Commentary Magazine


Topic: Indonesia

Last Javan Synagogue Destroyed

Alas, bad news from Indonesia, which otherwise has managed its counter-radicalization program well in recent years. The last synagogue in Java—a historical building that predated Indonesian independence—has been destroyed after having been blockaded for several years by Indonesian Islamists. From the Jakarta Globe:

The last vestige of one Indonesia’s oldest and largest Jewish communities is now just a pile of rubble. Beth Shalom in Surabaya — Java’s one and only synagogue — was demolished in May after being sealed off by Islamic hard-liners in 2009. “It’s not clear when exactly it was demolished and who did it,” Freddy Istanto, the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society (SHS), told the Jakarta Globe. “In mid-May, I was informed by a member of the SHS that the synagogue was destroyed. In disbelief, I went over there and it had been flattened.”

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Alas, bad news from Indonesia, which otherwise has managed its counter-radicalization program well in recent years. The last synagogue in Java—a historical building that predated Indonesian independence—has been destroyed after having been blockaded for several years by Indonesian Islamists. From the Jakarta Globe:

The last vestige of one Indonesia’s oldest and largest Jewish communities is now just a pile of rubble. Beth Shalom in Surabaya — Java’s one and only synagogue — was demolished in May after being sealed off by Islamic hard-liners in 2009. “It’s not clear when exactly it was demolished and who did it,” Freddy Istanto, the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society (SHS), told the Jakarta Globe. “In mid-May, I was informed by a member of the SHS that the synagogue was destroyed. In disbelief, I went over there and it had been flattened.”

The Jewish community in Indonesia may have withered, but the protection of such heritage sites is crucial to any semblance of tolerance in society. Many hardline Islamists seek to not only rid their present society of religious and sectarian diversity, but also retroactively cleanse their past so that the presence and contribution of minorities are forgotten. Indonesia now has only one synagogue left. Let us hope that the Indonesian government will not once again turn a blind eye. To do so will be to convince radicals that they have carte blanche to act outside the law, and will convince the outside world that Indonesia’s reputation for moderation and tolerance is ill-deserved.

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More on the Freedom Agenda

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

I want to add several thought to John’s illuminating post on neoconservatism and democracy.

1. The most radical Islamic governments in the world — Iran, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam, Sudan, Syria, the PLO under Yasir Arafat, and others — did not come to power through elections. The Middle East, without democracy, is hardly a region characterized by tranquility and peace. And we have plenty of successful precedents of authoritarian/totalitarian regimes making a successful transition to democracy (in Central and Eastern Europe, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Iraq, and post–WWII Japan and Germany among them).

2. The fact that not every election goes as we might hope does not invalidate support for elections or the effort to promote liberty in other lands. Adolf Hitler came to power through elections in Germany in 1933. Should that election have undermined democracy as an idea?

3. Freedom has a remarkable historical track record, including in regions of the world once thought to be inimical to it. But it takes patience and commitment to see it through to success. The democratic evolution of Iraq, while certainly imperfect and fragile, is a source of encouragement. And among the best testimonies to how lethal liberty is to the aims of militant Islam is the energy and ruthlessness with which al-Qaeda and Iran tried to strangle freedom in Iraq.

4. If a healthy political culture is the sine qua non for self-government, then we are essentially telling every, or at least many, non-democratic societies that freedom is beyond their reach. It’s not. Still, strong liberal institutions will certainly assist freedom to take root. That’s why American policy should encourage democratic institution-building. Our influence in this area is often limited; but limited is not the same as nonexistent.

5. It’s not clear what the alternative is for the critics of democracy. The Egyptian revolution began in response to the oppression of the Mubarak regime, without American support. Given where we are, do critics of the freedom agenda believe we should support more repression in order to exert even greater control within Arab societies — repression that helped give rise to the resentments, violence, and toxic anti-Americanism that has characterized much of the Middle East?

In the Middle East, Western nations tolerated oppression for the sake of “stability.” But this merely bought time as ideologies of violence took hold. As the events in Egypt demonstrate, the sand has just about run out of the hourglass.

This doesn’t mean that our policy should be indiscriminate. The goal isn’t for America to act as a scythe that decapitates every autocratic regime in the world. And it doesn’t mean that democratic-led revolutions can’t be hijacked.

Still, there’s no way other than democracy to fundamentally reform the Arab Middle East. Self-government and the accompanying rise in free institutions is the only route to a better world — and because the work is difficult, doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

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Egypt Needs Liberalism

All this talk about whether democracy in Egypt will be a good thing or a bad thing just goes to show how misunderstood the word democracy is. Democracy refers not so much to elections but to liberalism in the general sense of the word.

If Egyptians elect the Muslim Brotherhood in a free and fair election, and the Muslim Brotherhood then rigs or even cancels every election that follows, Egypt will not be in any way shape or form a democracy. It will be a dictatorship that happened to have an election.

Mature liberal democracies have checks and balances, the separation of powers, equal rights for minorities, restrictions on the power and reach of the victors, and guarantees that those who lose will not be persecuted.

The Arab world doesn’t need a one-time plebiscite on whom the next tyrant is going to be. It needs liberalism. Egypt won’t get it from the Muslim Brotherhood, nor was Egypt ever going to get it from Hosni Mubarak.

I have no idea if Egypt will get it any time soon. Unfortunately, the profoundly illiberal Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Something like the Iranian Revolution in 1979 may well be replicated, but it isn’t the only possible outcome. Indonesia managed to overthrow Suharto without bringing a Southeast Asian Khomeini to power, and Albanians face no threat of an Islamist takeover even decades after removing Enver Hoxha.

All this talk about whether democracy in Egypt will be a good thing or a bad thing just goes to show how misunderstood the word democracy is. Democracy refers not so much to elections but to liberalism in the general sense of the word.

If Egyptians elect the Muslim Brotherhood in a free and fair election, and the Muslim Brotherhood then rigs or even cancels every election that follows, Egypt will not be in any way shape or form a democracy. It will be a dictatorship that happened to have an election.

Mature liberal democracies have checks and balances, the separation of powers, equal rights for minorities, restrictions on the power and reach of the victors, and guarantees that those who lose will not be persecuted.

The Arab world doesn’t need a one-time plebiscite on whom the next tyrant is going to be. It needs liberalism. Egypt won’t get it from the Muslim Brotherhood, nor was Egypt ever going to get it from Hosni Mubarak.

I have no idea if Egypt will get it any time soon. Unfortunately, the profoundly illiberal Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Something like the Iranian Revolution in 1979 may well be replicated, but it isn’t the only possible outcome. Indonesia managed to overthrow Suharto without bringing a Southeast Asian Khomeini to power, and Albanians face no threat of an Islamist takeover even decades after removing Enver Hoxha.

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Wolfowitz on the Convulsions in Egypt

In an interview with the Spectator (UK), Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz makes some insightful observations as they relate to the revolution now unfolding in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Wolfowitz, (a) the predominant sentiment in the streets is not strongly Islamist; (b) Islamists, however, are hurrying to get into the game — and in Egypt, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood increases the risk of a bad outcome; (c) Western governments can be a positive force on behalf of genuine freedom and against attempts to impose a new kind of tyranny of the Islamist variety; and (d) we can’t be a positive force if we are seen as propping up a hated tyrant or, worse, if we are perceived as encouraging the kind of bloody crackdown that could at best produce an artificial “stability” for a relatively short period of time.

“The possibility of a bad outcome is very real, particularly because we did nothing to encourage more evolutionary change earlier,” Wolfowitz says, “but I believe we have a better chance of a good outcome if we support positive change than if we support the status quo.”

He mentions democratic transitions over the past several decades, in places like the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, and nations (like Chile) in Latin America. “Few of these countries would qualify as Westminster-style democracies,” according to Wolfowitz, “but most are far better off as a result of these democratic transitions, and so are we.”

So far, he says, Tunisia and Egypt seem to be following this paradigm.

If Arab nations had started the kind of political reform some were advocating years ago, the current convulsions would not be happening. But Egypt is where Egypt is, and the goal of the United States should be to assist the pro-democracy forces there as best we can. Pessimism, fatalism, and lamentations are not a particularly useful guide to policy, especially when events are still unfolding and can, with a mix of skill and luck, go our way.

Nothing good is guaranteed, but nothing bad is inevitable.

