu. But if the relationship was as “rock solid” as Hillary disingenuously proclaimed in her AIPAC speech, you’d never know it :

No reporters, or even photographers, were invited when Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden on Monday or when he met with Obama on Tuesday night. There was no grand Rose Garden ceremony. Official spokesmen issued only the blandest of statements.

This is petulance, if not rudeness. Can one imagine any other “ally” receiving such dismissive treatment? The Obami are, I suppose, technically abiding by the advice to move their disputes with Bibi behind closed doors. But the snippy reception that telegraphs their anger with Bibi over his continuing to allow Jews to live anywhere in Israel’s eternal capital is just more of the same Obama gambit in another guise. The message to Israel, to the Muslim World, and to the Palestinians is the same: the U.S. is in a snit over Israel’s housing policy, and a significant gap between the two countries has not been healed. The contrast between the warm greeting from members of Congress and the stony silence from the White House only highlighted the point.

The result is real and troubling: when the U.S. backs away from Israel, we send a signal to our allies that Israel deserves the cold shoulder:

The cooling in the U.S.-Israel relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel’s diplomatic isolation. Anger has grown in Europe in the wake of Israel’s suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the expulsion of a senior diplomat over the incident, an unusually drastic step for an ally. Relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim friend of Israel for decades, have hit a new low.

As the Washington Post notes, the Obami have made hash out of the Middle East from the get-go:

The Obama administration has struggled from the start to find its footing with Israel and the Palestinians. Obama took office soon after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which had ruptured peace talks nurtured by the George W. Bush administration. Obama appointed a special envoy, former senator George J. Mitchell, on his second day in office. But then the administration tried to pressure Israel to freeze all settlement expansion — and failed. The United States further lost credibility when Clinton embraced Netanyahu’s compromise proposal, which fell short of Palestinian expectations, as “unprecedented.”

U.S. pressure at the time also backfired because it appeared to let the Palestinians off the hook. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter into direct talks before a settlement freeze, even though he had done so before. The administration had to settle for indirect talks, with Mitchell shuttling back and forth. The recent disagreement has set back that effort.

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (“Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

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Is Israel’s Safety No Longer a Western Interest?

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

A senior Hamas leader reportedly told a British emissary yesterday that Hamas is ready to amend its charter calling for Israel’s destruction and recognize Israel’s right to exist. A breakthrough? Unfortunately, no. But the real bad news is the emissary’s response.

What Palestinian parliament speaker Aziz Dwaik told major Labour Party donor David Martin Abrahams is clearly eyebrow-raising. Just last month, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told a rally in Gaza that “our goal is Palestine, all of Palestine” — which, in Palestinian parlance, includes all of Israel. So was Dwaik speaking without authorization, or has Hamas’s stance really shifted radically since December?

Actually, neither, as the Jerusalem Post’s report makes clear: Dwaik said he was merely reiterating Hamas’s well-known support for a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines. What he neglected to mention is that this support has always come with two caveats: first, Israel must agree to absorb millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees, thereby eradicating the Jewish state demographically; and second, in exchange, Israel would get not a peace agreement, but a long-term truce — meaning that if death by demography failed to materialize, Hamas reserved the right to resume trying to finish Israel off militarily.

Needless to say, none of this bothered Abrahams, who is scheduled to brief British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on his meeting this weekend. He said he would urge Miliband to “consider the implications of Hamas’s positive overtures” and was “very excited” about facilitating dialogue between Hamas and the international community. “I’m prepared to give them [Hamas] a chance because I’ve got faith and confidence in Dwaik and Haniyeh,” he gushed. “We can’t allow 1.5 million to be festering in the Gaza Strip while the majority of them are good and well-educated.”

Dialogue with the European Union is, as Dwaik acknowledged, precisely what Hamas wants. As long, of course, as it can be achieved by mouthing slogans that useful idiots like Abrahams willfully misconstrue as moderate, without actually having to stop launching rockets at Israel or otherwise working toward Israel’s destruction. Certainly, it’s hard to find any explanation other than willful idiocy for why, if Abrahams has “confidence” in Haniyeh, he so readily assumes Haniyeh is lying when he publicly proclaims his goal as “all of Palestine.” Or why he views “well-educated” as apparently synonymous with “good,” given that most leaders of terrorist organizations are extremely well-educated: think physicians Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas or Ayman al-Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda.

