Commentary Magazine


Topic: impotence

Smart Campaign, Dim White House

There is certainly no shortage of boos for Obama’s Oval Office debacle Tuesday night. David Broder poses the “How can such smart campaigners be so dumb in governing?” question:

If there is any value in President Obama’s knocking himself out to dramatize on prime-time television his impotence in the face of the Gulf of Mexico oil leak calamity, I wish someone would explain it. His multiple inspection trips to the afflicted and threatened states, his Oval Office TV address to the nation, and now his sit-down with the executives of BP have certainly established his personal connection with one of the worst environmental disasters in history. But the only thing people want to hear from him is word that the problem is on its way to being solved — and this message he cannot deliver.

Part of the problem is a president who still believes in his oratorical abilities (despite abundant evidence that his powers of persuasion disappeared on Election Day 2008) — and a staff unable to tell the president that less is more. Part of it is panic, as Obama sees his presidency coming apart at the seams. But Broder himself supplies a good deal of the answer:

Uncertainties in Washington about energy policy, taxes, financial regulation — to say nothing about bad-news bulletins from Afghanistan and other overseas datelines — cloud the economic picture more than oil plumes pollute the gulf. But Obama seems focused on the relatively insignificant.

Indeed, Obama often seems to be off-topic — obsessing over health care while Americans are worried about jobs, and fixated on paper agreements for a nuke-free world and Jerusalem housing projects while Iran builds the bomb. He plainly doesn’t have a clue about how to solve the big issues (e.g., restoring economic growth, stopping the mullahs), so he focuses on what is within his grasp (jamming through health-care reform, bullying Israel). The things within his grasp, of course, coincide with his extreme ideological goals (displacing the private health-care industry, turning the screws on Israel while moving closer to its Muslim neighbors).

In answer, then, to Broder’s query, a smart campaign team becomes a disastrous administration by ignoring the political disposition of the country, embarking on ideological quests, and, of course, having a narcissist for president, one unable to hire or listen to anyone but yes men.

There is certainly no shortage of boos for Obama’s Oval Office debacle Tuesday night. David Broder poses the “How can such smart campaigners be so dumb in governing?” question:

If there is any value in President Obama’s knocking himself out to dramatize on prime-time television his impotence in the face of the Gulf of Mexico oil leak calamity, I wish someone would explain it. His multiple inspection trips to the afflicted and threatened states, his Oval Office TV address to the nation, and now his sit-down with the executives of BP have certainly established his personal connection with one of the worst environmental disasters in history. But the only thing people want to hear from him is word that the problem is on its way to being solved — and this message he cannot deliver.

Part of the problem is a president who still believes in his oratorical abilities (despite abundant evidence that his powers of persuasion disappeared on Election Day 2008) — and a staff unable to tell the president that less is more. Part of it is panic, as Obama sees his presidency coming apart at the seams. But Broder himself supplies a good deal of the answer:

Uncertainties in Washington about energy policy, taxes, financial regulation — to say nothing about bad-news bulletins from Afghanistan and other overseas datelines — cloud the economic picture more than oil plumes pollute the gulf. But Obama seems focused on the relatively insignificant.

Indeed, Obama often seems to be off-topic — obsessing over health care while Americans are worried about jobs, and fixated on paper agreements for a nuke-free world and Jerusalem housing projects while Iran builds the bomb. He plainly doesn’t have a clue about how to solve the big issues (e.g., restoring economic growth, stopping the mullahs), so he focuses on what is within his grasp (jamming through health-care reform, bullying Israel). The things within his grasp, of course, coincide with his extreme ideological goals (displacing the private health-care industry, turning the screws on Israel while moving closer to its Muslim neighbors).

In answer, then, to Broder’s query, a smart campaign team becomes a disastrous administration by ignoring the political disposition of the country, embarking on ideological quests, and, of course, having a narcissist for president, one unable to hire or listen to anyone but yes men.

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RE: How Obama’s Policy Ensures More Flotillas

Hard on the heels of Evelyn Gordon’s stingingly accurate analysis, the news comes that Iran is offering a naval escort for the next flotilla. The UK Guardian quotes a top Revolutionary Guard official speaking this past weekend:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard naval forces are prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys that carry humanitarian assistance for the defenceless and oppressed people of Gaza with all their strength,” pledged Hojjatoleslam Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s personal representative to the guards corps.

This is not an empty threat. Iran’s navy has deployed units to the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea for antipiracy operations since December 2008. The Iranians have taken great pride in expanding their maritime operating range across the region; extending their navy’s reach into the Eastern Mediterranean is now an incremental step, something no longer obviously beyond their force’s capabilities.