In an interview with the Spectator (UK), Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz makes some insightful observations as they relate to the revolution now unfolding in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

According to Wolfowitz, (a) the predominant sentiment in the streets is not strongly Islamist; (b) Islamists, however, are hurrying to get into the game — and in Egypt, the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood increases the risk of a bad outcome; (c) Western governments can be a positive force on behalf of genuine freedom and against attempts to impose a new kind of tyranny of the Islamist variety; and (d) we can’t be a positive force if we are seen as propping up a hated tyrant or, worse, if we are perceived as encouraging the kind of bloody crackdown that could at best produce an artificial “stability” for a relatively short period of time.

“The possibility of a bad outcome is very real, particularly because we did nothing to encourage more evolutionary change earlier,” Wolfowitz says, “but I believe we have a better chance of a good outcome if we support positive change than if we support the status quo.”

He mentions democratic transitions over the past several decades, in places like the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Indonesia, Central and Eastern Europe, and nations (like Chile) in Latin America. “Few of these countries would qualify as Westminster-style democracies,” according to Wolfowitz, “but most are far better off as a result of these democratic transitions, and so are we.”

So far, he says, Tunisia and Egypt seem to be following this paradigm.

If Arab nations had started the kind of political reform some were advocating years ago, the current convulsions would not be happening. But Egypt is where Egypt is, and the goal of the United States should be to assist the pro-democracy forces there as best we can. Pessimism, fatalism, and lamentations are not a particularly useful guide to policy, especially when events are still unfolding and can, with a mix of skill and luck, go our way.

Nothing good is guaranteed, but nothing bad is inevitable.

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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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Support for Terrorism Falls…but More Slowly Than During the Bush Years

In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik points out that public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years.

Using the results from the most recent Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Muravchik focuses on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America, he writes, but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

In summarizing the data, Muravchik writes:

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified (as opposed to “rarely” or “never”).

These results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama’s engagement project, according to Muravchik, since a few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But he adds that the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden. And it shows

an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Only in Pakistan was the largest drop between 2008 and 2009—but the poll was taken in April 2009, so Mr. Bush was in office more than Mr. Obama during that one-year interval. From 2009 to 2010, the one full-year interval of Mr. Obama’s presidency for which Pew offers data, the decline was negligible everywhere except in Jordan, where the drop-off was smaller than it was from 2005 to 2006. [emphasis added]

In exploring the reasons for this, Muravchik concludes that “the data are too slender to sustain the claim that Mr. Bush’s policies succeeded in turning much of the Muslim world against terrorism. But they are substantial enough to inform our understanding that Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved little in this regard.”

My own hunch is, as Muravchik suggests, that the actions of al-Qaeda may be the crucial variable. As its savagery became more and more apparent in Iraq and elsewhere, large portions of the Islamic world turned against it and militant Islam more broadly.

But of course, Mr. Obama’s promise to transform the attitudes of the world didn’t take any of this into account. Through the force of his personality and charm, the wisdom of his policies, and his worldwide apology tours, Obama was going to win over the Muslim world in a way that was inescapable and unprecedented. The president’s speech in Cairo, you may recall, was going to be a tipping point in how the Muslim world viewed us and terrorism.

But like so many other hopes and dreams set forth by Mr. Obama, it hasn’t turned out that way. Not by a long shot.

In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Joshua Muravchik points out that public support for terrorism is still dropping in Islamic countries, but more slowly than it did during the Bush years.

Using the results from the most recent Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, Muravchik focuses on attitudes toward terrorism in several Muslim countries. The results are mildly encouraging for America, he writes, but not necessarily for Mr. Obama and his outreach efforts.

In summarizing the data, Muravchik writes:

The survey gauges attitudes toward three crucial terrorism-related subjects: al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and suicide bombings. The good news is that the proportion of pro-terror opinion continues to decline. The bad news is that the minority holding such views remains considerable.

For example, 20% of Egyptians, 23% of Indonesians and 34% of Jordanians say they hold favorable views of al Qaeda. Asked whether they have confidence that bin Laden will “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” 19% of Egyptians, 25% of Indonesians and 14% of Jordanians responded positively. On the question of suicide bombing, 20% of Egyptians, 20% of Jordanians and 15% of Indonesians said it is “often” or “sometimes” justified (as opposed to “rarely” or “never”).

These results seem to reflect well on Mr. Obama’s engagement project, according to Muravchik, since a few years ago, these measures of support for terrorism were much higher. But he adds that the Pew report also offers a time-sequence chart, dating back to 2003, of answers to the question about bin Laden. And it shows

an encouraging decrease in support for terrorism—but the largest drop came when George W. Bush was president. The sharpest decrease in terror support in Indonesia, Turkey and Lebanon came between 2003 and 2005; in Jordan, between 2005 and 2006; and in Nigeria and Egypt between 2006 and 2007.

Only in Pakistan was the largest drop between 2008 and 2009—but the poll was taken in April 2009, so Mr. Bush was in office more than Mr. Obama during that one-year interval. From 2009 to 2010, the one full-year interval of Mr. Obama’s presidency for which Pew offers data, the decline was negligible everywhere except in Jordan, where the drop-off was smaller than it was from 2005 to 2006. [emphasis added]

In exploring the reasons for this, Muravchik concludes that “the data are too slender to sustain the claim that Mr. Bush’s policies succeeded in turning much of the Muslim world against terrorism. But they are substantial enough to inform our understanding that Mr. Obama’s approach has achieved little in this regard.”

My own hunch is, as Muravchik suggests, that the actions of al-Qaeda may be the crucial variable. As its savagery became more and more apparent in Iraq and elsewhere, large portions of the Islamic world turned against it and militant Islam more broadly.

But of course, Mr. Obama’s promise to transform the attitudes of the world didn’t take any of this into account. Through the force of his personality and charm, the wisdom of his policies, and his worldwide apology tours, Obama was going to win over the Muslim world in a way that was inescapable and unprecedented. The president’s speech in Cairo, you may recall, was going to be a tipping point in how the Muslim world viewed us and terrorism.

But like so many other hopes and dreams set forth by Mr. Obama, it hasn’t turned out that way. Not by a long shot.

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A Response to John Derbyshire

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are. Read More

In his post responding to George W. Bush’s op-ed on combating AIDS in Africa, John Derbyshire writes this:

The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive. The high incidence of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is caused by customary practices there. What is needed is for people to change those customary practices. Instead, at a cost of billions to the U.S. taxpayer, we have made it possible for Africans to continue in their unhealthy, disease-spreading habits.

Perhaps the future of sub-Saharan Africa would be brighter if the people of that place changed some of their customs; but now, thanks to us, they don’t have to.

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are.

Let’s now turn to Derbyshire’s characterization that America is becoming the “welfare provider of last resort to all the world’s several billion people”: he is more than a decade behind in his understanding of overseas-development policy.

President Bush’s policies were animated by the belief that the way to save lives was to rely on the principle of accountability. That is what was transformational about Bush’s development effort. He rejected handing out money with no strings attached in favor of tying expenditures to reform and results. And it has had huge radiating effects. When PEPFAR was started, America was criticized by others for setting goals. Now the mantra around the world is “results-based development.” Yet Derbyshire seems to know nothing about any of this. That isn’t necessarily a problem — unless, of course, he decides to write on the topic.

Beyond that, though, the notion that AIDS relief in Africa is AFDC on a global scale is silly. We are not talking about providing food stamps to able-bodied adults or subsidizing illegitimacy; we’re talking about saving the lives of millions of innocent people and taking steps to keep human societies from collapsing. Private charity clearly wasn’t enough.

On the matter of Derbyshire’s claim that AIDS relief in Africa is unconnected to our national interest: al-Qaeda is actively trying to establish a greater presence in nations like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, which have become major ideological battlegrounds. And mass disease and death, poverty and hopelessness, make the rise of radicalism more, not less, likely. (Because of AIDS, in some countries nearly a half-century of public-health gains have been wiped away.)

Many things allow militant Islam to take root and grow; eliminating AIDS would certainly not eliminate jihadism. Still, a pandemic, in addition to being a human tragedy, makes governments unstable and regions ungovernable. And as one report put it, “Unstable and ungoverned regions of the world … pose dangers for neighbors and can become the setting for broader problems of terrorism … The impoverished regions of the world can be unstable, volatile, and dangerous and can represent great threats to America, Europe, and the world. We must work with the people of these regions to promote sustainable economic growth, better health, good governance and greater human security. …”

One might think that this observation very nearly qualifies as banal — but for Derbyshire, it qualifies as a revelation.

For the sake of the argument, though, let’s assume that the American government acts not out of a narrow interpretation of the national interest but instead out of benevolence — like, say, America’s response to the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations in the Indian Ocean. Why is that something we should oppose, or find alarming, or deem un-conservative? The impulse to act is, in fact, not only deeply humane but also deeply American.