But the truly chilling part was his conclusion. “Hamas is different from Al-Qaida,” Abrahams asserted. “Hamas is no threat to Western interests.”

Yet even Abrahams would presumably admit that, currently, Hamas is still a threat to Israel. So if Hamas is no threat to Western interests, then Israel’s safety is evidently not a Western interest.

Many Europeans may think this, but public statements to this effect have so far been confined to the fringes. That a mainstream, highly influential (and, of course, Jewish) member of Britain’s ruling party is now willing to say it openly is a development that should keep Israel supporters awake at night.

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Scaring Them Already

Much of Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine hinges on the notion that he will be able to “repair” the image other nations now have of America. This line, which his supporters continue to iterate, is that a “new face“–one that looks different, and behind which sits a brain with a great understanding of others–will allow America to fix its PR problems abroad. However, if recent newspaper articles from outside the U.S. are any indication, Obama’s platform on trade signals that his presidency might not successfully accomplish this much-vaunted task.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that “The British foreign secretary has sent a warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls that the UK is concerned by their campaign-trail attacks on free trade.”

Amid signs that the UK is troubled by calls from Barack Obama for measures such as trade tariffs on China, [UK foreign secretary David] Miliband said: “American internationalism has been a feature of all periods of global progress . . . It’s absolutely clear that the world needs an America that’s engaged with the global trading system in a very fundamental, very committed way . . . The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade. That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently.”

This sentiment, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to quell in his recent visit to America, was previously expounded upon in other British media:

[Gordon Brown's] most difficult meetings were expected to be with Obama and Clinton, rather than McCain. The two Democrats are at odds with Brown on what he regards as the most important issue on the agenda during his US trip: trade.

Brown, like McCain and the US president, George Bush, is a passionate advocate of free trade, while Clinton and Obama have been trying outbid one another on the campaign trail in proposing protectionist measures.

The Australian maintains a reticent attitude towards Obama’s stance on trade:

A new mood is already evident in the US, for example, where Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been trying to outdo one another on the need to protect American jobs.

Likewise, Canada’s National Post, in a recent editorial, decried the presumptive nominee’s (at that time, still undecided) anti-trade rhetoric:

It is not yet time, though, to play hardball. For now, Ottawa should concentrate on gently making American legislators and voters aware that good ole reliable, stable, friendly Canada is their #1 energy partner.

That way, if an anti-NAFTA Democrat wins the presidency next fall, she or he will have a harder time painting Canada as a threat to Americans’ lifestyle and jobs.

Of course, it is hard to determine whether Obama is actually serious about suppressing free trade. Regardless, other nations seem to view his candidacy with particular skepticism on this issue. Sounds like Old Politics to me.

Much of Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine hinges on the notion that he will be able to “repair” the image other nations now have of America. This line, which his supporters continue to iterate, is that a “new face“–one that looks different, and behind which sits a brain with a great understanding of others–will allow America to fix its PR problems abroad. However, if recent newspaper articles from outside the U.S. are any indication, Obama’s platform on trade signals that his presidency might not successfully accomplish this much-vaunted task.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported that “The British foreign secretary has sent a warning to the Democratic presidential hopefuls that the UK is concerned by their campaign-trail attacks on free trade.”

Amid signs that the UK is troubled by calls from Barack Obama for measures such as trade tariffs on China, [UK foreign secretary David] Miliband said: “American internationalism has been a feature of all periods of global progress . . . It’s absolutely clear that the world needs an America that’s engaged with the global trading system in a very fundamental, very committed way . . . The problem is not too much trade, the problem is too little trade. That is our position as a British government, and it will be articulated clearly and consistently.”

This sentiment, which Prime Minister Gordon Brown tried to quell in his recent visit to America, was previously expounded upon in other British media:

[Gordon Brown's] most difficult meetings were expected to be with Obama and Clinton, rather than McCain. The two Democrats are at odds with Brown on what he regards as the most important issue on the agenda during his US trip: trade.

Brown, like McCain and the US president, George Bush, is a passionate advocate of free trade, while Clinton and Obama have been trying outbid one another on the campaign trail in proposing protectionist measures.

