Commentary Magazine


Topic: head of state

Honduras, Obama, and Occam’s Razor

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

In the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote that cables released by WikiLeaks show that the administration knew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya had threatened Honduran democracy — but supported him in order to offer President Obama a “bonding opportunity” with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a chance to ingratiate himself with Latin America’s hard left.

O’Grady believes this helps explain why the administration went to such extremes to try to force Zelaya’s reinstatement despite the obvious remedy once the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court had upheld his removal for attempting to thwart the election of his successor — hold the already scheduled election between the already duly-chosen candidates, on the date already set, which was only a few months away.

I have a simpler explanation — not inconsistent with O’Grady’s analysis but closer to the common theme in Obama’s foreign policy in other areas. The day after Zelaya was removed, Obama pronounced it a “coup.” That snap judgment remained American policy even as more and more facts contradicting Obama’s description emerged. After months pushing a reinstatement that virtually every element of Honduran political and civil society opposed, and even though the proper and practical solution was apparent, Obama still engaged in mystifying diplomacy, cutting off aid to a poverty-stricken ally. Three months into the “crisis,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley made this statement about the Honduran government’s intent to hold its election:

There’s a sense that the de facto regime was thinking, if we can just get to an election, that this would absolve them of all their sins. And we’re saying, clearly, that is not the case.

Crowley asserted the election the Honduran legislature and judiciary sought to preserve would not “absolve” them of “all their sins.” Honduras had apparently offended some sort of god.

Obama brought to the Oval Office a self-regard probably unmatched in American history. He apologized for his country while praising it for electing him. He thought that Iran could be handled with his outstretched hand; that a foreign head of state should receive an iPod with his speeches on it; that a video of him was sufficient for the Berlin Wall anniversary; that a prime minister should be summoned to the White House after-hours without press or pictures; that a Palestinian state would be created because this time they had Him. Russia and China were treated with respect, as was Iran, even as it held a fraudulent election and blew through his successive “deadlines.” But allies such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Israel, and Britain were treated differently.

What was visited upon Honduras last year was of a piece.

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The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

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A Performance That Will Live in Infamy

I’m not sure I could have gotten through the Obama press conference just now without John’s bracing live-blog posts. I have to say, the president’s political performance was the most partisan I have seen from an American chief executive. The references to the needs of the people were perfunctory and disordered, at best. The cast of President Obama’s rhetoric was entirely in the mold of the bruised ideologue.

I don’t recall Obama ever coming off in a national forum quite so much like a leftist community organizer. In demonizing his political opponents, lecturing his base, and vowing to fight on in a long struggle, Obama appeared to be channeling his political roots in radical activism. He evoked an activist street fighter on the steps of city hall more than a president of the United States. The president is our head of government but also our head of state: a ceremonial symbol of national unity. One of his chief duties is to be happy about that.

As a partisan performance, Obama’s today didn’t stop with the relatively benign Democrat-versus-Republican divide. It recalled the European political sense in which partisanship is narrowly based on ethnicity or ideology, and opposes the putative complacency of all social compacts and central authorities. I suspect that one of the most difficult things for Obama himself, as well as for the more radical in his political base, is coming to grips with the truth that some homage must still be paid to the traditional compact of the U.S. government with its people. It was not, in fact, politically possible for Obama or the Democrats in Congress to imperil the finances of the middle class with a quixotic standoff over raising tax rates on the wealthy.

The people are, by and large, middle-class householders with no interest in suffering to make ideological points. The source of Obama’s peculiar dissonance in American politics is that he doesn’t feel, in his gut, that that is a good thing.

I’m not sure I could have gotten through the Obama press conference just now without John’s bracing live-blog posts. I have to say, the president’s political performance was the most partisan I have seen from an American chief executive. The references to the needs of the people were perfunctory and disordered, at best. The cast of President Obama’s rhetoric was entirely in the mold of the bruised ideologue.

I don’t recall Obama ever coming off in a national forum quite so much like a leftist community organizer. In demonizing his political opponents, lecturing his base, and vowing to fight on in a long struggle, Obama appeared to be channeling his political roots in radical activism. He evoked an activist street fighter on the steps of city hall more than a president of the United States. The president is our head of government but also our head of state: a ceremonial symbol of national unity. One of his chief duties is to be happy about that.

As a partisan performance, Obama’s today didn’t stop with the relatively benign Democrat-versus-Republican divide. It recalled the European political sense in which partisanship is narrowly based on ethnicity or ideology, and opposes the putative complacency of all social compacts and central authorities. I suspect that one of the most difficult things for Obama himself, as well as for the more radical in his political base, is coming to grips with the truth that some homage must still be paid to the traditional compact of the U.S. government with its people. It was not, in fact, politically possible for Obama or the Democrats in Congress to imperil the finances of the middle class with a quixotic standoff over raising tax rates on the wealthy.

The people are, by and large, middle-class householders with no interest in suffering to make ideological points. The source of Obama’s peculiar dissonance in American politics is that he doesn’t feel, in his gut, that that is a good thing.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

Don’t be president, then. “Obama miffed by questions on U.S.”

Don’t think Dems fail to grasp how toxic ObamaCare is. “A leading Senate Democrat vowed Friday to introduce legislation killing a part of the new healthcare reform law that imposes new tax-filing requirements on small businesses. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee and a leading architect of the reform law, said a provision requiring businesses to report more purchases to the IRS will impose undue paperwork burdens on companies amid an economic downturn when they can least afford it.”

Don’t get your hopes up. “All the president has to do is abandon some foolish ideological presuppositions, get down to work, and stop fishing for compliments. If he did so, he’d end up getting genuine compliments—from us and, we dare say, from the American people. And then his self-respect would have a firmer ground than vanity.”

Don’t underestimate your impact, Nancy. “‘We didn’t lose the election because of me,’ Ms. Pelosi told National Public Radio in an interview that aired Friday morning.” No wonder Republicans are “giddy.”

Don’t believe that Obama learned anything from his rebuffs in Copenhagen (on global warming and the Olympics). Charles Krauthammer nails it: “Whenever a president walks into a room with another head of state and he walks out empty-handed — he’s got a failure on his hands. And this was self-inflicted. With Obama it’s now becoming a ritual. It’s a combination of incompetence,  inexperience, and arrogance. He was handed a treaty by the Bush administration. It was done. But he wanted to improve on it. And instead, so far, he’s got nothing. … And this is a pattern with Obama. He thinks he can reinvent the world. With Iran, he decides he has a silver tongue, he’ll sweet-talk ’em into a deal. He gets humiliated over and over again. With the Russians he does a reset, he gives up missile defense, he gets nothing.”

Don’t you wish the Obami would stop giving excuses that make them sound even more incompetent? “The U.S. position on settlements has not officially changed, [National Security Council's Dan] Shapiro said. The United States still believes that the Israeli settlement moratorium should be extended, but that Palestinians should stay in peace talks even if it is not. He said that President Obama — who said Monday that Israeli settlement construction was ‘never helpful’ to peace talks Israel announced further construction plans in East Jerusalem — wasn’t trying to publicly criticize Netanyahu with his remarks. He simply answered a question put to him in a direct way, said Shapiro.” But not publicly criticize Bibi? They are frightfully inept — or disingenuous.