This is the kind of move President Obama could have deterred by affirming U.S. support for Israel’s right to secure borders and self-defense. Iran has been emboldened to take this step — one that must provoke a regional showdown — by the perception that Israel stands condemned and alone.

With his response implying U.S. disengagement, however, Obama has ensured that we will ultimately have to do more to protect our own interests. If Iran makes good on this offer, Egypt will quickly face the game-changing decision about whether to allow Iranian navy ships through the Suez Canal for such a mission. And if the U.S. is not acting overtly to give Egypt what the military calls “top cover” — political support and material backing for a negative decision — there is no guarantee that Arab regional fears of Iranian militarism will govern the Egyptian thought process.

Indeed, the long-term effects would be worse than the immediate consequences of an Iranian tactical triumph. A self-imposed posture of impotence on America’s part would drive nations like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to turn elsewhere for patronage. In addition to giving them a reason for accommodation with Turkey and Iran, passivity and incoherence on our part would open regional doors further for Russia and perhaps for China, as well.

Events are moving quickly now. It was clear a year ago that Israel’s national security could not be put in question without a feeding frenzy erupting in the Middle East. The past week has demonstrated that Western nations need not actively repudiate Israel to galvanize Israel’s terrorist enemies. Simply withholding affirmation of Israel’s rights as a nation works equally well.

The enemies of Israel are also the enemies of Western civilization — and they are emboldened today to press for what they want. They do not want the global stasis on which our way of life depends, with its liberality of trade, travel, and culture. Obama still has a little time to avert the battle they are preparing for — a battle that will unfold excruciatingly over weeks and months of probing Israel and the West by unconventional methods — but now is the time to act. If he fails to do so, he will rapidly lose control over what the fight is about and what America’s role in it is to be.

Hard on the heels of Evelyn Gordon’s stingingly accurate analysis, the news comes that Iran is offering a naval escort for the next flotilla. The UK Guardian quotes a top Revolutionary Guard official speaking this past weekend:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard naval forces are prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys that carry humanitarian assistance for the defenceless and oppressed people of Gaza with all their strength,” pledged Hojjatoleslam Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s personal representative to the guards corps.

This is not an empty threat. Iran’s navy has deployed units to the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea for antipiracy operations since December 2008. The Iranians have taken great pride in expanding their maritime operating range across the region; extending their navy’s reach into the Eastern Mediterranean is now an incremental step, something no longer obviously beyond their force’s capabilities.

This is the kind of move President Obama could have deterred by affirming U.S. support for Israel’s right to secure borders and self-defense. Iran has been emboldened to take this step — one that must provoke a regional showdown — by the perception that Israel stands condemned and alone.

With his response implying U.S. disengagement, however, Obama has ensured that we will ultimately have to do more to protect our own interests. If Iran makes good on this offer, Egypt will quickly face the game-changing decision about whether to allow Iranian navy ships through the Suez Canal for such a mission. And if the U.S. is not acting overtly to give Egypt what the military calls “top cover” — political support and material backing for a negative decision — there is no guarantee that Arab regional fears of Iranian militarism will govern the Egyptian thought process.

Indeed, the long-term effects would be worse than the immediate consequences of an Iranian tactical triumph. A self-imposed posture of impotence on America’s part would drive nations like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to turn elsewhere for patronage. In addition to giving them a reason for accommodation with Turkey and Iran, passivity and incoherence on our part would open regional doors further for Russia and perhaps for China, as well.

Events are moving quickly now. It was clear a year ago that Israel’s national security could not be put in question without a feeding frenzy erupting in the Middle East. The past week has demonstrated that Western nations need not actively repudiate Israel to galvanize Israel’s terrorist enemies. Simply withholding affirmation of Israel’s rights as a nation works equally well.

The enemies of Israel are also the enemies of Western civilization — and they are emboldened today to press for what they want. They do not want the global stasis on which our way of life depends, with its liberality of trade, travel, and culture. Obama still has a little time to avert the battle they are preparing for — a battle that will unfold excruciatingly over weeks and months of probing Israel and the West by unconventional methods — but now is the time to act. If he fails to do so, he will rapidly lose control over what the fight is about and what America’s role in it is to be.

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Stumping the State Department

Quick — name three good things that have come from the U.S.’s participating in the UN Human Rights Council! OK, it was a trick question. We have accomplished nothing there. P.J. Crowley couldn’t even come up with one:

QUESTION: P.J., earlier today, the UN Human Rights Council passed a pretty strong condemnatory resolution about the flotilla incident. Among the items in this resolution is the creation of a independent fact-finding mission to go and investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance. I realize that you guys voted against this along with two of your stalwart allies, but it passed pretty overwhelmingly. I’m wondering if this is the kind of thing that you were thinking about when you were talking about an international component to the Israeli investigation. 