The Australian maintains a reticent attitude towards Obama’s stance on trade:

A new mood is already evident in the US, for example, where Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been trying to outdo one another on the need to protect American jobs.

Likewise, Canada’s National Post, in a recent editorial, decried the presumptive nominee’s (at that time, still undecided) anti-trade rhetoric:

It is not yet time, though, to play hardball. For now, Ottawa should concentrate on gently making American legislators and voters aware that good ole reliable, stable, friendly Canada is their #1 energy partner.

That way, if an anti-NAFTA Democrat wins the presidency next fall, she or he will have a harder time painting Canada as a threat to Americans’ lifestyle and jobs.

Of course, it is hard to determine whether Obama is actually serious about suppressing free trade. Regardless, other nations seem to view his candidacy with particular skepticism on this issue. Sounds like Old Politics to me.

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China’s Attack Plan

Will China launch some major and dangerous move against Taiwan—a blockade? missile firings? worse?—next March, just five months ahead of the opening of the triumphant Beijing Olympics (motto: “one world, one dream”)?

Such madness seems inconceivable. Yet the pattern of Beijing’s diplomacy with respect to Taiwan’s referendum on its application to the United Nations is convincing me that some such action is possible, even likely.

China is intent on denying any international status to Taiwan, a democratic country of some 23 million people having a gross national product approaching four hundred billion dollars.

She was expelled from the UN in 1971 when China joined and has failed a dozen times to rejoin thereafter. Now she plans a referendum on how to word her next application. (I have explained these basic issues in an earlier posting.)

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Will China launch some major and dangerous move against Taiwan—a blockade? missile firings? worse?—next March, just five months ahead of the opening of the triumphant Beijing Olympics (motto: “one world, one dream”)?

Such madness seems inconceivable. Yet the pattern of Beijing’s diplomacy with respect to Taiwan’s referendum on its application to the United Nations is convincing me that some such action is possible, even likely.

China is intent on denying any international status to Taiwan, a democratic country of some 23 million people having a gross national product approaching four hundred billion dollars.

She was expelled from the UN in 1971 when China joined and has failed a dozen times to rejoin thereafter. Now she plans a referendum on how to word her next application. (I have explained these basic issues in an earlier posting.)

As China seeks to stanch leaks in the diplomatic embargo, it is becoming clear that Beijing has decided to make the referendum into a casus belli: into the “red line,” the provocation that cannot be tolerated and that must force her to turn to military coercion. She is preparing the ground carefully, lining up support for her position from the very countries that might back Taiwan.

Thus, for months last year the Chinese embassy hammered the relevant American Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with threats. The result: on August 27, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte stated unequivocally that “any kind of provocative steps” on Taiwan’s part were unacceptable.

Shortly thereafter, Chinese President Hu Jintao directly warned President Bush “that this year and the next will be a ‘highly dangerous period’ in the Taiwan Strait.” He referred, ominously, to China’s 2005 “Anti-Secession Law,” which requires the use of “nonpeaceful means” to counter “major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession from China.” Hu stated that the referendum would be just such a “major incident.”

Now France and Britain have, unwittingly I think, added their signatures to the international permission slip that China appears to be preparing. According to Reuters, on November 26, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated “that France opposes Taiwan’s contentious plan to hold a referendum on UN membership next year.” Then, according to AFP, Foreign Secretary David Miliband made clear on December 5 Britain’s opposition to the referendum on pushing for UN membership, adding that any “reckless maneuvers” were to be “deplored.”

Without insistent Chinese prompting, one suspects, neither Negroponte nor Sarkozy nor Miliband would have spoken. Yet all did, in complete ignorance, one suspects, of the net China is weaving.

For who will protest or act if China does use the referendum as a pretext for military action next March? One would expect democratic powers such as the United States, France, and Britain to take the lead. But they have already stated their support for China’s political position (though not for force). My fear is that such statements of seeming acquiescence may persuade China that she could get away with a turn to force. Such miscalculation could in fact lead to war.

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Prodi’s “Evolution”

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested on Sunday that dialogue with Hamas might help the Islamist terror organization “evolve.” It was not immediately clear what Prodi meant by “evolution” through “dialogue,” though his spokesman was quick to explain that in no way was the Prime Minister calling for a reversal of EU policy—which keeps Hamas on the EU terror list and shuns the organization.

