Commentary Magazine


Topic: Indonesia

What “Unacceptable” Is

David P. Goldman, who wrote for years under the nom de plume “Spengler,” is a brilliant and cultivated man; I asked him last year to review a book for COMMENTARY about Leonard Bernstein, and he obliged with a fascinating and tough piece. He is now an editor at First Things, the monthly magazine of religion and public life edited by my old friend and colleague Jody Bottum. We have genuine disagreements, notably about the value of American politico-military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan that go by the name “nation-building,” but they stem from the same root — a conviction that the West is under ideological assault and needs defending from its Islamofascist enemies.

But Goldman has now, I think, stepped beyond the pale both intellectually, ideologically, and as a simple matter of taste, expressing a sentiment about President Obama that might be explicable in the midst of a beer-and-scotch-addled late-night bull session in a dorm room but not in the precincts of an important publication. At the end of an item on the Iranian nuclear threat and the disastrous condition of American-Israeli relations, Goldman writes:

Obama is the loyal son of a left-wing anthropologist mother who sought to expiate her white guilt by going to bed with Muslim Third World men. He is a Third World anthropologist studying us, learning our culture and our customs the better to neutralize what he considers to be a malignant American influence in world affairs.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, disgusting. In the first place, Obama is not responsible for his mother or her political views, any more than Ronald Reagan should have been be held accountable for the fact that his father was a drunk. In the second place, Goldman’s speculation about her sexual history is appalling in about a hundred different ways. I’m sure I’d hold no brief for Stanley Ann Dunham, but the idea that the lower-middle-class daughter of a furniture salesman from Mercer Island, Washington, would be awash in “white guilt” — far more a species of upper-middle-class Northeastern opinion — speaks more of Goldman’s inability to achieve imaginative sympathy with someone from circumstances different from his than it does anything about the president or his family.

Finally, there is Goldman’s description of Obama, who lived for less than a year in Indonesia from age 6 to age 10, as a “Third World anthropologist studying us.” Casting Obama as a malign foreign influence is a particular and unforgivable intellectual madness on the Right over the past two years. There is nothing foreign about Obama’s ideas or ideology, alas, which can be understood, in my view, almost entirely from the curricula and extracurricular ideas endemic in the American university in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was in college.

Goldman wrote a piece for First Things last year in which he revealed his history as a member of the bizarre and paranoid political cult around the extremist Lyndon LaRouche. Goldman intended the article to be an explanation of and break from his past. But thinking of the sort revealed in this blog item is in the direct line of descent from LaRouche’s vision of the world. It appears you can take the man out of LaRouche, but you can’t take LaRouche out of the man.

The opposition to Barack Obama needs to keep its wits. His domestic-policy proposals and foreign-policy ideas constitute a profound challenge to the good working order of the United States and the world. Spewing repellent nonsense about Obama’s mother and spinning bizarre notions about his innate foreignness — when he is in fact the possessor of one of the great and enduring American stories, and is in his own person a demonstration of precisely the kind of American exceptionalism that Obama so pointedly pooh-poohs — can be used to discredit his opposition. That is why I find it necessary to take such public exception to Goldman’s unacceptable musings.

David P. Goldman, who wrote for years under the nom de plume “Spengler,” is a brilliant and cultivated man; I asked him last year to review a book for COMMENTARY about Leonard Bernstein, and he obliged with a fascinating and tough piece. He is now an editor at First Things, the monthly magazine of religion and public life edited by my old friend and colleague Jody Bottum. We have genuine disagreements, notably about the value of American politico-military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan that go by the name “nation-building,” but they stem from the same root — a conviction that the West is under ideological assault and needs defending from its Islamofascist enemies.

But Goldman has now, I think, stepped beyond the pale both intellectually, ideologically, and as a simple matter of taste, expressing a sentiment about President Obama that might be explicable in the midst of a beer-and-scotch-addled late-night bull session in a dorm room but not in the precincts of an important publication. At the end of an item on the Iranian nuclear threat and the disastrous condition of American-Israeli relations, Goldman writes:

Obama is the loyal son of a left-wing anthropologist mother who sought to expiate her white guilt by going to bed with Muslim Third World men. He is a Third World anthropologist studying us, learning our culture and our customs the better to neutralize what he considers to be a malignant American influence in world affairs.

This is, not to put too fine a point on it, disgusting. In the first place, Obama is not responsible for his mother or her political views, any more than Ronald Reagan should have been be held accountable for the fact that his father was a drunk. In the second place, Goldman’s speculation about her sexual history is appalling in about a hundred different ways. I’m sure I’d hold no brief for Stanley Ann Dunham, but the idea that the lower-middle-class daughter of a furniture salesman from Mercer Island, Washington, would be awash in “white guilt” — far more a species of upper-middle-class Northeastern opinion — speaks more of Goldman’s inability to achieve imaginative sympathy with someone from circumstances different from his than it does anything about the president or his family.

Finally, there is Goldman’s description of Obama, who lived for less than a year in Indonesia from age 6 to age 10, as a “Third World anthropologist studying us.” Casting Obama as a malign foreign influence is a particular and unforgivable intellectual madness on the Right over the past two years. There is nothing foreign about Obama’s ideas or ideology, alas, which can be understood, in my view, almost entirely from the curricula and extracurricular ideas endemic in the American university in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was in college.

Goldman wrote a piece for First Things last year in which he revealed his history as a member of the bizarre and paranoid political cult around the extremist Lyndon LaRouche. Goldman intended the article to be an explanation of and break from his past. But thinking of the sort revealed in this blog item is in the direct line of descent from LaRouche’s vision of the world. It appears you can take the man out of LaRouche, but you can’t take LaRouche out of the man.

The opposition to Barack Obama needs to keep its wits. His domestic-policy proposals and foreign-policy ideas constitute a profound challenge to the good working order of the United States and the world. Spewing repellent nonsense about Obama’s mother and spinning bizarre notions about his innate foreignness — when he is in fact the possessor of one of the great and enduring American stories, and is in his own person a demonstration of precisely the kind of American exceptionalism that Obama so pointedly pooh-poohs — can be used to discredit his opposition. That is why I find it necessary to take such public exception to Goldman’s unacceptable musings.

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No More Islamic Terrorism!

Under siege during the Christmas Day bomb incident, the Obami huffily insisted that they do too know we are at war and that they do too take it seriously. Their policy decisions and actions suggest otherwise. This report explains:

President Barack Obama’s advisers plan to remove terms such as “Islamic radicalism” from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say.

The change would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. It currently states, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”

It’s all about Muslim outreach, you see. Don’t want to identify whom it is we are fighting, because their co-religionists might take offense. That these co-religionists are often the victims of Islamic radicalism is irrelevant to the Obami. That this rhetorical mush is the sort of thing that prevents us from anticipating and preventing jihadist attacks like the Fort Hood massacre is also not of any apparent concern. It’s all about getting away from the Bush administration mindset: “That shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo and promised a ‘new beginning’ in the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. The White House believes the previous administration based that relationship entirely on fighting terrorism and winning the war of ideas.”

So let’s focus on the really important stuff: global-warming training. We don’t want to say “Islamic extremism,” but we have a new team at the NSC that “has not only helped change the vocabulary of fighting terrorism, but also has shaped the way the country invests in Muslim businesses, studies global warming, supports scientific research and combats polio.” We learn that when “officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration returned from Indonesia, the NSC got a rundown about research opportunities on global warming.” Nice.

All of this would be well enough if we didn’t face radical jihadists who are ideologically motivated to slaughter Americans. Nor is there the slightest evidence that this Muslim outreach is helping to solve the most urgent issues we face:

Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist and former Bush adviser, is skeptical of Obama’s engagement effort. It “doesn’t appear to have created much in the way of strategic benefit” in the Middle East peace process or in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he said.

Obama runs the political risk of seeming to adopt politically correct rhetoric abroad while appearing tone-deaf on national security issues at home, Feaver said.

It is, like so much of what Obama does, the sort of thing you’d expect a college professor plucked out an Ivy League faculty directory to do if he were suddenly elevated to the presidency. Renounce use of nuclear weapons! Free health care for all! Change the subject from terrorism to cooperation! Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and all that runs up against hard truths and unpleasant facts. It is a dangerous time for such an unserious approach to the world.

Under siege during the Christmas Day bomb incident, the Obami huffily insisted that they do too know we are at war and that they do too take it seriously. Their policy decisions and actions suggest otherwise. This report explains:

President Barack Obama’s advisers plan to remove terms such as “Islamic radicalism” from a document outlining national security strategy and will use the new version to emphasize that the U.S. does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terrorism, counterterrorism officials say.