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think you heard in our explanation of vote that we considered this to be a rush to judgment. I would call attention in the resolution that it actually condemned the attack by Israeli forces before Israel or anyone else has had the opportunity to fairly evaluate the facts. So that is the reason why we voted no.. .

QUESTION: So in the 18 months that you are — 15, 16 months that you’ve been on the council, have you seen it improve? 

MR.CROWLEY: We think our presence on the council is positive and constructive. 

QUESTION: How did that manifest itself in this vote? 

CROWLEY: Well, we — there was a — I mean, all we can do — we have — we don’t — we don’t dictate what the Human Rights Council. …

QUESTION: The previous administration didn’t — didn’t — I mean, didn’t — they basically ignored the whole council because — because of situations like this. 

CROWLEY: Well, and we don’t think ignoring, you know, these issues. …

QUESTION: So your no vote is enough? 

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the no vote is what we’re empowered to do as part of the Human Rights Council. We will continue to work — you know, I mean, we’ll — we’ll engage in the Human Rights Council, just as we’re engaging on the margins of the International Criminal Court review conference. You had a briefing about that earlier this afternoon. 

We — we are willing to work constructively with countries around the world on the most urgent issues that face us all. We understand that there will be times where our view may carry the day, and there will be times where our — you know, other countries have different points of view.

Got that? In fact, we’ve done plenty of damage by being there — displaying our impotence and elevating the profile of regimes that are among the worst human rights abusers. The administration keeps saying it defends Israel in international bodies. When? How?

The administration’s participation in the Human Rights Council is a sop to the thugocracies. The notion that we are doing good by showing them deference is based on nothing but wishful thinking. Hillary told us that “ideology is so yesterday.” Actually, it’s alive and well in the State Department.

Quick — name three good things that have come from the U.S.’s participating in the UN Human Rights Council! OK, it was a trick question. We have accomplished nothing there. P.J. Crowley couldn’t even come up with one:

QUESTION: P.J., earlier today, the UN Human Rights Council passed a pretty strong condemnatory resolution about the flotilla incident. Among the items in this resolution is the creation of a independent fact-finding mission to go and investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance. I realize that you guys voted against this along with two of your stalwart allies, but it passed pretty overwhelmingly. I’m wondering if this is the kind of thing that you were thinking about when you were talking about an international component to the Israeli investigation. 

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think you heard in our explanation of vote that we considered this to be a rush to judgment. I would call attention in the resolution that it actually condemned the attack by Israeli forces before Israel or anyone else has had the opportunity to fairly evaluate the facts. So that is the reason why we voted no.. .

QUESTION: So in the 18 months that you are — 15, 16 months that you’ve been on the council, have you seen it improve? 

MR.CROWLEY: We think our presence on the council is positive and constructive. 

QUESTION: How did that manifest itself in this vote? 

CROWLEY: Well, we — there was a — I mean, all we can do — we have — we don’t — we don’t dictate what the Human Rights Council. …

QUESTION: The previous administration didn’t — didn’t — I mean, didn’t — they basically ignored the whole council because — because of situations like this. 

CROWLEY: Well, and we don’t think ignoring, you know, these issues. …

QUESTION: So your no vote is enough? 

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, the no vote is what we’re empowered to do as part of the Human Rights Council. We will continue to work — you know, I mean, we’ll — we’ll engage in the Human Rights Council, just as we’re engaging on the margins of the International Criminal Court review conference. You had a briefing about that earlier this afternoon. 

We — we are willing to work constructively with countries around the world on the most urgent issues that face us all. We understand that there will be times where our view may carry the day, and there will be times where our — you know, other countries have different points of view.

Got that? In fact, we’ve done plenty of damage by being there — displaying our impotence and elevating the profile of regimes that are among the worst human rights abusers. The administration keeps saying it defends Israel in international bodies. When? How?

The administration’s participation in the Human Rights Council is a sop to the thugocracies. The notion that we are doing good by showing them deference is based on nothing but wishful thinking. Hillary told us that “ideology is so yesterday.” Actually, it’s alive and well in the State Department.

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Why Doesn’t Obama “Panic” About Iran?

We are told there is a “little bit of panic” in the White House over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. White House flacks worry it threatens Obama’s aura of competence (if one supposes that sky-high unemployment, the loss of key gubernatorial races and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the gaping deficit, and his sagging poll numbers haven’t already scuffed it up). Politico reports:

“There is no good answer to this,” one senior administration official said. “There is no readily apparent solution besides one that could take three months. … If it doesn’t show the impotence of the government, it shows the limits of the government.”