The Italian government has been flip-flopping on the matter for the last few weeks. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema voiced discomfort at the policy of isolation, and warned against “giving Hamas to al Qaeda.” A few days before, the leader of D’Alema’s party, Piero Fassino, had suggested the need for a strategy for dealing with Hamas. Fassino used ambiguous language that implied the need for dialogue; yet, after a visit to Israel with Socialist International, Fassino has since retreated from his statement. Meanwhile, D’Alema has also backtracked somewhat, noting in a parliamentary address on July 24 that he “never suggested that the international community open direct negotiations with Hamas,” and that he meant only to highlight “the need to encourage a return to a Palestinian process of national reconciliation.”

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Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi suggested on Sunday that dialogue with Hamas might help the Islamist terror organization “evolve.” It was not immediately clear what Prodi meant by “evolution” through “dialogue,” though his spokesman was quick to explain that in no way was the Prime Minister calling for a reversal of EU policy—which keeps Hamas on the EU terror list and shuns the organization.

The Italian government has been flip-flopping on the matter for the last few weeks. Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema voiced discomfort at the policy of isolation, and warned against “giving Hamas to al Qaeda.” A few days before, the leader of D’Alema’s party, Piero Fassino, had suggested the need for a strategy for dealing with Hamas. Fassino used ambiguous language that implied the need for dialogue; yet, after a visit to Israel with Socialist International, Fassino has since retreated from his statement. Meanwhile, D’Alema has also backtracked somewhat, noting in a parliamentary address on July 24 that he “never suggested that the international community open direct negotiations with Hamas,” and that he meant only to highlight “the need to encourage a return to a Palestinian process of national reconciliation.”

To be fair, Italian politicians are not the only ones contemplating dialogue with Hamas: more than 100 British parliamentarians called for dialogue because “peace results from discussions between enemies as well as friends.” Britain’s former shadow Foreign Secretary and one-time chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, Michael Ancram, went even further, in a Sunday Telegraph editorial in early July, by recommending that newly-appointed Middle East Envoy Tony Blair should “dance with wolves.”

As for Prodi himself, at least he is consistent. After all, in his first interview after winning last year’s parliamentary elections, in April 2006, he said to al-Jazeera: “I shall commit myself at the European level to shape a new position with respect to the new Palestinian government. I am looking with great attention at the signs of an opening being made by Hamas.” Soon after, Prodi spoke to then-Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on the phone, becoming the first European head of government to do so.

We shouldn’t wonder, then, what Prodi meant when he linked dialogue with Hamas to its possible “evolution.” Clearly, the Italian Prime Minister is being optimistic. Yet, can he point to any evolution at all since April 2006? How long will Europeans resist the temptation to engage in dialogue with Hamas?

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Brownian Motion on Iran

Gordon Brown yesterday surprised commentators by refusing to rule out military action against Iran. “I firmly believe that the sanctions policy that we are pursuing will work, but I’m not one who’s going forward to say that we rule out any particular form of action,” the new British Prime Minister told a news conference. While Brown had previously seemed to follow his European partners France and Germany by playing down the idea of using force against Tehran, his line on Iran yesterday was compatible with the more hawkish position of President Bush.

What are we to make of these maneuvers? Brown’s remarks come just a few days before he is due to make his first visit to Washington since taking over from Tony Blair earlier this month. He can expect a polite but cool reception from Bush. The appointment of former United Nations deputy secretary general Mark Malloch Brown as Foreign Office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN has predictably exasperated the Bush administration.

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Gordon Brown yesterday surprised commentators by refusing to rule out military action against Iran. “I firmly believe that the sanctions policy that we are pursuing will work, but I’m not one who’s going forward to say that we rule out any particular form of action,” the new British Prime Minister told a news conference. While Brown had previously seemed to follow his European partners France and Germany by playing down the idea of using force against Tehran, his line on Iran yesterday was compatible with the more hawkish position of President Bush.

What are we to make of these maneuvers? Brown’s remarks come just a few days before he is due to make his first visit to Washington since taking over from Tony Blair earlier this month. He can expect a polite but cool reception from Bush. The appointment of former United Nations deputy secretary general Mark Malloch Brown as Foreign Office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN has predictably exasperated the Bush administration.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton told the Sunday Times of London: “If Gordon Brown knew what he was doing when he appointed Mark Malloch Brown, it was a major signal that he wants a different relationship with the United States. If he didn’t know what he was doing, that is not a good sign either.”

