Commentary Magazine


Topic: Interior Ministry

How Do You Regret Saved Lives?

In the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente writes of her regret at having supported the Iraq War as a liberal interventionist. She now claims she was “deluded” to think there was a sound humanitarian justification for the invasion in 2003. What has prompted this apologia? Details in the Iraq files just released by Wikileaks:

The abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison were mild compared with the atrocities inflicted by Iraqis on each other. The Shia-controlled Interior Ministry ran secret jails in which inmates, most of them Sunnis, endured the same kinds of torture as those inflicted by Saddam. They were burned with boiling water, had their fingers amputated, and had electroshock applied to their genitals. When U.S. forces discovered the brutalities, they simply filled out incident reports and forwarded them to the local authorities.

No human is immune to hearing about that kind of brutality. Which is why a little context actually strengthens the liberal-interventionist position.  The math is simple, if disturbing: According to estimates from human rights organizations, from 1979 to 2003, Saddam Hussein probably killed 800,000 to 1 million people, many through methods similar to the ones detailed above. This puts his annual average in the neighborhood of 45,000 murders. At that rate, if he were left in power, he would have killed 360,000 since 2003. As of today, the website Iraqbodycount.org puts the total number of civilian deaths caused by the Iraq War between 98,585 and 107,594. In what universe is 100,000 dead worse than 360,000?

Moreover, consider how the annual Iraqi body count will likely continue to plummet in the coming years. Add to that, the prospect—shaky though it may be—of a functioning Iraqi democracy. Under Saddam, it would have been 360,000 dead with no chance of ebbing the slaughter and no hope for freedom.

There is no humanitarian justification for regretting Saddam’s ouster, even accounting for the coalition’s mistakes. There are other less quantifiably false arguments against the war. One might make the case that it cost too much to prosecute or turned world opinion against the U.S., for example. But hand-wringing over the net carnage just doesn’t compute. The facts are too easily obtained for Margaret Wente not to understand this. If she regrets her support for the war it can only mean she’s decided that the humanitarian component is not as important as she had once believed.

In the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente writes of her regret at having supported the Iraq War as a liberal interventionist. She now claims she was “deluded” to think there was a sound humanitarian justification for the invasion in 2003. What has prompted this apologia? Details in the Iraq files just released by Wikileaks:

The abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison were mild compared with the atrocities inflicted by Iraqis on each other. The Shia-controlled Interior Ministry ran secret jails in which inmates, most of them Sunnis, endured the same kinds of torture as those inflicted by Saddam. They were burned with boiling water, had their fingers amputated, and had electroshock applied to their genitals. When U.S. forces discovered the brutalities, they simply filled out incident reports and forwarded them to the local authorities.

No human is immune to hearing about that kind of brutality. Which is why a little context actually strengthens the liberal-interventionist position.  The math is simple, if disturbing: According to estimates from human rights organizations, from 1979 to 2003, Saddam Hussein probably killed 800,000 to 1 million people, many through methods similar to the ones detailed above. This puts his annual average in the neighborhood of 45,000 murders. At that rate, if he were left in power, he would have killed 360,000 since 2003. As of today, the website Iraqbodycount.org puts the total number of civilian deaths caused by the Iraq War between 98,585 and 107,594. In what universe is 100,000 dead worse than 360,000?

Moreover, consider how the annual Iraqi body count will likely continue to plummet in the coming years. Add to that, the prospect—shaky though it may be—of a functioning Iraqi democracy. Under Saddam, it would have been 360,000 dead with no chance of ebbing the slaughter and no hope for freedom.

There is no humanitarian justification for regretting Saddam’s ouster, even accounting for the coalition’s mistakes. There are other less quantifiably false arguments against the war. One might make the case that it cost too much to prosecute or turned world opinion against the U.S., for example. But hand-wringing over the net carnage just doesn’t compute. The facts are too easily obtained for Margaret Wente not to understand this. If she regrets her support for the war it can only mean she’s decided that the humanitarian component is not as important as she had once believed.

