Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hosni Mubarak

The Slap Heard Round the World

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has.

The danger is that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, hijacks the revolution. The goal of U.S policy must therefore be to influence this revolution, to the degree we can, in a way that advances U.S. interests and American ideals. This means taking an active role, both publicly and behind the scenes, in support of those who stand for liberal democracy (for more, see here).

The hour has grown quite late. As Max Boot points out, the equivocation of the Obama administration needs to end. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading Egyptian dissident who appears to be rapidly gaining power, is right when he said the United States is “losing credibility by the day” by its support for the Egyptian dictator. Mr. Mubarak is, politically speaking, a Dead Man Walking. There is still time, but not much time, for the president to get on the right side of this revolution and the right side of history. Secretary of State Clinton’s comments yesterday, in which she called for an “orderly transition” to a representative government, were certainly an improvement from where the administration was last week, when she was assuring the world of the staying power of Mr. Mubarak and Vice President Biden was declaring, against three decades of evidence, that the Egyptian president was not a dictator.

Having worked in three administrations and in the White House during a series of crises, I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to navigate through roiling waters, when one has to act on incomplete information in the midst of chaotic and constantly changing events, the outcome of which is impossible to know. In that respect, the Obama administration deserves some empathy. It’s never as easy to guide events when you’re in government as it is to critique events when you’re outside of government.

Still, as my former colleague William Inboden has written, it seems to me that the Obama administration can be held responsible for two important errors: (a) its failure to anticipate what is happening in Egypt and prepare contingency plans. and (b) its neglect of human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Egypt for the previous two years. “These failures should be front and center in any post-mortem policy review,” Professor Inboden writes. “The Mubarak regime’s brittleness and Egypt’s stagnation have long been apparent to many observers.” But not, apparently, to the Obama administration, which seems to have been caught completely off guard. If the spark that set the region afire was impossible to anticipate, the dry tinder of the region was not.

One Arab nation that so far hasn’t been convulsed by the political revolution now sweeping the Middle East is Iraq — the one Arab nation whose government is legitimate, the produce of free elections and political compromise, and that has the consent of the people. When it came to Iraqi democracy, most of the foreign-policy establishment assured us that self-government there could never take root, that Iraq would simply be a pawn of Iran, that the ethnic divisions in Iraq were too deep to overcome, and that (as Joe Biden argued at the time) the only solution was partition. At this stage, it’s reasonable to conclude that these judgments were quite wrong. And while one can certainly debate whether the Iraq war was worth the blood, treasure, and opportunities it cost, it appears as if the Egyptian people, and not only the Egyptian people, are longing for what the people of Iraq have embraced: self-government. It isn’t perfect by any means — but for the Arab Middle East, it is a model for other nations to aspire.

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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It’s Not Now, Nor Has It Ever Been, About Israel

In the New York Post today, I argue that the Egyptian street revolution will bring to an end the decades-long argument that the causes of instability in the Middle East have their root in the relations between Israel and the Arabs:

If there were a Palestinian state today, and Israel had been crammed back into its pre-1967 borders, would this week’s street revolt in Cairo look any different?

If there were a Palestinian embassy in Washington today, would Hosni Mubarak have been any more mindful of the eventual consequences of his iron-fisted fecklessness in refusing a transition to a more representative Egypt because there was an ambassador from Palestine in Washington?

No one has ever been able to offer a convincing explanation for what role the anti-Zionist struggle, emotionally stirring though it may be, might play when it comes to, say, the price of bread in Tunis, the unemployment rate in Cairo or the prospects for economic growth in Yemen.

You can find the piece here.

In the New York Post today, I argue that the Egyptian street revolution will bring to an end the decades-long argument that the causes of instability in the Middle East have their root in the relations between Israel and the Arabs:

If there were a Palestinian state today, and Israel had been crammed back into its pre-1967 borders, would this week’s street revolt in Cairo look any different?

If there were a Palestinian embassy in Washington today, would Hosni Mubarak have been any more mindful of the eventual consequences of his iron-fisted fecklessness in refusing a transition to a more representative Egypt because there was an ambassador from Palestine in Washington?

No one has ever been able to offer a convincing explanation for what role the anti-Zionist struggle, emotionally stirring though it may be, might play when it comes to, say, the price of bread in Tunis, the unemployment rate in Cairo or the prospects for economic growth in Yemen.

You can find the piece here.

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Obama Must Act Now on Egypt

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator. Read More

The president of the United States makes $400,000 a year. He has government-provided housing, a personal chef, his own helicopter and airplane, not to mention the best personal protection in the universe. It is at times like this that he really earns all those nice perks. There is no task more difficult than managing a revolution in progress. Jimmy Carter got it wrong in Nicaragua, and Iran and went down as a failure. Ronald Reagan got it right in the Philippines and South Korea, which contributed to the overall success of his presidency.

So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that Obama is earning his salary with his response to the revolution in Egypt. On Friday, he delivered an ultra-cautious statement, telling the “Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters” and saying that “the people of Egypt have rights,” including “the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny.” But he stopped well short of telling Hosni Mubarak, who is clearly on his last legs, that it was time for him to go — a message that Ronald Reagan memorably delivered via his friend Senator Paul Laxalt to Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

The New York Times explains Obama’s reticence by citing a “senior administration official” who said that “Mr. Obama warned that any overt effort by the United States to insert itself into easing Mr. Mubarak out, or easing a successor in, could backfire. ‘He said several times that the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events.’”

Problem is, taking no stand isn’t an option for the United States in this situation. For decades, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, and Mubarak has been one of our closest allies in the Middle East. Egyptian officers have been educated in the United States, its forces are equipped with American weapons, and they regularly conduct exercises with American troops. We have a large say, whether we want it or not. If Obama stays silent about Mubarak’s future, that will be interpreted within Egypt as American support for an increasingly discredited dictator.

The Working Group on Egypt, co-chaired by Bob Kagan and Michele Dunn at Brookings, suggests a more muscular response. They urge Obama to “call for free and fair elections for president and for parliament to be held as soon as possible” and for the government to “immediately lift the state of emergency” and “publicly declare that Mr. Mubarak will agree not to run for re-election.” And just to drive the point home: “We further recommend that the Obama administration suspend all economic and military assistance to Egypt until the government accepts and implements these measures.”

That’s more like it. The one recommendation I am not sold on is immediate elections (though, admittedly, there’s wiggle room in the phrase “as soon as possible”). As we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, elections that occur in an atmosphere of instability can exacerbate that instability. This is an especially tricky moment in Egypt because Mubarak has ruthlessly repressed the secular opposition. The only large nongovernmental organization in the country is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamists would thus have an advantage in any immediate election, which could allow them to win, as Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006, even though they have not been at the forefront of recent protests and most Egyptians would no doubt recoil from the imposition of an Iranian-style theocracy. (Whether the Brotherhood would in fact try to impose such a regime is unknown. Unfortunately, the only way to find out would be to let them take over.)

A safer alternative, to my mind, would be to call for Mubarak to step down immediately and hand over power to a transition government led by Mohammed ElBaradai, the secular technocrat who has recently returned to Egypt to become the most high-profile opposition leader. As is now happening in Tunisia, he could work with military support to prepare the way for elections in a suitable period of time — say in six months or a year.

But I think the Working Group is right to grasp that standing pat isn’t really an option anymore. In this case, the best advice was offered by a conservative Sicilian aristocrat, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, in his great novel The Leopard (1958), where he wrote that “everything must change so that everything can stay the same.”

In other words, if the U.S. is to have any hope of salvaging our alliance with Egypt, we need to embrace the change wanted by its people — not try to cling blindly to a past represented by Mubarak and his mini-me, the intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has just been appointed vice president and putative successor.

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Are We All Neocons Now?

Ministers being forced to resign. The army in the streets. Bloody clashes in major cities. The ruling party headquarters in ashes.

Events in Egypt have moved beyond the demonstration stage. This is a revolution in progress. Whether it is a successful revolution or not remains to be seen. From 1848 to 1989, there have been no end of uprisings that have been successfully repressed. Hosni Mubarak may still succeed in hanging on to power, although that’s looking less likely with every passing hour of street clashes.

But whatever happens, one thing is already clear: as Pete Wehner has already noted, President Bush was right in pushing his “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.

When he pushed for democratic change in the region, legions of know-it-all skeptics — including Barack Obama — scoffed. What business was it of America to comment on, much less try to change, other countries’ internal affairs? Why meddle with reliable allies? Wasn’t it the height of neocon folly to imagine a more democratic future for places like Iraq or Egypt?

Turns out that Bush knew a thing or two. He may not have been all that sophisticated by some standards, but like Ronald Reagan, he grasped basic truths that eluded the intellectuals. Reagan, recall, earned endless scorn for suggesting that the “evil empire” might soon be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” But he understood that basic human desires for freedom could not be repressed forever. Bush understood precisely the same thing, and like Reagan he also realized that the U.S. had to get on the right side of history by championing freedom rather than by cutting disreputable deals with dictators.

Too bad he didn’t have more success in pushing the “freedom agenda.” If he had — if, for example, he had been willing to hold back American aid to force Egypt to make liberal reforms — the U.S. might possibly have averted the explosion currently seen on the streets of Egypt by engineering a more orderly transition to democracy. But in his second term, humbled by setbacks in Iraq, Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, charted a different course. They did little or nothing while Mubarak locked up liberal dissident Ayman Nour. Instead, they concentrated their energies on the vaunted Middle East peace process, which ended in a predictable failure.

