Commentary Magazine


Topic: Italy

Why Not Sell Weapons to Italy?

I don’t understand the controversy about the administration’s plan to arm with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs six Reaper drones already owned by Italy. Critics contend this would be a dangerous proliferation of American technology. But Italy is one of our closest allies, a stalwart democracy, and a country that is already part of the program to buy the F-35, the second-most-advanced manned fighter aircraft in our arsenal.

There is always a risk that remotely-piloted aircraft owned by Italy could somehow fall into the wrong hands—but that is a risk we run every time we operate those same aircraft over hostile territory. Recall that last December, an RQ-170 stealth drone crashed in Iran, where it was recovered by the authorities. That is one of the risks you take with sophisticated technology. But what’s the alternative? Not employing it at all?

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I don’t understand the controversy about the administration’s plan to arm with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs six Reaper drones already owned by Italy. Critics contend this would be a dangerous proliferation of American technology. But Italy is one of our closest allies, a stalwart democracy, and a country that is already part of the program to buy the F-35, the second-most-advanced manned fighter aircraft in our arsenal.

There is always a risk that remotely-piloted aircraft owned by Italy could somehow fall into the wrong hands—but that is a risk we run every time we operate those same aircraft over hostile territory. Recall that last December, an RQ-170 stealth drone crashed in Iran, where it was recovered by the authorities. That is one of the risks you take with sophisticated technology. But what’s the alternative? Not employing it at all?

If we expect our allies to carry more of their burden of Western defense then we have to be prepared to sell them the tools to get the job done. In fact, I am mystified that we are not willing to sell the even more sophisticated F-22 to Japan and other close allies. The Reaper drone, while highly effective, isn’t nearly as cutting edge. It is precisely the sort of effective weapons system that will allow our allies to do more to help us.

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Is It 1848 in the Arab World?

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

The riots that toppled Tunisia’s strong man on January 14 spread on Tuesday to Egypt, which is in its third day of rioting. Today riots have broken out in Yemen. Where next? Could the rioting spread to non-Arab parts of the Middle East, such as Iran and/or Pakistan?

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that “all successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.” The regimes that appear strong, with massive security forces, are suddenly revealed to be hollow. This is what happened in Tunisia. Ben Ali, in power since 1987, fled to Saudi Arabia after riots started when a fruit vendor immolated himself after his wares were seized by a government agent because he lacked a license to peddle fruit. It has been, on the scale of things, a relatively bloodless revolution, at least so far.

Egypt, of course, is a much larger country, with a population of 83 million, while Tunisia has only a little over 10 million. And Egypt is among the most densely populated countries on earth when you take into account the fact that more than 90 percent of it is essentially uninhabited desert. A popular revolt there could get very messy indeed.

It is all reminiscent of Europe in 1848, when a revolution in France that toppled the regime of King Louis-Philippe spread like a wildfire to Germany, Denmark, Italy, Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire. Even Switzerland had a brief civil war. King William II of the Netherlands, afraid for his own throne, ordered changes in the constitution that resulted in a constitutional monarchy. The Chartist movement in Britain had a meeting on Kensington Common that numbered perhaps 150,000 people. They presented a mammoth petition to Parliament, but the meeting remained peaceful.

While many regimes survived and were able to reassert autocratic power before long (France’s Second Republic lasted only four years before its president, Louis Napoleon, converted it into the Second Empire, with himself as Napoleon III), the pace of political change in Europe accelerated markedly after 1848, as the Industrial Revolution continued. (The phrase Industrial Revolution was, in fact, coined in 1848.)

Will 2011 prove to be the 1848 of the Middle East? If the doors are rotten enough, it will.

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Lebanon: An Inflection Point for the Status Quo

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. Read More

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

But the days when the Western navies had plenty of carriers to move around from crisis to crisis are behind us. Two carriers may be in the Mediterranean shortly, but not because they were urgently dispatched. Abraham Lincoln is tethered to our requirements in Southwest Asia; USS Enterprise, on the way to relieve Lincoln on-station, is transiting through the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, has been scheduled since her deployment in October to return home in February.

NATO’s non-U.S. carrier force is razor thin. Charles de Gaulle’s departure from France last fall was marred by a breakdown that delayed this very rare deployment by several weeks. Britain, once a reliable dispatcher of aircraft carriers, is in worse shape: just this weekend, the Royal Navy sent its last fighter-jet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, to be decommissioned. Britain won’t have a carrier that can deploy fighter jets again until 2020. In this capability, Italy now outstrips Britain: the Italians have two carriers that can each transport eight Harrier jump-jets. Spain has one.