The change would be a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. It currently states, “The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.”

It’s all about Muslim outreach, you see. Don’t want to identify whom it is we are fighting, because their co-religionists might take offense. That these co-religionists are often the victims of Islamic radicalism is irrelevant to the Obami. That this rhetorical mush is the sort of thing that prevents us from anticipating and preventing jihadist attacks like the Fort Hood massacre is also not of any apparent concern. It’s all about getting away from the Bush administration mindset: “That shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo and promised a ‘new beginning’ in the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. The White House believes the previous administration based that relationship entirely on fighting terrorism and winning the war of ideas.”

So let’s focus on the really important stuff: global-warming training. We don’t want to say “Islamic extremism,” but we have a new team at the NSC that “has not only helped change the vocabulary of fighting terrorism, but also has shaped the way the country invests in Muslim businesses, studies global warming, supports scientific research and combats polio.” We learn that when “officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration returned from Indonesia, the NSC got a rundown about research opportunities on global warming.” Nice.

All of this would be well enough if we didn’t face radical jihadists who are ideologically motivated to slaughter Americans. Nor is there the slightest evidence that this Muslim outreach is helping to solve the most urgent issues we face:

Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist and former Bush adviser, is skeptical of Obama’s engagement effort. It “doesn’t appear to have created much in the way of strategic benefit” in the Middle East peace process or in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he said.

Obama runs the political risk of seeming to adopt politically correct rhetoric abroad while appearing tone-deaf on national security issues at home, Feaver said.

It is, like so much of what Obama does, the sort of thing you’d expect a college professor plucked out an Ivy League faculty directory to do if he were suddenly elevated to the presidency. Renounce use of nuclear weapons! Free health care for all! Change the subject from terrorism to cooperation! Unfortunately, we live in the real world, and all that runs up against hard truths and unpleasant facts. It is a dangerous time for such an unserious approach to the world.

Read Less

Frenemies, a Love Story

There is a fluffapalooza of an article in today’s New York Times about the unlikely “alliance” of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Mark Landler and Helene Cooper read quite a lot into Hillary’s taking a meeting with Obama after she heard of her husband’s recent heart trouble:

But the fact that she first spent 45 minutes plotting Iran strategy with the man who beat her in a divisive primary campaign shows just how far Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have come since the bitter spring of 2008, when he sniped that her foreign-policy credentials consisted of sipping tea with world leaders, and she scoffed that his consisted of living in Indonesia when he was 10.

The tragedy is they were both right. When they joined forces it was like two bad tastes that go bad together.  Over a year into this administration, all we have to show on the diplomacy front is presidential pledges of global empathy and a lot exotic teatime. We have a foreign policy of pure esthetics, no less superficial than the piece in the Times. Landler and Cooper lay it on real thick, describing what sounds like the world’s worst sitcom:

They now joke about their “frenemies” status and have made gestures toward each other’s families. When Mr. Obama learned that Chelsea Clinton had become engaged, he turned to Mrs. Clinton and asked, “Does she want a White House wedding?” a senior official recalled. (Mrs. Clinton declined, saying the offer was “sweet” but would be “inappropriate.”) And when Mrs. Clinton traveled to Honolulu in January, she paid tribute to Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in a speech she gave while looking over a garden dedicated to Ms. Dunham.

“Frenemies” has it about right. That’s what the Will and Grace of international affairs have made of every global player — good and bad: Vladimir Putin? Frenemy. Bibi Netanyahu? He’s a frenemy, too. When you get nicer to your antagonists and rougher on your allies you end up too invested in the former to threaten them and too distanced from the latter to get their cooperation. Well, at least an “alliance” is being forged somewhere.

There is a fluffapalooza of an article in today’s New York Times about the unlikely “alliance” of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Mark Landler and Helene Cooper read quite a lot into Hillary’s taking a meeting with Obama after she heard of her husband’s recent heart trouble:

But the fact that she first spent 45 minutes plotting Iran strategy with the man who beat her in a divisive primary campaign shows just how far Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have come since the bitter spring of 2008, when he sniped that her foreign-policy credentials consisted of sipping tea with world leaders, and she scoffed that his consisted of living in Indonesia when he was 10.

The tragedy is they were both right. When they joined forces it was like two bad tastes that go bad together.  Over a year into this administration, all we have to show on the diplomacy front is presidential pledges of global empathy and a lot exotic teatime. We have a foreign policy of pure esthetics, no less superficial than the piece in the Times. Landler and Cooper lay it on real thick, describing what sounds like the world’s worst sitcom:

They now joke about their “frenemies” status and have made gestures toward each other’s families. When Mr. Obama learned that Chelsea Clinton had become engaged, he turned to Mrs. Clinton and asked, “Does she want a White House wedding?” a senior official recalled. (Mrs. Clinton declined, saying the offer was “sweet” but would be “inappropriate.”) And when Mrs. Clinton traveled to Honolulu in January, she paid tribute to Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in a speech she gave while looking over a garden dedicated to Ms. Dunham.

“Frenemies” has it about right. That’s what the Will and Grace of international affairs have made of every global player — good and bad: Vladimir Putin? Frenemy. Bibi Netanyahu? He’s a frenemy, too. When you get nicer to your antagonists and rougher on your allies you end up too invested in the former to threaten them and too distanced from the latter to get their cooperation. Well, at least an “alliance” is being forged somewhere.

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Trying to Reinvent Obama

Dee Dee Myers is the latest Democrat to step forward offering advice to Obama. Her bottom line: change your personality. She finds him “calm,” “cool,” and “self-possessed.” The result, she says:

But while eschewing emotion — and its companion, vulnerability — Obama should be careful not to sacrifice empathy, the “I feel your pain” connection that sustained [Bill] Clinton. This connection is the shorthand people use to measure their leaders’ intentions. If people believe you’re on their side, they will trust your decisions. Too often, Obama leaves the impression that he stands alone — and likes it that way. Clinton was fond of saying, “We’re all going up or down together.” Obama must make sure that people know that he needs their help as much as they need his.

We’ve had a series of detached performances — Fort Hood and  the Christmas Day bombing — in which he was weirdly unemotional. A snippy showing at the health-care summit. And an attack on the Supreme Court. Indeed, he seems most engaged when he’s attacking his opponents, as he refers to the growing number of those who disagree with him.

Myers gives campaign-style advice in consultant-speak (“reconnect his biography to his agenda”):

Obama also needs to remind people that things weren’t always easy for him. The campaign introduced the country to a man whose life story was both unusual — a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother, a childhood spent in Hawaii and Indonesia — and broadly shared: a single mom who worked hard and sacrificed for her children and a family that faced difficult times but never lost its faith in the future.

But that all seems beside the point, oddly inappropriate for the presidency as opposed to the campaign. (There really is a difference between the two.) Something more fundamental is going on here: Obama seems not to respect his fellow citizens — the uninformed rubes who crashed the health-care town halls — nor care what they think. All his energy now is devoted to disregarding their strong aversion to his idea of health-care reform and forcing through a vote on something the public doesn’t want. It’s hard to bond with the American people, which is what Myers is suggesting, when your agenda conveys disdain for their concerns. Myers gets closer to the nub of the problem as she concludes:

Obama maintains a reservoir of goodwill. Even people who don’t approve of the job he’s doing like him personally. Most think he understands their problems and cares about people like them. In other words, people want to have a beer with him. They’re just not sure he wants to have a beer with them.

But that reservoir is being depleted over time. And who wants to have a beer with someone who doesn’t listen to anything you have to say?

It’s hard to conceal your personality in the 24/7 news cycle and in the most prominent job in the world. What was intriguing in the campaign — that cool, “superior” temperament — is now a liability. But it’s hard to change who you are. If Democrats are queasy about the president’s lacking warmth and empathy, not to mention some executive skills, there isn’t much they can do about it. Their dream candidate turned out to be rather flawed in ways that are critical to a successful presidency. They — and we — will have to live with that for a few more years.

Dee Dee Myers is the latest Democrat to step forward offering advice to Obama. Her bottom line: change your personality. She finds him “calm,” “cool,” and “self-possessed.” The result, she says:

But while eschewing emotion — and its companion, vulnerability — Obama should be careful not to sacrifice empathy, the “I feel your pain” connection that sustained [Bill] Clinton. This connection is the shorthand people use to measure their leaders’ intentions. If people believe you’re on their side, they will trust your decisions. Too often, Obama leaves the impression that he stands alone — and likes it that way. Clinton was fond of saying, “We’re all going up or down together.” Obama must make sure that people know that he needs their help as much as they need his.