Don’t you miss smart diplomacy? “President Obama’s failure to conclude the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) is a disaster. It reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America’s leadership in the global economy. The implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan. … The debacle in Seoul is a slap in the face of a critical U.S. ally in a critical region, and it will cast doubt on U.S. trade promises in other negotiations elsewhere. But if an American president loses his credibility, the damage spreads beyond the narrow confines of economic deals and Northeast Asia.”

Don’t be shocked. CNN’s guest roster skews left.

Don’t let your family pet do this at home. “A 150-pound mountain lion was no match for a squirrel-chasing terrier on a farm in eastern South Dakota. Jack the Jack Russell weighs only 17 pounds, and yet he managed to trap the cougar up a tree on Tuesday. Jack’s owner, Chad Strenge, told The Argus Leader that the dog ‘trees cats all the time,’ and that the plucky terrier probably ‘figured it was just a cat.’”

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Afghanistan and Israel: Mere Incompetence?

It’s sometimes difficult to comprehend just how incompetent the Obama national-security team is. This report gives us a peek:

The Obama administration, after 16 months of treating President Hamid Karzai with what some U.S. officials called “tough love,” will welcome the Afghan leader Monday with all the trappings of a head of state, in what officials said is the start of a new, more pragmatic approach.

The shift, backed by the Pentagon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, follows concerns that repeated public criticism of Mr. Karzai, particularly of his commitment to anticorruption efforts, was backfiring, leading the mercurial leader to lash out and undermining U.S. public support for the war. …

U.S. officials said the transition from last month’s bitter tenor to next week’s red carpet is intentional. “The main objective of the trip is to repair the damage” caused by the war of words, says a U.S. official familiar with planning for the visit.

Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said public disputes between Mr. Karzai and administration officials “play into the hands of our enemies,” and that the approach had been jettisoned in favor of sustained outreach to the Afghan leader.

Did no one in the White House realize this before the administration went publicly ballistic with a crucial wartime ally? Apparently not:

In interviews, some U.S. officials said there is growing acknowledgment within the administration that the very public criticism of Mr. Karzai’s failings as a leader made the Afghan president more suspicious of American intentions.

“I think we all realized we had gotten ourselves right to the edge of the cliff about a month and a half ago, and there was nowhere to go but jump off the cliff, and that was too scary for everybody,” said a former senior U.S. official who has discussed the visit with top officials in both governments.

One must ask whether anyone realized they were jumping off the cliff with Israel, as well. After all, don’t the screamathons with Bibi, the “condemnations,” and the series of demands from the Obama team for more and more unilateral Israeli concessions “play into the hands” of enemies of Israel and the United States? You’d think there would be key advisers who’d point that out as well. If there are any, Obama isn’t listening to them.

There are two possibilities in these scenarios: total incompetence and mendacity. In the case of Afghanistan, the administration more or less has gotten the policy right; it’s the execution that has been clumsy. In the case of Israel, however, the administration’s obvious animus toward Bibi and its infatuation with the Palestinian narrative suggest that the latter is at play. Their charm offensive is meant to suggest that the problem has been a lack of tact with American Jewry and a failure to make clear how really, madly, honestly, truly the administration is devoted to Israel. But unlike its  policy on Afghanistan, in the case of Israel, the administration is wedded to disastrous policies (e.g., distancing ourselves from Israel, obsessing on a stalemated “peace process,” irresoluteness toward Iran, indifference on Muslim human-rights abusers). Until all of that changes or until there is a new Oval Office occupant, Israel remains imperiled.

It’s sometimes difficult to comprehend just how incompetent the Obama national-security team is. This report gives us a peek:

The Obama administration, after 16 months of treating President Hamid Karzai with what some U.S. officials called “tough love,” will welcome the Afghan leader Monday with all the trappings of a head of state, in what officials said is the start of a new, more pragmatic approach.

The shift, backed by the Pentagon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, follows concerns that repeated public criticism of Mr. Karzai, particularly of his commitment to anticorruption efforts, was backfiring, leading the mercurial leader to lash out and undermining U.S. public support for the war. …

U.S. officials said the transition from last month’s bitter tenor to next week’s red carpet is intentional. “The main objective of the trip is to repair the damage” caused by the war of words, says a U.S. official familiar with planning for the visit.

Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said public disputes between Mr. Karzai and administration officials “play into the hands of our enemies,” and that the approach had been jettisoned in favor of sustained outreach to the Afghan leader.

Did no one in the White House realize this before the administration went publicly ballistic with a crucial wartime ally? Apparently not:

In interviews, some U.S. officials said there is growing acknowledgment within the administration that the very public criticism of Mr. Karzai’s failings as a leader made the Afghan president more suspicious of American intentions.

“I think we all realized we had gotten ourselves right to the edge of the cliff about a month and a half ago, and there was nowhere to go but jump off the cliff, and that was too scary for everybody,” said a former senior U.S. official who has discussed the visit with top officials in both governments.

One must ask whether anyone realized they were jumping off the cliff with Israel, as well. After all, don’t the screamathons with Bibi, the “condemnations,” and the series of demands from the Obama team for more and more unilateral Israeli concessions “play into the hands” of enemies of Israel and the United States? You’d think there would be key advisers who’d point that out as well. If there are any, Obama isn’t listening to them.

There are two possibilities in these scenarios: total incompetence and mendacity. In the case of Afghanistan, the administration more or less has gotten the policy right; it’s the execution that has been clumsy. In the case of Israel, however, the administration’s obvious animus toward Bibi and its infatuation with the Palestinian narrative suggest that the latter is at play. Their charm offensive is meant to suggest that the problem has been a lack of tact with American Jewry and a failure to make clear how really, madly, honestly, truly the administration is devoted to Israel. But unlike its  policy on Afghanistan, in the case of Israel, the administration is wedded to disastrous policies (e.g., distancing ourselves from Israel, obsessing on a stalemated “peace process,” irresoluteness toward Iran, indifference on Muslim human-rights abusers). Until all of that changes or until there is a new Oval Office occupant, Israel remains imperiled.

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Justice, Prudence, and North Korea

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

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Obama’s Appeal Is Lost on World Leaders

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

Adding weight to the dominant critique of Obama’s foreign policy — that it helps our enemies and hurts our allies — is the parlous state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, the bedrock of our security in Asia since the 1940s. David Pilling of the Financial Times writes:

When Japan’s prime minister visited Washington this month, Japanese officials lobbied intensely to get him a one-on-one with Barack Obama. In the end, Yukio Hatoyama had to settle for just 10 minutes, and even that during a banquet when the US president was presumably more interested in the appetisers and wine. These things matter in Japan. One senior politician called the put-down — as it was inevitably viewed in Tokyo — “humiliating”. He even noted that the Japanese prime minister was shunted to the edge of a group photo, the diplomatic equivalent of banishment to Siberia.