Obama has essentially continued this policy, which he — and legions of like-minded thinkers — sees as the height of “realism.” But what’s so realistic about endorsing a sclerotic status quo? The answer is being delivered in the streets of Egypt. So having already endorsed the essentials of the Bush war on terror, Obama is now belatedly embracing the freedom agenda too. Does that mean we’re all neocons now?

Ministers being forced to resign. The army in the streets. Bloody clashes in major cities. The ruling party headquarters in ashes.

Events in Egypt have moved beyond the demonstration stage. This is a revolution in progress. Whether it is a successful revolution or not remains to be seen. From 1848 to 1989, there have been no end of uprisings that have been successfully repressed. Hosni Mubarak may still succeed in hanging on to power, although that’s looking less likely with every passing hour of street clashes.

But whatever happens, one thing is already clear: as Pete Wehner has already noted, President Bush was right in pushing his “freedom agenda” for the Middle East.

When he pushed for democratic change in the region, legions of know-it-all skeptics — including Barack Obama — scoffed. What business was it of America to comment on, much less try to change, other countries’ internal affairs? Why meddle with reliable allies? Wasn’t it the height of neocon folly to imagine a more democratic future for places like Iraq or Egypt?

Turns out that Bush knew a thing or two. He may not have been all that sophisticated by some standards, but like Ronald Reagan, he grasped basic truths that eluded the intellectuals. Reagan, recall, earned endless scorn for suggesting that the “evil empire” might soon be consigned to the “ash heap of history.” But he understood that basic human desires for freedom could not be repressed forever. Bush understood precisely the same thing, and like Reagan he also realized that the U.S. had to get on the right side of history by championing freedom rather than by cutting disreputable deals with dictators.

Too bad he didn’t have more success in pushing the “freedom agenda.” If he had — if, for example, he had been willing to hold back American aid to force Egypt to make liberal reforms — the U.S. might possibly have averted the explosion currently seen on the streets of Egypt by engineering a more orderly transition to democracy. But in his second term, humbled by setbacks in Iraq, Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, charted a different course. They did little or nothing while Mubarak locked up liberal dissident Ayman Nour. Instead, they concentrated their energies on the vaunted Middle East peace process, which ended in a predictable failure.

Obama has essentially continued this policy, which he — and legions of like-minded thinkers — sees as the height of “realism.” But what’s so realistic about endorsing a sclerotic status quo? The answer is being delivered in the streets of Egypt. So having already endorsed the essentials of the Bush war on terror, Obama is now belatedly embracing the freedom agenda too. Does that mean we’re all neocons now?

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Obama Talks to Mubarak

The president just said he told Hosni Mubarak he needed to move toward reforms and address grievances. One might say that it was the most prudent possible statement, as it neither seemed to be an effort to force change nor anything that could be read as an effort to stand in the way of change. Prudence in the midst of a complex foreign crisis is always desirable, but in no way does one have the sense that this administration has the foggiest idea what it should do. This is the cost of lacking an overarching sense of the world’s ideological structure apart from the notion that the ability to form new relationships with problematic nations resides in the president’s own DNA and upbringing.

Oh, and there’s reason to doubt the president’s claim that he has been pushing Mubarak toward reform. Wasn’t the animating principle of his foreign policy in the early going that the United States should not play so paternalistic and intrusive a role?

The president just said he told Hosni Mubarak he needed to move toward reforms and address grievances. One might say that it was the most prudent possible statement, as it neither seemed to be an effort to force change nor anything that could be read as an effort to stand in the way of change. Prudence in the midst of a complex foreign crisis is always desirable, but in no way does one have the sense that this administration has the foggiest idea what it should do. This is the cost of lacking an overarching sense of the world’s ideological structure apart from the notion that the ability to form new relationships with problematic nations resides in the president’s own DNA and upbringing.

Oh, and there’s reason to doubt the president’s claim that he has been pushing Mubarak toward reform. Wasn’t the animating principle of his foreign policy in the early going that the United States should not play so paternalistic and intrusive a role?

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Smart-Power Whiplash

During her Senate confirmation hearing in January of 2009, Hillary Clinton described smart power — her preferred approach to American foreign policy — as “picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.” Two years later, we’re finally getting a sense of what this means. Recent events and statements have been clarifying.

When the situation is a conference on democracy, the right tool is a pro-democracy statement. Thus Clinton said to the attendees at this year’s Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. . . . The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

But when the situation is an actual and potentially democratic Arab revolt, the right tool is fence-sitting. When Clinton was asked for her thoughts on the popular uprising against the corrupt regime in Tunisia, she said, “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.”

When the situation is the announcement of planned elections after said uprising, the right tool is, once again, a pro-democracy statement. Today, after Clinton spoke with Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane and interim Tunisian leader Mohammed Ghannouchi, she told the press, “I’m encouraged by the direction that they are setting towards inclusive elections that will be held as soon as practicable.”

But when the situation is once again a potentially democratic Arab uprising, the right tool is urging restraint and giving cover to the repressive Arab regime being opposed. Today thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest the Mubarak government, and Reuters reports the following: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people’s aspirations.”

For those playing along at home, that’s defending democracy and Hosni Mubarak in the same day. Imagine how difficult it would be to practice smart power if you actually believed in something.

During her Senate confirmation hearing in January of 2009, Hillary Clinton described smart power — her preferred approach to American foreign policy — as “picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation.” Two years later, we’re finally getting a sense of what this means. Recent events and statements have been clarifying.

When the situation is a conference on democracy, the right tool is a pro-democracy statement. Thus Clinton said to the attendees at this year’s Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, “While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order. . . . The region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

But when the situation is an actual and potentially democratic Arab revolt, the right tool is fence-sitting. When Clinton was asked for her thoughts on the popular uprising against the corrupt regime in Tunisia, she said, “We are not taking sides in it, we just hope there can be a peaceful resolution of it.”

When the situation is the announcement of planned elections after said uprising, the right tool is, once again, a pro-democracy statement. Today, after Clinton spoke with Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane and interim Tunisian leader Mohammed Ghannouchi, she told the press, “I’m encouraged by the direction that they are setting towards inclusive elections that will be held as soon as practicable.”

But when the situation is once again a potentially democratic Arab uprising, the right tool is urging restraint and giving cover to the repressive Arab regime being opposed. Today thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to protest the Mubarak government, and Reuters reports the following: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday urged all sides in Egypt to exercise restraint following street protests and said she believed the Egyptian government was stable and looking for ways to respond to its people’s aspirations.”

For those playing along at home, that’s defending democracy and Hosni Mubarak in the same day. Imagine how difficult it would be to practice smart power if you actually believed in something.

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Morning Commentary

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

Are Republicans coming around on New START? Eight GOP members voted to open debate on the treaty in the Senate last night, which some see as a “proxy” for the final vote. New START needs nine Republican supporters in the Senate to pass.

As repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell passes the House for a second time, it picks up another Republican supporter in the Senate: “‘After careful analysis of the comprehensive report compiled by the Department of Defense and thorough consideration of the testimony provided by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the service chiefs, I support repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law,’ [Sen. Olympia] Snowe said in a statement.”

Well, this pretty much ensures that the next Organization of the Islamic Conferences summit is going to be sufficiently awkward: “Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak compared Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East to a ‘cancer,’ according to a cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. ‘President Mubarak has made it clear that he sees Iran as Egypt’s — and the region’s — primary strategic threat,’ says the secret cable, sent April 28, 2009, from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

Two writers and recent Columbia graduates discuss in the New Republic the problematic politics of the university’s controversial new Center for Palestine Studies: “Of course, there is nothing wrong with gathering a broad-based community of scholars behind a new academic initiative. Columbia and American academia need a venue for the interdisciplinary study of Palestine. But, unaccompanied by a dedication to real expertise, the CPS will be little more than a clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel. In its current form, it’s likely that the first Palestine Center at an American university will lead the way not in ‘a new era of civility,’ but, rather, in politicizing Middle East studies further than ever before.”

The Guardian is predictably outraged that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was given to, apparently, a neocon: “[Liu Xiaobo] has endorsed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. … Liu argues that ‘The free world led by the US fought almost all regimes that trampled on human rights [and the] major wars that the US became involved in are all ethically defensible.’… Liu has also one-sidedly praised Israel’s stance in the Middle East conflict. He places the blame for the Israel/Palestine conflict on Palestinians, who he regards as ‘often the provocateurs.’”

Ross Douthat responds to Mitt Romney supporters who excuse the politician’s “serial insincerity”: “I believe that Mitt Romney is a more serious person, and would probably be a better president, than his campaign style suggests. But issue by issue, policy by policy, that same campaign style makes it awfully hard to figure out where he would actually stand when the pandering stops and the governing begins … because everything he does feels like a pander, I don’t know where he really stands on any of them. And freak show or no freak show, base or no base, that’s no way to run for president.”