In a speech in Lewiston, Illinois, in 1858, Abraham Lincoln, in quoting from the Declaration (“all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable right”), said:

This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows.

This belief about inherent human dignity does not mean that America can solve every problem in the world or that we shouldn’t focus most of our energy and treasure on America itself. But if the United States is able, at a reasonable cost ($25 billion over five years), to help prevent widespread death, that is something we should be proud of it. (A recent Stanford study found that PEPFAR was responsible for saving the lives of more than a million Africans in just its first three years.)

Derbyshire seems to take an almost childish delight in advertising his indifference to the suffering of others, at least when the others live on a different continent and come from a different culture. Back in February 2006, when more than 1,000 people were believed to have died when an Egyptian ferry sank in the Red Sea, Derbyshire wrote:

In between our last two posts I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don’t care about Egyptians.

Cultivating what Adam Smith (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments) called “sympathy” and “fellow feeling” is a complicated matter. Suffice it to say that very few of us care about the suffering and fate of others as much as we should. Yet most of us aren’t proud of this fact; we are, rather, slightly embarrassed by it. Not John Derbyshire. He seems eager to celebrate his callousness, as if it were a sign of manliness and tough-mindedness. I haven’t a clue whether this is a pose, done for shock value or some such thing, or real. All we can do is judge Derbyshire by his public words. And they are not only unpersuasive; they are at times downright ugly.

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A UN Disgrace, Again

The good news is that Iran won’t be joining the UN women’s rights panel after all. The bad news: Saudi Arabia will. This is not a joke — well the UN is, but not this incident.

Yes, Saudi Arabia. You know, the country that brought us this, this, and this. Or, if you prefer, there is our own State Department’s evaluation of the Saudi’s violent misogyny. The administration doesn’t do much, but it sure does document the monstrous treatment of women and girls in the Kingdom of Saud:

During the year the following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to change the government peacefully; disappearances; torture and physical abuse; poor prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention; denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; and corruption and lack of government transparency. Violence against women, violations of the rights of children, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. …

The government views marital relations between spouses as contractual and did not recognize spousal rape. According to the law, if a man rapes a woman, she is viewed as being at fault for illegal mixing of genders and is punished along with her attacker. Statistics on incidents of rape were not available, but press reports and observers indicated rape against women and boys was a serious problem. …

There were no laws specifically prohibiting domestic violence. Government officials stated that the government did not clearly define domestic violence and that procedures for dealing with cases varied from one government body to another. …

Discrimination against women was a significant problem. After her February 2008 visit, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, while acknowledging progress in the status of women and particularly women’s access to education, noted the lack of women’s autonomy, freedom of movement, and economic independence; discriminatory practices surrounding divorce and child custody; the absence of a law criminalizing violence against women; and difficulties preventing women from escaping abusive environments.

Forgive me if I don’t take Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s occasional rhetorical flourishes on human rights seriously. When it comes to action, they are inert. Read More

The good news is that Iran won’t be joining the UN women’s rights panel after all. The bad news: Saudi Arabia will. This is not a joke — well the UN is, but not this incident.

Yes, Saudi Arabia. You know, the country that brought us this, this, and this. Or, if you prefer, there is our own State Department’s evaluation of the Saudi’s violent misogyny. The administration doesn’t do much, but it sure does document the monstrous treatment of women and girls in the Kingdom of Saud:

During the year the following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to change the government peacefully; disappearances; torture and physical abuse; poor prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention; denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; and corruption and lack of government transparency. Violence against women, violations of the rights of children, and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. …

The government views marital relations between spouses as contractual and did not recognize spousal rape. According to the law, if a man rapes a woman, she is viewed as being at fault for illegal mixing of genders and is punished along with her attacker. Statistics on incidents of rape were not available, but press reports and observers indicated rape against women and boys was a serious problem. …

There were no laws specifically prohibiting domestic violence. Government officials stated that the government did not clearly define domestic violence and that procedures for dealing with cases varied from one government body to another. …

Discrimination against women was a significant problem. After her February 2008 visit, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, while acknowledging progress in the status of women and particularly women’s access to education, noted the lack of women’s autonomy, freedom of movement, and economic independence; discriminatory practices surrounding divorce and child custody; the absence of a law criminalizing violence against women; and difficulties preventing women from escaping abusive environments.

Forgive me if I don’t take Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s occasional rhetorical flourishes on human rights seriously. When it comes to action, they are inert.

Now wouldn’t you think in his Muslim Outreach stop in Indonesia he’d reach out to some Muslim Women? In a speech long on Muslim suck-uppery, Obama found time to root for non-direct, non-peace talks to, I guess, resume. But a plea for women and girls to be treated as human beings (rather than as chattel) in the Muslim world? Nothing. Not even in Afghanistan. This is the single sentence that remotely touches on the topic of women in Muslim countries:

Now, I stayed here for four years — a time that helped shape my childhood; a time that saw the birth of my wonderful sister, Maya; a time that made such an impression on my mother that she kept returning to Indonesia over the next 20 years to live and to work and to travel — and to pursue her passion of promoting opportunity in Indonesia’s villages, especially opportunity for women and for girls.

That’s it. What could he have said? Here’s my suggestion:

If through the good offices of our military — especially our women soldiers — we could help Afghani women unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue — self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons — that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.

It would be ludicrous to expect that, or even a watered-down version of it, to come from Obama’s lips. So those hoping for improvement in Obama’s human rights policy should clue in. Obama’s dedication to human rights, and to international oppression of women specifically, is precisely the same as it has always been: nonexistent.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Imagine if the Bush administration had pulled this. “An inspector general says the White House edited a report about the administration’s moratorium on offshore oil drilling to make it appear that scientists and experts supported the idea of a six-month ban on new drilling. The Interior Department’s inspector general says the changes resulted ‘in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed.’ But it hadn’t been.” Reminds you of Elena Kagan’s stunt about the outside experts’ report on partial-birth abortion, doesn’t it?

Imagine if our president sounded like Canada’s prime minister on Israel. “We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is. Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism. And like any free country, Israel subjects itself to such criticism — healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack — is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonization, double standards, delegitimization, the three D’s, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.” Read the whole thing.

Imagine if the media scrutinized Obama on Afghanistan the way it did his predecessor on Iraq. “A White House review of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy next month will judge ‘how this current approach is working’ but will not suggest alternatives if aspects of the policy are found to be failing, a senior administration official said Tuesday.” Appalling.

Imagine if Chris Christie were given a chance to get the federal government’s fiscal house in order. Oh my! He keeps this up and there will be “Draft Christie!” movements in every state.

Imagine how much the debt commission could have saved if it had recommended shelving ObamaCare. “The Bowles-Simpson proposal would leave in place the entire trillion-dollar monstrosity. … The fundamental problem here is that it is not possible to build a bipartisan budget framework on a foundation that includes a partisan health-care plan with sweeping implications for future spending levels. To have a bipartisan budget requires a bipartisan health plan. And that means repealing Obamacare and starting over.”

Imagine if Obama had pulled the plug on this months ago. Eric Holder says he’s “close to a decision” on a civilian trial for KSM. With the new GOP Congress, I think there is no chance KSM is going to see the inside of an Article III courtroom, and the Obami know it. Get ready for an about-face on this one.

Imagine if Obama listened to sane advice on the Middle East. “Why does the president continue to harp on settlements in East Jerusalem, as opposed to expansion of West Bank settlements that would be dismantled under the terms of any peace agreement between the parties? Obama may feel that he has crossed a Rubicon and must push forward. Or he may feel that he must put Netanyahu in his place. … Whatever the reason, Obama’s behavior in Indonesia, and his constant harping on the construction issue, has complicated his avowed search for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. … The peace process is stalemated, and it is up to the president, who has, perhaps unwittingly, brought on this latest dead end on the long-standing saga of Israeli-Palestinian misery, to come up with a way that lets both sides move forward, even if it means that he personally has to take several steps back in order to do so.”

Imagine if the Bush administration had pulled this. “An inspector general says the White House edited a report about the administration’s moratorium on offshore oil drilling to make it appear that scientists and experts supported the idea of a six-month ban on new drilling. The Interior Department’s inspector general says the changes resulted ‘in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed.’ But it hadn’t been.” Reminds you of Elena Kagan’s stunt about the outside experts’ report on partial-birth abortion, doesn’t it?

Imagine if our president sounded like Canada’s prime minister on Israel. “We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is. Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism. And like any free country, Israel subjects itself to such criticism — healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack — is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonization, double standards, delegitimization, the three D’s, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.” Read the whole thing.