For the U.S., as for France, putting a carrier off Lebanon entails rigorously prioritizing crises: either leaving some unattended or accepting schedule gaps down the road. With enough effort, the U.S. and France could still seek to affect the outcome in Lebanon with an offshore show of force. But the regional expectation implied by the Arab press rumor — the sense that Western navies can easily bring overwhelming force to a crisis — is outdated today.

Margin and latitude in our force options are casualties of the extended post–Cold War drawdown. At a juncture evocative of previous dilemmas for U.S. presidents, Obama would do better to take his cue from Harry Truman in the late 1940s than from Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. One way or another, this crisis in Lebanon will have a disproportionate impact on the future.

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The Berlin-Rome-Tehran Axis

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

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Time for Our Allies to Ante Up in Funding Afghan Security Forces

It’s good to hear that the Afghan government and the international community are signing off on a plan to increase the size of the Afghan Security Forces from today’s level of 266,000 soldiers and police up to 378,000 by October 2012. Such an increase is vital if Afghan forces are to have any hope of controlling their own territory. A good rule of thumb, laid out in the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual, is that it takes one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians to defeat an insurgency. Given that Afghanistan has a population of 30 million, that suggests the need for 600,000 security personnel — a milestone that Iraq has already passed.

Even with 378,000 personnel, the Afghan security forces will still fall short, but remember that there are also 140,000 foreign troops in the country. Their presence (assuming that current force levels don’t fall) will bring the total to 518,000 — within shooting distance of the benchmark. That should be more than enough, at least for the time being, considering that the insurgency is isolated among the Pashtuns, who make up less than 50 percent of the population. Of course, if foreign force levels fall by the fall of 2012, the anti-Taliban coalition will find itself  hard-pressed to continue recent battlefield gains, which is another reason why it’s important that the administration and its allies not reduce their forces prematurely.

The gains in the size and effectiveness of the Afghan Security Forces are in large measure a tribute to U.S. Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell and his superb team at the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan. They have brought newfound vigor and skill to the “train and assist” mission that had been lagging, along with the rest of the war effort, in past years. Their work isn’t cheap, as the Times notes:

[T]he planned increase will mean billions more in spending to train and maintain the security forces, and 95 percent of that cost is borne by the United States. Between 2003 and 2009, the United States spent $20 billion to finance the Afghan Army and police. A growing force, pay increases that were intended to retain soldiers and police officers, and the costs of improved training and equipment drove the total to $9 billion in 2010, and $11.6 billion is budgeted for this year.

But that’s still a lot cheaper than sending more American troops into harm’s way. What irritates me about the whole situation is that it is the U.S. that has to pick up the tab. Our troops are already doing the bulk of the fighting. Why don’t our rich allies — e.g., Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Italy, Germany, Britain — pay for more of the cost of training? Some of those countries have made sizable troop contributions; others haven’t. But the U.S. has done more than any of them in terms of fighting the Taliban directly. Why do we have to do so much more than the rest of them in financing the Afghan Security Forces too?

I should note that their failure to ante up should not be an excuse for us to walk away. This is not an act of altruism; it is very much in America’s national-security interest to have a functional and effective security force in Afghanistan to prevent a Taliban/al-Qaeda takeover. Our security perimeter runs right through the Hindu Kush. But that is also true for many of our allies who would also face severe repercussions from a Taliban takeover. They should be doing more to avert that catastrophe.

It’s good to hear that the Afghan government and the international community are signing off on a plan to increase the size of the Afghan Security Forces from today’s level of 266,000 soldiers and police up to 378,000 by October 2012. Such an increase is vital if Afghan forces are to have any hope of controlling their own territory. A good rule of thumb, laid out in the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual, is that it takes one counterinsurgent per 50 civilians to defeat an insurgency. Given that Afghanistan has a population of 30 million, that suggests the need for 600,000 security personnel — a milestone that Iraq has already passed.