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Just a Reminder: Iranian Nukes Mean Egyptian Nukes, African and Middle East Instability

Courtesy of WikiLeaks, something to chew on as the latest Iran talks collapse and, per J.E. Dyer’s prediction, we prepare to let Tehran drag the process into 2011. Egypt — perennially a bullet and a disgruntled general away from being the most dangerous country in the region — is not going to cope well with Iranian nuclearization:

President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials that Egypt might develop nuclear arms if Iran obtained atomic weapons, cables made public by Wikileaks showed. A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a “stubborn and recalcitrant ally” in a February 2009 cable. … A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak, whose country does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, telling a group of U.S. officials that “we are all terrified” about a possible nuclear Iran.

Now, of course, the reason weapons are pursued doesn’t really determine how they eventually get used. That’s where arms races really get fun.

Egypt could very well point to Iran as a pretext for going nuclear, and realists could very well insist that parity between Shiite, Sunni, and Jewish rivals enhances regional stability. It’s questionable whether that stays true in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and a nervous Israeli air force — or even during an inevitably troubled Mubarak succession, to be conducted against the backdrop of an uneasy cold peace — but at least there’s a theory as to why Egyptian nuclearization might not throw the region into chaos. And who knows: maybe the transition to Gamal Mubarak will be smooth. It could happen.

But none of that accounts for how Egypt will throw its newfound nuclear weight around regionally. There’s little doubt that Cairo would take to bullying neighbors over how the Nile is divvied up, for instance. Regional hegemons will be regional hegemons, after all, and the Egyptians really want that water. The way weaker states might respond, up to and including asymmetrical warfare, doesn’t bode particularly well for peace.

And none of it accounts for what will be happening to already persecuted Jews and Christians inside Egypt. Muslim radicals will run roughshod over religious minorities, correctly guessing that no one will pressure the fragile Egyptian regime to stop them. The fragile Egyptian regime will in turn conclude that it’s better to have wannabe jihadists beating up on religious minorities than on the government. Christians are already getting burned alive in the streets, and the Obama White House has already been loath to lean on Mubarak over it. Wait until Cairo gets nukes and every iota of pressure elicits a “Well, would you prefer the Muslim Brotherhood” response.

No worries, though. Egypt might get a few nukes, but they’re never going to complete their nuclear triad and secure a second-strike capability. Know why? Zionist sharks.

Courtesy of WikiLeaks, something to chew on as the latest Iran talks collapse and, per J.E. Dyer’s prediction, we prepare to let Tehran drag the process into 2011. Egypt — perennially a bullet and a disgruntled general away from being the most dangerous country in the region — is not going to cope well with Iranian nuclearization:

President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials that Egypt might develop nuclear arms if Iran obtained atomic weapons, cables made public by Wikileaks showed. A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a “stubborn and recalcitrant ally” in a February 2009 cable. … A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak, whose country does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, telling a group of U.S. officials that “we are all terrified” about a possible nuclear Iran.

Now, of course, the reason weapons are pursued doesn’t really determine how they eventually get used. That’s where arms races really get fun.

Egypt could very well point to Iran as a pretext for going nuclear, and realists could very well insist that parity between Shiite, Sunni, and Jewish rivals enhances regional stability. It’s questionable whether that stays true in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and a nervous Israeli air force — or even during an inevitably troubled Mubarak succession, to be conducted against the backdrop of an uneasy cold peace — but at least there’s a theory as to why Egyptian nuclearization might not throw the region into chaos. And who knows: maybe the transition to Gamal Mubarak will be smooth. It could happen.

But none of that accounts for how Egypt will throw its newfound nuclear weight around regionally. There’s little doubt that Cairo would take to bullying neighbors over how the Nile is divvied up, for instance. Regional hegemons will be regional hegemons, after all, and the Egyptians really want that water. The way weaker states might respond, up to and including asymmetrical warfare, doesn’t bode particularly well for peace.

And none of it accounts for what will be happening to already persecuted Jews and Christians inside Egypt. Muslim radicals will run roughshod over religious minorities, correctly guessing that no one will pressure the fragile Egyptian regime to stop them. The fragile Egyptian regime will in turn conclude that it’s better to have wannabe jihadists beating up on religious minorities than on the government. Christians are already getting burned alive in the streets, and the Obama White House has already been loath to lean on Mubarak over it. Wait until Cairo gets nukes and every iota of pressure elicits a “Well, would you prefer the Muslim Brotherhood” response.

No worries, though. Egypt might get a few nukes, but they’re never going to complete their nuclear triad and secure a second-strike capability. Know why? Zionist sharks.

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When Will Liberals Acknowledge What the Arab World Already Knows?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.’” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

Based on secret diplomatic cables that were published by the website WikiLeaks, Foreign Policy reports, “In a telling exchange at the end of his meeting with the emir, the Qatari ruler gave [Senator John] Kerry some advice for dealing with the Iranian government. ‘The Amir closed the meeting by offering that based on 30 years of experience with the Iranians, they will give you 100 words. Trust only one of the 100,’ the cable said.”

As has already been noted this morning on CONTENTIONS, this corresponds with what we’ve learned from other Arab leaders. For example, Bahrain’s king warning that the “danger of letting it [Iran’s nuclear program] go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. The Saudi king “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons program,” one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the General David Petraeus in April 2008. Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, in warning of the dangers of appeasing Iran, declared, “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called the Iranians “sponsors of terrorism.” Mubarak urged the U.S. to be wary of what Iran says, because “they are big, fat liars” and he thinks this opinion is shared by other leaders in the region. But Mubarak also said that “no Arab state will join the U.S. in a defense relationship vis-a-vis Iran out of fear of ‘sabotage and Iranian terrorism.’” Mubarak added that Iran’s support of terrorism is “well-known but I cannot say it publicly. It would create a dangerous situation.” (For good measure, Mubarak, in speaking on the Middle East peace process, expressed pessimism, saying that “Palestinians are quarreling” and Hamas will reject agreements made by Abu Mazen.)

WikiLeaks’s release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables also reveals that Iran used Red Crescent ambulances to smuggle weapons and agents into Lebanon during Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel and that it has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, including 19 from North Korea, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal.

What the most recent batch of WikiLeaks reveals, in other words, is that the Arab world sounds at least as hawkish as anything you will find in the pages of COMMENTARY magazine. The difference, of course, is that the Arab leaders are, as Mubarak himself confirmed, playing a disreputable double game — publicly saying one thing (for example, pretending that the source of unrest and anxiety in the Middle East is Israel) while privately saying another (Iran is by far the main danger posed to Arab states and peace in the Middle East).

Julian Assange is himself a despicable and disturbing character who seems to harbor a fierce hatred for America. He and WikiLeaks should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But there is an irony in all this: WikiLeaks is the instrument that most confirms the conservative view of the world (as J.E. Dyer argues here). Now that most of the Arab world has confirmed what neo-conservatives have said about Iran, how long will it be until liberals finally do?

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Outreach to Egypt?

The Obami, sensitive to accusations that they have been slothful on human rights, recently held a meeting with activists and foreign policy gurus on how they might promote democracy in Egypt. (Perhaps not giving the regime $1.5B free and clear would be a start.) But while the Obama team is having meetings, the Mubarak government is continuing its thuggish tactics:

Egypt’s parliamentary elections Sunday have been ushered in by one of the most sweeping campaigns to silence critics since President Hosni Mubarak came to power nearly 30 years ago, with the government seemingly determined to shut out its top rival, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, police and armed gangs have broken up campaign events by Brotherhood candidates – even attacking the movement’s top member in parliament in his car. More than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested during the election campaign.

The measures have been so dramatic that a judge in an administrative court in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria late on Wednesday ordered elections to be halted in at least 10 out of 11 city districts because so many candidates, particularly from the Brotherhood, had been disqualified by authorities.

This, quite plainly, is yet another snub of Obama personally. Just as the North Koreans see no downside to attacking its neighbor, Mubarak expects no adverse consequences from snubbing the U.S. president. Eli Lake observes:

Cairo’s snubbing of Mr. Obama follows the U.S. president’s run of hard luck in general on Middle East diplomacy. This month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected Mr. Obama’s personal request to relinquish the presidency. In 2009, the Iranian government rejected multiple offers from Mr. Obama to resume direct negotiations.

The mood from official Cairo was captured in a front-page editorial this week in the state-run and -funded newspaper, Al-Ahram, which often serves as a weather vane for the thinking inside the Mubarak regime.

“America and its experts should know and realize the Egyptian leadership role,” al-Ahram’s editor, Osama Saraya, said in the editorial. “Egypt has played and plays an important role in matters of regional peace and security … and is capable of bringing regional stability to all the areas that are regressing due to wrong U.S. policies in Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. … The United States is the one that ought to listen to Egypt, and not the other way around.”

In other words, the least-effective human rights policy in decades has contributed to the most egregious human right violations in decades and exposed our lack of influence in the region. We should not be surprised nor should we underestimate the degree to which Obama’s policy is both morally feckless and strategically flawed. Egypt is a tinderbox, increasingly polarized between an authoritarian government and the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Egyptian democracy activists are disillusioned by the American administration.

We might try some real Muslim Outreach — a policy of increased support for democratizers, financial support for Egypt conditioned on progress on human rights, and forceful public rhetoric (rather than the mute routine Hillary put on during the foreign minister’s recent visit). The problem with Muslim Outreach is not that we are doing it but that we are doing it so badly. And in the process, we’re proving that America is declining in influence in the region.