Imagine if the media scrutinized Obama on Afghanistan the way it did his predecessor on Iraq. “A White House review of President Obama’s Afghanistan strategy next month will judge ‘how this current approach is working’ but will not suggest alternatives if aspects of the policy are found to be failing, a senior administration official said Tuesday.” Appalling.

Imagine if Chris Christie were given a chance to get the federal government’s fiscal house in order. Oh my! He keeps this up and there will be “Draft Christie!” movements in every state.

Imagine how much the debt commission could have saved if it had recommended shelving ObamaCare. “The Bowles-Simpson proposal would leave in place the entire trillion-dollar monstrosity. … The fundamental problem here is that it is not possible to build a bipartisan budget framework on a foundation that includes a partisan health-care plan with sweeping implications for future spending levels. To have a bipartisan budget requires a bipartisan health plan. And that means repealing Obamacare and starting over.”

Imagine if Obama had pulled the plug on this months ago. Eric Holder says he’s “close to a decision” on a civilian trial for KSM. With the new GOP Congress, I think there is no chance KSM is going to see the inside of an Article III courtroom, and the Obami know it. Get ready for an about-face on this one.

Imagine if Obama listened to sane advice on the Middle East. “Why does the president continue to harp on settlements in East Jerusalem, as opposed to expansion of West Bank settlements that would be dismantled under the terms of any peace agreement between the parties? Obama may feel that he has crossed a Rubicon and must push forward. Or he may feel that he must put Netanyahu in his place. … Whatever the reason, Obama’s behavior in Indonesia, and his constant harping on the construction issue, has complicated his avowed search for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. … The peace process is stalemated, and it is up to the president, who has, perhaps unwittingly, brought on this latest dead end on the long-standing saga of Israeli-Palestinian misery, to come up with a way that lets both sides move forward, even if it means that he personally has to take several steps back in order to do so.”

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“Never Helpful”

That’s how Obama described Israel’s continued building in its own capital. As Jonathan observed, while reaching out to Muslims in Indonesia, Obama scolded Israel, which, darn it, isn’t listening to him – again:

US President Barack Obama criticized Israel on Tuesday at a news conference in Indonesia, following Monday’s announcement that that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 homes in east Jerusalem.

“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said during a visit to Jakarta.

What is never helpful is Obama’s approach to the Middle East, which has elevated and maintained settlements as the end-all and be-all of negotiation. Unlike every other administration that managed to avoid escalating the issue, Obama insists on exacerbating it. The inevitable Palestinian intransigence and European heckling followed:

Also on Tuesday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to counter Israel’s latest construction plans by recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Israeli unilateralism is a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her comments on the issue, saying she is “extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction  of 1,300 new housing units in east Jerusalem,” in a statement.

“This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed,” the statement read.

Who can be surprised? Neither the Palestinians nor the Israel-bashers around the world can be less obsessed over settlements than the president. So non-direct non-talks remain the order of the day while the UN prepares to dismantle Israel. (Sort of like if the League of Nations had extracted the Sudetenland from another small democracy.)

Let’s see how Congress and pro-Israel groups react to yet another round of decidedly un-smart Obama diplomacy. His political aura has faded at home, so those who have bristled at the Obama assault on Israel but have bitten their tongues might think about speaking up. Preferably before the UN starts redrawing Israel’s boundaries.

That’s how Obama described Israel’s continued building in its own capital. As Jonathan observed, while reaching out to Muslims in Indonesia, Obama scolded Israel, which, darn it, isn’t listening to him – again:

US President Barack Obama criticized Israel on Tuesday at a news conference in Indonesia, following Monday’s announcement that that Israel has advanced plans to build 1,345 homes in east Jerusalem.

“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” Obama said during a visit to Jakarta.

What is never helpful is Obama’s approach to the Middle East, which has elevated and maintained settlements as the end-all and be-all of negotiation. Unlike every other administration that managed to avoid escalating the issue, Obama insists on exacerbating it. The inevitable Palestinian intransigence and European heckling followed:

Also on Tuesday, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to counter Israel’s latest construction plans by recognizing a Palestinian state.

“Israeli unilateralism is a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian state,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her comments on the issue, saying she is “extremely concerned by the announcement by Israel of a plan for the construction  of 1,300 new housing units in east Jerusalem,” in a statement.

“This plan contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed,” the statement read.

Who can be surprised? Neither the Palestinians nor the Israel-bashers around the world can be less obsessed over settlements than the president. So non-direct non-talks remain the order of the day while the UN prepares to dismantle Israel. (Sort of like if the League of Nations had extracted the Sudetenland from another small democracy.)

Let’s see how Congress and pro-Israel groups react to yet another round of decidedly un-smart Obama diplomacy. His political aura has faded at home, so those who have bristled at the Obama assault on Israel but have bitten their tongues might think about speaking up. Preferably before the UN starts redrawing Israel’s boundaries.

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Plus Ça Change

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

A poignant development illustrates the disintegration of the rarefied post-Cold War order we have inhabited since the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of shocks to that order over the past year and half, this little event may seem minor. But it is emblematic of the actions our strategic opponents no longer fear to take openly.

President Obama, currently in Indonesia, will attend the G-20 summit in Seoul on Nov. 11-12. Dmitry Medvedev arrives in Seoul today for a state visit and will hold bilateral talks with South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak prior to the summit. These discussions – in which Korean security and global economic policy are expected to be major topics – continue the theme of Medvedev’s summit with Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in October. Each case involves the Russian president talking over the biggest of global and regional issues with key American allies, in advance of the general summits to be held this month (the G-20 meeting in Seoul and the NATO summit in Lisbon).

But that’s not the most telling aspect of Russia’s posture for the G-20 summit in Seoul. That aspect is to be observed down the road in Inchon, from the pier where the flagship of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the missile cruiser Varyag, will be moored throughout the summit. The unambiguous signal from this visit is underscored by the report that South Korea will turn over to Varyag a set of artifacts Russia has been requesting for years: a battle flag and remnants of weapons from Varyag’s namesake, which participated in the Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago.

The earlier Varyag, attacked in Inchon in 1904 by a Japanese task force, was scuttled by the captain rather than being surrendered to the more powerful Japanese flotilla. Artifacts recovered from it by the Japanese have been stored in Inchon for decades – and each year since 1996, the modern cruiser Varyag has visited Inchon in February to commemorate the battle. Besides the latent bellicosity of bringing a warship to a G-20 summit, Russia is dealing a symbolic slap to Japan: occupying, under the aegis of a U.S. ally and an international body, the position in which a Japanese force once inflicted defeat on Russian ships.

To the American mind, the era before World War I seems to have existed across an unbridgeable historical divide. In a geopolitical sense, in particular, we have believed for decades that we inhabit a different order now. The old territorial resentments seem antique and irrelevant for global technological powers; we think of these obsessions as the province of benighted tribal cultures. But it shouldn’t surprise us to see Russia reverting to this age-old pattern. What we have to understand – but probably don’t today – is that this isn’t a meaningless gesture from Russia: it’s a marking of territory. This is how Russia operates. It all matters.

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Human Rights Policy Gone Mad

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

Lost in the post-election coverage last week was the latest development concerning the Obama administration’s inexplicable decision to let four of the world’s worst human rights abusers off the hook for employing children as soldiers:

Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers. The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials.

Nor is this the only instance in which the administration’s occasionally more robust rhetoric on human rights departs from its actions. Recall that we joined the UN Human Rights Council (from which George W. Bush had properly extracted the U.S.) in order to have some impact on the world’s thugs and despots. But now we are under the microscope:

The United Nations Human Rights Council, a conclave of 47 nations that includes such notorious human rights violators as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, met in Geneva on Friday, to question the United States about its human rights failings.

It heard, among other things, that the U.S. discriminates against Muslims, that its police are barbaric and that it has been holding political prisoners behind bars for years.

Russia urged the U.S. to abolish the death penalty. Cuba and Iran called on Washington to close Guantanamo prison and investigate alleged torture by its troops abroad. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, told the U.S. it must better promote religious tolerance. Mexico complained that racial profiling had become a common practice in some U.S. states.

This is what comes from empowering and taking seriously the world’s most notorious human rights abusers. And if all that were not enough, the State Department is taking all the criticism to heart:

“Our taking the process seriously contributes to the universality” of the human rights process, one State Department official told Fox News. “It’s an important opportunity for us to showcase our willingness to expose ourselves in a transparent way” to human rights criticism.

“For us, upholding the process is very important.”

The same official, however, declared that the “most important” part of the process is “the dialogue with our own citizens.”