Read Less

Nita Lowey vs. Obama

A colleague calls my attention to this report concerning Rep. Nita Lowey’s take on the Middle East. As chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, she confirms that foreign aid for Israel “will not falter.” But her comments on Obama’s policies and the reactions of those in the Middle East are most noteworthy. First, on the Jerusalem housing issue:

While the White House might not have accepted Netanyahu’s detailed presentation on the zoning process in the Interior Ministry, whose decision he apologized for even though he said it took him by surprise, Lowey expressed understanding for the prime minister’s position.

“I think there’s a general understanding that Jerusalem is in a different category than the West Bank. And the issues surrounding Jerusalem, most agree, will be in the final stages of negotiations,” she said.

And, using Netanyahu’s nickname, she stressed, “Bibi has the support of Congress. It is solid. It is secure.”

But who holds to that general understanding? Certainly not Obama, who has reneged on prior understandings and is attempting to force unilateral concessions now.

Her most interesting comment however concerned the Arab states. Are they bent out of shape about Jerusalem housing? Concerned about the fate of the Palestinians? Not very much. Confirming what many who travel and speak to Arab governments report, Lowey says they are agitated about Iran:

Lowey also pointed to the different audiences that Arab leaders need to consider when they speak up, referring to a recent trip to the Gulf and the concern she heard about Iran.

In Saudi Arabia, she met with King Abdullah and came away with the understanding that “Saudi Arabia doesn’t believe the sanctions will work. Let me just say he’s supportive of pursuing other options.”

So the notion that only a Palestinian peace deal can unlock support for strong action against Iran is, well, nonsense, as many critics of Obama’s peace-process fixation have long argued. Indeed, the Arab governments, unlike Obama, are willing to go beyond sanctions, presumably including the use of military force. So Israel and its Arab neighbors are skeptical of sanctions and unwilling to buy into a containment strategy. But not Obama. This is the peculiar but entirely expected result of Obama’s foot-dragging on Iran and peace-process obsession. Perhaps it’s time for Israel and its neighbors to work out a plan and leave Obama out of it. He seems to be a hindrance and not a help in thwarting the greatest danger to the region.

A colleague calls my attention to this report concerning Rep. Nita Lowey’s take on the Middle East. As chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, she confirms that foreign aid for Israel “will not falter.” But her comments on Obama’s policies and the reactions of those in the Middle East are most noteworthy. First, on the Jerusalem housing issue:

While the White House might not have accepted Netanyahu’s detailed presentation on the zoning process in the Interior Ministry, whose decision he apologized for even though he said it took him by surprise, Lowey expressed understanding for the prime minister’s position.

“I think there’s a general understanding that Jerusalem is in a different category than the West Bank. And the issues surrounding Jerusalem, most agree, will be in the final stages of negotiations,” she said.

And, using Netanyahu’s nickname, she stressed, “Bibi has the support of Congress. It is solid. It is secure.”

But who holds to that general understanding? Certainly not Obama, who has reneged on prior understandings and is attempting to force unilateral concessions now.

Her most interesting comment however concerned the Arab states. Are they bent out of shape about Jerusalem housing? Concerned about the fate of the Palestinians? Not very much. Confirming what many who travel and speak to Arab governments report, Lowey says they are agitated about Iran:

Lowey also pointed to the different audiences that Arab leaders need to consider when they speak up, referring to a recent trip to the Gulf and the concern she heard about Iran.

In Saudi Arabia, she met with King Abdullah and came away with the understanding that “Saudi Arabia doesn’t believe the sanctions will work. Let me just say he’s supportive of pursuing other options.”

So the notion that only a Palestinian peace deal can unlock support for strong action against Iran is, well, nonsense, as many critics of Obama’s peace-process fixation have long argued. Indeed, the Arab governments, unlike Obama, are willing to go beyond sanctions, presumably including the use of military force. So Israel and its Arab neighbors are skeptical of sanctions and unwilling to buy into a containment strategy. But not Obama. This is the peculiar but entirely expected result of Obama’s foot-dragging on Iran and peace-process obsession. Perhaps it’s time for Israel and its neighbors to work out a plan and leave Obama out of it. He seems to be a hindrance and not a help in thwarting the greatest danger to the region.