By diverging from the European position on Iran and tacking closer to the American one, Gordon Brown is attempting to limit the damage done by the (soon-to-be-ennobled) Malloch Brown. In a recent interview, the latter’s elevation from bureaucrat to baron seemed to have gone to his head. He claimed that a “radical” change in British policy towards the U.S. was in the offing, with the two leaders no longer “joined at the hip”. He also boasted of his status as a “wise eminence” and his contacts in America. It was so embarrassing that his boss, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, was forced to go on TV himself to contradict his subordinate.

Gordon Brown has proved to be more nimble on his feet than his critics expected, and he is quite capable of creating some good publicity for himself in advance of his trip to confound the expectation that Mr. Blair, the darling of Washington, is an impossible act to follow. Iran, though, is too important to be treated as a pawn in a transatlantic diplomatic game. The decision that the President makes on this—whether to pre-empt Ahmadinejad’s armageddon—could be the most momentous of his presidency. Whatever he does, Bush needs to know that he can rely on Mr. Brown when the going gets tough.

By trying to impress both the President and his own largely anti-American party, Brown is trying to be too clever. Sooner or later, he will have to choose. Iran is actually destabilizing the entire region and potentially mobilizing the entire Muslim world against the West. Other European states may choose to turn a blind eye to the danger posed by Tehran’s nuclear program, but the British have had recent and painful experience of the regime’s hostility. Brown needs to erase the memory of the naval hostage crisis as soon as possible. He may not want to be the heir to Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq war, but the logic of the situation with Iran points to the same decision: to do nothing is the worst policy.

If Brown is wise, he will fire his grey eminence before he sets foot in the White House and instead echo one of the greatest of his predecessors, William Pitt the Elder: “Our watchword is security.” The most damaging impression about the liberation of Iraq is that it has made the West in general, and Britain in particular, less secure. If Bush can make a good case that destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities would make not only Israel but Europe and America more secure, Brown will surely have to support him.

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Bring on Bolton

Why isn’t John Bolton running for President? In contrast to a line-up of Republican candidates that seems, at least from a transatlantic perspective, somewhat lackluster, the former ambassador to the U.N. looks and sounds like a real leader. As he is not yet running for office, why doesn’t one of the candidates—Rudy Giuliani, for instance—consider him seriously as a running mate? Bolton looks like Teddy Roosevelt and talks like Ronald Reagan. What more do you want?

On Wednesday, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Bolton gave us a series of robust reminders of why his tenure at the U.N. was so controversial. He has no difficulty comparing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler in public, as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney reportedly do in private, and he thinks the present situation with Iran is analogous to that of 1936, when the appeasers in Europe and isolationists in America carried the day: “I think you’re at a Hitler marching into the Rhineland point. If you don’t stop it then, the future is in his hands, not in your hands, just as the future decisions on their nuclear program would be in Iran’s hands, not ours.”

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Why isn’t John Bolton running for President? In contrast to a line-up of Republican candidates that seems, at least from a transatlantic perspective, somewhat lackluster, the former ambassador to the U.N. looks and sounds like a real leader. As he is not yet running for office, why doesn’t one of the candidates—Rudy Giuliani, for instance—consider him seriously as a running mate? Bolton looks like Teddy Roosevelt and talks like Ronald Reagan. What more do you want?

On Wednesday, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Bolton gave us a series of robust reminders of why his tenure at the U.N. was so controversial. He has no difficulty comparing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler in public, as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney reportedly do in private, and he thinks the present situation with Iran is analogous to that of 1936, when the appeasers in Europe and isolationists in America carried the day: “I think you’re at a Hitler marching into the Rhineland point. If you don’t stop it then, the future is in his hands, not in your hands, just as the future decisions on their nuclear program would be in Iran’s hands, not ours.”

Bolton warns that Iran “is not going to be talked out of its nuclear program. So to stop them from doing it, we have to massively increase the pressure.” It is too late to halt the uranium enrichment program, so the priority now is to prevent industrial-scale production. He favors economic sanctions “with pain” as the next step, followed by a serious attempt to bring about regime change from within. “And if all else fails, if the choice is between a nuclear-capable Iran and the use of force, then I think we need to look at the use of force.”