There is no better example of the cul-de-sac of leftist anti-Americanism — that insatiable need to paint the U.S. as the source of evil in the world — than Obama’s human rights policy, which is, quite simply, obscene. The bipartisan revulsion at this policy is the regrettable but reassuring result. At least there remains a strong consensus rejecting the idea that cooling tensions with despots is more important than robustly defending our own values and the lives and rights of oppressed peoples around the world.

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Charm Offensive Ends as Obama Panders to Muslim World

One week after a midterm election in which his party suffered a historic defeat, it is still unclear whether President Obama will adjust his policies to deal with the voters’ unease over his administration’s record. But one change is already apparent. After several months of pursuing a charm offensive with American Jews and supporters of Israel, Obama has reverted to a stance that caused many Jewish Democrats such unease earlier this year: bashing Israel for asserting the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem.

Obama chose to use his visit to his former home in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, as the venue for comments directly criticizing Israel for approving the building of 1,000 new housing units in the Har Homa section of Jerusalem. The State Department spokesman had previously criticized the plan, but this is clearly an attempt to escalate the dispute with Israel from a pro forma disagreement — the United States has never recognized the city’s unification in 1967 — into a major battle with the Jewish state.

Back in the spring, Obama had seized upon an innocuous announcement of housing starts in an established Jewish neighborhood in a part of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 that was issued during a visit to Israel by Vice President Biden, claiming it was an “insult” to the United States. The ensuing argument and attempts at the public humiliation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did nothing to advance the peace process. Even if the Palestinians were to reverse their repeated refusals to make peace and accept a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a portion of Jerusalem (an offer that Israel has made more than once in the past decade), there is no possibility that those areas where Jewish neighborhoods now exist (and where over 250,000 Jews live) would be turned over to the Palestinians. His dispute with Netanyahu had the effect of forcing the Palestinian Authority to harden its stance on Jerusalem, thus making an accord even more unlikely.

Obama’s stance on Jerusalem was unprecedented in U.S.-Israel relations: although the United States had never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, it had also never treated the building of Jewish neighborhoods there as a point of dispute between the two countries in this manner. However, Obama soon understood that not only had he not undermined Netanyahu (whose defense of Jewish rights was popular among Israelis), but he was also alienating part of his own political base: American Jews. While some in the administration had initially listened to the siren song of J Street, which falsely claimed that most American Jews would applaud a policy of pressure on Israel, it soon became clear that Obama’s stance was hurting the Democratic Party. The result of this realization was a furious effort to charm American Jews and supporters of Israel. The attacks on Netanyahu ceased, and the administration was soon issuing statements that noted the obvious about the stalled talks: the Palestinians were the ones who weren’t serious about peace. Read More

One week after a midterm election in which his party suffered a historic defeat, it is still unclear whether President Obama will adjust his policies to deal with the voters’ unease over his administration’s record. But one change is already apparent. After several months of pursuing a charm offensive with American Jews and supporters of Israel, Obama has reverted to a stance that caused many Jewish Democrats such unease earlier this year: bashing Israel for asserting the right of Jews to live in Jerusalem.

Obama chose to use his visit to his former home in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, as the venue for comments directly criticizing Israel for approving the building of 1,000 new housing units in the Har Homa section of Jerusalem. The State Department spokesman had previously criticized the plan, but this is clearly an attempt to escalate the dispute with Israel from a pro forma disagreement — the United States has never recognized the city’s unification in 1967 — into a major battle with the Jewish state.

Back in the spring, Obama had seized upon an innocuous announcement of housing starts in an established Jewish neighborhood in a part of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 that was issued during a visit to Israel by Vice President Biden, claiming it was an “insult” to the United States. The ensuing argument and attempts at the public humiliation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did nothing to advance the peace process. Even if the Palestinians were to reverse their repeated refusals to make peace and accept a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a portion of Jerusalem (an offer that Israel has made more than once in the past decade), there is no possibility that those areas where Jewish neighborhoods now exist (and where over 250,000 Jews live) would be turned over to the Palestinians. His dispute with Netanyahu had the effect of forcing the Palestinian Authority to harden its stance on Jerusalem, thus making an accord even more unlikely.

Obama’s stance on Jerusalem was unprecedented in U.S.-Israel relations: although the United States had never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, it had also never treated the building of Jewish neighborhoods there as a point of dispute between the two countries in this manner. However, Obama soon understood that not only had he not undermined Netanyahu (whose defense of Jewish rights was popular among Israelis), but he was also alienating part of his own political base: American Jews. While some in the administration had initially listened to the siren song of J Street, which falsely claimed that most American Jews would applaud a policy of pressure on Israel, it soon became clear that Obama’s stance was hurting the Democratic Party. The result of this realization was a furious effort to charm American Jews and supporters of Israel. The attacks on Netanyahu ceased, and the administration was soon issuing statements that noted the obvious about the stalled talks: the Palestinians were the ones who weren’t serious about peace.

But now that the election is over, Obama is back to his old tricks, seizing upon an announcement that can have no impact on any theoretical peace deal in order to pander to a Muslim world that seeks Israel’s destruction. By making a statement about Jerusalem while in Indonesia, Obama is signaling that the United States regards Jewish Jerusalem as being no different from the most remote settlement in the West Bank: an illegal outpost that must be destroyed and its inhabitants removed. Such a statement helps fuel the Arab irredentism that has been the primary obstacle to peace since Israel’s birth in 1948.

Obama’s pandering to the Muslim world is also a signal to Jewish Democrats that their party’s leader is once again throwing Israel under the bus in pursuit of popularity in the Third World. While the majority of Jews stayed loyal to the Democrats this fall even in the midst of a Republican wave, the president’s speedy post-election reversion to Israel-bashing should remind them that this administration is still bent on distancing itself from the Jewish state. Just as Obama’s statements about Israel during the 2008 presidential campaign proved to be mere rhetoric, now that the charm offensive is officially over, Jewish Democrats need to acknowledge that they were hoodwinked again.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Bill Clinton sounds like he swallowed a eugenics textbook. “[T]he most delicious part of that [slur on the Russian immigrants to Israel] performance was his extraordinary—no, his fantastical, his risible, his marvelously ludicrous—foray into sociology, with the ranking of Israelis’ attitudes toward peace according to their national origins.” Yup, it sure was a “spurious, illiterate, and really amazingly racist lesson in Israeli politics.”

But it sounds like he has an excuse: a protein deficiency. But even if he had a chicken leg now and then, I suspect he’d still say dumb things.

Rush Holt sounds like an AIPAC board member. The Emergency Committee for Israel ( whaich ran ads against him) sure does get results.

Nancy Pelosi sounds loopier than usual. “The momentum is with us.” And what’s with the Evita Peron pose?

Eliot Spitzer sounds like he’s peddling himself as a guru to “the dirtiest, nastiest” politicians. He’s found his niche.

Obama sounds like he’s got a plan to flee the midterm election recriminations. He will finally get to Indonesia — in November.

Chris Christie sounds like he’s an overachiever. “Part of Gov. Chris Christie’s belt-tightening plan for New Jersey was the termination of $7.5 million in public funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in the state.” He says he’s not interested in running for president, but that’s what Obama said in 2006. (It doesn’t get much better than this.)

Independents sound like Republicans these days. “In an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, 58 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans said politics is making them angry, compared with 31 percent of Democrats who said so. … The figures are the latest cautionary note for Democrats, who face a Nov. 2 Election Day in which the sluggish economy and President Barack Obama’s tepid popularity give Republicans a strong chance to capture control of the House and perhaps the Senate. They also help explain why independents, who can be pivotal in many congressional races, prefer their GOP candidate over the Democrat by 52 percent to 36 percent — which grows to 62 percent to 29 percent among independents considered likeliest to vote.” Wait — 62 percent?!

Bill Clinton sounds like he swallowed a eugenics textbook. “[T]he most delicious part of that [slur on the Russian immigrants to Israel] performance was his extraordinary—no, his fantastical, his risible, his marvelously ludicrous—foray into sociology, with the ranking of Israelis’ attitudes toward peace according to their national origins.” Yup, it sure was a “spurious, illiterate, and really amazingly racist lesson in Israeli politics.”

But it sounds like he has an excuse: a protein deficiency. But even if he had a chicken leg now and then, I suspect he’d still say dumb things.

Rush Holt sounds like an AIPAC board member. The Emergency Committee for Israel ( whaich ran ads against him) sure does get results.

Nancy Pelosi sounds loopier than usual. “The momentum is with us.” And what’s with the Evita Peron pose?