Even with 378,000 personnel, the Afghan security forces will still fall short, but remember that there are also 140,000 foreign troops in the country. Their presence (assuming that current force levels don’t fall) will bring the total to 518,000 — within shooting distance of the benchmark. That should be more than enough, at least for the time being, considering that the insurgency is isolated among the Pashtuns, who make up less than 50 percent of the population. Of course, if foreign force levels fall by the fall of 2012, the anti-Taliban coalition will find itself  hard-pressed to continue recent battlefield gains, which is another reason why it’s important that the administration and its allies not reduce their forces prematurely.

The gains in the size and effectiveness of the Afghan Security Forces are in large measure a tribute to U.S. Lt. Gen. Bill Caldwell and his superb team at the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan. They have brought newfound vigor and skill to the “train and assist” mission that had been lagging, along with the rest of the war effort, in past years. Their work isn’t cheap, as the Times notes:

[T]he planned increase will mean billions more in spending to train and maintain the security forces, and 95 percent of that cost is borne by the United States. Between 2003 and 2009, the United States spent $20 billion to finance the Afghan Army and police. A growing force, pay increases that were intended to retain soldiers and police officers, and the costs of improved training and equipment drove the total to $9 billion in 2010, and $11.6 billion is budgeted for this year.

But that’s still a lot cheaper than sending more American troops into harm’s way. What irritates me about the whole situation is that it is the U.S. that has to pick up the tab. Our troops are already doing the bulk of the fighting. Why don’t our rich allies — e.g., Japan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Italy, Germany, Britain — pay for more of the cost of training? Some of those countries have made sizable troop contributions; others haven’t. But the U.S. has done more than any of them in terms of fighting the Taliban directly. Why do we have to do so much more than the rest of them in financing the Afghan Security Forces too?

I should note that their failure to ante up should not be an excuse for us to walk away. This is not an act of altruism; it is very much in America’s national-security interest to have a functional and effective security force in Afghanistan to prevent a Taliban/al-Qaeda takeover. Our security perimeter runs right through the Hindu Kush. But that is also true for many of our allies who would also face severe repercussions from a Taliban takeover. They should be doing more to avert that catastrophe.

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Iranian Woman Not Stoned for Alleged Adultery

Iran’s pariah regime said today that it plans to drop the death-by-stoning penalty against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman who was sentenced to death for alleged adultery. All this means is that the global anti-stoning human rights campaign to influence a change in the behavior of the mullah regime has forced Iran’s rulers to temporarily backpedal from their medieval practices in the case of Ms. Ashtiani.

According to the New York Times, “Apparently contradicting previous court documents, Zahra Elahian, head of the Majles Human Rights Committee, said that the stoning sentence against the woman, Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, had never been confirmed.“

Given Iran’s deceptive behavior with respect to its illicit nuclear weapons program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might be flirting with a cooling-off period in order to reimpose the stoning penalty at a later stage. The trial proceeding against Ms. Ashtiani was nothing short of a sham. She now faces a 10-year incarceration period.

The Islamic Republic of Iran remains vulnerable to human rights sanctions. President Barack Obama was wishy-washy and aloof about human rights when Iran’s regime viciously cracked down on its civilian population during the fraudulent 2009 Iran election.

Last September, however, the Obama administration imposed mild human rights sanctions against eight top-level Iranian government officials for inflicting unlawful detention, torture, rape, and violent beatings on Iranians who protested the doctored 2009 election results.

While the European Union claims to have cornered the market on advancing human rights, there is an eerie silence and passivity emanating from the EU about sanctioning Iran for human rights violations. The EU remains Iran’s second-largest trading partner after China. Italy and Germany have a combined €10 billion trade relationship with the Islamic Republic.

The tragic case of Ms. Ashtiani shows that if the Western democracies decide to fill its human rights rhetoric with meaning and content, they can influence a change in Iran’s incorrigibly reactionary domestic policies.

Iran’s pariah regime said today that it plans to drop the death-by-stoning penalty against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman who was sentenced to death for alleged adultery. All this means is that the global anti-stoning human rights campaign to influence a change in the behavior of the mullah regime has forced Iran’s rulers to temporarily backpedal from their medieval practices in the case of Ms. Ashtiani.

According to the New York Times, “Apparently contradicting previous court documents, Zahra Elahian, head of the Majles Human Rights Committee, said that the stoning sentence against the woman, Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani, had never been confirmed.“

Given Iran’s deceptive behavior with respect to its illicit nuclear weapons program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might be flirting with a cooling-off period in order to reimpose the stoning penalty at a later stage. The trial proceeding against Ms. Ashtiani was nothing short of a sham. She now faces a 10-year incarceration period.