He is not insouciant about the risks of air-strikes: “It’s very risky for the price of oil, risky because you could, let’s say, take out their enrichment capabilities at Natanz, and they may have enrichment capabilities elsewhere you don’t know about.” But he is clear-sighted about the much greater risk of doing nothing: “Imagine what it would be like with a nuclear Iran. Imagine the influence Iran could have over the entire region.”

He is scathing about the “doomed” European attempt to negotiate with Tehran, which Tony Blair reluctantly went along with: “Blair just didn’t focus on it as much as [former Foreign Secretary] Jack Straw did, and it was very much a Foreign Office thing because they wanted to show their European credentials, wanted to work with the Germans and the French to show ‘we’ll solve Iran in a way differently than those cowboy Americans solved Iraq.’” He accuses Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the former British ambassador in Iraq, and other Foreign Office officials of deliberately undermining Mr. Blair’s pro-American policy on a wide range of issues. But he rebuts the claim that Mr. Blair was a “poodle” of Mr. Bush: “Nobody in this administration has thought that. Nobody.”

War leaders are as rare today as they have ever been, and just as precious. I published an essay on the Iranian problem in the current issue of the New Criterion. My conclusion is as follows:

The Iranian regime has been at war with us from the moment it seized power 28 years ago. Ahmadinejad’s Iran represents a lethal combination of nuclear technology and Islamist eschatology. Détente is not an option. Ahmadinejad is not interested in peace; he longs for paradise. The duty of saving the world from the Persian peril falls to us. Leonidas, “the bravest of men,” was said to be descended from Heracles himself. Let us hope and pray that our leaders are made of the same stuff.

John Bolton, for one, most certainly is.

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Bush the “Madman”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Most Superior Person

Long before Lord Curzon became foreign secretary and viceroy of India, a fellow undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, summed up the future statesman in two immortal, ironic lines: “My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/ and I am a most superior person.”

I was reminded of Curzon while listening to the present chancellor of Oxford University address a fund-raising dinner in the City of London for the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Chris Patten—or Baron Patten of Barnes, Companion of Honor and Privy Counsellor, to give him his full title—is what passes for a most superior person in England these days.

Once a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher—a fact that is now a source of mutual embarrassment—Patten rose to be a cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party before the electors of Bath ejected him unceremoniously from Parliament in 1992. This meant that Patten was unable to take up the post he had coveted and been promised, namely foreign secretary. However, then-Prime Minister John Major gave him the consolation prize of making him the last governor of Hong Kong. Read More

Long before Lord Curzon became foreign secretary and viceroy of India, a fellow undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford, summed up the future statesman in two immortal, ironic lines: “My name is George Nathaniel Curzon/ and I am a most superior person.”

I was reminded of Curzon while listening to the present chancellor of Oxford University address a fund-raising dinner in the City of London for the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Chris Patten—or Baron Patten of Barnes, Companion of Honor and Privy Counsellor, to give him his full title—is what passes for a most superior person in England these days.

Once a speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher—a fact that is now a source of mutual embarrassment—Patten rose to be a cabinet minister and chairman of the Conservative party before the electors of Bath ejected him unceremoniously from Parliament in 1992. This meant that Patten was unable to take up the post he had coveted and been promised, namely foreign secretary. However, then-Prime Minister John Major gave him the consolation prize of making him the last governor of Hong Kong. In 1999, two years after handing over the colony, Patten was parachuted into Brussels to take up the post of European commissioner for external relations. Despite bearing considerable responsibility for the European Union’s animus against the Bush administration during the period before and after the invasion of Iraq, Patten was not considered sufficiently anti-American by the French and the Germans, and so he failed in his bid for the presidency of the European Commission. On his return to England in 2004, he was rewarded with a seat in the House of Lords.

Thwarted in politics, Patten has carved out a new career for himself as the figurehead of one of the most famous universities in the world. In liberal donnish circles, he is fêted as a most superior spokesperson. And it was in this capacity that he spoke last Thursday.

In the course of his speech, which dealt with the alleged threat that what he called “identity politics” poses to Britain’s domestic peace, Patten compared the situation of British Muslims today with that of British Catholics during the IRA terrorist campaign between 1969 and 1998. But Patten, who authored the Patten Report on the policing of Northern Ireland, should know better than anyone how suspect this analogy is.