Eliot Spitzer sounds like he’s peddling himself as a guru to “the dirtiest, nastiest” politicians. He’s found his niche.

Obama sounds like he’s got a plan to flee the midterm election recriminations. He will finally get to Indonesia — in November.

Chris Christie sounds like he’s an overachiever. “Part of Gov. Chris Christie’s belt-tightening plan for New Jersey was the termination of $7.5 million in public funding for Planned Parenthood clinics in the state.” He says he’s not interested in running for president, but that’s what Obama said in 2006. (It doesn’t get much better than this.)

Independents sound like Republicans these days. “In an Associated Press-GfK Poll this month, 58 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans said politics is making them angry, compared with 31 percent of Democrats who said so. … The figures are the latest cautionary note for Democrats, who face a Nov. 2 Election Day in which the sluggish economy and President Barack Obama’s tepid popularity give Republicans a strong chance to capture control of the House and perhaps the Senate. They also help explain why independents, who can be pivotal in many congressional races, prefer their GOP candidate over the Democrat by 52 percent to 36 percent — which grows to 62 percent to 29 percent among independents considered likeliest to vote.” Wait — 62 percent?!

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The War Against Extremism

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

News travels slowly when you’re on vacation, especially when you’re on vacation in the French countryside, so I have only now read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Wall Street Journal op-ed from a couple of days ago updating Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” thesis. While Huntington identified nine “civilizations” that are supposedly in conflict (“Western,” “Latin American,” “African,” “Islamic,” “Sinic,” “Hindu,” “Orthodox,” “Buddhist,”  “Japanese”), Hirsi Ali not surprisingly focuses on one such “civilization” — the Islamic one. She sees recent controversies involving Muslims providing confirmation of this thesis, including “the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, the eviction of American missionaries from Morocco earlier this year, the minaret ban in Switzerland last year, and the recent burka ban in France.” So, too, in her view the increasingly anti-Western orientation of Turkey provides evidence that all Muslim countries are destined to be opposed to all Western countries.

She sets up the “clash of civilizations” thesis against a straw man she labels the “One World” thesis, which she attributes to Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” writings and to an “equivalent neoconservative rosy scenario” of “a ‘unipolar’ world of unrivalled American hegemony.” This is a trope beloved of college poli-sci classes — to juxtapose Huntington vs. Fukuyama — and it makes for good debate, but the reality is that it’s hard to think of many people who take seriously Fukuyama’s thesis — and certainly not among “neoconservatives,” who since the end of the Cold War have been warning about new threats (such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Islamist terrorism) that are potent challenges to American power.

The Huntington thesis, I might add, is equally hard to take seriously because it presents such a cartoonish view of the world. Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute (where Hirsi Ali also works) points out one such problem: “China is not a civilization. It’s a nation governed by one party for 60 years and whose one-time dominant ethical regime was Confucian. But also part of this Confucian world were South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan—each now firmly part of the liberal and democratic West. Our problem with China is not one of civilization but the fact that it’s ruled by an increasingly nationalistic and ambitious despotic elite.”

The same might be said about each of the “civilizations” identified by Huntington and now endorsed by Hirsi Ali: they seem uniform only if viewed from a distance of 20,000 feet. Up close, all sorts of differences emerge that stymie most attempts at generalization. France and the United States, for instance, are both part of “Western” civilization, but (as I have been discovering in the past week) they are very different culturally and, not surprisingly, they have very different outlooks on the world. (Indeed some commentators posit an “Anglosphere” pitting English-speaking countries against other “Western” nations.) So too with, say, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Malaysia. All are, according to Hirsi Ali, part of an “Islamic civilization,” yet anyone who has ever visited those countries knows that, notwithstanding a common religion, their differences are vast.

Lee Smith confirms the point in a typically smart essay on sharia law: “Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word ‘sharia’ necessarily means many things to many people.”

Indeed, as many people have noted, the War on Terror is not a reflection of an Islam vs. the West clash; it is part of a clash within Islam pitting fanatical Islamists against the vast majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims. What is striking to me, looking back on several decades of such strife, is not how successful the Islamists have been but how unsuccessful.

Which states have succumbed to Islamism? Iran since 1979. Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. That’s about it. To be sure, there are powerful Islamist movements elsewhere, and one such group may be close to taking over Somalia. Other Islamists have effectively taken over part of Pakistan’s tribal areas, southern Lebanon, and Gaza, and are trying to undermine many other governments — but so far with little success. In other words, the Islamic world, while expressing some sympathy with some of the views of the extremists, has proved remarkably resistant to actually letting the fanatics take control. Al-Qaeda has not been able to topple a single government.

This provides cause for hope and an obvious strategy for the U.S. and its allies to pursue: we must buttress the forces of moderation in the Islamic world against those of the extremists. And that is precisely what we are doing in countless countries ranging from Afghanistan and Iraq to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Djibouti. That strategy is much more likely to pay long-term dividends than are crude fulminations against “Islamic civilization,” which is precisely what Osama bin Laden & Co. long to hear.

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Obama’s Muslim Problem

Ben Smith relates an interesting Tweet from Tim Pawlenty: “To improve USA’s relations with peaceful Muslims, Obama should tout our relief efforts in Pakistan floods; not defend Ground Zero mosque.” Well, that would be nice, but highly unlikely.

Pawlenty got me thinking about why it is that Obama does not conceive of Muslim outreach as an opportunity to inject some much needed accuracy and balance into societies saturated with anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda and which lack a free press. Why did he not, for example, in his first video valentine to the mullahs and the Iranian people, explain the blood and treasure we have expended to defend Muslims? Why does he prefer to commiserate with Muslim leaders (who all too often wallow in victimology) rather than champion the cause of Muslim human-rights activists and democracy promoters? Why didn’t he confront Palestinian rejectionism in his Cairo speech?

There are a couple of possible explanations. First, he is, we re-learn every day, a garden-variety leftist. The narrative of Third World victimhood and Western oppression is one he finds comfortable, notwithstanding its inapplicability to a variety of settings. (In his Cairo speech Palestinians were transformed into enslaved African American slaves, who, of course, were not repeatedly offered their own state.)

The other, suggested by a reader, may also be true: he learned about the “Muslim World” not from his childhood in Indonesia but from extremists, like former PLO-spokesman Rashid Khalidi, who have “educated” Obama for years about the Palestinians’ plight, attributed to American indifference and Israeli “oppression” rather than their own refusal to renounce violence and to the cynical manipulation of Arab states. Obama himself acknowledged the deep influence on his thinking:

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. … It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”

Now, these are not mutually exclusive explanations. Whatever the root causes or motivations, over the last 18 months we’ve seen that Obama has been spectacularly unwilling to confront radical Islamists (even to call them that) and all too anxious to promote sentiments in the Muslim community which are counterproductive both for those trying to battle against the forces of radicalism and for the U.S. For someone who fancies himself as the Explainer in Chief with regard to Islam, he certainly could use some fresh thinking.

Ben Smith relates an interesting Tweet from Tim Pawlenty: “To improve USA’s relations with peaceful Muslims, Obama should tout our relief efforts in Pakistan floods; not defend Ground Zero mosque.” Well, that would be nice, but highly unlikely.

Pawlenty got me thinking about why it is that Obama does not conceive of Muslim outreach as an opportunity to inject some much needed accuracy and balance into societies saturated with anti-Israel and anti-American propaganda and which lack a free press. Why did he not, for example, in his first video valentine to the mullahs and the Iranian people, explain the blood and treasure we have expended to defend Muslims? Why does he prefer to commiserate with Muslim leaders (who all too often wallow in victimology) rather than champion the cause of Muslim human-rights activists and democracy promoters? Why didn’t he confront Palestinian rejectionism in his Cairo speech?

There are a couple of possible explanations. First, he is, we re-learn every day, a garden-variety leftist. The narrative of Third World victimhood and Western oppression is one he finds comfortable, notwithstanding its inapplicability to a variety of settings. (In his Cairo speech Palestinians were transformed into enslaved African American slaves, who, of course, were not repeatedly offered their own state.)

The other, suggested by a reader, may also be true: he learned about the “Muslim World” not from his childhood in Indonesia but from extremists, like former PLO-spokesman Rashid Khalidi, who have “educated” Obama for years about the Palestinians’ plight, attributed to American indifference and Israeli “oppression” rather than their own refusal to renounce violence and to the cynical manipulation of Arab states. Obama himself acknowledged the deep influence on his thinking:

His many talks with the Khalidis, Obama said, had been “consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases. … It’s for that reason that I’m hoping that, for many years to come, we continue that conversation — a conversation that is necessary not just around Mona and Rashid’s dinner table,” but around “this entire world.”