Hope and change was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.

I suppose there are symbolic moments that provide a tipping point, but have the reporters not noticed that those bigger and bolder federal interventions are what is driving down his and the Democrats’ popularity? The panic, I think, is indicative not of the magnitude of the issue or the reaction of the public (Does a majority of the public really blame Obama for the oil spill?) but instead of the obsession of this administration (and its media handmaidens) with spin, image, and communication as the answer to every challenge Obama faces. (“‘They weren’t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,’ an outside White House adviser said.”)

What is interesting is what isn’t panicking the White House. The “we have no plan” Iran memo from Robert Gates doesn’t panic them. SCUD missiles in Syria only engenders “deep concern.” Sky-high unemployment figures with little prospect of robust job creation? Yawn.

And it’s equally interesting what sort of villian gets the administration’s attention: “At the same time, they’ve identified a villain — BP — with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying he’d keep a ‘boot on the neck’ of the company to ensure it would pay for and toil over a cleanup of historic proportions.” An exasperated reader emails me: “Will we hear Robert Gibbs say, ‘ We will keep the boot on the neck of the Iranian nuclear program'”? Uh, no.

In sum, the oil spill is an illuminating event — in large part because it stands in contrast to the more serious threats and the lackadaisical attitude this administration demonstrates toward everything that doesn’t threaten the president’s image and political standing. But here’s the thing: what’s going to happen to that aura of competence when the mullahs get a nuclear weapon? Ah, now that will be a communications problem.

We are told there is a “little bit of panic” in the White House over the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. White House flacks worry it threatens Obama’s aura of competence (if one supposes that sky-high unemployment, the loss of key gubernatorial races and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the gaping deficit, and his sagging poll numbers haven’t already scuffed it up). Politico reports:

“There is no good answer to this,” one senior administration official said. “There is no readily apparent solution besides one that could take three months. … If it doesn’t show the impotence of the government, it shows the limits of the government.”

Hope and change was Obama’s headline message in 2008, but those atop his campaign have always said that it was Obama’s cool competence — exemplified by his level-headed handling of the financial meltdown during the campaign’s waning days — that sealed the deal with independents and skeptical Democrats. The promise of rational, responsive and efficient government is Obama’s brand, his justification for bigger and bolder federal interventions and, ultimately, his rationale for a second term.

I suppose there are symbolic moments that provide a tipping point, but have the reporters not noticed that those bigger and bolder federal interventions are what is driving down his and the Democrats’ popularity? The panic, I think, is indicative not of the magnitude of the issue or the reaction of the public (Does a majority of the public really blame Obama for the oil spill?) but instead of the obsession of this administration (and its media handmaidens) with spin, image, and communication as the answer to every challenge Obama faces. (“‘They weren’t slow on the response; they were slow on talking about it,’ an outside White House adviser said.”)

What is interesting is what isn’t panicking the White House. The “we have no plan” Iran memo from Robert Gates doesn’t panic them. SCUD missiles in Syria only engenders “deep concern.” Sky-high unemployment figures with little prospect of robust job creation? Yawn.

And it’s equally interesting what sort of villian gets the administration’s attention: “At the same time, they’ve identified a villain — BP — with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar saying he’d keep a ‘boot on the neck’ of the company to ensure it would pay for and toil over a cleanup of historic proportions.” An exasperated reader emails me: “Will we hear Robert Gibbs say, ‘ We will keep the boot on the neck of the Iranian nuclear program'”? Uh, no.

In sum, the oil spill is an illuminating event — in large part because it stands in contrast to the more serious threats and the lackadaisical attitude this administration demonstrates toward everything that doesn’t threaten the president’s image and political standing. But here’s the thing: what’s going to happen to that aura of competence when the mullahs get a nuclear weapon? Ah, now that will be a communications problem.

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Iran Tests Obama — Again

A sharp-eyed reader calls my attention to this report over the weekend:

The Obama administration renewed calls Friday for Iran to immediately release three American hikers detained for nearly nine months and appealed to the Iranian government to issue their families visas to visit them.

A day after the families said two of the three are in poor health, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was no reason for their continued detention. He spoke after receiving a report from Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit the trio in Tehran’s Evin prison Thursday.

The administration puts out a meek statement, pleading for the Americans’ release:

“While we welcome this news, we continue to call for their release,” Crowley said. “We are aware of the families’ concerns about their children’s physical and emotional state of health.” He said the families should be given visas.