The Islamic Republic of Iran remains vulnerable to human rights sanctions. President Barack Obama was wishy-washy and aloof about human rights when Iran’s regime viciously cracked down on its civilian population during the fraudulent 2009 Iran election.

Last September, however, the Obama administration imposed mild human rights sanctions against eight top-level Iranian government officials for inflicting unlawful detention, torture, rape, and violent beatings on Iranians who protested the doctored 2009 election results.

While the European Union claims to have cornered the market on advancing human rights, there is an eerie silence and passivity emanating from the EU about sanctioning Iran for human rights violations. The EU remains Iran’s second-largest trading partner after China. Italy and Germany have a combined €10 billion trade relationship with the Islamic Republic.

The tragic case of Ms. Ashtiani shows that if the Western democracies decide to fill its human rights rhetoric with meaning and content, they can influence a change in Iran’s incorrigibly reactionary domestic policies.

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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Time Magazine Takes Its Israel Hatred to a New Level

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

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RE: The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

Max Boot’s appreciation of Richard Holbrooke called to mind a sense among the military officers working the Balkans problems in 1995 that Holbrooke was “old school.” Most of us had come of age professionally in the Reagan and the Bush 41 years. We were accustomed to dealing with diplomatic envoys of awe-inspiring preparedness and a certain very American style: hard to describe in few words, but entailing a reliable and irreducible simplicity when it came to our common objectives. That quality could be combined with crustiness and high-handedness, but it was not unwelcome: you could do business with it.

Clinton appointees were a different story. With their penchant for triangulation and interpolation, they tended to produce shifting objectives and temporary principles. Guidance changed regularly. There were times when the U.S. forces working the Balkans problem — I was stationed at a headquarters in Italy from 1992 to 1995 — had the unnerving sense that our political leaders in Washington didn’t have our backs.

Holbrooke, however, seemed to embody the style of an older generation of U.S. diplomats and negotiators. “Scoop Jackson Democrat” was a popular shorthand for describing him. He knew, understood, and appreciated the military way of perceiving a geopolitical problem — unlike many Clinton officials who were actively offended by the “military mindset.”

A good friend of mine went with him as a briefer on a helicopter tour of Bosnia and Croatia, early in Holbrooke’s lengthy orientation from the U.S. and NATO chains of command in the Balkans theater. When I asked afterward how the briefing went, my friend laughed and said, “Well, basically, he briefed me.” Expanding on that, he recounted that Holbrooke had broken into his spiel in the first few minutes, preferring to explain what he considered important and then engaging my friend in a level of discourse that picked his brain on complex topics.

“Guy knows what he’s doing,” concluded my friend. Not every civilian diplomat leaves that impression with the military. I haven’t agreed with all of Holbrooke’s ideas on “AfPak” since he took on that portfolio, but I am very sorry to see the Obama administration lose him. His entry onto the stage in the Balkans conflict brought a sense of order and purpose that was very welcome to the U.S. military in Europe, weary from several years of experimental and ineffective multilateralism. Richard Holbrooke was old school, in the best sense, and he will be missed.

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NATO Going Cold Turkey

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

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Bureaucracy 101

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. Read More

A college course could be built around the new UN report on North Korea’s continuing proliferation activities. The report, released on Friday, was ready for publication in May 2010 but was delayed for six months by China’s Security Council veto. That veto having been lifted, the report is now available to the public.

The news stories surrounding the report are focused on North Korea’s attempts to ship weapons and their components to Iran and Syria, in the months after the “tough” sanctions adopted by the UN in mid-2009. (Pyongyang’s underground nuclear test in May 2009 prompted the newest sanctions.) The UN report cites four instances of cargo being interdicted by other nations, including episodes in Thailand and the UAE that were widely reported in the Western media.

But the real story in this report is its dryly precise account of the implementation of sanctions. As of April 30, 2010, for example, the panel compiling the report found that only 48 UN member nations had submitted their “national implementation reports” for the provisions of the 2009 round of sanctions. The national reports, according to the panel, “vary considerably in content, detail, and format.” The panel acknowledges that this is at least partly because the original UN resolutions didn’t specify that certain significant measures be reported (e.g., withholding pier services from North Korean ships or refusing training to North Korean specialists).