Now, these are not mutually exclusive explanations. Whatever the root causes or motivations, over the last 18 months we’ve seen that Obama has been spectacularly unwilling to confront radical Islamists (even to call them that) and all too anxious to promote sentiments in the Muslim community which are counterproductive both for those trying to battle against the forces of radicalism and for the U.S. For someone who fancies himself as the Explainer in Chief with regard to Islam, he certainly could use some fresh thinking.

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The Malaysia Example

Jackson Diehl, in an immensely important column, writes:

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia’s political opposition, has become known over the past decade as one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in Muslim countries. … Lately, Anwar has been getting attention for something else: strident rhetoric about Israel and alleged “Zionist influence” in Malaysia. He recently joined a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur where an Israeli flag was burned. He’s made dark insinuations about the “Jewish-controlled” Washington public relations firm Apco Worldwide, which is working for Malaysia’s quasi-authoritarian government. Therein lies a story of the Obama era — about a beleaguered democrat fighting for political and personal survival with little help from Washington; about the growing global climate of hostility toward Israel; and about the increasing willingness of U.S. friends in places such as Turkey and Malaysia to exploit it.

Diehl explains that Anwar is being prosecuted. (“Freed after six years, he built a multi-ethnic democratic opposition movement that shocked the ruling party with its gains in recent elections. It now appears to have a chance at winning the next parliamentary campaign, which would allow Malaysia to join Indonesia and Turkey as full-fledged majority-Muslim democracies.”) But, once again, the Obama administration is of no help:

Obama said nothing in public about Anwar when he granted Najib a prized bilateral meeting in Washington in April. After a “senior officials dialogue” between the two governments this month, the State Department conceded that the ongoing trial again had not been raised, “because this issue was recently discussed at length.” When it comes to human rights, the Obama administration apparently does not wish to be repetitive.

Diehl provides a vivid example of why Obama’s foreign policy is precisely — and dangerously — wrongheaded. By ingratiating ourselves with Muslim despots, slapping around Israel, and downgrading human rights, we are systematically encouraging aggression and repression by Muslim governments. Rather than use a combination of carrots and sticks to encourage helpful conduct, we have given radicals every incentive to become more radical and have undercut moderates. It is the most counterproductive and, yes, uninformed foreign policy in memory. Obama says he “gets” the Muslim World, but he really doesn’t. If he truly understood the motives and incentives of these countries and the political landscape in which they operate, he’d being do the exact opposite of what he has been doing. Rather than telling radical Muslims what they want to hear, maybe it’s time to start telling Muslim governments what is expected if they want to have a productive relationship with the U.S. and avoid some adverse consequences. Now, that would be smart diplomacy.

Jackson Diehl, in an immensely important column, writes:

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of Malaysia’s political opposition, has become known over the past decade as one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in Muslim countries. … Lately, Anwar has been getting attention for something else: strident rhetoric about Israel and alleged “Zionist influence” in Malaysia. He recently joined a demonstration outside the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur where an Israeli flag was burned. He’s made dark insinuations about the “Jewish-controlled” Washington public relations firm Apco Worldwide, which is working for Malaysia’s quasi-authoritarian government. Therein lies a story of the Obama era — about a beleaguered democrat fighting for political and personal survival with little help from Washington; about the growing global climate of hostility toward Israel; and about the increasing willingness of U.S. friends in places such as Turkey and Malaysia to exploit it.

Diehl explains that Anwar is being prosecuted. (“Freed after six years, he built a multi-ethnic democratic opposition movement that shocked the ruling party with its gains in recent elections. It now appears to have a chance at winning the next parliamentary campaign, which would allow Malaysia to join Indonesia and Turkey as full-fledged majority-Muslim democracies.”) But, once again, the Obama administration is of no help:

Obama said nothing in public about Anwar when he granted Najib a prized bilateral meeting in Washington in April. After a “senior officials dialogue” between the two governments this month, the State Department conceded that the ongoing trial again had not been raised, “because this issue was recently discussed at length.” When it comes to human rights, the Obama administration apparently does not wish to be repetitive.

Diehl provides a vivid example of why Obama’s foreign policy is precisely — and dangerously — wrongheaded. By ingratiating ourselves with Muslim despots, slapping around Israel, and downgrading human rights, we are systematically encouraging aggression and repression by Muslim governments. Rather than use a combination of carrots and sticks to encourage helpful conduct, we have given radicals every incentive to become more radical and have undercut moderates. It is the most counterproductive and, yes, uninformed foreign policy in memory. Obama says he “gets” the Muslim World, but he really doesn’t. If he truly understood the motives and incentives of these countries and the political landscape in which they operate, he’d being do the exact opposite of what he has been doing. Rather than telling radical Muslims what they want to hear, maybe it’s time to start telling Muslim governments what is expected if they want to have a productive relationship with the U.S. and avoid some adverse consequences. Now, that would be smart diplomacy.

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Making No Friends in the Middle East

The Pew Center on global public opinion reports:

Among Muslim publics – except in Indonesia where Obama lived for several years as a child — the modest levels of confidence and approval observed in 2009 have slipped markedly. In Egypt the percentage of Muslims expressing confidence in Obama fell from 41% to 31% and in Turkey from 33% to 23%. Last year only 13% of Pakistani Muslims expressed confidence in Obama, but this year even fewer (8%) hold this view. And while views of Obama are still more positive than were attitudes toward President Bush among most Muslim publics, significant percentages continue to worry that the U.S. could become a military threat to their country.

In countries outside of the Muslim world, where the president’s ratings remain generally positive, his standing is not quite as high in 2010 as it was a year ago. The new poll found fewer in many Asian and Latin American countries saying they have confidence in Obama and approve of his policies generally, and even in Europe the large majorities responding positively to his foreign policy are not quite as large as they were in 2009.

All that suck-uppery, all that Israel-bashing, and yet Muslim countries like Obama less. One explanation may be that Obama hasn’t been supporting the aspirations, human rights, and religious freedom of the people of the Muslim world; instead, he’s been courting the despotic rulers of these countries.

And recall too that Obama’s approval in Israel is in the single digits.Obama has failed to endear the U.S. to the countries of the Middle East and, in fact, has alienated all sides. It is what comes from straddling, equivocating, dumping friends, and showing meekness to bullies. It seems that not even joining the thugocracies on the U.N. Human Rights Council has done the trick. So many “smart” diplomats, such putrid results.

The Pew Center on global public opinion reports:

Among Muslim publics – except in Indonesia where Obama lived for several years as a child — the modest levels of confidence and approval observed in 2009 have slipped markedly. In Egypt the percentage of Muslims expressing confidence in Obama fell from 41% to 31% and in Turkey from 33% to 23%. Last year only 13% of Pakistani Muslims expressed confidence in Obama, but this year even fewer (8%) hold this view. And while views of Obama are still more positive than were attitudes toward President Bush among most Muslim publics, significant percentages continue to worry that the U.S. could become a military threat to their country.

In countries outside of the Muslim world, where the president’s ratings remain generally positive, his standing is not quite as high in 2010 as it was a year ago. The new poll found fewer in many Asian and Latin American countries saying they have confidence in Obama and approve of his policies generally, and even in Europe the large majorities responding positively to his foreign policy are not quite as large as they were in 2009.

All that suck-uppery, all that Israel-bashing, and yet Muslim countries like Obama less. One explanation may be that Obama hasn’t been supporting the aspirations, human rights, and religious freedom of the people of the Muslim world; instead, he’s been courting the despotic rulers of these countries.

And recall too that Obama’s approval in Israel is in the single digits.Obama has failed to endear the U.S. to the countries of the Middle East and, in fact, has alienated all sides. It is what comes from straddling, equivocating, dumping friends, and showing meekness to bullies. It seems that not even joining the thugocracies on the U.N. Human Rights Council has done the trick. So many “smart” diplomats, such putrid results.

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Democrats Heap Scorn on Obama

Fareed Zakaria has become an all-purpose apologist for Obama. First it was on the flotilla.  A colleague passes on the latest one. It seems he’s now shilling for Obama on his response to the oil spill. Last time, Zakaria was dismantled by Elliott Abrams. This time it was James Carville:

Zakaria, a Newsweek editor but also host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, recently wrote a defense of Pres. Obama’s response (actually he criticized the President for his overreaction).  … King read from Zakaria’s recent column, which said “what worries me is that we have gotten to the point where we expect the president to somehow magically solve every problem in the world, appear to be doing it and to reflect our anger and emotion. This is a kind of bizarre trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

Carville, smiling – but only at first – responded strongly:

“Yes, he talked about an offensive linebacker. And when I read that I wanted to hit him with a football bat, okay? This guy, there’s some kind of a breakdown here, because this is a very smart man. And I don’t think that he understands exactly what is going on down here. I don’t think he understands that an entire culture is at risk, an entire way of life that there is an invasion going here and he is whining about the fact that the president had to cancel a trip to Indonesia to do something about what’s going on in Louisiana. . … If that thing was in the Long Island Sound, I guarantee you Fareed Zakaria and all his friends would be going nuts out there.”