Read Less

Oren Explains, We Translate

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times to cool temperatures and to remind the Obama administration of where we stand. His language is diplomatic; his message, blunt. We’ll attempt to translate.

First, the explanation as to what occurred:

[A] mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.

Undiplomatic translation: I’m not bringing up, as many news outlets reported, that Hillary Clinton is demanding a reversal of the housing announcement and some other, unnamed concessions. Because that’s not going to happen.

Then Oren sets out to put the dispute in context and disabuse Obama and other feckless lawmakers and analysts of the notion that the recent move was extraordinary. “That [Jerusalem] policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.”

Undiplomatic translation: This is not unknown to the Obami, of course. They may be dim, but someone there knows this was nothing out of the ordinary and in keeping with Israeli policy and conduct for decades.

And as for Ramat Shlomo and other similar neighborhoods, Oren argues, “though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.”

Undiplomatic translation: And this, Mr. Obama, is what you choose to have a fight over?

None of this, Oren reminds us, is a barrier to negotiating final-status issues in face-to-face negotiations, something the Palestinians have rejected.

Oren then delivers the real message to the Obami:

To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.

Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America’s commitment to Israel’s security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.

The undiplomatic translation: This is no way to gain our cooperation.

Oren concludes by reciting Joe Biden’s words back to him — as if to remind his American allies that their actions conflict with their stated objectives. (“During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is ‘a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States’ and that America ‘has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.’”)

Undiplomatic translation: So perhaps America should start acting like a devoted ally?

It is not every day that the Israeli ambassador has the opportunity, with a worldwide audience primed to listen, to restate the historical and geographic facts — which sadly don’t always make it into mainstream reporting. If there are sane voices within the administration, they will read this carefully, take Oren’s words to heart, and take up his suggestion: start to behave as if this relationship is the most important in the region and with some understanding of the events leading up to this point. Are the Obami up to it? Stay tuned, but I have my doubts.

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren writes in the New York Times to cool temperatures and to remind the Obama administration of where we stand. His language is diplomatic; his message, blunt. We’ll attempt to translate.

First, the explanation as to what occurred:

[A] mid-level official in the Interior Ministry announced an interim planning phase in the expansion of Ramat Shlomo, a northern Jerusalem neighborhood. While this discord was unfortunate, it was not a historic low point in United States-Israel relations; nor did I ever say that it was, contrary to some reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no desire during a vice presidential visit to highlight longstanding differences between the United States and Israel on building on the other side of the 1949 armistice line that once divided Jerusalem. The prime minister repeatedly apologized for the timing of the announcement and pledged to prevent such embarrassing incidents from recurring. In reply, the Obama administration asked Israel to reaffirm its commitment to the peace process and to its bilateral relations with the United States. Israel is dedicated to both.

Undiplomatic translation: I’m not bringing up, as many news outlets reported, that Hillary Clinton is demanding a reversal of the housing announcement and some other, unnamed concessions. Because that’s not going to happen.

Then Oren sets out to put the dispute in context and disabuse Obama and other feckless lawmakers and analysts of the notion that the recent move was extraordinary. “That [Jerusalem] policy is not Mr. Netanyahu’s alone but was also that of former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Golda Meir — in fact of every Israeli government going back to the city’s reunification in 1967. Consistently, Israel has held that Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital and that both Jews and Arabs have the right to build anywhere in the city.”

Undiplomatic translation: This is not unknown to the Obami, of course. They may be dim, but someone there knows this was nothing out of the ordinary and in keeping with Israeli policy and conduct for decades.

And as for Ramat Shlomo and other similar neighborhoods, Oren argues, “though on land incorporated into Israel in 1967, are home to nearly half of the city’s Jewish population. Isolated from Arab neighborhoods and within a couple of miles of downtown Jerusalem, these Jewish neighborhoods will surely remain a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Israelis across the political spectrum are opposed to restrictions on building in these neighborhoods, and even more opposed to the idea of uprooting hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.”

Undiplomatic translation: And this, Mr. Obama, is what you choose to have a fight over?

None of this, Oren reminds us, is a barrier to negotiating final-status issues in face-to-face negotiations, something the Palestinians have rejected.