We’ve had a series of detached performances — Fort Hood and  the Christmas Day bombing — in which he was weirdly unemotional. A snippy showing at the health-care summit. And an attack on the Supreme Court. Indeed, he seems most engaged when he’s attacking his opponents, as he refers to the growing number of those who disagree with him.

Myers gives campaign-style advice in consultant-speak (“reconnect his biography to his agenda”):

Obama also needs to remind people that things weren’t always easy for him. The campaign introduced the country to a man whose life story was both unusual — a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother, a childhood spent in Hawaii and Indonesia — and broadly shared: a single mom who worked hard and sacrificed for her children and a family that faced difficult times but never lost its faith in the future.

But that all seems beside the point, oddly inappropriate for the presidency as opposed to the campaign. (There really is a difference between the two.) Something more fundamental is going on here: Obama seems not to respect his fellow citizens — the uninformed rubes who crashed the health-care town halls — nor care what they think. All his energy now is devoted to disregarding their strong aversion to his idea of health-care reform and forcing through a vote on something the public doesn’t want. It’s hard to bond with the American people, which is what Myers is suggesting, when your agenda conveys disdain for their concerns. Myers gets closer to the nub of the problem as she concludes:

Obama maintains a reservoir of goodwill. Even people who don’t approve of the job he’s doing like him personally. Most think he understands their problems and cares about people like them. In other words, people want to have a beer with him. They’re just not sure he wants to have a beer with them.

But that reservoir is being depleted over time. And who wants to have a beer with someone who doesn’t listen to anything you have to say?

It’s hard to conceal your personality in the 24/7 news cycle and in the most prominent job in the world. What was intriguing in the campaign — that cool, “superior” temperament — is now a liability. But it’s hard to change who you are. If Democrats are queasy about the president’s lacking warmth and empathy, not to mention some executive skills, there isn’t much they can do about it. Their dream candidate turned out to be rather flawed in ways that are critical to a successful presidency. They — and we — will have to live with that for a few more years.

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No George Bush When It Comes to Our Allies

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

Noting Obama’s decision to skip the U.S.–European Union Summit and spurn its host, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Jackson Diehl sees a pattern by Obama of withdrawal from and growing indifference to international affairs. He writes:

It’s not just Zapatero who has trouble gaining traction in this White House: Unlike most of his predecessors, Obama has not forged close ties with any European leader. Britain’s Brown, France’s Sarkozy and Germany’s Merkel have each, in turn, felt snubbed by him. Relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are tense at best. George W. Bush used to hold regular videoconferences with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Obama has spoken to them on only a handful of occasions.

Diehl raises a number of issues here. First, Obama was never that game on international commitments. He told us again and again — although Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton tried to hush him up on this — that he wasn’t going to make an open-ended commitment of American troops in Afghanistan. He repeated in his West Point speech and in interviews that his concern was rebuilding at home (i.e., his ultra-liberal domestic agenda). Beyond Afghanistan, much of his foreign policy arguably can be seen as conflict avoidance — don’t ruffle the Russians, don’t draw a line with Iran, don’t get the Chinese upset about human rights — precisely so he can focus resources and attention on his beloved health-care, cap-and-trade, and other domestic proposals.

Second, to the degree he was inward-focused from the get-go, Obama certainly has become more so as his domestic agenda and poll numbers have cratered. He begrudgingly dragged himself to the microphone to address the Christmas Day bomber (though he was uninformed, and misinformed the public that we were dealing with an “isolated extremist”). He zipped by national-security matters in his State of the Union speech. Maybe once he got that Nobel Peace Prize, he just lost interest.

And finally, could it be (Diehl is certainly providing some evidence) that Obama is less effective as an international diplomat that the Cowboy from Crawford? You mean Obama hasn’t bonded with any foreign leader, as George W. Bush did with Tony Blair, for example? (Well, returning the Winston Churchill bust and the cheesy gifts to the Brits probably didn’t help Obama with that ally.) He’s not keeping up with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan the way Bush did, we are told. And then there is the Israel debacle. I don’t suppose Obama would win any popularity contests in Honduras, Poland, or the Czech Republic either.

So to sum up, the president who campaigned to restore our standing in the world and practice “smart” diplomacy isn’t much interested in the world, expends little time and no effort in bolstering democracy and human rights, and doesn’t have effective relationships with key allies — at least not as effective as were Bush’s. Well, he did run as “not Bush,” and now he’s living up to that particular campaign promise. Too bad: the result is the most error-strewn, irresolute, and ham-handed foreign-policy apparatus since the Carter administration. Maybe living in Indonesia as a child wasn’t sufficient foreign-policy preparation after all.

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When You Mess Up This Badly, There Are No Good Options

How badly did Obama mess up? Really badly, says David Brooks:

Instead of building trust in government, the Democrats have magnified distrust. The country already believed Washington is out of touch with its core concerns. So while most families were concerned about jobs, Democrats in Washington spent nine months arguing about health care. The country was already tired of self-serving back-room deals, so the Democrats negotiated a series of dirty deals with the pharmaceutical industry, the unions and certain senators. Americans already felt Washington doesn’t understand their fears and insecurities. So at the moment when economic insecurity was at its peak, the Democrats in Washington added another layer of insecurity by threatening to change everything at once.

Instead of building a new majority, the Democrats have set off a distrust insurrection (which is not the same as a conservative insurrection). Republicans are enraged. Independents are furious. Democrats are disheartened. Health care reform is brutally unpopular. Even voters in Massachusetts decided it was time to send a message.

Brooks writes “Democrats,” but you can plug in “Obama.” These were Obama’s decisions — either affirmatively or by ceding the decision-making to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It might sound less harsh to avoid using his name, but we should be clear whose fault this is. Hard to imagine that someone like Obama – who could be such a fine editor of a liberal magazine – could have made that many bad calls and been so out of touch with the American electorate’s inherent conservatism and aversion to statism. Maybe being a fine editor or a sophisticated conversationalist or living in Indonesia has nothing to do with being a good president. (Note to file: There is no correlation between Ivy League credentials and prowess as a chief executive.)

Brooks gives Obama … er, Democrats … some advice: take what he calls the Weak and Feckless Approach to health care. Admit they messed up. Say they heard the public. And get out of Dodge with a face-saving, small-beans plan. “Perhaps we will use federal money to support a series of state reform efforts — like the one in Massachusetts — which are closer to the people, ” says Brooks. Yes, that sounds just unbelievably lame. But that’s what they’re reduced to. There is no support for grandiose ObamaCare. There hasn’t been support in the country for some time, and finally the lawmakers are listening.

I personally like the temper-tantrum option, which Brooks calls the Incoherent and Internecine Approach: “This would involve settling on no coherent policy but just blaming each other for cowardice and stupidity for the next month.” It would be fun to watch, and there’s at least a grain of truth in it. Obama is to blame. Pelosi is to blame. Reid is to blame. Greedy Ben Nelson is to blame. And then the Democrats will tell us that the voters are to blame, the tiny Republican minority is to blame, and of course the cabal of Bill Kristol–Jane Hamsher–Howard Dean–MoveOn.org–Club for Growth–Jim DeMint–Mitch McConnell–etc. is to blame. In short, the Right and the Left and Independents are the villains — because they all opposed the bill. Well, that does suggest that the bill was so flawed that it could engender no support. But that sort of discussion is what makes the Incoherent and Internecine Approach so enticing.

Surveying all that and observing the unraveling of support on Capitol Hill for ObamaCare, one must agree with Brooks that there are no good options here for the Obami. Sometimes the number and magnitude of a politician’s errors are so great that all that’s left for him to do is take his lumps, express contrition, and move on. (The Humble Pie Approach?) Unfortunately, that’s the last thing this president is inclined to favor.

How badly did Obama mess up? Really badly, says David Brooks:

Instead of building trust in government, the Democrats have magnified distrust. The country already believed Washington is out of touch with its core concerns. So while most families were concerned about jobs, Democrats in Washington spent nine months arguing about health care. The country was already tired of self-serving back-room deals, so the Democrats negotiated a series of dirty deals with the pharmaceutical industry, the unions and certain senators. Americans already felt Washington doesn’t understand their fears and insecurities. So at the moment when economic insecurity was at its peak, the Democrats in Washington added another layer of insecurity by threatening to change everything at once.