It would be wrong to read too much into these titbits of protocol (though it is always fun trying). But behind the snub lies something real. The US-Japan alliance, the cornerstone of security in east Asia since 1945, has not looked so rocky in years.

Granted, the increasingly rocky relations between the U.S. and Japan are not all, or even mainly, Obama’s fault. Prime Minister Hatoyama and his left-wing party deserve the majority of the blame, because they are trying to reopen negotiations over the American base on Okinawa and generally adopting a more anti-American posture. But Obama isn’t helping.

I am reminded of this important Jackson Diehl column, which pointed out that Obama hasn’t developed a close relationship with a single foreign leader, even while he has managed to increase American popularity abroad. “In this,” Diehl wrote, “he is the opposite of George W. Bush, who was reviled among the foreign masses but who forged close ties with a host of leaders — Aznar of Spain, Uribe of Colombia, Sharon and Olmert of Israel, Koizumi of Japan.” I would add Blair of Britain to that list; the Bush-Blair chemistry was famously close, while Obama is typically aloof in his dealings with Gordon Brown (himself not exactly the world’s friendliest head of state).

Neither the Bush posture (close to foreign leaders, alienated from their publics) nor that of Obama (the darling of foreign publics, alienated from their leaders) is ideal. In theory, you’d like to have the best of both worlds, but that’s perhaps asking far too much of the leader of the world’s superpower. Which is better — the Bush or the Obama position? I’m not sure. But it’s far from clear that Obama’s global popularity is much of a boon for the U.S. insofar as he hasn’t been able to translate his celebrity status into policy results.

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An Unusual Alignment of Interests

More than any other Arab head of state in the world, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has mastered the art of telling listeners what they want to hear.

Last week, he said his country is fully committed to peace in the Middle East, though he worries the Israel government isn’t. He knows this is what bien pensants in the West like to believe. He knows they find it refreshing that he can talk like a liberal while Iran’s Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten apocalypse.

He also knows how to talk like the right kind of hardliner. Yesterday, he condemned the double suicide-bombing in Moscow’s underground metro and urged the international community to “fight terror around the globe.”

It’s no wonder, then, that some in Washington, Paris, and even Jerusalem think he’s a man they can do business with. All they have to do is convince him that his alliance with Iran is counterproductive, that it runs contrary to his self-evident interests and public pronouncements.

Syria, though, is the most aggressive state sponsor of terrorism in the world after Iran. Assad doesn’t even try to keep up the pretense when he isn’t preening before peace processors. Last week, he said Israel only understands force — a statement perfectly in line with his behavior. And just two days ago, he and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi urged the Palestinian Authority to scrap negotiations with Israel and return to its terrorist roots.

It’s hard to say if Western diplomats and foreign policy makers are actually suckered in by his act or if they’re just playing along because doing so suits them. Either way, they’d be wise to ignore him even when he makes the right noises and pay a little more heed to what other Arab leaders are saying instead. Their interests are far more in line with ours than Assad’s are.

Over the weekend, all, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Syria’s and Libya’s calls for armed attacks against Israel. Most aren’t interested in signing a treaty with Benjamin Netanyahu any time soon, but at least they don’t yearn for another Operation Cast Lead or a Third Lebanon War. The status quo ultimately isn’t sustainable, but it’s mostly non-violent right now. There’s nothing urgent about it as long as the Syrian- and Iranian-led resistance bloc isn’t fueling its missiles.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two most influential of the Sunni Arab regimes, flatly reject the idea of dialogue with Tehran while publicly supporting the peace process theater. Even if they’re no more sincere about the latter than Bashar al-Assad, as long as their rhetoric matches their immobility and conflict aversion, who cares?

Meanwhile, Iraqis gave Ayad Allawi and his slate of staunchly anti-Iranian candidates a plurality of votes in the recent election. The moderate Nouri al-Maliki came in second while the pro-Iranian Iraqi National Alliance came in dead last. Iran tried to Lebanonize Iraq with its Sadrist militias but seems to have failed. The Saudis are profoundly relieved, and the rest of the Arabs outside Syria surely are, too.

So what we have here, for the most part, is an Arab Middle East that wants to put the Israeli conflict on ice and resist the resistance instead — which is more or less what the Israelis want to see happen. It’s an unusual alignment of interests, but it is authentic. Iran’s Khomeinist regime has been gunning for Arabs in the Middle East since it came to power — and not just in Lebanon and Iraq but also in the Gulf and North Africa.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are unreliable allies (and that’s being generous), but their interests really do overlap with our own and even with Israel’s once in a while. Assad, at the same time, can’t always be bothered even to pretend he shares interests with the U.S. and Israel. His government has been sanctioned and stigmatized for a reason, and it’s not because he’s misguided or misunderstood.

President Barack Obama clearly wants to tilt U.S. foreign policy more toward the Arabs, but he doesn’t have to do it at the expense of our alliance with Israel. Just start with what Washington, Jerusalem, and most of the Arab states have in common and build outward from there. The present alignment may only come round once in a century, so we best not blow it.

More than any other Arab head of state in the world, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has mastered the art of telling listeners what they want to hear.

Last week, he said his country is fully committed to peace in the Middle East, though he worries the Israel government isn’t. He knows this is what bien pensants in the West like to believe. He knows they find it refreshing that he can talk like a liberal while Iran’s Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten apocalypse.

He also knows how to talk like the right kind of hardliner. Yesterday, he condemned the double suicide-bombing in Moscow’s underground metro and urged the international community to “fight terror around the globe.”

It’s no wonder, then, that some in Washington, Paris, and even Jerusalem think he’s a man they can do business with. All they have to do is convince him that his alliance with Iran is counterproductive, that it runs contrary to his self-evident interests and public pronouncements.

Syria, though, is the most aggressive state sponsor of terrorism in the world after Iran. Assad doesn’t even try to keep up the pretense when he isn’t preening before peace processors. Last week, he said Israel only understands force — a statement perfectly in line with his behavior. And just two days ago, he and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi urged the Palestinian Authority to scrap negotiations with Israel and return to its terrorist roots.

It’s hard to say if Western diplomats and foreign policy makers are actually suckered in by his act or if they’re just playing along because doing so suits them. Either way, they’d be wise to ignore him even when he makes the right noises and pay a little more heed to what other Arab leaders are saying instead. Their interests are far more in line with ours than Assad’s are.

Over the weekend, all, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected Syria’s and Libya’s calls for armed attacks against Israel. Most aren’t interested in signing a treaty with Benjamin Netanyahu any time soon, but at least they don’t yearn for another Operation Cast Lead or a Third Lebanon War. The status quo ultimately isn’t sustainable, but it’s mostly non-violent right now. There’s nothing urgent about it as long as the Syrian- and Iranian-led resistance bloc isn’t fueling its missiles.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two most influential of the Sunni Arab regimes, flatly reject the idea of dialogue with Tehran while publicly supporting the peace process theater. Even if they’re no more sincere about the latter than Bashar al-Assad, as long as their rhetoric matches their immobility and conflict aversion, who cares?