Oren then delivers the real message to the Obami:

To achieve peace, Israel is asked to take monumental risks, including sacrificing land next to our major industrial areas and cities. Previous withdrawals, from Lebanon and Gaza, brought not peace but rather thousands of rockets raining down on our neighborhoods.

Though Israel will always ultimately rely on the courage of its own defense forces, America’s commitment to Israel’s security is essential to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace. Similarly, American-Israeli cooperation is vital to meeting the direst challenge facing both countries and the entire world: denying nuclear weapons to Iran.

The undiplomatic translation: This is no way to gain our cooperation.

Oren concludes by reciting Joe Biden’s words back to him — as if to remind his American allies that their actions conflict with their stated objectives. (“During his visit, Vice President Biden declared that support for Israel is ‘a fundamental national self-interest on the part of the United States’ and that America ‘has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel.’”)

Undiplomatic translation: So perhaps America should start acting like a devoted ally?

It is not every day that the Israeli ambassador has the opportunity, with a worldwide audience primed to listen, to restate the historical and geographic facts — which sadly don’t always make it into mainstream reporting. If there are sane voices within the administration, they will read this carefully, take Oren’s words to heart, and take up his suggestion: start to behave as if this relationship is the most important in the region and with some understanding of the events leading up to this point. Are the Obami up to it? Stay tuned, but I have my doubts.

Read Less

A Lot of E-Mails — from Christian Zionists

On an average day, the White House gets 100,000 e-mails. Yesterday, 20 percent of those, if it was an average day, came from one group, on one issue. Christians United for Israel, in a written statement, explains: “More than 20,000 Christian Zionists emailed the White House in just over twenty-four hours in order to express their disappointment with the Obama Administration’s exaggerated and unnecessary reaction to last week’s announcement by Israel’s Interior Ministry on construction permits in Jerusalem. The emails were sent in response to an action alert distributed at noon yesterday by Christians United for Israel (CUFI).” The statement continues:

“The incredible response to our action alert is a clear indication that Christian Zionists are firmly committed to a strong US-Israel relationship,” said Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of CUFI.

“While the timing of the Interior Ministry’s announcement was regrettable, the Administration has turned a minor flap into a much larger incident.  This overreaction does not advance the cause of peace, and may well imperil it.  Let’s not forget that the Israelis have taken repeated risks for peace over the years and continue to support direct negotiations towards a two state solution.  Nothing about this Israeli approach has changed,” said David Brog, CUFI executive director.

“CUFI will continue this effort through the week, and our hope is that in the following days the President will recognize that Americans of all faiths expect his administration to be a more careful steward of the long-standing US-Israel relationship,” Brog said.

There is, it seems, a broad coalition — from secular, liberal Jews to Christian conservatives — that takes strong exception to the Obama anti-Israel offensive. And while the Left and J Street crowd remain on the other side egging the administration on, they seem on this one to be badly outnumbered. As in so many things, the Obami find themselves tied to the hip with the Left — and facing a broad and energized coalition on the other side. No one can say they haven’t brought people together or encouraged political participation.

On an average day, the White House gets 100,000 e-mails. Yesterday, 20 percent of those, if it was an average day, came from one group, on one issue. Christians United for Israel, in a written statement, explains: “More than 20,000 Christian Zionists emailed the White House in just over twenty-four hours in order to express their disappointment with the Obama Administration’s exaggerated and unnecessary reaction to last week’s announcement by Israel’s Interior Ministry on construction permits in Jerusalem. The emails were sent in response to an action alert distributed at noon yesterday by Christians United for Israel (CUFI).” The statement continues:

“The incredible response to our action alert is a clear indication that Christian Zionists are firmly committed to a strong US-Israel relationship,” said Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of CUFI.

“While the timing of the Interior Ministry’s announcement was regrettable, the Administration has turned a minor flap into a much larger incident.  This overreaction does not advance the cause of peace, and may well imperil it.  Let’s not forget that the Israelis have taken repeated risks for peace over the years and continue to support direct negotiations towards a two state solution.  Nothing about this Israeli approach has changed,” said David Brog, CUFI executive director.

“CUFI will continue this effort through the week, and our hope is that in the following days the President will recognize that Americans of all faiths expect his administration to be a more careful steward of the long-standing US-Israel relationship,” Brog said.