The Obami, sensitive to accusations that they have been slothful on human rights, recently held a meeting with activists and foreign policy gurus on how they might promote democracy in Egypt. (Perhaps not giving the regime $1.5B free and clear would be a start.) But while the Obama team is having meetings, the Mubarak government is continuing its thuggish tactics:

Egypt’s parliamentary elections Sunday have been ushered in by one of the most sweeping campaigns to silence critics since President Hosni Mubarak came to power nearly 30 years ago, with the government seemingly determined to shut out its top rival, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, police and armed gangs have broken up campaign events by Brotherhood candidates – even attacking the movement’s top member in parliament in his car. More than 1,000 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested during the election campaign.

The measures have been so dramatic that a judge in an administrative court in Egypt’s second city of Alexandria late on Wednesday ordered elections to be halted in at least 10 out of 11 city districts because so many candidates, particularly from the Brotherhood, had been disqualified by authorities.

This, quite plainly, is yet another snub of Obama personally. Just as the North Koreans see no downside to attacking its neighbor, Mubarak expects no adverse consequences from snubbing the U.S. president. Eli Lake observes:

Cairo’s snubbing of Mr. Obama follows the U.S. president’s run of hard luck in general on Middle East diplomacy. This month, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani rejected Mr. Obama’s personal request to relinquish the presidency. In 2009, the Iranian government rejected multiple offers from Mr. Obama to resume direct negotiations.

The mood from official Cairo was captured in a front-page editorial this week in the state-run and -funded newspaper, Al-Ahram, which often serves as a weather vane for the thinking inside the Mubarak regime.

“America and its experts should know and realize the Egyptian leadership role,” al-Ahram’s editor, Osama Saraya, said in the editorial. “Egypt has played and plays an important role in matters of regional peace and security … and is capable of bringing regional stability to all the areas that are regressing due to wrong U.S. policies in Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. … The United States is the one that ought to listen to Egypt, and not the other way around.”

In other words, the least-effective human rights policy in decades has contributed to the most egregious human right violations in decades and exposed our lack of influence in the region. We should not be surprised nor should we underestimate the degree to which Obama’s policy is both morally feckless and strategically flawed. Egypt is a tinderbox, increasingly polarized between an authoritarian government and the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Egyptian democracy activists are disillusioned by the American administration.

We might try some real Muslim Outreach — a policy of increased support for democratizers, financial support for Egypt conditioned on progress on human rights, and forceful public rhetoric (rather than the mute routine Hillary put on during the foreign minister’s recent visit). The problem with Muslim Outreach is not that we are doing it but that we are doing it so badly. And in the process, we’re proving that America is declining in influence in the region.

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A Refreshing Change

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Who knew coconuts were so dangerous?

Who knew Obama’s speech to India’s parliament would be so historic? “This will be the first time a teleprompter will be used in the nearly 100-feet high dome-shaped hall that has portraits of eminent national leaders adorning its walls. Indian politicians are known for making impromptu long speeches and perhaps that is why some parliament officials, who did not wish to be named, sounded rather surprised with the idea of a teleprompter for Obama. ‘We thought Obama is a trained orator and skilled in the art of mass address with his continuous eye contact,’ an official, who did not wish to be identified because of security restrictions, said.”

Who knew it was all about the failure to deliver on jobs, jobs, jobs? Nancy Pelosi, for one: “Nine and a half percent unemployment damaged the majority. … What made a difference in the election is the fact that they said we are spending money, and where are the jobs?” Precisely.

Who knew? Obama has an ego problem, according to Politico. Next up: Obama is a liberal.

Who knew writing books about yourself wasn’t adequate preparation for the presidency? “He came across as a young man in a grown-up’s game—impressive but not presidential. A politician but not a leader, managing American policy at home and American power abroad with disturbing amateurishness. Indeed, there was a growing perception of the inability to run the machinery of government and to find the right people to manage it. A man who was once seen as a talented and even charismatic rhetorician is now seen as lacking real experience or even the ability to stop America’s decline. ‘Yes we can,’ he once said, but now America asks, ‘Can he?’”

Who knew Olbermann was even a “journalist”? This, from Richard Benedetto, is dead on: “Is Keith Olbermann a hypocrite? It is always hypocritical to criticize others for something you are doing yourself. But that point aside, let’s stop pretending that TV talking heads such as Olbermann, Hannity, Matthews, O’Reilly et. al. are journalists, and therefore must adhere to traditional journalism standards. They are not journalists. They are ideological partisans who take sides in political debate.” (Who do we think leaked the donation records — archrival Matthews?)

Who knew Obama had “accomplished” so much? “Last, April Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak disregarded appeals from the Obama administration and violated his own public promises by renewing the ‘emergency law’ that for decades has allowed security forces to prevent public demonstrations, break up political meetings, close media outlets and arrest opposition activists without charge. When the administration protested, Egyptian officials assured it that the law henceforth would be applied only in terrorism and drug cases. The White House cited that pledge in a recent summary of its human rights accomplishments.”

Who knew Nancy Pelosi had such good friends on the right? Bill Kristol: “Now there are those, of a churlish disposition, who would note that Speaker Pelosi has presided over the largest loss of House seats by a party in a midterm election in 62 years. There are second-guessers who would question her strategy and tactics on the stimulus, cap and trade, and health care. There are Democrats tempted by the superficial attraction of a new face as leader of their party in the House. There are Democrats in swing districts who are tempted by the prospect of their party following a more moderate path. … We urge Democrats to reject all such considerations and counsels. We urge the remaining House Democrats to keep Nancy Pelosi as their leader. … For the good of the republic (and the GOP), House Democrats in the 112th Congress need to march further down the path they blazed in the 111th Congress.” And Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters — you hang in there and fight to the bitter end!

Who knew 2010 was the easy part? “Witness the announcement this morning by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) that he was forming an exploratory committee to look at a run against Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2012. … Democrats must defend 23 seats while there are just 10 GOP seats up for grabs. And, it’s not just raw numbers that make the cycle daunting for Democrats — it’s where the races are taking place. In addition to Nelson, who represents a state where President Obama won just 42 percent in 2008, Democrats will have to defend seats in Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, North Dakota, Montana and Virginia — not exactly the friendliest of states for their side at the moment.”

Who knew there was someone who could top Michael Bloomberg? “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was taken aback by President Obama’s arrogance, Rupert Murdoch said in an interview with an Australian outlet. Bloomberg described his conversation with Obama as ‘verbal ping-pong,’ Murdoch told the Australian Financial Review, and said he had a ‘pleasant’ day golfing on Martha’s Vineyard with the president. He came back and said, ‘I never met in my life such an arrogant man,’ Murdoch said.”

Who knew coconuts were so dangerous?

Who knew Obama’s speech to India’s parliament would be so historic? “This will be the first time a teleprompter will be used in the nearly 100-feet high dome-shaped hall that has portraits of eminent national leaders adorning its walls. Indian politicians are known for making impromptu long speeches and perhaps that is why some parliament officials, who did not wish to be named, sounded rather surprised with the idea of a teleprompter for Obama. ‘We thought Obama is a trained orator and skilled in the art of mass address with his continuous eye contact,’ an official, who did not wish to be identified because of security restrictions, said.”

Who knew it was all about the failure to deliver on jobs, jobs, jobs? Nancy Pelosi, for one: “Nine and a half percent unemployment damaged the majority. … What made a difference in the election is the fact that they said we are spending money, and where are the jobs?” Precisely.

Who knew? Obama has an ego problem, according to Politico. Next up: Obama is a liberal.

Who knew writing books about yourself wasn’t adequate preparation for the presidency? “He came across as a young man in a grown-up’s game—impressive but not presidential. A politician but not a leader, managing American policy at home and American power abroad with disturbing amateurishness. Indeed, there was a growing perception of the inability to run the machinery of government and to find the right people to manage it. A man who was once seen as a talented and even charismatic rhetorician is now seen as lacking real experience or even the ability to stop America’s decline. ‘Yes we can,’ he once said, but now America asks, ‘Can he?’”

Who knew Olbermann was even a “journalist”? This, from Richard Benedetto, is dead on: “Is Keith Olbermann a hypocrite? It is always hypocritical to criticize others for something you are doing yourself. But that point aside, let’s stop pretending that TV talking heads such as Olbermann, Hannity, Matthews, O’Reilly et. al. are journalists, and therefore must adhere to traditional journalism standards. They are not journalists. They are ideological partisans who take sides in political debate.” (Who do we think leaked the donation records — archrival Matthews?)

Who knew Obama had “accomplished” so much? “Last, April Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak disregarded appeals from the Obama administration and violated his own public promises by renewing the ‘emergency law’ that for decades has allowed security forces to prevent public demonstrations, break up political meetings, close media outlets and arrest opposition activists without charge. When the administration protested, Egyptian officials assured it that the law henceforth would be applied only in terrorism and drug cases. The White House cited that pledge in a recent summary of its human rights accomplishments.”

Who knew Nancy Pelosi had such good friends on the right? Bill Kristol: “Now there are those, of a churlish disposition, who would note that Speaker Pelosi has presided over the largest loss of House seats by a party in a midterm election in 62 years. There are second-guessers who would question her strategy and tactics on the stimulus, cap and trade, and health care. There are Democrats tempted by the superficial attraction of a new face as leader of their party in the House. There are Democrats in swing districts who are tempted by the prospect of their party following a more moderate path. … We urge Democrats to reject all such considerations and counsels. We urge the remaining House Democrats to keep Nancy Pelosi as their leader. … For the good of the republic (and the GOP), House Democrats in the 112th Congress need to march further down the path they blazed in the 111th Congress.” And Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters — you hang in there and fight to the bitter end!