Instead of building a new majority, the Democrats have set off a distrust insurrection (which is not the same as a conservative insurrection). Republicans are enraged. Independents are furious. Democrats are disheartened. Health care reform is brutally unpopular. Even voters in Massachusetts decided it was time to send a message.

Brooks writes “Democrats,” but you can plug in “Obama.” These were Obama’s decisions — either affirmatively or by ceding the decision-making to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It might sound less harsh to avoid using his name, but we should be clear whose fault this is. Hard to imagine that someone like Obama – who could be such a fine editor of a liberal magazine – could have made that many bad calls and been so out of touch with the American electorate’s inherent conservatism and aversion to statism. Maybe being a fine editor or a sophisticated conversationalist or living in Indonesia has nothing to do with being a good president. (Note to file: There is no correlation between Ivy League credentials and prowess as a chief executive.)

Brooks gives Obama … er, Democrats … some advice: take what he calls the Weak and Feckless Approach to health care. Admit they messed up. Say they heard the public. And get out of Dodge with a face-saving, small-beans plan. “Perhaps we will use federal money to support a series of state reform efforts — like the one in Massachusetts — which are closer to the people, ” says Brooks. Yes, that sounds just unbelievably lame. But that’s what they’re reduced to. There is no support for grandiose ObamaCare. There hasn’t been support in the country for some time, and finally the lawmakers are listening.

I personally like the temper-tantrum option, which Brooks calls the Incoherent and Internecine Approach: “This would involve settling on no coherent policy but just blaming each other for cowardice and stupidity for the next month.” It would be fun to watch, and there’s at least a grain of truth in it. Obama is to blame. Pelosi is to blame. Reid is to blame. Greedy Ben Nelson is to blame. And then the Democrats will tell us that the voters are to blame, the tiny Republican minority is to blame, and of course the cabal of Bill Kristol–Jane Hamsher–Howard Dean–MoveOn.org–Club for Growth–Jim DeMint–Mitch McConnell–etc. is to blame. In short, the Right and the Left and Independents are the villains — because they all opposed the bill. Well, that does suggest that the bill was so flawed that it could engender no support. But that sort of discussion is what makes the Incoherent and Internecine Approach so enticing.

Surveying all that and observing the unraveling of support on Capitol Hill for ObamaCare, one must agree with Brooks that there are no good options here for the Obami. Sometimes the number and magnitude of a politician’s errors are so great that all that’s left for him to do is take his lumps, express contrition, and move on. (The Humble Pie Approach?) Unfortunately, that’s the last thing this president is inclined to favor.

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The Best Available Defense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

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Atran’s Silly Thesis

Anthropologist Scott Atran shows that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Having studied the battle against Islamist extremists in Indonesia, he argues in the New York Times that we should be using similar methods in Afghanistan — namely leaving the battle to local authorities who have a better understanding of local tribal dynamics than we do. I too have visited countries where the locals are doing very well in fighting against guerrillas and terrorists with much less assistance than we have poured into Afghanistan and Iraq; see my reports from the Philippines here and from Colombia here.

But while admiring the efforts of the Filipinos and Colombians — just as I respect the efforts of the Indonesians and others — I am acutely conscious that their example cannot be replicated in Afghanistan, a country whose government disintegrated when our forces entered in 2001. It takes a long time to build up a functioning state, and in the meantime, we have to send our own forces to provide security. A failure to do enough in that regard results in dangerous gains for the enemy, as we saw in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2005 to today.

Atran doesn’t seem to realize this. Instead he comforts himself with foolish fairytales about how supposedly benign the Taliban would be if only we left them alone. He adopts the “accidental guerrilla” thesis propounded by Dave Kilcullen, which holds that it is American military action that is driving the Pashtuns into the Taliban’s hands. This flagrantly ignores the historical record which shows that the Taliban were far more powerful back in the 1990s when there was not a single American soldier on the ground in Afghanistan. In those days, too, the Taliban cemented a close alliance with al-Qaeda, which they have never renounced even though it would have been to their advantage to do so. This suggests rather strongly that if we followed Atran’s advice and left Afghanistan to its own devices, it would soon be taken over by jihadists bent on attacking not only Pakistan but also Europe and the United States.

To argue otherwise, Atran engages in ridiculous speculation. He writes:

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

In other words, he believes that our initial decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a major mistake. He thinks we should have relied on the Taliban’s good graces to kick out al-Qaeda, ignoring the fact that we offered them an opportunity to do just that and they passed on it. Atran’s argument is not a serious analysis; it is wishful thinking. To President Obama’s credit, he considered such views during the course of his Afghan policy review—and rejected them.

Anthropologist Scott Atran shows that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Having studied the battle against Islamist extremists in Indonesia, he argues in the New York Times that we should be using similar methods in Afghanistan — namely leaving the battle to local authorities who have a better understanding of local tribal dynamics than we do. I too have visited countries where the locals are doing very well in fighting against guerrillas and terrorists with much less assistance than we have poured into Afghanistan and Iraq; see my reports from the Philippines here and from Colombia here.

But while admiring the efforts of the Filipinos and Colombians — just as I respect the efforts of the Indonesians and others — I am acutely conscious that their example cannot be replicated in Afghanistan, a country whose government disintegrated when our forces entered in 2001. It takes a long time to build up a functioning state, and in the meantime, we have to send our own forces to provide security. A failure to do enough in that regard results in dangerous gains for the enemy, as we saw in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2005 to today.

Atran doesn’t seem to realize this. Instead he comforts himself with foolish fairytales about how supposedly benign the Taliban would be if only we left them alone. He adopts the “accidental guerrilla” thesis propounded by Dave Kilcullen, which holds that it is American military action that is driving the Pashtuns into the Taliban’s hands. This flagrantly ignores the historical record which shows that the Taliban were far more powerful back in the 1990s when there was not a single American soldier on the ground in Afghanistan. In those days, too, the Taliban cemented a close alliance with al-Qaeda, which they have never renounced even though it would have been to their advantage to do so. This suggests rather strongly that if we followed Atran’s advice and left Afghanistan to its own devices, it would soon be taken over by jihadists bent on attacking not only Pakistan but also Europe and the United States.

To argue otherwise, Atran engages in ridiculous speculation. He writes:

After 9/11, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, assembled a council of clerics to judge his claim that Mr. bin Laden was the country’s guest and could not be surrendered. The clerics countered that because a guest should not cause his host problems, Mr. bin Laden should leave. But instead of keeping pressure on the Taliban to resolve the issue in ways they could live with, the United States ridiculed their deliberation and bombed them into a closer alliance with Al Qaeda. Pakistani Pashtuns then offered to help out their Afghan brethren.

In other words, he believes that our initial decision to intervene militarily in Afghanistan after 9/11 was a major mistake. He thinks we should have relied on the Taliban’s good graces to kick out al-Qaeda, ignoring the fact that we offered them an opportunity to do just that and they passed on it. Atran’s argument is not a serious analysis; it is wishful thinking. To President Obama’s credit, he considered such views during the course of his Afghan policy review—and rejected them.

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Finally, Embrace the Obvious

The Washington Post employs the passive voice in its lede on the newfound fondness for nuclear power:

Nuclear power — long considered environmentally hazardous — is emerging as perhaps the world’s most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.

Considered by whom, exactly? Well, by the green activists who never had a good explanation for why nuclear power wasn’t the solution to the hysteria they were creating over global warming and to the more realistic concern about lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Now we know that it was the anti-nuclear-power forces that have managed to block plants from being built for the past 13 years. But around the world, it’s a different story:

From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors, according to global watchdog groups and industry associations. The number of plants being built is double the total of just five years ago.

Even in the U.S., the Obami are grudgingly eying nuclear power, and some green groups are throwing in the towel on opposing a clean source of domestic power. The fanaticism of the antinuclear forces, however, has not been without a cost. After all, we’ve used all that fossil fuel and delayed the building of any nuclear plants for more than a decade. The former head of Greenpeace in Britain announces: “Like many of us, I began to slowly realize we don’t have the luxury anymore of excluding nuclear energy. … We need all the help we can get.”

Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of doing so back then either, but the politicians were cowed by groups like Greenpeace. Now we’ll have to scramble to catch up, if in fact the iron grip of anti-nuclear-power activists is broken. Perhaps next we’ll get around to developing domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. But let’s not get carried away.

The Washington Post employs the passive voice in its lede on the newfound fondness for nuclear power:

Nuclear power — long considered environmentally hazardous — is emerging as perhaps the world’s most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.