There is, it seems, a broad coalition — from secular, liberal Jews to Christian conservatives — that takes strong exception to the Obama anti-Israel offensive. And while the Left and J Street crowd remain on the other side egging the administration on, they seem on this one to be badly outnumbered. As in so many things, the Obami find themselves tied to the hip with the Left — and facing a broad and energized coalition on the other side. No one can say they haven’t brought people together or encouraged political participation.

Read Less

Biden in Public and Private

Joe Biden delivered his much-anticipated (and we are told, tweaked) speech in Israel today. It was the usual mix of what we have come to expect from the Obami — broad declarations of support for Israel mixed with an obsessive desire to move forward on the “peace process” and a fixation on building activity. On Iran, Biden pronounced, “The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, period.” But how, and what options remain? He didn’t say.  As for East Jerusalem, the vice president harped on what he deemed the “hardest truth.” That is parlance for the Obami’s insistence that it is building in Israel’s capital, not the persistence of terrorism or the refusal to recognize the Jewish state, that serves to “undermine trust.” As skewed and as unwelcome as much of that public message was to many onlookers here and in Israel, what went on in private was jaw-dropping. We are told:

While standing in front of the cameras, the U.S. vice president made an effort to smile at Binyamin Netanyahu even after having learned on Tuesday that the Interior Ministry had approved plans to build 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. But in closed conversations, Joe Biden took an entirely different tone.

People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.

It’s hard to fathom that the vice president would make such a claim. Aside from its nonsensical quality (Does the Taliban attack the U.S. because of apartment building in East Jerusalem?), it is precisely the sort of ill-conceived, bullying message that certainly must convince the Israelis not to place their trust in the American negotiators. On a happier note, Biden left Israel today.

Joe Biden delivered his much-anticipated (and we are told, tweaked) speech in Israel today. It was the usual mix of what we have come to expect from the Obami — broad declarations of support for Israel mixed with an obsessive desire to move forward on the “peace process” and a fixation on building activity. On Iran, Biden pronounced, “The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, period.” But how, and what options remain? He didn’t say.  As for East Jerusalem, the vice president harped on what he deemed the “hardest truth.” That is parlance for the Obami’s insistence that it is building in Israel’s capital, not the persistence of terrorism or the refusal to recognize the Jewish state, that serves to “undermine trust.” As skewed and as unwelcome as much of that public message was to many onlookers here and in Israel, what went on in private was jaw-dropping. We are told:

While standing in front of the cameras, the U.S. vice president made an effort to smile at Binyamin Netanyahu even after having learned on Tuesday that the Interior Ministry had approved plans to build 1,600 housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. But in closed conversations, Joe Biden took an entirely different tone.

People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.

It’s hard to fathom that the vice president would make such a claim. Aside from its nonsensical quality (Does the Taliban attack the U.S. because of apartment building in East Jerusalem?), it is precisely the sort of ill-conceived, bullying message that certainly must convince the Israelis not to place their trust in the American negotiators. On a happier note, Biden left Israel today.

Read Less

Other than That, Mr. Biden, How’d You Like Your Trip?

Joe Biden’s Israel trip has turned into a semi-fiasco, as David has noted. He was a poor substitute, the Israelis thought, for Obama. Then he condemned the Israelis’ decision to build 1,600 homes in their nation’s capital:

“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden, currently in Israel, said in a statement. “The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”

“We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them,” Biden continued. “This announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict.”

Biden showed up an hour and a half late for dinner tonight at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence, the pool reporter Janine Zacharia reported, suggesting the reason was U.S. consultations over the Interior Ministry’s housing announcement today. Biden and Netanyahu “took no questions,” Zacharia wrote. “In fact nobody took any questions all day.”

Well, that’s pretty much par for the course. Obama wanted to focus on settlements? Well, that’s what the U.S. and Israel are now discussing at high decibels in a very public way – during what was supposed to be a fence-mending visit.