“These three Americans have been in detention for almost nine months without formal charges or access to legal representation,” he said. “They should be released without further delay.”

Well, we certainly know the mullahs see no downside to holding Americans. No serious consequences will be forthcoming and they might even get a diplomatic pat on the back if they let them go before they perish in Evin. They have learned from this president that whether it is violations of existing UN sanctions, missed deadlines in nuclear talks, aggression by their junior partner Bashar Assad, or grabbing Americans, the administration never lowers the boom.

If you have the sense you’ve seen this before — a radical Iranian regime kidnapping Americans to demonstrate the impotence of a naive American president — you’re right. But now, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, the stakes are much higher.

A sharp-eyed reader calls my attention to this report over the weekend:

The Obama administration renewed calls Friday for Iran to immediately release three American hikers detained for nearly nine months and appealed to the Iranian government to issue their families visas to visit them.

A day after the families said two of the three are in poor health, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said there was no reason for their continued detention. He spoke after receiving a report from Swiss diplomats who were allowed to visit the trio in Tehran’s Evin prison Thursday.

The administration puts out a meek statement, pleading for the Americans’ release:

“While we welcome this news, we continue to call for their release,” Crowley said. “We are aware of the families’ concerns about their children’s physical and emotional state of health.” He said the families should be given visas.

“These three Americans have been in detention for almost nine months without formal charges or access to legal representation,” he said. “They should be released without further delay.”

Well, we certainly know the mullahs see no downside to holding Americans. No serious consequences will be forthcoming and they might even get a diplomatic pat on the back if they let them go before they perish in Evin. They have learned from this president that whether it is violations of existing UN sanctions, missed deadlines in nuclear talks, aggression by their junior partner Bashar Assad, or grabbing Americans, the administration never lowers the boom.

If you have the sense you’ve seen this before — a radical Iranian regime kidnapping Americans to demonstrate the impotence of a naive American president — you’re right. But now, with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, the stakes are much higher.

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Obama Legacy Watch

As Jennifer points out, Syria joined Libya at the Arab League summit this weekend in egging on the Palestinian Arabs to quit the peace process with Israel. There were many ominous references at the summit to the probable failure of the current peace process, but the League reached no unified resolution on a way ahead for the Palestinian question. Arab news outlets derided this lack of resolution as a missed opportunity to declare the peace process dead and take a harder line with Israel. But there was no question among observers that, as Al Jazeera proclaimed, “Israel dominated the summit.”

This isn’t surprising, of course, but in the larger context of regional dynamics, it’s a bad sign. With Iran supporting insurgencies in Yemen and Lebanon, establishing a military presence in the Red Sea, and nearing a nuclear breakout, the summit’s histrionic focus on housing construction in a part of Jerusalem that has never even been on the bargaining table has a somewhat demented air about it.

The League didn’t ignore Iran, however. On Saturday, Egypt’s Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s secretary-general, reiterated his call for a regional negotiating forum with Iran. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan endorsed the Moussa proposal — which includes Turkey as a forum participant — with alacrity. Erdogan himself was present at the summit and made headlines with his official address on Sunday, in which he referred to Israel’s stance on Jerusalem as “madness.” He then pointedly appropriated a biblical allusion — “Jerusalem is the apple of the eye of each and every Muslim” — and pretty much put to rest any doubts about his partisan posture. (Not that there were many doubts remaining after his March 7 proclamation that Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.”)

Barack Obama’s legacy is beginning to emerge. An Al Jazeera editorial writer made this telling statement in a background article on the Arab summit on Friday: “Arab leaders often meet in order to follow U.S. dictates.” We in the U.S. don’t think that’s true, naturally, but the overstatement does get at the underlying truth that U.S. policy has for several decades set boundaries on what the Middle East’s various actors consider possible. In countering the Soviet Union, affirming Israel’s right to exist, containing Iran, and keeping the seaways open, American policy has set the conditions in which the nations of the region operated.

The irresolution of this weekend’s summit is an indication that the Arab League’s members aren’t sure yet what boundaries are implied by Obama’s policy. But after 14 months of it, Turkey’s overtly Islamist posture is hardening and its commitment to secularism is being dismantled. The Arab League is talking seriously about launching a negotiating forum with Iran, precisely because of the impotence of U.S. policy. And the League is pessimistic about the future of the peace process, unified on this point if on no other: that under current conditions, the Palestinians should not agree to rejoin sponsored talks of any kind.