This tells us a few things. First, we should be wary of “experts” who peddle their foreign-policy lines while reflexively defending the administration across the board. Second, Obama no longer can command respect or discretion, let alone affection, from Democrats. Granted this is Carville, whose Clinton loyalty is well known and who has likely not let bygones be bygones. But if you turn on MSNBC, you will hear plenty of Democrats heaping criticism on Obama.

Again, as I and many others have pointed out, accidents — including big and awful ones — are not necessarily the president’s fault. But neither was 9/11 Rudy Giuliani’s.  But he grabbed the crisis by the throat. He was candid, informed, and informative. He did not whine or complain. He did not treat it as a PR problem but as a civic emergency. It is the failure of leadership and of executive competence that has exposed Obama. The closet analogy is not Jimmy Carter but the emperor who had no clothes. And now everyone notices.

Fareed Zakaria has become an all-purpose apologist for Obama. First it was on the flotilla.  A colleague passes on the latest one. It seems he’s now shilling for Obama on his response to the oil spill. Last time, Zakaria was dismantled by Elliott Abrams. This time it was James Carville:

Zakaria, a Newsweek editor but also host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, recently wrote a defense of Pres. Obama’s response (actually he criticized the President for his overreaction).  … King read from Zakaria’s recent column, which said “what worries me is that we have gotten to the point where we expect the president to somehow magically solve every problem in the world, appear to be doing it and to reflect our anger and emotion. This is a kind of bizarre trivializing of the presidency into some kind of national psychiatrist-in-chief.”

Carville, smiling – but only at first – responded strongly:

“Yes, he talked about an offensive linebacker. And when I read that I wanted to hit him with a football bat, okay? This guy, there’s some kind of a breakdown here, because this is a very smart man. And I don’t think that he understands exactly what is going on down here. I don’t think he understands that an entire culture is at risk, an entire way of life that there is an invasion going here and he is whining about the fact that the president had to cancel a trip to Indonesia to do something about what’s going on in Louisiana. . … If that thing was in the Long Island Sound, I guarantee you Fareed Zakaria and all his friends would be going nuts out there.”

This tells us a few things. First, we should be wary of “experts” who peddle their foreign-policy lines while reflexively defending the administration across the board. Second, Obama no longer can command respect or discretion, let alone affection, from Democrats. Granted this is Carville, whose Clinton loyalty is well known and who has likely not let bygones be bygones. But if you turn on MSNBC, you will hear plenty of Democrats heaping criticism on Obama.

Again, as I and many others have pointed out, accidents — including big and awful ones — are not necessarily the president’s fault. But neither was 9/11 Rudy Giuliani’s.  But he grabbed the crisis by the throat. He was candid, informed, and informative. He did not whine or complain. He did not treat it as a PR problem but as a civic emergency. It is the failure of leadership and of executive competence that has exposed Obama. The closet analogy is not Jimmy Carter but the emperor who had no clothes. And now everyone notices.

Read Less

RE: Mitch Daniels Makes the Rounds

Reihan Salam writes that although he understands that I “am  troubled by the idea of nickel-and-diming national security,” he believes “we need to give serious thought to paring back our commitments, to the extent doing so is consonant with our long-term interests.  … [Like] a growing number of conservatives, including Sen. Tom Coburn, I’m concerned about profligacy in the defense budget.” This is an important debate, which candidates and office holders will have to address.

There are two issues. First, is our defense budget “profligate”? Certainly, there are excesses, and lawmakers such as Rep. John Murtha did a fine job of gumming up the budget with goodies for their constituents. But let’s put this in perspective: our defense budget, thanks to Obama, is below its 45-year average as a percentage of GDP. Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly write:

Compare for a moment the size of the Obama stimulus package in 2009 — nearly $800 billion — with the more than $300 billion Gates has already cut from the Pentagon’s budget and the planned “flat-lining” of defense expenditures in the years ahead. … Defense spending has gone up. But never in our history have we fought wars of this magnitude as cheaply. Take, for example, the percentage of the federal budget allocated to defense: In 1994, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pentagon spending amounted to slightly more than 19 percent of the budget; in 2010, it is the same. And if the administration has its way, that figure will drop to 15.6 percent by 2015. Is any other part of the federal budget getting similarly whacked?

But there is a broader, philosophical question here: do we face one or two threats to our civilization? Conservatives and a great many others agree that there is at least one, the economic: the unsustainable debt burden, the decline in “dynamic destruction,” which is essential to a vibrant economy, the crushing weight of entitlements on future generations, and the resulting atrophying of growth and job creation. If that is the sole emergency, then everything else takes second place — a remote second.

But if you believe there are two threats to America and to the West, a second even more grievous than the first, then it is a different story. The other threat is, of course, that of Islamic jihadism — the actual war on the West. We are witnessing the expansion of that war from conventional battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and from serial bombing runs, sponsored and inspired by jihadist networks, to a nuclear standoff against an Iran. That foe’s influence is increasing and its terrorist agents and allies are capable of inciting violence and instability from Indonesia to Lebanon to the western Sahara.

It would be grand to stand down from our commitments, take a “peace dividend.” But alas, there is no peace. The spending on defense is not optional if we and our allies are to survive. While it is true that our economic vitality is essential to maintain a robust defense, it is equally true that economic prosperity cannot exist in a world torn asunder by Islamic terror and war.

This is an important discussion, and the temptation to recede and husband our resources is strong. It was so after WWI and it was so in the Clinton years. We need to think carefully about what that means and whether we can take a holiday from history.

Reihan Salam writes that although he understands that I “am  troubled by the idea of nickel-and-diming national security,” he believes “we need to give serious thought to paring back our commitments, to the extent doing so is consonant with our long-term interests.  … [Like] a growing number of conservatives, including Sen. Tom Coburn, I’m concerned about profligacy in the defense budget.” This is an important debate, which candidates and office holders will have to address.

There are two issues. First, is our defense budget “profligate”? Certainly, there are excesses, and lawmakers such as Rep. John Murtha did a fine job of gumming up the budget with goodies for their constituents. But let’s put this in perspective: our defense budget, thanks to Obama, is below its 45-year average as a percentage of GDP. Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly write:

Compare for a moment the size of the Obama stimulus package in 2009 — nearly $800 billion — with the more than $300 billion Gates has already cut from the Pentagon’s budget and the planned “flat-lining” of defense expenditures in the years ahead. … Defense spending has gone up. But never in our history have we fought wars of this magnitude as cheaply. Take, for example, the percentage of the federal budget allocated to defense: In 1994, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pentagon spending amounted to slightly more than 19 percent of the budget; in 2010, it is the same. And if the administration has its way, that figure will drop to 15.6 percent by 2015. Is any other part of the federal budget getting similarly whacked?

But there is a broader, philosophical question here: do we face one or two threats to our civilization? Conservatives and a great many others agree that there is at least one, the economic: the unsustainable debt burden, the decline in “dynamic destruction,” which is essential to a vibrant economy, the crushing weight of entitlements on future generations, and the resulting atrophying of growth and job creation. If that is the sole emergency, then everything else takes second place — a remote second.

But if you believe there are two threats to America and to the West, a second even more grievous than the first, then it is a different story. The other threat is, of course, that of Islamic jihadism — the actual war on the West. We are witnessing the expansion of that war from conventional battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and from serial bombing runs, sponsored and inspired by jihadist networks, to a nuclear standoff against an Iran. That foe’s influence is increasing and its terrorist agents and allies are capable of inciting violence and instability from Indonesia to Lebanon to the western Sahara.

It would be grand to stand down from our commitments, take a “peace dividend.” But alas, there is no peace. The spending on defense is not optional if we and our allies are to survive. While it is true that our economic vitality is essential to maintain a robust defense, it is equally true that economic prosperity cannot exist in a world torn asunder by Islamic terror and war.

This is an important discussion, and the temptation to recede and husband our resources is strong. It was so after WWI and it was so in the Clinton years. We need to think carefully about what that means and whether we can take a holiday from history.

Read Less




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