And notice the language Biden employed: “condemn.” A Capitol Hill Republican leadership adviser sends this keen observation:

What kind of language is this?  Isn’t “condemn” reserved for things like beating dissidents, or even terror attacks? Whatever you think of the decision, the Obama administration couldn’t have said they felt it undermined the peace process, were “very disappointed,” saw it as “a step backward” or something like that?

A quick search of the White House website shows that in June, Gibbs said Obama “condemned the violence” in Iran.

In May, Obama released a statement on Aung San Suu Kyi, saying, “I strongly condemn her house arrest and detention, which have also been condemned around the world.”

The same month, Obama “strongly condemn[ed]” a North Korean nuclear test and missile launch.

In July, Obama said, “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred this morning in Jakarta.”

The October bombings in Baghdad prompted Obama to say, “I strongly condemn these outrageous attacks on the Iraqi people…”

Last month, we had this: “The United States and the European Union condemn the continuing human rights violations in Iran since the June 12 election.”

The adviser wonders whether Obama and company really think a housing complex is ”on the same plane as all these things that rightly deserved condemnation.” In Obama’s skewed vision, it seems so. For this crowd, allies are fair game for vitriol, but diplomatic niceties take priority over criticism of despots.

Bashing Israel, frequently and publicly, is what passes for smart diplomacy by the Obami – as is sending the VP in the president’s place (in contrast to Obama’s visits to the “Muslim World” to deliver his fractured version of Middle East history) and converting a housing issue into a nasty public spat.

In this, Biden and the rest of the Obama team have made clear, in case there were any doubt, that there is little reason why Israelis should rely on, or have confidence in, the American negotiating team. And if “proximity talks” require the presence of a trusted interlocutor to visit with both sides and probe for common agreement, we can imagine those talks will be perfectly useless, and indeed, another counterproductive exercise in raising expectations and deflecting attention from the real issue. That, by the way, is not housing complexes. It is the refusal of the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors to recognize the Jewish state. Until that happens, and until the Palestinians definitively repudiate terrorism and establish a state with functioning institutions, the smart diplomats are spinning their wheels. When they aren’t inflaming the situation, that is.

Joe Biden’s Israel trip has turned into a semi-fiasco, as David has noted. He was a poor substitute, the Israelis thought, for Obama. Then he condemned the Israelis’ decision to build 1,600 homes in their nation’s capital:

“I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem,” Biden, currently in Israel, said in a statement. “The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now and runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.”

“We must build an atmosphere to support negotiations, not complicate them,” Biden continued. “This announcement underscores the need to get negotiations under way that can resolve all the outstanding issues of the conflict.”

Biden showed up an hour and a half late for dinner tonight at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence, the pool reporter Janine Zacharia reported, suggesting the reason was U.S. consultations over the Interior Ministry’s housing announcement today. Biden and Netanyahu “took no questions,” Zacharia wrote. “In fact nobody took any questions all day.”

Well, that’s pretty much par for the course. Obama wanted to focus on settlements? Well, that’s what the U.S. and Israel are now discussing at high decibels in a very public way – during what was supposed to be a fence-mending visit.

And notice the language Biden employed: “condemn.” A Capitol Hill Republican leadership adviser sends this keen observation:

What kind of language is this?  Isn’t “condemn” reserved for things like beating dissidents, or even terror attacks? Whatever you think of the decision, the Obama administration couldn’t have said they felt it undermined the peace process, were “very disappointed,” saw it as “a step backward” or something like that?

A quick search of the White House website shows that in June, Gibbs said Obama “condemned the violence” in Iran.

In May, Obama released a statement on Aung San Suu Kyi, saying, “I strongly condemn her house arrest and detention, which have also been condemned around the world.”

The same month, Obama “strongly condemn[ed]” a North Korean nuclear test and missile launch.

In July, Obama said, “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred this morning in Jakarta.”

The October bombings in Baghdad prompted Obama to say, “I strongly condemn these outrageous attacks on the Iraqi people…”

Last month, we had this: “The United States and the European Union condemn the continuing human rights violations in Iran since the June 12 election.”

The adviser wonders whether Obama and company really think a housing complex is ”on the same plane as all these things that rightly deserved condemnation.” In Obama’s skewed vision, it seems so. For this crowd, allies are fair game for vitriol, but diplomatic niceties take priority over criticism of despots.