Who knew 2010 was the easy part? “Witness the announcement this morning by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) that he was forming an exploratory committee to look at a run against Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in 2012. … Democrats must defend 23 seats while there are just 10 GOP seats up for grabs. And, it’s not just raw numbers that make the cycle daunting for Democrats — it’s where the races are taking place. In addition to Nelson, who represents a state where President Obama won just 42 percent in 2008, Democrats will have to defend seats in Missouri, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida, North Dakota, Montana and Virginia — not exactly the friendliest of states for their side at the moment.”

Who knew there was someone who could top Michael Bloomberg? “New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was taken aback by President Obama’s arrogance, Rupert Murdoch said in an interview with an Australian outlet. Bloomberg described his conversation with Obama as ‘verbal ping-pong,’ Murdoch told the Australian Financial Review, and said he had a ‘pleasant’ day golfing on Martha’s Vineyard with the president. He came back and said, ‘I never met in my life such an arrogant man,’ Murdoch said.”

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‘Engagement’ Is Broken

Everywhere “engagement” has been tried, it has failed. Iran is more repressive and less inclined to slow its nuclear program. Bashar al-Assad and  Hosni Mubarak are more repressive than ever, secure in the knowledge that there are no consequences for how they treat their own people. From Sudan to China, the despots are immune to the Obami’s charms. Burma is no exception, as the Washington Post editors explain:

The Nov. 7 poll will be Burma’s first in 20 years, and it might have provided an avenue toward a gradual easing of dictatorial control. But it has not worked out that way. There are a few opposition candidates, but even if all of them win, the junta is guaranteed control of the new parliament. It accomplished this certainty by blocking many parties from participating, including the National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1990 election but was never permitted to take office; by setting fees so high that in many districts only government-backed candidates could register; by stipulating that the military may allot close to one-quarter of all seats after the election takes place; and by harassing and threatening opposition candidates who have tried, against all odds, to compete. No international observers will be permitted; no foreign journalists are being allowed in.

The editors correctly anticipate that the election will be followed by calls to relax sanctions. The editors urge the administration to rebuff the pleas and get its act together:

The Obama administration, which thus far has provided too little leadership on Burma, should be ready to parry these calls. It should appoint the special representative and policy coordinator mandated by Congress; refine its financial sanctions to target Burma’s leaders and their families; and put some muscle behind its claimed support for a U.N. inquiry into the regime’s crimes against humanity, namely the military’s depredations against ethnic minorities. The Voice of America should rethink its plan to cut back broadcasting hours to Burma the month after the election, while Congress should provide the VOA with enough funds to carry out its mission.

Unfortunately, the administration’s credibility is low these days with friends and foes. We’ve given breathing room to tyrannical regimes and left dissidents in the lurch. No wonder sham elections, “emergency law” extensions, and the like are all the rage. Perhaps after January, the new Congress can hold some hearings on the efficacy of engagement.

Everywhere “engagement” has been tried, it has failed. Iran is more repressive and less inclined to slow its nuclear program. Bashar al-Assad and  Hosni Mubarak are more repressive than ever, secure in the knowledge that there are no consequences for how they treat their own people. From Sudan to China, the despots are immune to the Obami’s charms. Burma is no exception, as the Washington Post editors explain:

The Nov. 7 poll will be Burma’s first in 20 years, and it might have provided an avenue toward a gradual easing of dictatorial control. But it has not worked out that way. There are a few opposition candidates, but even if all of them win, the junta is guaranteed control of the new parliament. It accomplished this certainty by blocking many parties from participating, including the National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the 1990 election but was never permitted to take office; by setting fees so high that in many districts only government-backed candidates could register; by stipulating that the military may allot close to one-quarter of all seats after the election takes place; and by harassing and threatening opposition candidates who have tried, against all odds, to compete. No international observers will be permitted; no foreign journalists are being allowed in.

The editors correctly anticipate that the election will be followed by calls to relax sanctions. The editors urge the administration to rebuff the pleas and get its act together:

The Obama administration, which thus far has provided too little leadership on Burma, should be ready to parry these calls. It should appoint the special representative and policy coordinator mandated by Congress; refine its financial sanctions to target Burma’s leaders and their families; and put some muscle behind its claimed support for a U.N. inquiry into the regime’s crimes against humanity, namely the military’s depredations against ethnic minorities. The Voice of America should rethink its plan to cut back broadcasting hours to Burma the month after the election, while Congress should provide the VOA with enough funds to carry out its mission.

Unfortunately, the administration’s credibility is low these days with friends and foes. We’ve given breathing room to tyrannical regimes and left dissidents in the lurch. No wonder sham elections, “emergency law” extensions, and the like are all the rage. Perhaps after January, the new Congress can hold some hearings on the efficacy of engagement.

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The Muslim Brotherhood Takes Off Its Mask

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was never a “moderate” organization. I briefly interviewed their spokesman many years ago, and it could not have been more obvious that I was dealing with a dissembler. I know moderate Muslims when I see them, and these guys aren’t even in the same time zone.

Recently, though, for reasons I’m not quite sure about yet, they decided to stop playing the game, and we can thank Barry Rubin for paying particularly close attention to this development.

In calling for jihad against America, the West and Israel in terms virtually identical with Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, the leader of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood uttered one sentence that explains the contemporary Middle East.

Here it is: “The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a militia. It can’t seize the capital, and it can’t take on the army. It doesn’t control a state within a state, as Hamas and Hezbollah do. It can’t start a war with another country or draw in foreign powers. It can’t win an election, because Hosni Mubarak’s regime rigs the system. It does, however, have an enormous amount of clout on the streets.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

One reason for this is that Egypt’s current secular government — which is a less-ideological continuation of the Arab Nationalist regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officer’s Movement — has failed Egypt spectacularly in almost every possible way. Egypt’s experience with secular modernity has been a miserable one, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan, “Islam is the solution,” sounds plausible to millions of people.

That isn’t the only reason, of course. Albanians fared far worse under the secular Communist regime of Enver Hoxha — which was similar in a lot ways to Kim Il-Sung’s in North Korea — yet Islamism never caught on there. No single explanation will suffice in Egypt or anywhere else.

Still, Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was never a “moderate” organization. I briefly interviewed their spokesman many years ago, and it could not have been more obvious that I was dealing with a dissembler. I know moderate Muslims when I see them, and these guys aren’t even in the same time zone.

Recently, though, for reasons I’m not quite sure about yet, they decided to stop playing the game, and we can thank Barry Rubin for paying particularly close attention to this development.

In calling for jihad against America, the West and Israel in terms virtually identical with Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, the leader of Egypt’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood uttered one sentence that explains the contemporary Middle East.

Here it is: “The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as its enemies pursue life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a militia. It can’t seize the capital, and it can’t take on the army. It doesn’t control a state within a state, as Hamas and Hezbollah do. It can’t start a war with another country or draw in foreign powers. It can’t win an election, because Hosni Mubarak’s regime rigs the system. It does, however, have an enormous amount of clout on the streets.

I’ve been to more than a dozen Muslim countries and seen for myself how extraordinarily diverse they are. Some are as secular and irreligious as the nations of Western Europe. Egypt, though, is by far the most politically Islamicized place I’ve ever seen. And by that I don’t mean that Egyptians are more likely to pray and go to the mosque than people in other countries. The Kurds of Iraq are by and large conservative Muslims, but political Islamism barely registers there and is held in contempt by the majority.

In Egypt, it’s different, and you can see it and feel it in Cairo. The liberal and moderate Egyptians I spoke to were keenly aware that they’re part of a small minority that has no political future right now.

One reason for this is that Egypt’s current secular government — which is a less-ideological continuation of the Arab Nationalist regime founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser and his Free Officer’s Movement — has failed Egypt spectacularly in almost every possible way. Egypt’s experience with secular modernity has been a miserable one, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s slogan, “Islam is the solution,” sounds plausible to millions of people.

That isn’t the only reason, of course. Albanians fared far worse under the secular Communist regime of Enver Hoxha — which was similar in a lot ways to Kim Il-Sung’s in North Korea — yet Islamism never caught on there. No single explanation will suffice in Egypt or anywhere else.

Still, Mubarak’s ideology and government is rejected by a huge number of Egyptians for many of the same reasons the Shah’s regime in Iran was in the late 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a likely replacement if Mubarak’s government implodes or is overthrown. Given that the Brotherhood is becoming more extreme rather than less, the West may want to brace itself.

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The Human Rights “Charm Offensive”

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.’” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

Fred Hiatt is hopeful — as so many observers have been during the Obama administration — that the president is “turning the corner” on his foreign policy, specifically in the area of human rights and democracy promotion. Hiatt recounts some of the administration’s failings:

The administration criticized the narrowing of freedom in Russia, but cooperation on Iran was a higher priority. It chided Hosni Mubarak for choking civil society in Egypt, but the autocrat’s cooperation on Israel-Palestine mattered more.