Meanwhile, Iraqis gave Ayad Allawi and his slate of staunchly anti-Iranian candidates a plurality of votes in the recent election. The moderate Nouri al-Maliki came in second while the pro-Iranian Iraqi National Alliance came in dead last. Iran tried to Lebanonize Iraq with its Sadrist militias but seems to have failed. The Saudis are profoundly relieved, and the rest of the Arabs outside Syria surely are, too.

So what we have here, for the most part, is an Arab Middle East that wants to put the Israeli conflict on ice and resist the resistance instead — which is more or less what the Israelis want to see happen. It’s an unusual alignment of interests, but it is authentic. Iran’s Khomeinist regime has been gunning for Arabs in the Middle East since it came to power — and not just in Lebanon and Iraq but also in the Gulf and North Africa.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are unreliable allies (and that’s being generous), but their interests really do overlap with our own and even with Israel’s once in a while. Assad, at the same time, can’t always be bothered even to pretend he shares interests with the U.S. and Israel. His government has been sanctioned and stigmatized for a reason, and it’s not because he’s misguided or misunderstood.

President Barack Obama clearly wants to tilt U.S. foreign policy more toward the Arabs, but he doesn’t have to do it at the expense of our alliance with Israel. Just start with what Washington, Jerusalem, and most of the Arab states have in common and build outward from there. The present alignment may only come round once in a century, so we best not blow it.

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What a Great Idea

 It has perhaps happened before in American politics but not that I can remember. As the Times reported it,

At a moment when the country is as polarized as ever, Mr. Obama traveled to a House Republican retreat on Friday to try to break through the partisan logjam that has helped stall his legislative agenda. What ensued was a lively, robust debate between a president and the opposition party that rarely happens in the scripted world of American politics.

It made for fascinating television and the media would love for it to become a regular feature of American government. The analogy is to questioning time in the House of Commons, when the prime minister is grilled by the opposition, who have no reason to be polite—or even fair. Great political theater sometimes happens (and great political wit too, something rare in this country).  The State of the Union speech is analogous to the Queen’s speech from the throne (except the Lords, who are seated, and members of the Commons, who stand, don’t jump up and down every thirty seconds applauding wildly—another good idea we might adopt from the British).

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out last night on Fox, the president is half king and half prime minister, head of both state and government. As head of state, he is trapped inside the White House bubble. Perhaps that’s why President Obama was apparently genuinely surprised when he learned that some Republicans regard him as an ideologue. “I am not an ideologue,” the Times reported him saying. When he drew “skeptical murmurs from the crowd,” he insisted “I’m not.” Of course, if you spend half your day talking with Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod, it is probably easy to think that hard Left is the path of pragmatism.

So getting out in the real world and taking questions from the Congressmen of the other party on a regular basis would be a useful reality check for presidents both Democratic and Republican. Reporters can’t fill that role. They know that if they are too aggressive in their questioning, they will find their access to White House personnel curtailed. And White House press conferences have become increasingly scripted anyway.

So I hope something like this will become standard, much as debates have become standard in major political races (although the debate formats need to be reformed to produce tougher questions and less scripted answers).

By the way, John McCain promised during the campaign that he would, as president, do exactly this. President Obama might be gracious enough (I won’t hold my breath—graciousness is not his long suit) to acknowledge this.

 It has perhaps happened before in American politics but not that I can remember. As the Times reported it,

At a moment when the country is as polarized as ever, Mr. Obama traveled to a House Republican retreat on Friday to try to break through the partisan logjam that has helped stall his legislative agenda. What ensued was a lively, robust debate between a president and the opposition party that rarely happens in the scripted world of American politics.

It made for fascinating television and the media would love for it to become a regular feature of American government. The analogy is to questioning time in the House of Commons, when the prime minister is grilled by the opposition, who have no reason to be polite—or even fair. Great political theater sometimes happens (and great political wit too, something rare in this country).  The State of the Union speech is analogous to the Queen’s speech from the throne (except the Lords, who are seated, and members of the Commons, who stand, don’t jump up and down every thirty seconds applauding wildly—another good idea we might adopt from the British).

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out last night on Fox, the president is half king and half prime minister, head of both state and government. As head of state, he is trapped inside the White House bubble. Perhaps that’s why President Obama was apparently genuinely surprised when he learned that some Republicans regard him as an ideologue. “I am not an ideologue,” the Times reported him saying. When he drew “skeptical murmurs from the crowd,” he insisted “I’m not.” Of course, if you spend half your day talking with Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod, it is probably easy to think that hard Left is the path of pragmatism.

So getting out in the real world and taking questions from the Congressmen of the other party on a regular basis would be a useful reality check for presidents both Democratic and Republican. Reporters can’t fill that role. They know that if they are too aggressive in their questioning, they will find their access to White House personnel curtailed. And White House press conferences have become increasingly scripted anyway.

So I hope something like this will become standard, much as debates have become standard in major political races (although the debate formats need to be reformed to produce tougher questions and less scripted answers).

By the way, John McCain promised during the campaign that he would, as president, do exactly this. President Obama might be gracious enough (I won’t hold my breath—graciousness is not his long suit) to acknowledge this.

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Nobel Speech

Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech could have been a whole lot worse. In fact, there is much for conservatives to crow about and much to drive the antiwar(s) Left up the wall. He did acknowledge the obvious:

And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women – some known, some obscure to all but those they help — to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize – Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela – my accomplishments are slight.

But more important, the president gives perhaps his most robust defense yet of America’s role in the world and of his responsibilities as a wartime commander in chief. Moreover, he uses the E world — yes, evil. He explains:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago – “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak –nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

This will stick in the craw of the Left, which found George Bush hopelessly daft and downright dangerous for identifying “evildoers” and an “axis of evil” and which vilified (and still does) the vast neocon conspiracy (or Manichean conspiracy, as Peter Beinart recently sneered) — namely, those who have made the case for robust wars against the forces of evil that threaten America and the West.

Now before we get too carried away, the speech is not without much unnecessary liberal angst and considerable evidence of Obama’s infatuation with multilateralism. (“But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan.” We can’t act alone? What if others won’t act?) He insists on braying about his ill-conceived positions on the war on terror, and suggests that before his arrival, “torture” was permissible. (“That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions.”)

He again gives a ludicrously limp warning to Iran and North Korea (“it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system”). And his paean to human rights reveals that there are no limits to the Obami’s hypocrisy. “We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran.” Bearing witness apparently does not involve doing anything other than taking notes.

But this speech is perhaps the closest he has come to throwing the American antiwar Left under the bus. America will defend itself. There is evil in the world. And yes, we are at war with religious fanatics:

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war.

For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint – no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith – for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

It is not at all what the netroot crowd that lifted him to the presidency had in mind. It seems that reality may be dawning, however dimly, on the White House.

Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize speech could have been a whole lot worse. In fact, there is much for conservatives to crow about and much to drive the antiwar(s) Left up the wall. He did acknowledge the obvious:

And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women – some known, some obscure to all but those they help — to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize – Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela – my accomplishments are slight.

But more important, the president gives perhaps his most robust defense yet of America’s role in the world and of his responsibilities as a wartime commander in chief. Moreover, he uses the E world — yes, evil. He explains:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago – “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak –nothing passive – nothing naïve – in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

This will stick in the craw of the Left, which found George Bush hopelessly daft and downright dangerous for identifying “evildoers” and an “axis of evil” and which vilified (and still does) the vast neocon conspiracy (or Manichean conspiracy, as Peter Beinart recently sneered) — namely, those who have made the case for robust wars against the forces of evil that threaten America and the West.

Now before we get too carried away, the speech is not without much unnecessary liberal angst and considerable evidence of Obama’s infatuation with multilateralism. (“But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan.” We can’t act alone? What if others won’t act?) He insists on braying about his ill-conceived positions on the war on terror, and suggests that before his arrival, “torture” was permissible. (“That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions.”)

He again gives a ludicrously limp warning to Iran and North Korea (“it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system”). And his paean to human rights reveals that there are no limits to the Obami’s hypocrisy. “We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran.” Bearing witness apparently does not involve doing anything other than taking notes.

But this speech is perhaps the closest he has come to throwing the American antiwar Left under the bus. America will defend itself. There is evil in the world. And yes, we are at war with religious fanatics:

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war.

For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint – no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one’s own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith – for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

It is not at all what the netroot crowd that lifted him to the presidency had in mind. It seems that reality may be dawning, however dimly, on the White House.

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The Price of a Historic Vote

Glenn Reynolds writes:

I think Obama’s “charisma” was based on voter narcissism — people excited not just about electing a black President, but about themselves, voting for a black President. Now that’s over, and they’re stuck just with him, and emptied of their own narcissism there’s not much there to fill out the suit.

That’s fairly strong stuff. Plainly, Obama played to many voters’ needs — for whites to vote for a historic candidate, for urban intellectuals to vote for one of their own, and for younger voters to vote for a new generation of leadership. Obama quite purposefully did not fill in many of the blanks, leaving to everyone’s imagination what he might do once in the White House. Indeed, he had made a career and an art out of being just beyond definition so that everyone could form a pleasing portrait of the candidate they were voting for.

Now there is an emptiness at the center of the presidency, an odd passivity. Decisiveness and specific policy proposals are missing, creating a sense that Obama is fulfilling the role of head of state but not that of head of government. Part of this is accentuated by his own aversion to projecting American strength and power on the world stage. So whom is he representing (a new multilateral world order?), and what are his aims? Getting along with competitors and shrinking from conflict seem to be high on his list.

Obama clearly wanted to become president, defying many who suggested he hadn’t the experience and would get run over by the Clintons. The latter, at least, proved to be untrue. Now that he is president, he plainly has a domestic-policy vision of America at odds with the views of many who voted for him. Does he have the force of will and the know-how to accomplish that reordering of government — before he loses much of his congressional majority? It’s not clear. And on the international stage, meekness and incompetence have ruled the day, suggesting he’s not in control of events.

Obama, who was omnipresent and larger than life, now seems to be a bystander in his own presidency. And the public is left pondering whether this was the candidate they voted for. Well, yes, but it’s now becoming apparent the price to be paid for voting to make themselves feel enlightened.

Glenn Reynolds writes:

I think Obama’s “charisma” was based on voter narcissism — people excited not just about electing a black President, but about themselves, voting for a black President. Now that’s over, and they’re stuck just with him, and emptied of their own narcissism there’s not much there to fill out the suit.

That’s fairly strong stuff. Plainly, Obama played to many voters’ needs — for whites to vote for a historic candidate, for urban intellectuals to vote for one of their own, and for younger voters to vote for a new generation of leadership. Obama quite purposefully did not fill in many of the blanks, leaving to everyone’s imagination what he might do once in the White House. Indeed, he had made a career and an art out of being just beyond definition so that everyone could form a pleasing portrait of the candidate they were voting for.

Now there is an emptiness at the center of the presidency, an odd passivity. Decisiveness and specific policy proposals are missing, creating a sense that Obama is fulfilling the role of head of state but not that of head of government. Part of this is accentuated by his own aversion to projecting American strength and power on the world stage. So whom is he representing (a new multilateral world order?), and what are his aims? Getting along with competitors and shrinking from conflict seem to be high on his list.

Obama clearly wanted to become president, defying many who suggested he hadn’t the experience and would get run over by the Clintons. The latter, at least, proved to be untrue. Now that he is president, he plainly has a domestic-policy vision of America at odds with the views of many who voted for him. Does he have the force of will and the know-how to accomplish that reordering of government — before he loses much of his congressional majority? It’s not clear. And on the international stage, meekness and incompetence have ruled the day, suggesting he’s not in control of events.

Obama, who was omnipresent and larger than life, now seems to be a bystander in his own presidency. And the public is left pondering whether this was the candidate they voted for. Well, yes, but it’s now becoming apparent the price to be paid for voting to make themselves feel enlightened.

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Obama’s India Blunder

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House next week, Obama and his administration would do well to employ their much-practiced skills at making nice. New Delhi rightly fears outside meddling after this week’s U.S.-China Joint Statement, which contained a sentence widely interpreted as an affront to India:

The two sides [China and the United States] welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.

The Joint Statement’s timing was particularly bad considering the recent India-China border dilemma. Both countries have reportedly increased troop presence near the blurry border, and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Indian territory that is still claimed by China did little to improve the relationship. China has emphasized that its “more pronounced” territorial issue is its border dispute with India. So New Delhi has good reason to be nervous about Chinese prying at Washington’s behest.

A spokesman from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly commented on the Joint Statement, stating that “a third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary” regarding India-Pakistan relations.

Already, both China and the United States are trying to downplay the significance of the Joint Statement reference.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied that a discussion took place between Obama and Chinese heads of state about U.S.-India nuclear cooperation, and its statement emphasized Beijing’s support of regional stability. The spokesperson added that China “values its friendly cooperation with” India and Pakistan and “hopes to see relations between the two continue … improve and grow.”

But India can hardly be blamed for frustration at the Obama administration’s mixed message. Yesterday, Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the United States welcomes China’s participation in stabilizing the India-Pakistan region. But he also added, “We have always said, in terms of Indo-Pakistan relations, that’s really up to India and Pakistan to decide how and when and the scope of that.” Also yesterday, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, declared that better relations with China do not necessarily come at the cost of India.

One can only hope that the ill-considered phrasing of the Joint Statement won’t hinder next week’s discussions. No doubt Obama will want Prime Minister Singh’s support on nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention climate change. That Singh is the first head of state to visit the Obama White House in itself highlights the importance of Indian cooperation. If the mix-up is merely linguistic, it can be overcome. But if the lack of clarity lies within Obama’s foreign policy itself, expect a rocky summit. Obama’s diplomacy and eloquence will be tested as he attempts to please both India and China.