As Jennifer points out, Syria joined Libya at the Arab League summit this weekend in egging on the Palestinian Arabs to quit the peace process with Israel. There were many ominous references at the summit to the probable failure of the current peace process, but the League reached no unified resolution on a way ahead for the Palestinian question. Arab news outlets derided this lack of resolution as a missed opportunity to declare the peace process dead and take a harder line with Israel. But there was no question among observers that, as Al Jazeera proclaimed, “Israel dominated the summit.”

This isn’t surprising, of course, but in the larger context of regional dynamics, it’s a bad sign. With Iran supporting insurgencies in Yemen and Lebanon, establishing a military presence in the Red Sea, and nearing a nuclear breakout, the summit’s histrionic focus on housing construction in a part of Jerusalem that has never even been on the bargaining table has a somewhat demented air about it.

The League didn’t ignore Iran, however. On Saturday, Egypt’s Amr Moussa, the Arab League’s secretary-general, reiterated his call for a regional negotiating forum with Iran. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan endorsed the Moussa proposal — which includes Turkey as a forum participant — with alacrity. Erdogan himself was present at the summit and made headlines with his official address on Sunday, in which he referred to Israel’s stance on Jerusalem as “madness.” He then pointedly appropriated a biblical allusion — “Jerusalem is the apple of the eye of each and every Muslim” — and pretty much put to rest any doubts about his partisan posture. (Not that there were many doubts remaining after his March 7 proclamation that Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs “were not and never will be Jewish sites, but Islamic sites.”)

Barack Obama’s legacy is beginning to emerge. An Al Jazeera editorial writer made this telling statement in a background article on the Arab summit on Friday: “Arab leaders often meet in order to follow U.S. dictates.” We in the U.S. don’t think that’s true, naturally, but the overstatement does get at the underlying truth that U.S. policy has for several decades set boundaries on what the Middle East’s various actors consider possible. In countering the Soviet Union, affirming Israel’s right to exist, containing Iran, and keeping the seaways open, American policy has set the conditions in which the nations of the region operated.

The irresolution of this weekend’s summit is an indication that the Arab League’s members aren’t sure yet what boundaries are implied by Obama’s policy. But after 14 months of it, Turkey’s overtly Islamist posture is hardening and its commitment to secularism is being dismantled. The Arab League is talking seriously about launching a negotiating forum with Iran, precisely because of the impotence of U.S. policy. And the League is pessimistic about the future of the peace process, unified on this point if on no other: that under current conditions, the Palestinians should not agree to rejoin sponsored talks of any kind.

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McCain Is Losing the Iran Debate

Two thoughts on the Obama-Iran-appeasement controversy:

1. It seems to me that it’s a victory for Obama. The Iran debate is being defined as one of diplomatic engagement versus diplomatic isolation, with Obama presenting himself as the bearer of a new strategy while McCain is portrayed as obdurately insisting on the approach of the Bush administration. This, of course, creates an unsavory political problem for McCain, in which he is said to represent a third Bush term. But it also allows the recent history of Iran diplomacy to become completely fictionalized.

Over the past six years, we have seen almost exactly an Obama approach to Iran, save for Obama’s promised “presidential diplomacy” (which sounds more like a graduate school course than a national security strategy, but I digress). From 2002 to 2006, the EU-3 (Germany, France, the UK) and the IAEA attempted to dissuade the Iranians from their nuclear program through high-level diplomacy, and when that saga of fruitlessness was finally handed over to the UN Security Council, Russia and China saw to it that the only sanctions passed would illustrate nothing more than the ambivalence and impotence of the international community.

So it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

2. Why is McCain allowing himself to be dragged into a debate about presidential-level diplomacy, when the more important question — and the question whose answer is more politically favorable to McCain — is whether diplomatic engagement will actually get anything accomplished? McCain should be asking Obama what concessions he realistically thinks he’s going to get from the Iranians upon going hat in hand to Tehran. UN Security Council sanctions have done virtually nothing to impede Iran, nor have EU diplomacy or IAEA reports. Russia and China continue to stand as the major impediments to the kind of UN sanctions that might so cripple Iran that it would give up its nuclear development. The hard question for Obama, who says he wishes to pursue “tough diplomacy,” is how he proposes to get these two stalwarts on board. The question of whether the President should go calling on Assad and Ahmadinejad is an important one, and it says a lot about a person’s understanding of foreign policy and the Middle East. But ultimately it is a diversion that does no favors for McCain.

Two thoughts on the Obama-Iran-appeasement controversy:

1. It seems to me that it’s a victory for Obama. The Iran debate is being defined as one of diplomatic engagement versus diplomatic isolation, with Obama presenting himself as the bearer of a new strategy while McCain is portrayed as obdurately insisting on the approach of the Bush administration. This, of course, creates an unsavory political problem for McCain, in which he is said to represent a third Bush term. But it also allows the recent history of Iran diplomacy to become completely fictionalized.