Bashing Israel, frequently and publicly, is what passes for smart diplomacy by the Obami – as is sending the VP in the president’s place (in contrast to Obama’s visits to the “Muslim World” to deliver his fractured version of Middle East history) and converting a housing issue into a nasty public spat.

In this, Biden and the rest of the Obama team have made clear, in case there were any doubt, that there is little reason why Israelis should rely on, or have confidence in, the American negotiating team. And if “proximity talks” require the presence of a trusted interlocutor to visit with both sides and probe for common agreement, we can imagine those talks will be perfectly useless, and indeed, another counterproductive exercise in raising expectations and deflecting attention from the real issue. That, by the way, is not housing complexes. It is the refusal of the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors to recognize the Jewish state. Until that happens, and until the Palestinians definitively repudiate terrorism and establish a state with functioning institutions, the smart diplomats are spinning their wheels. When they aren’t inflaming the situation, that is.

Read Less

A Recount in Iran

Yesterday, opposition reformists asked for a vote recount in Iran’s parliamentary elections, which took place Friday. Earlier in the week they had challenged the fairness of the vote.

Despite enjoying relatively strong support in Tehran, the reformists failed to win any of the 30 seats there. Allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, won 19 of the contests in the capital. Reformists have a chance to pick up seats in Tehran in runoff elections to be conducted either next month or in May. In the meantime, they called on the Interior Ministry to release vote counts from each of the polling sites in the capital. The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, said that a full recount was not possible, but it promised a “random” recounting of ballot boxes. The government maintains that the election was fair.

Umm, no. Reformists were crippled before a single ballot was cast. The Guardian Council disqualified about 1,700 reformist candidates, with the result that reformists could contest only half the 290 seats at stake. Even so, Ahmadinejad seems to have lost support: the election was widely seen as a referendum on his policies.

In one sense, the president’s setback does not matter: he retains the confidence of the cleric who sits atop the theocracy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ahmadinejad will now face a stronger opposition in parliament. Rigged political systems, like Iran’s, run on signals, and the signals from this election show that Ahmadinejad has lost popularity during his tenure, which could undermine his chances should he run for re-election next year.

Fortunately for the fiery president, many Iranians have simply tuned out of politics. Turnout in Tehran, for instance, appears to have been half the national rate of 60 percent announced by the Interior Ministry. And even in the conservative outlying areas there is fundamental discontent: polling shows that about 90 percent of Iranians want the right to choose—and remove—the supreme leader. That will never happen as long as the theocracy exists, however. The ayatollahs maintain their limited political system so that they can gauge shifts in public mood and react accordingly. So far, despite widespread popular dissatisfaction, the system has worked to keep the clerics in power.

Fortunately for us, limited systems like Iran’s do not stand the test of time. People either take elections seriously and push for real power or they ignore government institutions and force change from the streets. Iranians placed faith in reformers and were disappointed during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. The real test for the ayatollahs will be the protests that will inevitably come.

Yesterday, opposition reformists asked for a vote recount in Iran’s parliamentary elections, which took place Friday. Earlier in the week they had challenged the fairness of the vote.

Despite enjoying relatively strong support in Tehran, the reformists failed to win any of the 30 seats there. Allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, won 19 of the contests in the capital. Reformists have a chance to pick up seats in Tehran in runoff elections to be conducted either next month or in May. In the meantime, they called on the Interior Ministry to release vote counts from each of the polling sites in the capital. The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, said that a full recount was not possible, but it promised a “random” recounting of ballot boxes. The government maintains that the election was fair.

Umm, no. Reformists were crippled before a single ballot was cast. The Guardian Council disqualified about 1,700 reformist candidates, with the result that reformists could contest only half the 290 seats at stake. Even so, Ahmadinejad seems to have lost support: the election was widely seen as a referendum on his policies.

In one sense, the president’s setback does not matter: he retains the confidence of the cleric who sits atop the theocracy, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ahmadinejad will now face a stronger opposition in parliament. Rigged political systems, like Iran’s, run on signals, and the signals from this election show that Ahmadinejad has lost popularity during his tenure, which could undermine his chances should he run for re-election next year.