When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House next week, Obama and his administration would do well to employ their much-practiced skills at making nice. New Delhi rightly fears outside meddling after this week’s U.S.-China Joint Statement, which contained a sentence widely interpreted as an affront to India:

The two sides [China and the United States] welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.

The Joint Statement’s timing was particularly bad considering the recent India-China border dilemma. Both countries have reportedly increased troop presence near the blurry border, and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Indian territory that is still claimed by China did little to improve the relationship. China has emphasized that its “more pronounced” territorial issue is its border dispute with India. So New Delhi has good reason to be nervous about Chinese prying at Washington’s behest.

A spokesman from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs quickly commented on the Joint Statement, stating that “a third country role cannot be envisaged nor is it necessary” regarding India-Pakistan relations.

Already, both China and the United States are trying to downplay the significance of the Joint Statement reference.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied that a discussion took place between Obama and Chinese heads of state about U.S.-India nuclear cooperation, and its statement emphasized Beijing’s support of regional stability. The spokesperson added that China “values its friendly cooperation with” India and Pakistan and “hopes to see relations between the two continue … improve and grow.”

But India can hardly be blamed for frustration at the Obama administration’s mixed message. Yesterday, Robert Blake, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said the United States welcomes China’s participation in stabilizing the India-Pakistan region. But he also added, “We have always said, in terms of Indo-Pakistan relations, that’s really up to India and Pakistan to decide how and when and the scope of that.” Also yesterday, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, declared that better relations with China do not necessarily come at the cost of India.

One can only hope that the ill-considered phrasing of the Joint Statement won’t hinder next week’s discussions. No doubt Obama will want Prime Minister Singh’s support on nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and security in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention climate change. That Singh is the first head of state to visit the Obama White House in itself highlights the importance of Indian cooperation. If the mix-up is merely linguistic, it can be overcome. But if the lack of clarity lies within Obama’s foreign policy itself, expect a rocky summit. Obama’s diplomacy and eloquence will be tested as he attempts to please both India and China.

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The President Who Grovels

Could someone in the Chief of Protocol’s Office at the State Department please tell Barack Obama that heads of state do not bow to other heads of state? And for the head of state of the country founded on the idea that “all men are created equal,” that goes double.

When Obama bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the White House denied it: “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said one aide. As a commentator on CNN said, “Ray Charles could see that he bowed.” (h/t PowerLine)

Now he has bowed, extravagantly, to Emperor Akihito of Japan. The Los Angeles Times called it a “wow bow” in its headline and asked “How low will he go?”

President Obama goes abroad apologizing for the supposed sins of a country that defended and extended freedom around the world at a staggering cost in lives and treasure and then grovels before the man whose country has yet to apologize for the Rape of Nanking.

As my mother used to say, “Pardon me while I throw up.”

Could someone in the Chief of Protocol’s Office at the State Department please tell Barack Obama that heads of state do not bow to other heads of state? And for the head of state of the country founded on the idea that “all men are created equal,” that goes double.

When Obama bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the White House denied it: “It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said one aide. As a commentator on CNN said, “Ray Charles could see that he bowed.” (h/t PowerLine)

Now he has bowed, extravagantly, to Emperor Akihito of Japan. The Los Angeles Times called it a “wow bow” in its headline and asked “How low will he go?”

President Obama goes abroad apologizing for the supposed sins of a country that defended and extended freedom around the world at a staggering cost in lives and treasure and then grovels before the man whose country has yet to apologize for the Rape of Nanking.

As my mother used to say, “Pardon me while I throw up.”

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A Verbal Beating

Nothing that happened during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia in any way changes the moral calculus involved in the question of whether the Iranian president should have been invited to speak at an American university: he should not have been, and the university’s decision to do so, and the reasons it gave for that decision, were dubious and hypocritical.

But the event itself defied expectations. We—those of us who are appalled at the thought of someone such as Ahmadinejad being given any respectful treatment in America—thought that Bollinger would put in a timid and even obsequious performance, while Ahmadinejad, who has rightfully earned a reputation as a master manipulator of his useful-idiot western interlocutors, was expected to deliver a rousing condemnation of the Bush administration, American foreign policy, and Israel.

But instead, Bollinger administered a verbal beating to Ahmadinejad the likes of which I cannot recall a head of state ever receiving—and Ahmadinejad, instead of hewing to his usual repertoire of propaganda, meandered through an almost totally incoherent pop-theology sermon that culminated in an awkward and ineffective attempt at dodging the audience’s questions. It was a dud, a performance of total sophomoric windbaggery. The exact opposite of what everyone expected to happen ended up taking place.

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Nothing that happened during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at Columbia in any way changes the moral calculus involved in the question of whether the Iranian president should have been invited to speak at an American university: he should not have been, and the university’s decision to do so, and the reasons it gave for that decision, were dubious and hypocritical.

But the event itself defied expectations. We—those of us who are appalled at the thought of someone such as Ahmadinejad being given any respectful treatment in America—thought that Bollinger would put in a timid and even obsequious performance, while Ahmadinejad, who has rightfully earned a reputation as a master manipulator of his useful-idiot western interlocutors, was expected to deliver a rousing condemnation of the Bush administration, American foreign policy, and Israel.

But instead, Bollinger administered a verbal beating to Ahmadinejad the likes of which I cannot recall a head of state ever receiving—and Ahmadinejad, instead of hewing to his usual repertoire of propaganda, meandered through an almost totally incoherent pop-theology sermon that culminated in an awkward and ineffective attempt at dodging the audience’s questions. It was a dud, a performance of total sophomoric windbaggery. The exact opposite of what everyone expected to happen ended up taking place.

Bollinger’s performance was particularly satisfying precisely because the person on the receiving end of his condemnation was the Iranian president, a political leader who represents a revolutionary Islamic government that has enshrined as a fundamental premise the conviction that America, along with being the great source of evil in the world, is a brittle facade of a superpower, and is thus worthy only of derision. The ideology of the Iranian Revolution holds America in contempt—an intense contempt that systematically has been vindicated, in the eyes of the Iranian leadership, by America’s three-decades-long refusal to punish Iran for its many killings and provocations (in the words of Martin Kramer, “The contempt arises from the fact that the United States has radiated irresolution and weakness in the face of challenges put up by Middle Eastern assailants”).

Ahmadinejad, more than any other jihadist leader (including Osama bin Laden himself), has come to exemplify this swaggering contemptuousness. This is why, I think, it was so spectacular and unexpected to see an American academic—a person who by all estimates is a standard-bearer of the modern academy’s worst tendencies toward relativism, appeasement, and dialogue-worship—stun Ahmadinejad with such vigorously disrespectful words. Bollinger did something inadvertently brilliant by doing this: he turned the tables on Ahmadinejad; suddenly it was an American spokesman expressing blunt contempt for Iran, and directly to the president’s face no less. Ahmadinejad surely was taken aback by this treatment, and he perhaps even emerged from the auditorium at Columbia with a tinge of doubt as to the barrenness of America’s wellsprings of self-confidence.