Considered by whom, exactly? Well, by the green activists who never had a good explanation for why nuclear power wasn’t the solution to the hysteria they were creating over global warming and to the more realistic concern about lessening our dependence on foreign oil. Now we know that it was the anti-nuclear-power forces that have managed to block plants from being built for the past 13 years. But around the world, it’s a different story:

From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors, according to global watchdog groups and industry associations. The number of plants being built is double the total of just five years ago.

Even in the U.S., the Obami are grudgingly eying nuclear power, and some green groups are throwing in the towel on opposing a clean source of domestic power. The fanaticism of the antinuclear forces, however, has not been without a cost. After all, we’ve used all that fossil fuel and delayed the building of any nuclear plants for more than a decade. The former head of Greenpeace in Britain announces: “Like many of us, I began to slowly realize we don’t have the luxury anymore of excluding nuclear energy. … We need all the help we can get.”

Of course, we didn’t have the luxury of doing so back then either, but the politicians were cowed by groups like Greenpeace. Now we’ll have to scramble to catch up, if in fact the iron grip of anti-nuclear-power activists is broken. Perhaps next we’ll get around to developing domestic supplies of oil and natural gas. But let’s not get carried away.

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A Talk in Tehran

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that two organizations at Tehran University will host a May 26th conference on “Israel’s End” in order to coincide with “the sad 60th anniversary of Palestine’s occupation by the Zionists.”

Here’s the IRNA:

The guests of the conference that would be attended by Iranian and foreign students of universities in Tehran will be intellectuals and university professors from Egypt, Venezuela, Morocco, Lebanon, Indonesia, the United States, Pakistan, Argentina, India, Iraq, Syria, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, France, Tunisia, and a number of other countries.

In March, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement, one of groups organizing the upcoming confab, offered a bounty of more than $1 million for the assassination of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad director Meir Dagan, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

What kind of student activist group has a cool million laying around in a mercenary fund? The kind under the guidance of the “Council for Spreading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Thoughts.” Yes, that is a real, government-organized council. And yes, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement is under their direct influence. So, the May 26th international conference on the liquidation of Israel is, in its turn, an Ahmadinejad-sponsored event. It’s hard to say whether or not IRNA’s claim of U.S. attendees is genuine–but there’s little reason to doubt that some American academics would jump at this golden opportunity.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that two organizations at Tehran University will host a May 26th conference on “Israel’s End” in order to coincide with “the sad 60th anniversary of Palestine’s occupation by the Zionists.”

Here’s the IRNA:

The guests of the conference that would be attended by Iranian and foreign students of universities in Tehran will be intellectuals and university professors from Egypt, Venezuela, Morocco, Lebanon, Indonesia, the United States, Pakistan, Argentina, India, Iraq, Syria, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, France, Tunisia, and a number of other countries.

In March, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement, one of groups organizing the upcoming confab, offered a bounty of more than $1 million for the assassination of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Mossad director Meir Dagan, and military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.

What kind of student activist group has a cool million laying around in a mercenary fund? The kind under the guidance of the “Council for Spreading Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Thoughts.” Yes, that is a real, government-organized council. And yes, the Justice-Seeking Student Movement is under their direct influence. So, the May 26th international conference on the liquidation of Israel is, in its turn, an Ahmadinejad-sponsored event. It’s hard to say whether or not IRNA’s claim of U.S. attendees is genuine–but there’s little reason to doubt that some American academics would jump at this golden opportunity.

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Obama’s Role Model?

David Brooks reports today that, like a lot of other Democrats, Barack Obama has become a born-again believer in the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The Democratic candidate tells Brooks: “I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush. I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm. I don’t have a lot of complaints with their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

This new-found admiration conveniently overlooks some decisions by the elder President Bush that were roundly and correctly criticized at the time by many liberals as well as conservatives: decisions such as the botched aftermath of the Gulf War, which resulted in Shiites and Kurds getting slaughtered after they heeded the President’s call to rise up; the notorious “Chicken Kiev” speech in which he urged Ukrainians to remain part of a dissolving Soviet Union; and the failure to intervene in Bosnia.

Instead, Obama focuses on a couple of the high points of the Bush presidency, even though the elder Bush’s realpolitik doctrine was as responsible for his failures as for his successes. But even taking Obama’s compliments at face value, how likely is it that he could or would replicate such achievements?

Although everyone supported Operation Desert Storm after its success became evident, it was a different story when Bush asked Congress to authorize the mission. Even after winning United Nations approval, he had trouble getting a Democrat-dominated Congress to sign off. The vote in favor of the war resolution was 52-47 in the Senate, with 45 Democrats voting nay. Only 10 Democrats voted for the resolution, mostly conservative Southerners. Even such moderates as Sam Nunn opposed the use of force. How likely is it that if Barack Obama-the most liberal member of the Senate last year-had been in the Senate that year that he would have voted for the resolution?

As for the other Bush administration achievement that he cites-”their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall”-that was made possible by the long personal experience and contacts built up by the President over the course of many years on the international stage as an ambassador to China and the UN, CIA director, and vice president. That allowed Bush to conduct adroit diplomacy with Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and other world leaders. Obama has almost no experience in international affairs beyond having lived in Indonesia as a child; certainly he has never held a job in any field related to foreign affairs before entering the Senate three years ago. Granted, he is charming and charismatic. But what are the odds that he can replicate the kind of skilled diplomacy pursued by an old hand like George H.W. Bush?

The more likely comparison is not to Bush but to two previous Democratic nominees who had no experience in foreign policy before entering the White House: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In both cases they learned on the job and gradually improved, but the world paid a high price for their stumbles from Iran (Carter) to Somalia (Clinton).

David Brooks reports today that, like a lot of other Democrats, Barack Obama has become a born-again believer in the presidency of George H.W. Bush. The Democratic candidate tells Brooks: “I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush. I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm. I don’t have a lot of complaints with their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

This new-found admiration conveniently overlooks some decisions by the elder President Bush that were roundly and correctly criticized at the time by many liberals as well as conservatives: decisions such as the botched aftermath of the Gulf War, which resulted in Shiites and Kurds getting slaughtered after they heeded the President’s call to rise up; the notorious “Chicken Kiev” speech in which he urged Ukrainians to remain part of a dissolving Soviet Union; and the failure to intervene in Bosnia.

Instead, Obama focuses on a couple of the high points of the Bush presidency, even though the elder Bush’s realpolitik doctrine was as responsible for his failures as for his successes. But even taking Obama’s compliments at face value, how likely is it that he could or would replicate such achievements?

Although everyone supported Operation Desert Storm after its success became evident, it was a different story when Bush asked Congress to authorize the mission. Even after winning United Nations approval, he had trouble getting a Democrat-dominated Congress to sign off. The vote in favor of the war resolution was 52-47 in the Senate, with 45 Democrats voting nay. Only 10 Democrats voted for the resolution, mostly conservative Southerners. Even such moderates as Sam Nunn opposed the use of force. How likely is it that if Barack Obama-the most liberal member of the Senate last year-had been in the Senate that year that he would have voted for the resolution?

As for the other Bush administration achievement that he cites-”their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall”-that was made possible by the long personal experience and contacts built up by the President over the course of many years on the international stage as an ambassador to China and the UN, CIA director, and vice president. That allowed Bush to conduct adroit diplomacy with Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev, and other world leaders. Obama has almost no experience in international affairs beyond having lived in Indonesia as a child; certainly he has never held a job in any field related to foreign affairs before entering the Senate three years ago. Granted, he is charming and charismatic. But what are the odds that he can replicate the kind of skilled diplomacy pursued by an old hand like George H.W. Bush?

The more likely comparison is not to Bush but to two previous Democratic nominees who had no experience in foreign policy before entering the White House: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In both cases they learned on the job and gradually improved, but the world paid a high price for their stumbles from Iran (Carter) to Somalia (Clinton).

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The Starvation Jihad

In Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, the militant members of the Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (KEVIN) claim they have an “acronym problem”. Not compared to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front! MILF has an acronym problem. And its real.

But names are the least of this Philippine radical group’s concerns. What they don’t have is food. At least they didn’t until Wednesday, when they picked up their guns and took over the coastal village of Sangay. Three hundred armed jihadists forced more than a thousand (mostly Christian) villagers off their land after demanding food and confiscating recently-harvested rice.

Up until now, the save-the-planet crowd has weakened the West mostly by way of sapping morale. Without an enormous colonial empire to oppose, anti-Westerners have to make do with railing against the immensity of the West’s “carbon footprint.” We’re supposed to feel guilty about the cars we drive and question the lightbulbs we use. Then came “biofuels.” The EU and the U.S. signed on to commitments requiring that vast amounts of food crops go to the production of burnable fuel.