The UN panel observes – without editorializing – that North Korea basically remains free to operate shell companies in a number of other nations. As outside investment in North Korea declines, however, Pyongyang’s economic reliance on China is growing. It’s evident from the incidents recounted in the report that the typical maritime shipment of prohibited cargo from North Korea makes its first stop in China – but the report doesn’t explicitly make that point.

It does, on the other hand, convey the good news that vigilant officials in Japan and Italy have been able to prevent the delivery of two yachts, four Mercedes-Benzes, and 37 pianos to North Korea. Unfortunately, these are rare instances; the UN panel states, on a regretful note, that the interdiction of luxury goods “continues to lag.” In general, successful interdiction of goods both into and out of North Korea is hampered, in the panel’s view, by a lack of uniformity in shipping documentation and the lack of a single, all-encompassing list of prohibited items. Apparently, member states have to consult multiple lists to determine what is prohibited.

The wonder here is that any cargo interdiction happens at all. The bottom line is something we knew already: G-8 governments are acting with some level of vigilance, but there are big, unplugged holes in the sanctions; China is an unacknowledged vulnerability; and there are large swaths of territory in Asia and Africa where no attempt at enforcement is being made. This is our approach, as a collective of nations, to preventing the proliferation of WMD.

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Britain’s Dwindling Defense Budget

American officials are right to be concerned about the further evisceration of British defense capabilities that is apparently planned by the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition government. Britain has already seen the size of its armed forces shrivel since the end of the Cold War, but Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Minister Liam Fox apparently have more cuts in the works, expected to be in the range of 10 to 20 percent. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP, already far below the U.S. level, is likely to fall under 2 percent, putting Britain in the same league as Italy, Spain, and other countries with little in the way of significant and deployable military resources.

The Telegraph reports that “the cuts…. will lead to a substantial reduction in the size of the Army, which will also have to give up many of its tanks and armoured vehicles.” Also on the chopping block are the frigates that are needed to fight pirates and other valuable weapons systems that allow Britain to punch far above its weight in the international system. For all of Cameron’s and Fox’s empty and unconvincing rhetoric about maintaining British capabilities while slashing the defense budget, the reality is that their planned budget will continue the sad undoing of Britain’s global leadership role, which traces back to the 16th century.

The Financial Times, hardly a bastion of right-wingery, denounces the cuts in an editorial that warns “there is little sign of coherent geopolitical thinking behind Britain’s planned defence cuts. Instead, this has turned into a money-driven rather than a threat-driven process.” The FT notes that it is particularly striking that at the same time that Cameron is chopping defense, he “is sticking stubbornly to his promise simultaneously to raise Britain’s spending on overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP. This is a bizarre choice of priorities, especially for a Conservative prime minister and particularly when the country is still at war in Afghanistan.”

I would emphasize how bizarre this is for a Tory prime minister. If the Conservatives are not the strong-on-defense party, what identity do they have left? There is a lesson here for those Republicans who might be tempted to adopt a green-eyeshade approach to our own defense policy. As Danielle Pletka and Tom Donnelly eloquently warn in today’s Washington Post:

Conservatives, and the party that putatively represents them, need to decide whether they wish to continue to warrant that trust. They can continue to be the party of Eisenhower and Reagan, supporting and resourcing a robust American role in the world. Or they can reinvent themselves as a combination of Ebenezer Scrooge and George McGovern, withdrawing from the world to a countinghouse America.

The need to maintain American strength — which won’t be cheap — is all the more imperative when one of our few reliable allies is slashing its own defense budget. That means, like it or not, that we will have to do more than ever to maintain global security, or else the entire world will pay a staggering price as terrorists, pirates, weapons proliferators, and other international menaces run free.

American officials are right to be concerned about the further evisceration of British defense capabilities that is apparently planned by the Tory-Liberal Democratic coalition government. Britain has already seen the size of its armed forces shrivel since the end of the Cold War, but Prime Minister David Cameron and Defense Minister Liam Fox apparently have more cuts in the works, expected to be in the range of 10 to 20 percent. Defense spending as a percentage of GDP, already far below the U.S. level, is likely to fall under 2 percent, putting Britain in the same league as Italy, Spain, and other countries with little in the way of significant and deployable military resources.