Sadly, in fact, it seemed fellow democracies often paid a higher price for real or supposed human-rights failings: Colombia, for example, where human rights was the excuse for not promoting a free-trade agreement.

But it’s worse than that, really. We stiffed the Green movement and cut funding to groups that monitor Iranian human rights abuses. We facilitated the egregious behavior of the UN Human Rights Council. Our Sudan policy has been widely condemned by the left and right. Our record on promotion of religious freedom has been shoddy. We acquiesced as Iran was placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We turned a blind eye toward serial human rights atrocities in the Muslim World. We flattered and cajoled Assad in Syria with nary a concern for human rights. We told China that human rights wouldn’t stand in the way of relations between the countries. We’ve suggested that Fidel Castro might enjoy better relations and an influx of U.S. tourist dollars without any improvement in human rights. And the administration ludicrously sided with a lackey of Hugo Chavez against the democratic institutions of Honduras. The list goes on and on.

As I and other observers have noted, the Obama human rights policy has more often than not focused on America’s ills – supposed Islamophobia, homophobia, racism, and the like: “Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have found some victims of rights-transgression who are of very great interest to them — indeed, since some of them are here at home, and sinned against by America herself!”

But Hiatt thinks Obama is turning over a new leaf: “[A]couple of weeks ago, in his second annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama declared that ‘freedom, justice and peace in the lives of individual human beings’ are, for the United States, ‘a matter of moral and pragmatic necessity.’” Yes, but we’ve heard pretty words before. What makes Hiatt think that this time around Obama honestly means it? He concedes that the proof will be in what Obama actually does:

If Obama’s speech signals a genuine shift, we will see the administration insist on election monitors in Egypt or withhold aid if Mubarak says no. It will wield real tools — visa bans, bank account seizures — to sanction human-rights abusers in Russia and China. It will not only claim to support a U.N. inquiry into Burma’s crimes against humanity but will call in chits from friends in Thailand, Singapore or India to make such an inquiry happen.

And maybe the administration will stop sabotaging Obama’s message on his most active foreign policy front: the war in Afghanistan. There, in its almost aggressive insistence that the war is about protecting the U.S. homeland — and only about protecting the U.S. homeland — the administration undercuts its claim to be a champion of “universal values.”

You’ll excuse me if I’m skeptical, but we’ve been down this road before. And to really be serious about human rights, Obama would need to undo and revise his entire Muslim-outreach scheme. Instead of ingratiating himself with despots, he would need to challenge them. Instead of telling Muslim audiences in Cairo that the most significant women’s rights issue was “for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear,” he would need to start challenging regimes that countenance and promote violence against women, child marriages, stonings, lashings, honor killings, etc. He would likewise need to revisit systematically our “reset” with Russia and our indifference to Chavez’s shenanigans in this hemisphere. Is this president going to do all that?

It’s lovely that the president is planning a trip “through Asia designed in part to put meat on the bones of his new rhetoric … [where] he will announce grants for nongovernmental organizations that the administration hopes will flower into the kind of domestic lobbies that can push their own governments to promote democracy abroad.” But unless there is a fundamental rethinking and reworking of foreign policy, this will be simply another PR effort that does little for the oppressed souls around the world.

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Obama’s Human Rights Problem

Human rights activists here and abroad had high expectations for President Barack Obama. They took his “hope and change” as more than a campaign slogan, imagining that he might use his celebrity status to promote democracy, religious freedom, and human rights. They envisioned him shining a bright light on oppressors and utilizing the array of tools at his disposal to aid, encourage, and protect the oppressed. It has not come to pass; instead, it is the oppressors who have much to celebrate — for they operate with impunity. They have learned that they can not only escape condemnation but also receive new respect from a president who seems indifferent if not hostile to the dissidents and human rights advocates.

Obama has responded to Hosni Mubarak’s crackdown on political dissidents and extension of the “emergency” laws not with condemnation but with billions in new aid. The president responded to the stolen Iranian election and brutal repression with silence, and subsequently cut aid to groups documenting human rights abuse. He has offered to engage Burma despite its atrocious human rights record but failed to take any significant step after another phony election. Aung San Suu Kyi remains imprisoned, and Burma is now pursuing its own nuclear program. His envoy to Sudan is widely ridiculed by Darfur activists, who are dismayed that he has not carried forth on campaign promises to crack down on the genocidal regime. And so it has been since Obama took office.

There is no more eloquent description of Obama’s sorry record than this:

It’s been a rough seventeen months for Americans whose calling is to fight for the rights of people who’ve been stripped of them by force—young men and women beaten to death in full view of the world by the agents of their oppressors for daring to demand that their votes be counted; others hacked to death with the complicity of the autocrats in power over them for having been born the wrong color or to the wrong tribe; girls subjected to the lash, or, worse, murdered by their own mothers, fathers, or brothers for appearing in public in the wrong company; believers imprisoned for professing faith in the wrong god or the wrong political system; non-believers sentenced to death for “wronging” a wrathful, vengeful religion.

And it is also worth considering why Obama and his secretary of state, when they do muster some concern for human rights, focus not on the world’s worst offenders but on their own countrymen, whose shortcomings on race, inequality, and the like never escape their exacting eyes.

It is not simply a case of misplaced priorities or even moral obtuseness. Hillary Clinton at times can wax poetic on human rights, proving once again that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue. The problem stems from Obama’s conviction that the U.S. and the West more generally are the world’s problem children and that it is our arrogance, ignorance, and track record of interference in other countries’ affairs that are the source of the world’s ills. The apology tour (which covered everything from dropping the atomic bomb to our supposed lack of simpatico with the “Muslim World”) was perhaps the most heartfelt expression of Obama’s worldview and explains his cockeyed human rights record.

Because the U.S. is so flawed, so guilty of serial misdeeds, we are in Obama’s eyes (and the left-wing academic mindset from which he derives his views) disqualified from pronouncing on others’ behavior and obligated to let them pronounce on ours and our allies. Hence, we bear witness to (and do not challenge) the Human Right Council thugocracies as they condemn countries with infinitely better human rights records (especially Israel). But we temper our words and offer our hand in conciliation (and in some cases open our wallets) to the human rights oppressors. We allow Iran to join the UN Commission on the Status of Women to opine on others’ gender discrimination but avert our eyes from the brutality endured by Muslim women and girls.

There is, of course, a practical, albeit misguided, reason for Obama’s human rights record. He imagines he will incur the goodwill of the world’s despots by soft-peddling criticism of their treatment of their own people. But it is no longer possible to ignore the more fundamental problem: Obama believes his mission is to atone for America’s sins, not set the example for the world as the leader of that “shining city on the hill.” If one doubts the essential goodness of America and is unwilling to hold others to a standard of conduct that reflects our own values, you will wind up with a human rights policy that looks like Obama’s.

Human rights activists here and abroad had high expectations for President Barack Obama. They took his “hope and change” as more than a campaign slogan, imagining that he might use his celebrity status to promote democracy, religious freedom, and human rights. They envisioned him shining a bright light on oppressors and utilizing the array of tools at his disposal to aid, encourage, and protect the oppressed. It has not come to pass; instead, it is the oppressors who have much to celebrate — for they operate with impunity. They have learned that they can not only escape condemnation but also receive new respect from a president who seems indifferent if not hostile to the dissidents and human rights advocates.

Obama has responded to Hosni Mubarak’s crackdown on political dissidents and extension of the “emergency” laws not with condemnation but with billions in new aid. The president responded to the stolen Iranian election and brutal repression with silence, and subsequently cut aid to groups documenting human rights abuse. He has offered to engage Burma despite its atrocious human rights record but failed to take any significant step after another phony election. Aung San Suu Kyi remains imprisoned, and Burma is now pursuing its own nuclear program. His envoy to Sudan is widely ridiculed by Darfur activists, who are dismayed that he has not carried forth on campaign promises to crack down on the genocidal regime. And so it has been since Obama took office.

There is no more eloquent description of Obama’s sorry record than this:

It’s been a rough seventeen months for Americans whose calling is to fight for the rights of people who’ve been stripped of them by force—young men and women beaten to death in full view of the world by the agents of their oppressors for daring to demand that their votes be counted; others hacked to death with the complicity of the autocrats in power over them for having been born the wrong color or to the wrong tribe; girls subjected to the lash, or, worse, murdered by their own mothers, fathers, or brothers for appearing in public in the wrong company; believers imprisoned for professing faith in the wrong god or the wrong political system; non-believers sentenced to death for “wronging” a wrathful, vengeful religion.

And it is also worth considering why Obama and his secretary of state, when they do muster some concern for human rights, focus not on the world’s worst offenders but on their own countrymen, whose shortcomings on race, inequality, and the like never escape their exacting eyes.

It is not simply a case of misplaced priorities or even moral obtuseness. Hillary Clinton at times can wax poetic on human rights, proving once again that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue. The problem stems from Obama’s conviction that the U.S. and the West more generally are the world’s problem children and that it is our arrogance, ignorance, and track record of interference in other countries’ affairs that are the source of the world’s ills. The apology tour (which covered everything from dropping the atomic bomb to our supposed lack of simpatico with the “Muslim World”) was perhaps the most heartfelt expression of Obama’s worldview and explains his cockeyed human rights record.