As Mark Steyn put it, “When you divert 28 percent of U.S. grain into fuel production, and when you artificially make its value as fuel higher than its value as food, why be surprised that you’ve suddenly got less to eat?” Actually, we tubby Westerners can still walk into any McDonald’s and stuff our faces. It’s the developing world that’s literally eating dirt to survive.

But now we’ve arrived at the next step. When things get that bad in places like Cité Soleil and Mindanao, the only people who get what they need to live are the ones with guns. And in Sangay, that’s MILF. So, the global food shortage, brought on in part by environmentalist radicals, has enabled the Darwinian advancement of armed jihadists in the developing world. There have recently been food riots from the Phillipines to Indonesia to Egypt. In this last case the Muslim Brotherhood has lent their name to the cause. It doesn’t take an expert on world religions to spot the overlap between countries with too little food and countries with too many Islamists. One of the worst “innovations” spawned by Western guilt has just gotten appreciably worse.

In Zadie Smith’s novel White Teeth, the militant members of the Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation (KEVIN) claim they have an “acronym problem”. Not compared to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front! MILF has an acronym problem. And its real.

But names are the least of this Philippine radical group’s concerns. What they don’t have is food. At least they didn’t until Wednesday, when they picked up their guns and took over the coastal village of Sangay. Three hundred armed jihadists forced more than a thousand (mostly Christian) villagers off their land after demanding food and confiscating recently-harvested rice.

Up until now, the save-the-planet crowd has weakened the West mostly by way of sapping morale. Without an enormous colonial empire to oppose, anti-Westerners have to make do with railing against the immensity of the West’s “carbon footprint.” We’re supposed to feel guilty about the cars we drive and question the lightbulbs we use. Then came “biofuels.” The EU and the U.S. signed on to commitments requiring that vast amounts of food crops go to the production of burnable fuel.

As Mark Steyn put it, “When you divert 28 percent of U.S. grain into fuel production, and when you artificially make its value as fuel higher than its value as food, why be surprised that you’ve suddenly got less to eat?” Actually, we tubby Westerners can still walk into any McDonald’s and stuff our faces. It’s the developing world that’s literally eating dirt to survive.

But now we’ve arrived at the next step. When things get that bad in places like Cité Soleil and Mindanao, the only people who get what they need to live are the ones with guns. And in Sangay, that’s MILF. So, the global food shortage, brought on in part by environmentalist radicals, has enabled the Darwinian advancement of armed jihadists in the developing world. There have recently been food riots from the Phillipines to Indonesia to Egypt. In this last case the Muslim Brotherhood has lent their name to the cause. It doesn’t take an expert on world religions to spot the overlap between countries with too little food and countries with too many Islamists. One of the worst “innovations” spawned by Western guilt has just gotten appreciably worse.

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Is Obama Hiding A Muslim Past?

Daniel Pipes offers the following provocation in the Jerusalem Post: What if it turns out that Barack Obama was a devout Muslim for several years in his childhood? Obama has repeatedly claimed that he has “always been a Christian” and has “never practiced Islam.” Yet the evidence has started to mount that this may not be entirely true.Apparently when he attended Catholic school growing up in Indonesia, he was registered there as a Muslim. People in Indonesia remember him not merely as a Muslim in name, but a devout, practicing one.

Given the effect of blurred memories and vested interests when describing a Presidential contender, we must be careful in drawing conclusions. Nor would it matter whether he was or was not a Muslim — especially as a child — so long as he didn’t try to cover it up. Pipes has it right when he says:

Obama’s having been born and raised a Muslim and having left the faith to become a Christian make him neither more nor less qualified to become president of the United States. But if he was born and raised a Muslim and is now hiding that fact, this points to a major deceit, a fundamental misrepresentation about himself that has profound implications about his character and his suitability as president.

Put more softly: Assuming the evidence continues to emerge, and Pipes’ surmises about Obama’s past are borne out, the question becomes: What kind of person covers up his past faith when running for office? Answer: The kind who instinctively tells people what they want to hear, even at the expense of the truth. But this may be big trouble as the campaign progresses. When he is asked if he breathed in the air of Islam at any point in his life, what will he say? “I didn’t inhale”?

Daniel Pipes offers the following provocation in the Jerusalem Post: What if it turns out that Barack Obama was a devout Muslim for several years in his childhood? Obama has repeatedly claimed that he has “always been a Christian” and has “never practiced Islam.” Yet the evidence has started to mount that this may not be entirely true.Apparently when he attended Catholic school growing up in Indonesia, he was registered there as a Muslim. People in Indonesia remember him not merely as a Muslim in name, but a devout, practicing one.

Given the effect of blurred memories and vested interests when describing a Presidential contender, we must be careful in drawing conclusions. Nor would it matter whether he was or was not a Muslim — especially as a child — so long as he didn’t try to cover it up. Pipes has it right when he says:

Obama’s having been born and raised a Muslim and having left the faith to become a Christian make him neither more nor less qualified to become president of the United States. But if he was born and raised a Muslim and is now hiding that fact, this points to a major deceit, a fundamental misrepresentation about himself that has profound implications about his character and his suitability as president.

Put more softly: Assuming the evidence continues to emerge, and Pipes’ surmises about Obama’s past are borne out, the question becomes: What kind of person covers up his past faith when running for office? Answer: The kind who instinctively tells people what they want to hear, even at the expense of the truth. But this may be big trouble as the campaign progresses. When he is asked if he breathed in the air of Islam at any point in his life, what will he say? “I didn’t inhale”?

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Another “Global Crisis”

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

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The Futility of Talking to Tehran

In today’s Washington Times, Michael O’Hanlon suggests the U.S. should engage Iran diplomatically, for “hawkish” reasons:

U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran, the sooner the better, still makes sense — not because it will likely produce any breakthroughs, but because . . . “hawkish engagement” can set the U.S. up more effectively to galvanize the kind of growing international pressure on Iran that is probably our only long-term hope of producing better behavior from Tehran. By trying to talk, we better position ourselves to get tough and have others join the effort.

Through negotiation, we can prove to the world that American recalcitrance, Texas cowboy foreign policymaking, and pre-emption doctrine are not the real problems here. Only by patiently trying to work with Iran, and consistently failing to make progress, will we gradually convince Bush-haters and U.S. doubters around the world that the real problem does not lie in Washington.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah! When people said that Israel’s handing over Gaza would give the Jewish state the moral high ground in the eyes of the world. And how did that work out? International opinion described the second Lebanon War as a violent overreaction, and the international community talks about the Israeli government as if the Kadima party was formed in the sole hope of occupying more land.

O’Hanlon’s recommendation is based on two false premises, and together they create a circular bind. The first falsehood is the notion that America (like Israel) incurs more hatred through its actions than through its mere existence. If expressed sentiment toward America was based only on American policy, then most nations of the world would celebrate America Is Great Day every day of the year. In the history of the world there’s simply never been a country to extend either the largess or make the sacrifices of the United States today. Whether it’s monetary aid for Palestinians, natural disaster relief for Indonesia, military action on behalf of Muslims being killed in the Balkans, AIDS relief to Africa, or missile defense for Eastern Europe, if the rest of the world were to respond to the U.S. reciprocally, we’d never have another problem again.

The second false premise is that America’s ally deficit on Iran is one of number rather than approach. We have allies in opposition to Iran—many European countries are on board with tougher sanctions. But, in the end, these countries aren’t doing much aside from offering lip service. Why? Because the U.S. has ended up taking care of their geostrategy problems for half a century—which brings us right back to the first false premise.

If the U.S. talked to Iran, anti-Americans would point to it as a sign of defeat and weakness. They’d switch from enjoying self-righteous rage to savoring perceived superiority. And America’s allies wouldn’t pay all that much attention. They know full well that if the talks failed, the U.S. would still do something to keep the threat at bay.

In today’s Washington Times, Michael O’Hanlon suggests the U.S. should engage Iran diplomatically, for “hawkish” reasons:

U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran, the sooner the better, still makes sense — not because it will likely produce any breakthroughs, but because . . . “hawkish engagement” can set the U.S. up more effectively to galvanize the kind of growing international pressure on Iran that is probably our only long-term hope of producing better behavior from Tehran. By trying to talk, we better position ourselves to get tough and have others join the effort.