Will Bollinger’s words have any lasting effect on the confrontation between America and Iran? I doubt it. But perhaps he deserves applause for salvaging the Ahmadinejad invitation from the shameful farce that it seemed destined to be. And if video of Bollinger’s words ends up circulating widely inside Iran, providing much-needed succor to the Iranian people and undermining the regime’s credibility, then so much the better.

 


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The Clearstream Affair

Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, had some unusual visitors this week. Judges and police searched his Parisian apartment as part of their investigation into what is proving to be the biggest of the many political scandals of the Chirac era: the Clearstream affair.

According to Charles Bremner, writing today in the London Times, the investigating magistrates are close to bringing criminal charges against de Villepin. He is accused of conspiring with former President Jacques Chirac to smear Nicolas Sarkozy (then minister of the interior), thereby dashing the latter’s presidential hopes and clearing the way for de Villepin to succeed his patron, Jacques Chirac. Evidence has come to light of forged bank records purporting to prove that Sarkozy had accepted bribes in order to facilitate the sale of warships to Taiwan.

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Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, had some unusual visitors this week. Judges and police searched his Parisian apartment as part of their investigation into what is proving to be the biggest of the many political scandals of the Chirac era: the Clearstream affair.

According to Charles Bremner, writing today in the London Times, the investigating magistrates are close to bringing criminal charges against de Villepin. He is accused of conspiring with former President Jacques Chirac to smear Nicolas Sarkozy (then minister of the interior), thereby dashing the latter’s presidential hopes and clearing the way for de Villepin to succeed his patron, Jacques Chirac. Evidence has come to light of forged bank records purporting to prove that Sarkozy had accepted bribes in order to facilitate the sale of warships to Taiwan.

The trail leads back via the computer files of a senior intelligence officer, General Philippe Rondot, to two conversations in May 2004 between de Villepin and a defense contractor, Jean-Louis Gregorin, who has already been charged with conspiracy. Apparently Gregorin told the general that he had “received instructions from Dominique de Villepin.” On another occasion, de Villepin “was apparently jubilant but also concerned not to have his name appear in the affair.” These notes look very much like the smoking gun that police were looking for.

They may yet catch an even bigger fish. Two weeks ago Chirac rejected a judicial summons to be interrogated about the Clearstream affair, on the grounds that he enjoys presidential immunity. But that defense may not be enough to protect him if it becomes clear that he, too, knew of and approved the plot to destroy Sarkozy’s reputation. There is no recent example of a French head of state being involved in such a serious criminal conspiracy—we have to go back to Marshal Pétain.

The leader of the Vichy regime was tried and convicted for his collaboration with the Nazis, though his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by his successor, Charles de Gaulle. It is a piquant thought that President Sarkozy, the intended victim of the Clearstream affair, might one day find himself in a similar position of having to decide whether to show mercy toward his disgraced predecessor and rival. “Sarko” is unlikely to do anything to impede the inquiry, though: he simply needs to let justice take its course.

Besides the justice dispensed by the courts, there is also poetic justice in this belated comeuppance. The Chirac-Villepin duo did more damage to France’s standing in the world than even François Mitterrand and Valery Giscard d’Estaing, by offering political and financial aid to dictators and terrorists. So it is only right that the wheels of justice (having ground exceedingly slowly while they were in power) should now have overtaken them: it looks very much as if the nemesis of Chirac and de Villepin, who did so much to undermine the rule of law, will take a legal form. They truly have been hoist by their own petard.

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Tutoiement Partout

Tu or vous? Du or Sie? In English, the second person singular has long since ceased to be a source of political controversy—though in the days when Quakers insisted on calling their social superiors “Thee” and “Thou,” it mattered very much. In French and German, it still matters.

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows in Berlin last week on his first official visit by presuming to tutoie Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor: “Chère Angela . . . J’ai confiance en toi.” (Dear Angela . . . I have confidence in you.) Frau Merkel, who addressed him as “Lieber Nicolas” (Dear Nicolas), responded with the formal Sie, at least in public. The French press noted the disparity and gently mocked Mr. Sarkozy—though not nearly as harshly as they did Tony Blair. Blair once dared to tutoie Jacques Chirac, who liked to stand on his dignity as a head of state, deserving deference from mere heads of government. The British prime minister was firmly put in his place. What sounded to British ears like Mr. Chirac’s pomposity was, however, approved of by the French. His Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand was once asked if he would mind if he were addressed as tu: “Si vous voulez” was his reply.

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Tu or vous? Du or Sie? In English, the second person singular has long since ceased to be a source of political controversy—though in the days when Quakers insisted on calling their social superiors “Thee” and “Thou,” it mattered very much. In French and German, it still matters.

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows in Berlin last week on his first official visit by presuming to tutoie Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor: “Chère Angela . . . J’ai confiance en toi.” (Dear Angela . . . I have confidence in you.) Frau Merkel, who addressed him as “Lieber Nicolas” (Dear Nicolas), responded with the formal Sie, at least in public. The French press noted the disparity and gently mocked Mr. Sarkozy—though not nearly as harshly as they did Tony Blair. Blair once dared to tutoie Jacques Chirac, who liked to stand on his dignity as a head of state, deserving deference from mere heads of government. The British prime minister was firmly put in his place. What sounded to British ears like Mr. Chirac’s pomposity was, however, approved of by the French. His Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand was once asked if he would mind if he were addressed as tu: “Si vous voulez” was his reply.

But the proper use of tu and vous is complex. After the French Revolution, the distinction was abolished in the interests of egalité et fraternité. In 1793, the Directory even banned vous altogether. It did not take long, however, for the formal mode of address to make a comeback. In the sixth edition of the great dictionary of the Académie Française, published in 1835, the article on tu is quite explicit: “One does not normally use these pronouns . . . except when speaking to very inferior persons, or to those with whom one is on terms of very great familiarity.” The lexicographer notes various exceptions, including the poetic use of tu when addressing kings, princes, and even God. Foreigners, “particularly Orientals,” were sometimes made to use tu in literary texts “in order to preserve their alien character.” In all other contexts, vous is mandatory.

Now Mr. Sarkozy has decreed that French schools must insist on students saying vous to their teachers. Les profs are strongly advised to pay their older pupils the same compliment. This order represents a minor cultural counter-revolution, in line with the new president’s promise to “liquidate the legacy of May 1968, with its abandonment of moral codes.” But according to an excellent report by Charles Bremner in the London Times, the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro sees the “rampant tutoiement” as “spreading from the business world imitating the Anglo-Saxons and now invading private life.”

This is a bit rich: how often do you hear Americans or Britons say “thee” or “thou” to one another—unless they are performing Shakespeare? The truth is that the informal second person singular in English went out with the Victorians, except in poetry (and was considered old-fashioned even then). Blame for the triumph of tutoiement simply cannot be assigned to the Anglosphere. But you can’t keep the French from blaming everything they don’t like about themselves on “les Anglo-Saxons.”