Because the U.S. is so flawed, so guilty of serial misdeeds, we are in Obama’s eyes (and the left-wing academic mindset from which he derives his views) disqualified from pronouncing on others’ behavior and obligated to let them pronounce on ours and our allies. Hence, we bear witness to (and do not challenge) the Human Right Council thugocracies as they condemn countries with infinitely better human rights records (especially Israel). But we temper our words and offer our hand in conciliation (and in some cases open our wallets) to the human rights oppressors. We allow Iran to join the UN Commission on the Status of Women to opine on others’ gender discrimination but avert our eyes from the brutality endured by Muslim women and girls.

There is, of course, a practical, albeit misguided, reason for Obama’s human rights record. He imagines he will incur the goodwill of the world’s despots by soft-peddling criticism of their treatment of their own people. But it is no longer possible to ignore the more fundamental problem: Obama believes his mission is to atone for America’s sins, not set the example for the world as the leader of that “shining city on the hill.” If one doubts the essential goodness of America and is unwilling to hold others to a standard of conduct that reflects our own values, you will wind up with a human rights policy that looks like Obama’s.

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Turkey Needs More Democracy

There have been a number of articles, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Pollock, trenchantly dissecting the decline of Turkey. This once stalwart ally of America and Israel now supports the sort of rabid anti-Israel, pro-Hamas sentiment displayed by the Gaza flotilla. This is indeed an alarming trend, not only for what it says about the future of Israeli-Turkish relations (which, sadly, seem to be beyond salvation at the moment), but also for what it says about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

Israel aside, Turkey has been the most durable democracy in the region, although its freedom has always been tempered by occasional military interventions (sometimes called “soft coups”) to safeguard the secularist legacy of Ataturk. In recent years, the military has pulled back from politics and allowed the ascension of the Islamist AK Party led by Prime Minister Erdogan. There were mutterings about military intervention in 2007, when Erdogan chose a fellow AK party member, Abdullah Gul, to fill the largely ceremonial post of president, but nothing happened. Turkey is today arguably the freest it has been with a popular prime minister ruling based on a solid majority. Freedom House notes: “The July 2007 elections were widely judged to have been free and fair, with reports of more open debate on traditionally sensitive issues.”

And yet those free and fair elections have produced a government that is increasingly anti-Israel and anti-American — a government that often sounds indistinguishable from dictatorships such as Iran and Syria. This would seem to offer one more piece of evidence to those — ranging from many Israelis to American Realpolitikers and Middle East despots — who believe that the Middle East is simply not ready for democracy and that if you allow elections, the result will be to entrench Hamas, Hezbollah, and their fellow travelers.

For my part, I am not ready to give up on promoting democracy, especially in countries such as Iran and Syria, where it is hard to imagine that any alternative government could possibly be worse than the status quo. In the case of Iran, there is actually a good deal of reason to believe that a democratically elected government would be considerably more moderate and liberal than the incumbent regime, although it may decide to keep Iran’s nuclear weapons program going.

What about countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are reasonably friendly toward the U.S. under their current rulers — and in the case of Egypt and Jordan, have even made peace with Israel? Does the Turkish precedent (and the troubled results of elections in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) suggest a go-slow attitude toward electoral reform? It certainly suggests that elections are by no means a panacea and that unelected rulers may in fact be more friendly to the West than those who could win a popular mandate. But that doesn’t mean that an unpopular status quo can be sustained forever. Sooner or later, for example, an ailing and elderly Hosni Mubarak will pass from the scene, and it is by no means clear that his son will be able to follow him.

The trick from the American standpoint is to promote gradual liberalization without risking a takeover by extremist groups such as Hamas, which would be interested in “one vote, one man, one time.” Democracy, as we know, involves more than voting; it must have checks and balances provided by an independent press corps, judiciary, and political opposition. Turkey has been deficient in all these regards, which helps to explain why, despite its regular elections, it is rated as only “partly free” by Freedom House.

Many of the limitations on popular democracy were imposed by the secularist military, but the AK Party has made use of state power to its own benefit. For instance, it has pursued massive legal cases based on dubious evidence against dozens of secularists who are accused of plotting to undermine the government. Then there are continuing restrictions on press freedom. Freedom House notes:

A 2006 antiterrorism law reintroduced jail sentences for journalists, and Article 301 of the 2004 revised penal code allows journalists and others to be prosecuted for discussing subjects such as the division of Cyprus and the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks, which many consider to have been genocide. People have been charged under the same article for crimes such as insulting the armed services and denigrating “Turkishness”; very few have been convicted, but the trials are time-consuming and expensive. An April 2008 amendment changed Article 301’s language to prohibit insulting “the Turkish nation,” with a maximum sentence of two instead of three years, but cases continue to be brought under that and other clauses. For example, in 2009 a journalist who wrote an article denouncing what he said was the unlawful imprisonment of his father, also a journalist, was himself sentenced to 14 months in prison….

Nearly all media organizations are owned by giant holding companies with interests in other sectors, contributing to self-censorship. In 2009, the Dogan holding company, which owns many media outlets, was ordered to pay crippling fines for tax evasion in what was widely described as a politicized case stemming from Dogan’s criticism of AK and its members. The internet is subject to the same censorship policies that apply to other media, and a 2007 law allows the state to block access to websites deemed to insult Ataturk or whose content includes criminal activities. This law has been used to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube since 2008, as well as several other websites in 2009.

Turkey has suffered not only from such restrictions but also from the fact that the secularist opposition has been in disarray. The Republican People’s Party, founded by Ataturk, has just chosen a new leader to replace its longtime head, who had to step down after the appearance of an Internet sex video in which he apparently played a starring role.

The opposition has its work cut out for it. As one prominent Turkish columnist has noted, while AK did well initially, “since 2007 its reign has been tainted by repressive tactics against the secular media, an effort to control the judiciary, excessive use of wiretapping by law enforcement, and a legal jihad against members of the armed forces in ‘coup’ investigations where the lines between fact and fiction often seem blurry.” And now tainted as well by anti-Israeli and anti-American animus.

While Turkey’s experience should not lead to a dismissal of democratization in the Middle East, it should remind us that democracy, especially when partial and limited, is no cure-all for a country’s ills. We should also keep in mind, however, in the case of Turkey as well as other countries, that the best cure for democracy’s ills may well be more democracy.

There have been a number of articles, such as this one in the Wall Street Journal by Rob Pollock, trenchantly dissecting the decline of Turkey. This once stalwart ally of America and Israel now supports the sort of rabid anti-Israel, pro-Hamas sentiment displayed by the Gaza flotilla. This is indeed an alarming trend, not only for what it says about the future of Israeli-Turkish relations (which, sadly, seem to be beyond salvation at the moment), but also for what it says about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

Israel aside, Turkey has been the most durable democracy in the region, although its freedom has always been tempered by occasional military interventions (sometimes called “soft coups”) to safeguard the secularist legacy of Ataturk. In recent years, the military has pulled back from politics and allowed the ascension of the Islamist AK Party led by Prime Minister Erdogan. There were mutterings about military intervention in 2007, when Erdogan chose a fellow AK party member, Abdullah Gul, to fill the largely ceremonial post of president, but nothing happened. Turkey is today arguably the freest it has been with a popular prime minister ruling based on a solid majority. Freedom House notes: “The July 2007 elections were widely judged to have been free and fair, with reports of more open debate on traditionally sensitive issues.”

And yet those free and fair elections have produced a government that is increasingly anti-Israel and anti-American — a government that often sounds indistinguishable from dictatorships such as Iran and Syria. This would seem to offer one more piece of evidence to those — ranging from many Israelis to American Realpolitikers and Middle East despots — who believe that the Middle East is simply not ready for democracy and that if you allow elections, the result will be to entrench Hamas, Hezbollah, and their fellow travelers.

For my part, I am not ready to give up on promoting democracy, especially in countries such as Iran and Syria, where it is hard to imagine that any alternative government could possibly be worse than the status quo. In the case of Iran, there is actually a good deal of reason to believe that a democratically elected government would be considerably more moderate and liberal than the incumbent regime, although it may decide to keep Iran’s nuclear weapons program going.

What about countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which are reasonably friendly toward the U.S. under their current rulers — and in the case of Egypt and Jordan, have even made peace with Israel? Does the Turkish precedent (and the troubled results of elections in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories) suggest a go-slow attitude toward electoral reform? It certainly suggests that elections are by no means a panacea and that unelected rulers may in fact be more friendly to the West than those who could win a popular mandate. But that doesn’t mean that an unpopular status quo can be sustained forever. Sooner or later, for example, an ailing and elderly Hosni Mubarak will pass from the scene, and it is by no means clear that his son will be able to follow him.

The trick from the American standpoint is to promote gradual liberalization without risking a takeover by extremist groups such as Hamas, which would be interested in “one vote, one man, one time.” Democracy, as we know, involves more than voting; it must have checks and balances provided by an independent press corps, judiciary, and political opposition. Turkey has been deficient in all these regards, which helps to explain why, despite its regular elections, it is rated as only “partly free” by Freedom House.