Fortunately for the fiery president, many Iranians have simply tuned out of politics. Turnout in Tehran, for instance, appears to have been half the national rate of 60 percent announced by the Interior Ministry. And even in the conservative outlying areas there is fundamental discontent: polling shows that about 90 percent of Iranians want the right to choose—and remove—the supreme leader. That will never happen as long as the theocracy exists, however. The ayatollahs maintain their limited political system so that they can gauge shifts in public mood and react accordingly. So far, despite widespread popular dissatisfaction, the system has worked to keep the clerics in power.

Fortunately for us, limited systems like Iran’s do not stand the test of time. People either take elections seriously and push for real power or they ignore government institutions and force change from the streets. Iranians placed faith in reformers and were disappointed during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad’s predecessor. The real test for the ayatollahs will be the protests that will inevitably come.

Read Less

Who Killed Bhutto?

Today, the Pakistani government identified the killer of Benazir Bhutto, a day after her assassination at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The Interior Ministry has fingered Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group linked to al Qaeda.

That was fast police work, but President Bush was even faster. He blamed “murderous extremists” in his statement issued from Crawford just a few hours after the horrible event. Rudy Giuliani, for his part, connected the assassination to “the terrorists’ war against us.” Barack Obama referred to “this terrorist atrocity” that killed Bhutto.

The senator from Illinois is undoubtedly correct. It was a terrorist act—a suicide bombing—that killed Bhutto. Yet that does not necessarily mean that “terrorists” were the ones behind this hideous deed.

It’s clear that al Qaeda wanted Bhutto dead, but we do not know if that organization or its offshoots had a hand in killing her. There are, after all, many others who wanted to get the popular opposition leader out of the way. There are, for instance, elements in the Pakistani intelligence services who feared what she might do if she came to power. And then there is the ruthless individual who had the most to gain from her death. His name is Pervez Musharraf.

Read More

Today, the Pakistani government identified the killer of Benazir Bhutto, a day after her assassination at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The Interior Ministry has fingered Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group linked to al Qaeda.

That was fast police work, but President Bush was even faster. He blamed “murderous extremists” in his statement issued from Crawford just a few hours after the horrible event. Rudy Giuliani, for his part, connected the assassination to “the terrorists’ war against us.” Barack Obama referred to “this terrorist atrocity” that killed Bhutto.

The senator from Illinois is undoubtedly correct. It was a terrorist act—a suicide bombing—that killed Bhutto. Yet that does not necessarily mean that “terrorists” were the ones behind this hideous deed.

It’s clear that al Qaeda wanted Bhutto dead, but we do not know if that organization or its offshoots had a hand in killing her. There are, after all, many others who wanted to get the popular opposition leader out of the way. There are, for instance, elements in the Pakistani intelligence services who feared what she might do if she came to power. And then there is the ruthless individual who had the most to gain from her death. His name is Pervez Musharraf.

Mrs. Bhutto, in fact, blamed the Pakistani president. CNN reports it had received an October 26 message from her, through spokesman Mark Siegel, saying that if anything happened to her, it was because Musharraf had refused to provide adequate security. This sounds like campaign rhetoric from Bhutto, but it’s time that we look at the man who has so far refused to cede power.

We know that the former general is capable of almost anything. A German diplomat serving in Asia at the time told me that his country’s intelligence officials were convinced that Musharraf had staged two bombings of his own convoys in December 2003—one of them a deadly suicide attack—to scare the West into supporting him as a bulwark against terrorism. A terrorist attack on Mrs. Bhutto would serve two crucial purposes for the Pakistani president—get his only serious rival out of the way and again buttress his support from concerned Western governments. Musharraf had motive and opportunity to kill Bhutto, and the crime fits a suspected M.O. At the very least, the United States should consider him a prime suspect.

In any event, he has let terrorists run free in his country and is primarily responsible for triggering the long-running constitutional and political crises that ultimately led to Mrs. Bhutto’s death. In a larger sense, therefore, he is responsible for yesterday’s tragedy. He is either a murderer or a failing autocrat. In either case, the United States should stop supporting him in his ongoing struggle against the Pakistani people.

Read Less