Through negotiation, we can prove to the world that American recalcitrance, Texas cowboy foreign policymaking, and pre-emption doctrine are not the real problems here. Only by patiently trying to work with Iran, and consistently failing to make progress, will we gradually convince Bush-haters and U.S. doubters around the world that the real problem does not lie in Washington.

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah! When people said that Israel’s handing over Gaza would give the Jewish state the moral high ground in the eyes of the world. And how did that work out? International opinion described the second Lebanon War as a violent overreaction, and the international community talks about the Israeli government as if the Kadima party was formed in the sole hope of occupying more land.

O’Hanlon’s recommendation is based on two false premises, and together they create a circular bind. The first falsehood is the notion that America (like Israel) incurs more hatred through its actions than through its mere existence. If expressed sentiment toward America was based only on American policy, then most nations of the world would celebrate America Is Great Day every day of the year. In the history of the world there’s simply never been a country to extend either the largess or make the sacrifices of the United States today. Whether it’s monetary aid for Palestinians, natural disaster relief for Indonesia, military action on behalf of Muslims being killed in the Balkans, AIDS relief to Africa, or missile defense for Eastern Europe, if the rest of the world were to respond to the U.S. reciprocally, we’d never have another problem again.

The second false premise is that America’s ally deficit on Iran is one of number rather than approach. We have allies in opposition to Iran—many European countries are on board with tougher sanctions. But, in the end, these countries aren’t doing much aside from offering lip service. Why? Because the U.S. has ended up taking care of their geostrategy problems for half a century—which brings us right back to the first false premise.

If the U.S. talked to Iran, anti-Americans would point to it as a sign of defeat and weakness. They’d switch from enjoying self-righteous rage to savoring perceived superiority. And America’s allies wouldn’t pay all that much attention. They know full well that if the talks failed, the U.S. would still do something to keep the threat at bay.

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A False Iraq Analogy

Discussing Iran on “Hardball,” John McCain explained that the case for war against Iran would be hard to make with the American people because of a “credibility gap” generated by the WMD flop in Iraq. According to Reuters,

Senator McCain said he would have to make an “even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

One cannot but concur with Senator McCain that among the arguments voiced to shield Iran from Western pressure–including, possibly, a military strike–there’s the analogy with Iraq. Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made that argument recently in The Guardian:

Iraq had been placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative, a doomed process which led to war. I am fearful that the EU-3 is repeating this same process, demanding Iran refute something that doesn’t exist except in the overactive imaginations of diplomats pre-programmed to accept at face value anything negative about Iran, regardless of its veracity. The implications of such a morally and intellectually shallow posture could very well be disastrous.

One must be mindful of the kind of arguments our allies and friends across the Western world consider serious and legitimate–though Ritter and the Guardian may not necessarily qualify as either. But Senator McCain should also know that this analogy is false.

Firstly, the IAEA says very clearly that the Iranian nuclear program looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. Is it not, then, a duck? As IAEA director general, Dr. Mohammad El-Baradei wrote in November 2003,

Iran’s nuclear programme, as the Agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.

Iran was given over five years to prove otherwise. So far, Iran has failed to reassure the international community on the nature and aims of its nuclear program. The passing of three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran–two unanimously, one with Indonesia abstaining–indicates that the entire international community is concerned about Iran’s motives for such a reckless pursuit of nuclear power.

So how, you ask, is Iran’s case different from Iraq’s? Precisely because of the absence of an existent Iraqi weaponization program. In Iran, the evidence is in plain sight. IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring a program that (even in its publicly visible parts) should make everyone anxious, especially in light of the fact that Iran concealed its existence for at least eighteen years and procured its initial blueprints and technology A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. According to the IAEA’s report of February 22, 2008, Iran did not deny having received from Khan the designs for a nuclear warhead in 1987. It only lamely protested that it did not ask for them. Doesn’t this admission, coupled with the subsequent two decades of concealment, comprise grounds for further suspicion?

Iran also has an advanced ballistic missile program with links to North Korea, a nuclear power with a strong record of proliferation, as well as operational missiles that can strike as far as Israel and southern Europe, and it is developing longer-range ones, too: up to 4,000 miles.

Missiles with such range make sense, strategically, only if they carry unconventional warheads. In its most recent report, the IAEA cites evidence of Iranian designs for a nuclear warhead for Iran’s existing missiles, notably the Shihab-3 (based on a North Korean design).

inally, there is the mountain of circumstantial evidence which, in light of Iran’s history of concealment and deception, should put all doubts to rest: the fact that Iran does not need to enrich uranium, since the fuel for its reactor at Bushehr is being supplied by Russial; that fact that Iran’s nuclear power infrastructure does not require a heavy water facility, like the one Iran is building in Arak. Such reactors are useful only for producing plutonium, which Iran has no use for as a reactor fuel. The only conceivable reason Iran has for trying to produce plutonium is to make nuclear weapons.

There is, in other words, a very long list of reasons why Iran is not Iraq. Senator McCain is right to be cautious in his statements. But one hopes he is aware of the difference and, when the time comes, will not abide by this false analogy.

Discussing Iran on “Hardball,” John McCain explained that the case for war against Iran would be hard to make with the American people because of a “credibility gap” generated by the WMD flop in Iraq. According to Reuters,

Senator McCain said he would have to make an “even more convincing argument that it was necessary to do so because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

One cannot but concur with Senator McCain that among the arguments voiced to shield Iran from Western pressure–including, possibly, a military strike–there’s the analogy with Iraq. Former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter made that argument recently in The Guardian:

Iraq had been placed in the impossible position of having to prove a negative, a doomed process which led to war. I am fearful that the EU-3 is repeating this same process, demanding Iran refute something that doesn’t exist except in the overactive imaginations of diplomats pre-programmed to accept at face value anything negative about Iran, regardless of its veracity. The implications of such a morally and intellectually shallow posture could very well be disastrous.

One must be mindful of the kind of arguments our allies and friends across the Western world consider serious and legitimate–though Ritter and the Guardian may not necessarily qualify as either. But Senator McCain should also know that this analogy is false.

Firstly, the IAEA says very clearly that the Iranian nuclear program looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck. Is it not, then, a duck? As IAEA director general, Dr. Mohammad El-Baradei wrote in November 2003,

Iran’s nuclear programme, as the Agency currently understands it, consists of a practically complete front end of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, heavy water production, a light water reactor, a heavy water research reactor and associated research and development facilities.

Iran was given over five years to prove otherwise. So far, Iran has failed to reassure the international community on the nature and aims of its nuclear program. The passing of three UN Security Council sanctions resolutions against Iran–two unanimously, one with Indonesia abstaining–indicates that the entire international community is concerned about Iran’s motives for such a reckless pursuit of nuclear power.

So how, you ask, is Iran’s case different from Iraq’s? Precisely because of the absence of an existent Iraqi weaponization program. In Iran, the evidence is in plain sight. IAEA inspectors are currently monitoring a program that (even in its publicly visible parts) should make everyone anxious, especially in light of the fact that Iran concealed its existence for at least eighteen years and procured its initial blueprints and technology A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. According to the IAEA’s report of February 22, 2008, Iran did not deny having received from Khan the designs for a nuclear warhead in 1987. It only lamely protested that it did not ask for them. Doesn’t this admission, coupled with the subsequent two decades of concealment, comprise grounds for further suspicion?

Iran also has an advanced ballistic missile program with links to North Korea, a nuclear power with a strong record of proliferation, as well as operational missiles that can strike as far as Israel and southern Europe, and it is developing longer-range ones, too: up to 4,000 miles.

Missiles with such range make sense, strategically, only if they carry unconventional warheads. In its most recent report, the IAEA cites evidence of Iranian designs for a nuclear warhead for Iran’s existing missiles, notably the Shihab-3 (based on a North Korean design).

inally, there is the mountain of circumstantial evidence which, in light of Iran’s history of concealment and deception, should put all doubts to rest: the fact that Iran does not need to enrich uranium, since the fuel for its reactor at Bushehr is being supplied by Russial; that fact that Iran’s nuclear power infrastructure does not require a heavy water facility, like the one Iran is building in Arak. Such reactors are useful only for producing plutonium, which Iran has no use for as a reactor fuel. The only conceivable reason Iran has for trying to produce plutonium is to make nuclear weapons.

There is, in other words, a very long list of reasons why Iran is not Iraq. Senator McCain is right to be cautious in his statements. But one hopes he is aware of the difference and, when the time comes, will not abide by this false analogy.