Many of the limitations on popular democracy were imposed by the secularist military, but the AK Party has made use of state power to its own benefit. For instance, it has pursued massive legal cases based on dubious evidence against dozens of secularists who are accused of plotting to undermine the government. Then there are continuing restrictions on press freedom. Freedom House notes:

A 2006 antiterrorism law reintroduced jail sentences for journalists, and Article 301 of the 2004 revised penal code allows journalists and others to be prosecuted for discussing subjects such as the division of Cyprus and the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks, which many consider to have been genocide. People have been charged under the same article for crimes such as insulting the armed services and denigrating “Turkishness”; very few have been convicted, but the trials are time-consuming and expensive. An April 2008 amendment changed Article 301’s language to prohibit insulting “the Turkish nation,” with a maximum sentence of two instead of three years, but cases continue to be brought under that and other clauses. For example, in 2009 a journalist who wrote an article denouncing what he said was the unlawful imprisonment of his father, also a journalist, was himself sentenced to 14 months in prison….

Nearly all media organizations are owned by giant holding companies with interests in other sectors, contributing to self-censorship. In 2009, the Dogan holding company, which owns many media outlets, was ordered to pay crippling fines for tax evasion in what was widely described as a politicized case stemming from Dogan’s criticism of AK and its members. The internet is subject to the same censorship policies that apply to other media, and a 2007 law allows the state to block access to websites deemed to insult Ataturk or whose content includes criminal activities. This law has been used to block access to the video-sharing website YouTube since 2008, as well as several other websites in 2009.

Turkey has suffered not only from such restrictions but also from the fact that the secularist opposition has been in disarray. The Republican People’s Party, founded by Ataturk, has just chosen a new leader to replace its longtime head, who had to step down after the appearance of an Internet sex video in which he apparently played a starring role.

The opposition has its work cut out for it. As one prominent Turkish columnist has noted, while AK did well initially, “since 2007 its reign has been tainted by repressive tactics against the secular media, an effort to control the judiciary, excessive use of wiretapping by law enforcement, and a legal jihad against members of the armed forces in ‘coup’ investigations where the lines between fact and fiction often seem blurry.” And now tainted as well by anti-Israeli and anti-American animus.

While Turkey’s experience should not lead to a dismissal of democratization in the Middle East, it should remind us that democracy, especially when partial and limited, is no cure-all for a country’s ills. We should also keep in mind, however, in the case of Turkey as well as other countries, that the best cure for democracy’s ills may well be more democracy.

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Egypt Gets Rewarded for Repression

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

As I noted earlier in the week, Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s emergency laws for yet another two years, confident that he’ll pay no price for continuing his reign of thuggery. Boy, did he get that right. Josh Rogin reports:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a mildly worded statement Tuesday criticizing the Egyptian government’s decision to extend its “state of emergency” another two years and urged Egypt to adhere to “legal principles that protect the rights of all citizens.”

Meanwhile, her department was preparing to enter into negotiations with Egypt over Cairo’s proposal for a new $4 billion aid endowment that critics say would unfairly reward an authoritarian regime that has jailed or marginalized its opponents, rigged elections, and censored or manipulated the press for the nearly three decades that President Hosni Mubarak has been in power.

The administration is getting push-back from an array of disparate critics “includ[ing] former Bush administration officials, human-rights groups, and regional experts, [who] say Egypt is attempting to secure aid outside of congressional oversight and without being compelled to make progress on democracy and human rights. They question why Egypt, which by all accounts has actually been backsliding on reform in recent years, should be singled out for such a unique and lucrative prize.” Even worse, the administration slashed democracy funding while increasing economic support, thus providing a handsome slush fund for Mubarak. Even Human Rights Watch has figured out the problem:

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that shifting the bulk of U.S. economic assistance to an endowment will inevitably be seen in Egypt as empowering Mubarak. “I don’t think there’s a way to do it that avoids that perception in the mind of Egyptians,” he said, “Everything the U.S. does in its relationship with Egypt should be to promote political and economic reform … and to convince the Egyptian people we are in line with their aspirations.”

This is the crux of the bizarrely misguided Muslim-outreach policy of the Obama team. It really has precious little to do with reaching out to Muslims; it is rather a policy of ingratiation with oppressive regimes (e.g., Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia) to the detriment of their people. We are not promoting warm feelings toward the U.S. by enabling Mubarak or by signaling that we’ll do business with Bashar al-Assad. And we haven’t gotten anything for our ingratiation. One can’t but help wondering why the Obama team has such affinity for the despots of the Middle East. Is this residual anti-Bush-ism? (He was in favor of democracy promotion, so they can’t be.) Is it disdain for the people of the Middle East, whom the Obama administration believes incapable of supporting democratic reform? Whatever the motivation, it lacks moral legitimacy and has failed to deliver any tangible benefits to the U.S. But it has made it clear that a foreign policy that lacks grounding in American values is, in the long run, unsustainable and ineffective.

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Egypt Figures Out Obama Doesn’t Care About Democracy

The Washington Post editors remind us that Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s “emergency” laws (the “emergency” has been going on since 1981) for another two years. They explain:

In so doing, he flouted an emerging mass movement that has called for the law’s lifting, so that elections for parliament and president scheduled for the next 18 months can be genuinely democratic. He also violated the repeated pledges that he and his ruling party have made to end the emergency regime, dating back to 2005.

Last but not least, Mr. Mubarak took advantage of the policy of the Obama administration, which has chosen to soft-pedal the cause of democracy and human rights in Egypt and across the Middle East. Even as it has publicly demanded that Israel freeze Jewish settlements and that Mr. Karzai reform his government, the administration has gently stroked Egypt’s strongman, on the theory that the U.S.-Egyptian relationship needed mending after the Bush administration.

So the thugocracy of Mubarak will continue and the next election will be a sham, as have been the previous ones. Meanwhile, the administration declares the move “regrettable.” It doesn’t even feign being “deeply concerned” or “profoundly troubled.”

And what have we accomplished with this reticence? Egypt teamed up with Iran to hassle Israel about the Nonproliferation Treaty. Egypt’s repression of religious minorities and political critics has increased. So once again we have thrown human rights and democracy promotion under the bus, with nothing to show for it. The Middle East inches closer to a deadly nuclear-arms race and the Arab regimes become more and more repressive. This is what comes from Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

The Washington Post editors remind us that Hosni Mubarak has extended the country’s “emergency” laws (the “emergency” has been going on since 1981) for another two years. They explain:

In so doing, he flouted an emerging mass movement that has called for the law’s lifting, so that elections for parliament and president scheduled for the next 18 months can be genuinely democratic. He also violated the repeated pledges that he and his ruling party have made to end the emergency regime, dating back to 2005.

Last but not least, Mr. Mubarak took advantage of the policy of the Obama administration, which has chosen to soft-pedal the cause of democracy and human rights in Egypt and across the Middle East. Even as it has publicly demanded that Israel freeze Jewish settlements and that Mr. Karzai reform his government, the administration has gently stroked Egypt’s strongman, on the theory that the U.S.-Egyptian relationship needed mending after the Bush administration.

So the thugocracy of Mubarak will continue and the next election will be a sham, as have been the previous ones. Meanwhile, the administration declares the move “regrettable.” It doesn’t even feign being “deeply concerned” or “profoundly troubled.”

And what have we accomplished with this reticence? Egypt teamed up with Iran to hassle Israel about the Nonproliferation Treaty. Egypt’s repression of religious minorities and political critics has increased. So once again we have thrown human rights and democracy promotion under the bus, with nothing to show for it. The Middle East inches closer to a deadly nuclear-arms race and the Arab regimes become more and more repressive. This is what comes from Obama’s “smart” diplomacy.

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Peace Process “Starts”?

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

This report tells you just how unserious — and unrelated to “peace” — is the process that supposedly started today: “United States special envoy George Mitchell met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, as Israelis and Palestinians readied themselves for the start of long-awaited indirect peace negotiations.” Yes, after 15 months George Mitchell has gotten the Palestinians and the Israelis to do exactly what they have been doing — talking to him and not each other. Yes, they came up with a fancy name — “proximity talks” — but that’s not exactly truth in advertising. There is no talking between the parties, in contrast to what happened during the Bush and Clinton administrations, which at least got the two sides in the same room. It’s not even clear what authority the PA has to negotiate:

Despite media reports that Mitchell’s meetings with Netanyahu would kick off the talks, the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization has still to convene to give the go-ahead to Palestinian participation in the negotiations. The Arab League gave its backing to the talks on Saturday.

It is unclear when the Committee will meet. Abbas, the PLO head, was in Cairo and Amman on Wednesday for talks with President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah II, and was not expected to return to Ramallah before Friday.

But just as the title of the talks signals that nothing much is going on, so does the pablum put out to the media after the first session: “A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the two met for three hours and described the atmosphere as good. Mitchell and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet again on Thursday. In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the meeting was good and productive but did not give details.” Presumably this meant that no one left in a huff, but “productive” — well, that’s open to debate, not only for today’s session but for the entire exercise.

Both sides have said they don’t expect the talks to “succeed” and both want to maneuver not to be blamed. You thought the Iranian nuclear talks were the pinnacle of gamesmanship? Prepare to see both sides talk and talk and talk some more. So how does this end? In a third Intifada? With the administration announcing that they have “no choice” but to propose an American plan and a deadline for its implementation? The best we can hope for — and it would be a stretch at this point — is that the talks would quietly fizzle and the Palestinians will return to the business of creating the preconditions for real peace — that is, the formulation of institutions and the development of a new mindset that eschews victimology and violence. But the Obama crew has made that all the more difficult.

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