Over the past six years, we have seen almost exactly an Obama approach to Iran, save for Obama’s promised “presidential diplomacy” (which sounds more like a graduate school course than a national security strategy, but I digress). From 2002 to 2006, the EU-3 (Germany, France, the UK) and the IAEA attempted to dissuade the Iranians from their nuclear program through high-level diplomacy, and when that saga of fruitlessness was finally handed over to the UN Security Council, Russia and China saw to it that the only sanctions passed would illustrate nothing more than the ambivalence and impotence of the international community.

So it seems to me that McCain should be making a bigger deal over the fact that the western world has indeed been deeply involved in attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear program through almost exactly the kind of diplomacy that Obama says has yet to be tried. McCain should emphasize the fact that the Iranians have not only been unmoved by this “diplomatic offensive,” but have used the negotiations in order to buy time for nuclear development.

2. Why is McCain allowing himself to be dragged into a debate about presidential-level diplomacy, when the more important question — and the question whose answer is more politically favorable to McCain — is whether diplomatic engagement will actually get anything accomplished? McCain should be asking Obama what concessions he realistically thinks he’s going to get from the Iranians upon going hat in hand to Tehran. UN Security Council sanctions have done virtually nothing to impede Iran, nor have EU diplomacy or IAEA reports. Russia and China continue to stand as the major impediments to the kind of UN sanctions that might so cripple Iran that it would give up its nuclear development. The hard question for Obama, who says he wishes to pursue “tough diplomacy,” is how he proposes to get these two stalwarts on board. The question of whether the President should go calling on Assad and Ahmadinejad is an important one, and it says a lot about a person’s understanding of foreign policy and the Middle East. But ultimately it is a diversion that does no favors for McCain.

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About That Basra Debacle . . .

Ever since the Iraqi insurgency first proved resilient, the MSM has not missed an opportunity to label any military challenge a lost cause. On March 31, the New York Times’s James Glanz and Erica Goode reported that the Iraqi military was unable to drive Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army from Basra, forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to approach Sadr, hat in hand, and plead with him to stand down. Sadr reportedly complied. The Times painted a worrisome picture of Maliki’s predicament:

Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Three weeks later. Same battle, same players, same paper, same reporter. Here’s James Glanz, writing this time with Alissa J. Rubin in today’s New York Times.

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

[…]

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force. . .

What a strange ceasefire it was, leading as it did to three more weeks of fighting; what a strange powerlessness Maliki suffered, leading as it did to total victory; and what a strange power flaunted by Sadr, leading as it did to total defeat.

In short, the evidence is in: the Times got Basra upside down. The battle that James Glanz saw as a decisive sign of Maliki’s impotence, Sadr’s influence, and Iraq’s hopelessness proved to be a demonstration of Maliki’s adaptability, Sadr’s irrelevance, and Iraq’s capacity to free itself from the sectarian divisions that characterized its pre-Surge state of affairs. To be sure, Maliki stumbled in the early parts of the Basra fight. However, he obviously did not approach Sadr as a desperate man, but as a statesman who wanted to augment his military approach with diplomacy. At the time, Maliki even said Iraqi troops would continue the fight in Basra—a fact the Times ignored.

In his statement on Saturday, Sadr summed up the most important aspect: “This government has forgotten that we are their brothers and were part of them.” Indeed, they have. Mesopotamia’s supposedly inescapable sectarian allegiances are loosening, and those who are set on exploiting the Iraq that was will continue to find themselves complaining on the sidelines.

Ever since the Iraqi insurgency first proved resilient, the MSM has not missed an opportunity to label any military challenge a lost cause. On March 31, the New York Times’s James Glanz and Erica Goode reported that the Iraqi military was unable to drive Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army from Basra, forcing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to approach Sadr, hat in hand, and plead with him to stand down. Sadr reportedly complied. The Times painted a worrisome picture of Maliki’s predicament:

Many Iraqi politicians say that Mr. Maliki’s political capital has been severely depleted by the Basra campaign and that he is in the curious position of having to turn to Mr. Sadr, a longtime rival, for a way out.

And it was a chance for Mr. Sadr to flaunt his power, commanding both armed force and political strength that can forcefully challenge the other dominant Shiite parties, including Mr. Maliki’s Dawa movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Three weeks later. Same battle, same players, same paper, same reporter. Here’s James Glanz, writing this time with Alissa J. Rubin in today’s New York Times.

Iraqi soldiers took control of the last bastions of the cleric Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in Basra on Saturday, and Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad strongly endorsed the Iraqi government’s monthlong military operation against the fighters.