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Why Chirac Won’t Need a Pardon

I see that commentators I respect, such as Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol, are calling for President Bush to pardon Scooter Libby. They make a very persuasive case, but I would be surprised if a presidential pardon is forthcoming—not, at any rate, until the legal process has run its full course. In an Anglo-Saxon democracy under the rule of law, it is always potentially damaging for a head of state to grant pardons, especially to friends, associates, or those who have served under him. Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.

In practice, this means that pardons are high-risk politics. The pardoning of Richard Nixon, however justifiable, severely damaged Gerald Ford politically. If Tony Blair were to be indicted for the “cash for honors” affair, he would have to resign; if he were convicted, he could expect no pardon. Even if the Queen were minded to grant him one, it would be political suicide for Blair’s successor to ask her for it.

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I see that commentators I respect, such as Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol, are calling for President Bush to pardon Scooter Libby. They make a very persuasive case, but I would be surprised if a presidential pardon is forthcoming—not, at any rate, until the legal process has run its full course. In an Anglo-Saxon democracy under the rule of law, it is always potentially damaging for a head of state to grant pardons, especially to friends, associates, or those who have served under him. Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.

In practice, this means that pardons are high-risk politics. The pardoning of Richard Nixon, however justifiable, severely damaged Gerald Ford politically. If Tony Blair were to be indicted for the “cash for honors” affair, he would have to resign; if he were convicted, he could expect no pardon. Even if the Queen were minded to grant him one, it would be political suicide for Blair’s successor to ask her for it.

In France, however, they do things differently. Compare the Libby case to that of Jacques Chirac. While in office, Mr. Chirac enjoys full presidential immunity. By announcing on Sunday that he would not seek re-election for a third term, the French president has, in theory, laid himself open to prosecution after he steps down in May. There may then be a brief window of opportunity during which the authorities could bring a case against the former president for any one of the dozens of corruption scandals that have tarnished his career ever since he was mayor of Paris in the 1980′s and 1990′s.

Chirac’s former prime minister, Alain Juppé, is only the most senior of several aides to have been convicted on serious charges. Last month Michel Roussin, Chirac’s chief of staff while he was mayor, had his appeal against a four-year suspended prison sentence quashed. Roussin, whom Chirac later promoted to minister, was convicted of running a six-year scam whereby politicians received kickbacks from public-school service contracts. The corruption that flourished under Chirac’s nose was on a huge scale, ranging from vote-rigging to putting hundreds of party cronies on the public payroll. There is plenty of evidence that Chirac enriched himself and his family, too, though he has always insisted that he was entitled to help himself to various slush funds.

None of these city-hall scandals, despite being public knowledge throughout his presidency, has deterred Chirac from provoking fresh accusations, notably over his connections with the regime of Saddam Hussein. And only last year he was implicated in the Clearstream affair, an attempt to smear his rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

It is true, however, that Mr. Chirac’s corruption scandals pale in comparison to those of his two immediate predecessors. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing notoriously accepted gifts of diamonds from the Central African Republic’s military dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, while François Mitterrand not only protected his cronies, like Maurice Papon, from their Vichy pasts, but was implicated in several murky deaths, including the dubious suicide of François de Grossouvre. Neither Giscard nor Mitterrand was ever brought to account.

Even so, it is interesting that Jacques Chirac feels confident that no charges against him will be brought once he leaves office. Could it have something to do with the fact that he recently appointed Laurent Le Mesle, his personal legal adviser, to the post of chief prosecutor in Paris? Presumably the president expects that Le Mesle can be relied upon to protect his patron. All the chief prosecutor has to do is to sit tight for one month after Mr. Chirac leaves the Elysée Palace in May. If this impending bill, aimed at writing into law the de facto immunity sitting French presidents enjoy, passes, any charges relating to crimes committed while Chirac was president would have to be brought against him by June, after which he will be immune from prosecution. No pardon, no embarrassment. The French political elite certainly knows how to look after its own. L’état, c’est moi—et la justice aussi.

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Does Israel Need a President?

Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t need the one it has now. Whether because his term of office runs out next July or because, before that, he will be impeached by the Knesset for criminal sexual conduct, Moshe Katzav will not be around much longer. Campaigning has already begun for the Knesset’s election of a new president, who will probably be either the main candidate of the Center and Left, Shimon Peres, or the main candidate of the Right, Likud politician and former speaker of the Knesset Ruvi Rivlin, but it is not clear that the country needs either of them, either.

It’s not that their qualifications are unimpressive. Peres can boast the longest losing streak of any major politician in the world—he has been defeated in something like six consecutive national and party elections since he was last prime minister in 1986, including a failed bid against Katzav for the presidency—and definitely deserves to be elected to something. Rivlin is a friendly man with no criminal record and would never consider raping a secretary. Either man, it is generally conceded, would make a fine president.

But does Israel need a president at all? In favor of continuing the office—the quality of whose occupants has gone steadily downhill from the days of the first of them, the great Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann—are two arguments: 1) someone is needed to accept the credentials of foreign diplomats, to present government awards, and to give speeches at ceremonial functions when no one else is available; and 2) it is comforting to have a head of state who is above the political fray, even if the fray decides everything and the head of state nothing.

Against it, on the other hand, is one argument alone, but a strong one: it is an expensive institution to maintain, what with the president’s salary, budget, expense account, pension, assistants, aides, drivers, junkets, Jerusalem mansion, and now, in addition, private jail cell.

Does Israel need a president? Does England need a king?

Maybe. But it certainly doesn’t need the one it has now. Whether because his term of office runs out next July or because, before that, he will be impeached by the Knesset for criminal sexual conduct, Moshe Katzav will not be around much longer. Campaigning has already begun for the Knesset’s election of a new president, who will probably be either the main candidate of the Center and Left, Shimon Peres, or the main candidate of the Right, Likud politician and former speaker of the Knesset Ruvi Rivlin, but it is not clear that the country needs either of them, either.

It’s not that their qualifications are unimpressive. Peres can boast the longest losing streak of any major politician in the world—he has been defeated in something like six consecutive national and party elections since he was last prime minister in 1986, including a failed bid against Katzav for the presidency—and definitely deserves to be elected to something. Rivlin is a friendly man with no criminal record and would never consider raping a secretary. Either man, it is generally conceded, would make a fine president.

But does Israel need a president at all? In favor of continuing the office—the quality of whose occupants has gone steadily downhill from the days of the first of them, the great Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann—are two arguments: 1) someone is needed to accept the credentials of foreign diplomats, to present government awards, and to give speeches at ceremonial functions when no one else is available; and 2) it is comforting to have a head of state who is above the political fray, even if the fray decides everything and the head of state nothing.

Against it, on the other hand, is one argument alone, but a strong one: it is an expensive institution to maintain, what with the president’s salary, budget, expense account, pension, assistants, aides, drivers, junkets, Jerusalem mansion, and now, in addition, private jail cell.

Does Israel need a president? Does England need a king?

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