A few weeks before Patten’s speech, in fact, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, anticipated and deconstructed precisely this analogy, contrasting al Qaeda’s nature and methods with those of the IRA. He called the latter “a domestic campaign using conventional weaponry, carried out by terrorists in tightly knit networks who were desperate to avoid capture and certainly had no wish to die.” The threat from al Qaeda, on the other hand, “is global in origin, reach, and ambition. The networks are large, fluid, mobile, and incredibly resilient.” Suicide is normal. “There is no evidence of looking to restrict casualties. There are no warnings given. . . . [T]he intention is to kill as many people as possible. We have seen both conventional and unconventional weaponry, and to date . . . there has not been an obvious political agenda around which meaningful negotiations can be built.”

Patten’s analogy ignores another highly significant fact cited by Clarke. IRA terrorists were eventually forced to abandon “the armed struggle” because they enjoyed virtually no support from Catholics in mainland Britain. British Muslims, by contrast, appear reluctant to help the police to detect, arrest, and convict al-Qaeda terrorists. As Clarke put it bluntly: “Almost all of our prosecutions have their origins in intelligence that came from overseas, the intelligence agencies, or from technical means. Few have yet originated from what is sometimes called ‘community intelligence.’” For whatever reasons, British Muslims are not yet prepared to inform on other Muslims.

And as Patten’s wrongheaded comparison might suggest, he sees himself engaged in quite a different battle—not against European Islamists at all, but against American neoconservatives. In his latest book, Not Quite the Diplomat, he writes: “There is still, in America—in newspaper columns, think tanks, academia, Congress, and the administration—an intellectual battle to be won. Even the Iraq debacle has not permanently silenced all the sovereigntists and neoconservatives.” Lord Patten may fancy himself intellectually superior to these poor benighted neocons, but he deceives himself if he thinks the so-called realists have won. The only thing that would silence the neoconservatives—those who want to defeat the jihad rather than appease it or pretend it doesn’t exist—would be a final victory for the Islamists. And should that happen, I suspect Patten might find himself silenced as well.

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Val Goes Free

Contrary to popular belief, the French are not really respecters of persons. They like to scoff, and they are better at it than most people. Philippe Val is a good example. In his mid-fifties, he is an ex-singer, a film buff, and a self-professed anarcho-kook. Since 1992 he has been editing a weekly satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo, which has a circulation of 100,000. A collection of his writings has been published under a title that tells its own story, and may be translated as Good Screwings with bin Laden.

Jyllands Posten, a Danish publication, was hardly more in the public eye than Charlie Hebdo when in 2005 it commissioned a dozen cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and ran them. A Danish imam, an Islamist, saw his chance and raced around the Muslim Brotherhood cells in several Arab countries. Soon they had arranged demonstrations, the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut, and the boycott of Danish exports like cheese and Legos. To its lasting disgrace, Carrefour, the French supermarket chain, made a point of advertising that it did not sell Danish products.

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Contrary to popular belief, the French are not really respecters of persons. They like to scoff, and they are better at it than most people. Philippe Val is a good example. In his mid-fifties, he is an ex-singer, a film buff, and a self-professed anarcho-kook. Since 1992 he has been editing a weekly satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo, which has a circulation of 100,000. A collection of his writings has been published under a title that tells its own story, and may be translated as Good Screwings with bin Laden.

Jyllands Posten, a Danish publication, was hardly more in the public eye than Charlie Hebdo when in 2005 it commissioned a dozen cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and ran them. A Danish imam, an Islamist, saw his chance and raced around the Muslim Brotherhood cells in several Arab countries. Soon they had arranged demonstrations, the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut, and the boycott of Danish exports like cheese and Legos. To its lasting disgrace, Carrefour, the French supermarket chain, made a point of advertising that it did not sell Danish products.

Quite a number of public personalities who should have known better sided with the Islamists, and argued that the cartoons should have been banned. One particularly creepy apologist of censorship was the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw—and he in the chair of Canning and Palmerston. The French press, on the other hand, was rather robust. L’Express, the magazine once graced by Raymond Aron and Jean-Francois Revel, published all twelve cartoons. Val published only three, including the one showing the prophet’s turban as a fizzing bomb, and the one which has the prophet exclaiming, “It’s hard to be loved by idiots,” though the word used for idiot in French is rather rude. Special print runs followed, more than doubling Charlie Hebdo‘s circulation.