[…]

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force. . .

What a strange ceasefire it was, leading as it did to three more weeks of fighting; what a strange powerlessness Maliki suffered, leading as it did to total victory; and what a strange power flaunted by Sadr, leading as it did to total defeat.

In short, the evidence is in: the Times got Basra upside down. The battle that James Glanz saw as a decisive sign of Maliki’s impotence, Sadr’s influence, and Iraq’s hopelessness proved to be a demonstration of Maliki’s adaptability, Sadr’s irrelevance, and Iraq’s capacity to free itself from the sectarian divisions that characterized its pre-Surge state of affairs. To be sure, Maliki stumbled in the early parts of the Basra fight. However, he obviously did not approach Sadr as a desperate man, but as a statesman who wanted to augment his military approach with diplomacy. At the time, Maliki even said Iraqi troops would continue the fight in Basra—a fact the Times ignored.

In his statement on Saturday, Sadr summed up the most important aspect: “This government has forgotten that we are their brothers and were part of them.” Indeed, they have. Mesopotamia’s supposedly inescapable sectarian allegiances are loosening, and those who are set on exploiting the Iraq that was will continue to find themselves complaining on the sidelines.

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Why The Bin Laden Speculation?

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

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Britain’s Humiliation

An American friend asks what I, as an Englishman, think about the hostage affair. My answer is that words cannot express how sickened, humiliated, soiled, contaminated, and ashamed I feel.

I feel sickened by the fact that a ship in the navy of Nelson could be captured without a shot being fired, and that British sailors and marines could participate in propaganda stunts that go far beyond the old rubric of giving name, rank and number only, and finally parade before Ahmadinejad to beg his forgiveness.

I feel humiliated by the impotence of our government and armed forces in the face of naked aggression, a humiliation compounded by the disloyalty of our European partners and the refusal of Russia and China to support British forces kidnapped while carrying out a UN mission.

Read More

An American friend asks what I, as an Englishman, think about the hostage affair. My answer is that words cannot express how sickened, humiliated, soiled, contaminated, and ashamed I feel.

I feel sickened by the fact that a ship in the navy of Nelson could be captured without a shot being fired, and that British sailors and marines could participate in propaganda stunts that go far beyond the old rubric of giving name, rank and number only, and finally parade before Ahmadinejad to beg his forgiveness.

I feel humiliated by the impotence of our government and armed forces in the face of naked aggression, a humiliation compounded by the disloyalty of our European partners and the refusal of Russia and China to support British forces kidnapped while carrying out a UN mission.

I feel soiled by the apologists for Iran who pervade our airwaves and press, led by the former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, now chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce. Lamont claims that Tony Blair’s support for American policy is to blame for Iran’s hostility, and that the release of the hostages proves that “neocons” were wrong to urge a tough line.

I feel contaminated by the sight of Ahmadinejad posing as a benefactor even as he orders yet more terrorist attacks in Iraq. One of the most recent: a bomb that killed four British soldiers and an interpreter in Basra just as the hostages were being released.

I feel ashamed of Patricia Hewitt, our health secretary, who criticized the woman sailor held hostage for smoking a cigarette, but said nothing about the indignity of her being deprived of her uniform, forced to wear a Muslim headscarf, and patronized by Ahmadinejad because she was a mother.

Tony Blair waited until the sailors and marines were safely home before reminding the British people that Iran is arming, financing, and inciting terrorism throughout the region while defying the will of the international community in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, reported the prime minister’s remarks as responding to a gesture of friendship from Iran with “a slap in the face.”

In reality, Blair has been frustrated by his inability to respond more robustly to the Iranian provocation. America’s former ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, told the BBC that the Iranians were testing the British to see if there would be any price to pay for their outrageous behavior. Now they had their answer, said Bolton: “Softly, softly.” I don’t think he meant it as a compliment.

The Iranians will be emboldened, realizing that the media’s sentimentality in hostage crises imposes a crippling handicap on Western leaders who, like Blair, wish to avoid appeasement at all costs. Negotiations with Tehran almost certainly made no difference to Ahmadinejad’s decision. (They may even have been counter-productive in their bestowal of a spurious legitimacy on Iran.) Such negotiations were nonetheless demanded by the arbiters of public opinion in preference to other diplomatic or military responses.

In the U.S., Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi are demanding similar negotiations with Syria. Wrong for Iran; wrong for Syria. To jaw-jaw may, as Churchill said to Eisenhower in 1954, always be better than to war-war, but not if the guy you are jaw-jawing with is quietly war-warring behind your back.

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