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Streisand in Jerusalem

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

Israeli President Shimon Peres has announced the impressive list of luminaries who will attend the upcoming conference celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday. They include George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Vaclav Havel, Alan Dershowitz, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

While these VIP’s will highlight Israel’s many successes in a variety of sectors, the conference will also pay respect to the challenges that Israel has yet to overcome. At least this is how I’m interpreting the invitation of Barbra Streisand, whose rendition of Avinu Malkeinu promises to be a low point in Israel’s cultural history.

So, here’s to a more hopeful Israeli future–which, in my book, means inviting an 82-year-old Bob Dylan to play Hava Negila at the 75th celebration. (Frankly, even Bill Clinton returning for a repeat performance of “Imagine” might be an improvement.)

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Obama’s Quandary

Margaret Carlson contends that Barack Obama has made two big errors in his campaign. One was failing to recognize the impact of Rev. Wright’s incendiary language The other was his failure at bowling. She makes a good case that, in working-class, primarily white suburbs, Obama “is having a hard time passing himself off as ordinary folk” and his 37 (a really abysmal score) just made it worse.

One might argue, as many of us here have, that his association with Wright was more than a failure to anticipate public reaction: it was a moral and intellectual failing. (Juan Williams, as he has before, explains this in today’s Wall Street Journal with searing clarity.) Yet she has a point: does Obama lack a “feel” for ordinary voters’ sensibilities?

Well, of course. His life experience is utterly unlike the average voter’s. On his journey from Hawaii to Indonesia to Hawaii to Harvard, he probably ran into a lot of critiques of American culture and not very much bowling. He hasn’t, it looks like, developed an internal compass that warns him when something may be offensive or off-putting to ordinary Americans.

So while Clinton has morphed from a former First Lady and Yale-educated feminist lawyer to a champion of working class voters (“her ‘Rocky’ doggedness has grabbed the sympathy of people so unlike her yet drawn by what looks like a hard-luck story”), Obama is still grasping for a connection to the people whose votes will be critical in November.

That is the downside of continually criticizing your country and fellow countrymen. It makes it that much harder to turn around and tell them you’re one of them.

Margaret Carlson contends that Barack Obama has made two big errors in his campaign. One was failing to recognize the impact of Rev. Wright’s incendiary language The other was his failure at bowling. She makes a good case that, in working-class, primarily white suburbs, Obama “is having a hard time passing himself off as ordinary folk” and his 37 (a really abysmal score) just made it worse.

One might argue, as many of us here have, that his association with Wright was more than a failure to anticipate public reaction: it was a moral and intellectual failing. (Juan Williams, as he has before, explains this in today’s Wall Street Journal with searing clarity.) Yet she has a point: does Obama lack a “feel” for ordinary voters’ sensibilities?

Well, of course. His life experience is utterly unlike the average voter’s. On his journey from Hawaii to Indonesia to Hawaii to Harvard, he probably ran into a lot of critiques of American culture and not very much bowling. He hasn’t, it looks like, developed an internal compass that warns him when something may be offensive or off-putting to ordinary Americans.

So while Clinton has morphed from a former First Lady and Yale-educated feminist lawyer to a champion of working class voters (“her ‘Rocky’ doggedness has grabbed the sympathy of people so unlike her yet drawn by what looks like a hard-luck story”), Obama is still grasping for a connection to the people whose votes will be critical in November.

That is the downside of continually criticizing your country and fellow countrymen. It makes it that much harder to turn around and tell them you’re one of them.

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Big Moves in Malaysia

For the past several decades Malaysia, along with its neighbor, Singapore, one of the primary exhibits pointed to by those intent on extolling the virtues of benign authoritarianism. Ever since winning independence from Britain in 1957, the country has been ruled by the National Front, a political bloc dominated by the United Malays National Organization, representing the country’s ethnic Malay majority.

Under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled from 1981 to 2003, the government pursued a policy of economic diversification. Formerly dependent on mineral mining and plantations, Malaysia turned into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse. Its per capita GDP, at $14,400, is now higher than Thailand’s, Turkey’s, or Bulgaria’s. That wealth is instantly visible to anyone who visits Kuala Lumpur, which is full of high-rise office buildings, expensive malls, and ritzy restaurants.

But now the National Front’s control is cracking, and that is a good thing. The Wall Street Journal sums up the recent election results:

Although the National Front mustered just enough seats to form the next national government, it lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in almost 40 years.

Exceeding its most optimistic forecasts, an alliance of three opposition parties also secured control of five of Malaysia’s 13 state administrations. The opposition now controls the crucial states of Penang and Selangor, home to much of Malaysia’s industrial base and to billions of dollars in U.S. and other foreign investments.

“This is a major political earthquake,” said Ibrahim Suffian, executive director of polling firm Merdeka Center in Kuala Lumpur. “The monopoly of power has now been broken.”

Indeed it has. Along with another of its neighbors, Indonesia, Malaysia is now starting to show that “Islamic democracy” is not an oxymoron. This is a development to be applauded in the long run, though in the short run it will undoubtedly cause some dislocations, especially for a business class that has gotten cozy with the ruling party.

For the past several decades Malaysia, along with its neighbor, Singapore, one of the primary exhibits pointed to by those intent on extolling the virtues of benign authoritarianism. Ever since winning independence from Britain in 1957, the country has been ruled by the National Front, a political bloc dominated by the United Malays National Organization, representing the country’s ethnic Malay majority.

Under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ruled from 1981 to 2003, the government pursued a policy of economic diversification. Formerly dependent on mineral mining and plantations, Malaysia turned into a high-tech manufacturing powerhouse. Its per capita GDP, at $14,400, is now higher than Thailand’s, Turkey’s, or Bulgaria’s. That wealth is instantly visible to anyone who visits Kuala Lumpur, which is full of high-rise office buildings, expensive malls, and ritzy restaurants.

But now the National Front’s control is cracking, and that is a good thing. The Wall Street Journal sums up the recent election results:

Although the National Front mustered just enough seats to form the next national government, it lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in almost 40 years.

Exceeding its most optimistic forecasts, an alliance of three opposition parties also secured control of five of Malaysia’s 13 state administrations. The opposition now controls the crucial states of Penang and Selangor, home to much of Malaysia’s industrial base and to billions of dollars in U.S. and other foreign investments.

“This is a major political earthquake,” said Ibrahim Suffian, executive director of polling firm Merdeka Center in Kuala Lumpur. “The monopoly of power has now been broken.”

Indeed it has. Along with another of its neighbors, Indonesia, Malaysia is now starting to show that “Islamic democracy” is not an oxymoron. This is a development to be applauded in the long run, though in the short run it will undoubtedly cause some dislocations, especially for a business class that has gotten cozy with the ruling party.

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No Great Shakes Either

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign teammates have come in for some well-deserved criticism lately. They’ve come close to running her “inevitable” campaign into “inevitable” mathematical elimination and they have perfected the art of public finger-pointing (and won the prize for the most “[Expletive] you!” quotes in a single news story this election season). Still, they are not alone in the “needs improvement” category.

Within the last week, Barack Obama advisors have gotten caught up in an embarrassing conversation with a foreign government, let on that their own candidate is not all that prepared to be commander-in-chief, and made the error of saying out loud what most of the Obama team privately believes (that Hillary Clinton is a “monster” and “who is stooping to anything to win”). Yes, Michael Kinsley is right that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. But why have so many people gone off the reservation? What happened to the team that could do no wrong?

It just might be that Obama has a lot of advisers who have never served on a presidential campaign and have never been in the spotlight for any extended period of time. Granted, they don’t disparage each other in public like the Clinton team. But by the same token they are not projecting the message discipline and competence that usually go along with a winning team. (Why haven’t they been able to get out a comment on the bombing of the U.S. military recruiting station? And you would think they could have managed by now to condemn yesterday’s terrorist attack.)

More fundamentally, they are not doing a particularly good job of demonstrating that Obama really can assume the role of commander-in-chief. Rather than give substantive speeches, he recites the same talking points: he will talk to world leaders who despise us, he was “right” on Iraq. Now he has added this:

Barack Obama also has the unique experience of living in the wider world. He is a leader who will know not just world leaders – but the world’s people. He saw life in foreign lands firsthand, when he lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia. His father came from Kenya to seek the dream of America, and he still has a grandmother living in Kenya with no plumbing or electricity. He will be able to show the world a new face, and he will offer a new voice for America.

For those who don’t believe the state of your relatives’ plumbing is relevant to anything, I suppose you just have to operate on faith that a resume like that will blow ‘em away in Moscow and Tehran.

Read Less




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