It is not clear why Charlie Hebdo and Val were prosecuted for “publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion” and L’Express was not. President Jacques Chirac wanted a trial, and seems to have pressured the Grand Mosque of Paris to bring a charge. The Grand Mosque comes under the umbrella of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), which is itself under the thumb of the Muslim Brotherhood. Val claims that Dalil Boubakeur, the imam of the Grand Mosque (an Algerian originally and by all accounts a decent man) told him that he did not want to prosecute, but the authorities were eager to do so. Val thinks that Chirac is out to appease the Arabs, or maybe is just chasing commerce. At any rate, Chirac offered the UOIF the services of his personal lawyer, Francis Szpiner, who in court spouted a lot of nonsense about racism. A second lawyer for the prosecution had a name—Christophe Bigot—that a satirical magazine might have invented.

The three judges of the Paris tribunal were having none of it. Throwing the case out, they rendered a judgement that Le Monde approvingly called “a model of clarity.” The three cartoons were all fair comment. Gratuitous offence to Muslims would be objectionable, but there was none. The UOIF says that the verdict is “unsatisfactory,” and it will appeal. But in the city where Voltaire was once thrashed by a nobleman and then locked up, free speech is still safe.

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Riding Hurd

Last year we had to endure James Baker, one of the chief culprits for the genocide in Bosnia, lecturing the Bush administration about Iraq. Now Douglas Hurd, his British counterpart in the early 1990′s, calls for a British equivalent of the Baker-Hamilton report—an inquiry that would ask the question: “How did we [the British] follow the Americans in this gross miscalculation of what would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein?” Hurd insists that “this would not be a ‘trial of Tony Blair,’” but his denial rings hollow. “Under our next prime minister we have to learn again what we have forgotten: the art of working with the United States as an effective junior partner capable of independent thought, and of ensuring that reasonable advice is listened to, and that eventual questions are answered.”

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Last year we had to endure James Baker, one of the chief culprits for the genocide in Bosnia, lecturing the Bush administration about Iraq. Now Douglas Hurd, his British counterpart in the early 1990′s, calls for a British equivalent of the Baker-Hamilton report—an inquiry that would ask the question: “How did we [the British] follow the Americans in this gross miscalculation of what would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein?” Hurd insists that “this would not be a ‘trial of Tony Blair,’” but his denial rings hollow. “Under our next prime minister we have to learn again what we have forgotten: the art of working with the United States as an effective junior partner capable of independent thought, and of ensuring that reasonable advice is listened to, and that eventual questions are answered.”

Can this be the same Douglas Hurd who, as Conservative foreign secretary, was largely responsible for the European Union’s disastrous policy on Yugoslavia, including an arms embargo which prevented the Bosnians from defending themselves against Serbian genocide and ethnic cleansing? The same Douglas Hurd who warned against armed intervention to halt the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo? The same Douglas Hurd who was told at the time by his former boss Margaret Thatcher: “Douglas, Douglas, you would make Neville Chamberlain look like a warmonger”? The same Douglas Hurd who, within a year of retirement, returned to Belgrade in 1996 on behalf of the bank that now employed him, NatWest Markets, to negotiate with Milosevic about the privatization of Serbian utilities? Not only was Mr. (now Lord) Hurd eager to profit from the Serbianctator’s desire to sell state assets in order to generate cash to preserve his brutal tyranny—he even tried to justify it by claiming that his motive was the altruistic one of “liberalizing” Serbia, and that Milosevic “could have been rehabilitated.”

As the historian Brendan Simms points out in his brilliant Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia (London, 2001), there was never any likelihood of Milosevic changing. As for Hurd’s campaign to prevent Western intervention—“the calculated caution and gravitas, the sage warnings, and the weighty caveats: this was all bluff.” Once the Blair government adopted a policy diametrically opposed to that of John Major and Douglas Hurd, which resulted in the Kosovo War and the fall of Milosevic, the bluff was called. Hurd, Baker,and the whole gang of “realists” were discredited: “None of them had the faintest idea what they were talking about.”

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News from the Continent: Victor’s Justice

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

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