The Telegraph reports that “the cuts…. will lead to a substantial reduction in the size of the Army, which will also have to give up many of its tanks and armoured vehicles.” Also on the chopping block are the frigates that are needed to fight pirates and other valuable weapons systems that allow Britain to punch far above its weight in the international system. For all of Cameron’s and Fox’s empty and unconvincing rhetoric about maintaining British capabilities while slashing the defense budget, the reality is that their planned budget will continue the sad undoing of Britain’s global leadership role, which traces back to the 16th century.

The Financial Times, hardly a bastion of right-wingery, denounces the cuts in an editorial that warns “there is little sign of coherent geopolitical thinking behind Britain’s planned defence cuts. Instead, this has turned into a money-driven rather than a threat-driven process.” The FT notes that it is particularly striking that at the same time that Cameron is chopping defense, he “is sticking stubbornly to his promise simultaneously to raise Britain’s spending on overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of GDP. This is a bizarre choice of priorities, especially for a Conservative prime minister and particularly when the country is still at war in Afghanistan.”

I would emphasize how bizarre this is for a Tory prime minister. If the Conservatives are not the strong-on-defense party, what identity do they have left? There is a lesson here for those Republicans who might be tempted to adopt a green-eyeshade approach to our own defense policy. As Danielle Pletka and Tom Donnelly eloquently warn in today’s Washington Post:

Conservatives, and the party that putatively represents them, need to decide whether they wish to continue to warrant that trust. They can continue to be the party of Eisenhower and Reagan, supporting and resourcing a robust American role in the world. Or they can reinvent themselves as a combination of Ebenezer Scrooge and George McGovern, withdrawing from the world to a countinghouse America.

The need to maintain American strength — which won’t be cheap — is all the more imperative when one of our few reliable allies is slashing its own defense budget. That means, like it or not, that we will have to do more than ever to maintain global security, or else the entire world will pay a staggering price as terrorists, pirates, weapons proliferators, and other international menaces run free.

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The Irresponsible Commander in Chief

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

The Washington Post is teasing the release of Bob Woodward’s newest book, Obama’s Wars, which focuses on the war in Afghanistan. Usually in Woodward’s offerings, those who cooperate with the author come off the best, and those who don’t — well, don’t. But in this case, Obama did agree to be interviewed, and it is therefore surprising, at least from the Post‘s telling, how poorly Obama comes across. And frankly, those who are forever  searching for some sign of maturity in the commander in chief and pronouncing that he really “gets it” look rather silly themselves.

First off, Obama was obsessed with an Afghanistan exit strategy, determined to get out no matter what the advice of his military advisers:

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.” … Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

The disregard for his responsibilities — the equivalent of putting his fingers in his ears and humming — is stunning. It also stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who insisted on a review of flawed policy and ultimately the implementation of a winning one:

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] … unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Imagine FDR telling General Eisenhower, “I don’t want to hear things aren’t going well in Italy.” It’s inconceivable that Obama’s supposed role model, Abraham Lincoln, would have said, “No more news about McClellan’s shortcomings.” But then Obama’s not much for “victory”:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

After Obama, it is his political advisers who come off worst:

National security adviser James L. Jones privately referred to Obama’s political aides as “the water bugs,” the “Politburo,” the “Mafia,” or the “campaign set.” Petraeus, who felt shut out by the new administration, told an aide that he considered the president’s senior adviser David Axelrod to be “a complete spin doctor.”

But then it is the president who put political hacks in the thick of war-planning.

Obama’s peevishness and determination to avoid facts that conflict with his ideological disposition are chilling. His apparent disinclination to pursue victory should frighten both allies and foes. Has he matured since the events detailed in the book? We have no evidence of that. I think it’s time to stop pretending that Obama is “growing” in the job and that he understands the responsibilities of a wartime president.

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Soccer, Nationalism, and America

The debate today has sparked two thoughts in particular about soccer and the American left. One is that, for the rest of the world, soccer is absolutely about nationalism. People have their favorite individual teams within their countries, and many fans root for professional teams across borders, especially in Europe. But there is a robust body of nationalist chants chorused by fans when teams meet for cross-border play. Cheering on the team from one’s own country is only half the fun; equally necessary is denigrating the other team or poking fun at its nation’s history. Popular chants for English fans include this one (to the tune of “Camptown Races”), when playing a German team:

Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah
Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah day

This one is chanted at French fans:

If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English
Wasn’t for the English
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts!

These are the more printable chants. Often the French and English keep it simpler and merely yell “Hastings!” and “Agincourt!” at each other. That causes American internationalists to swoon with delight, but it wouldn’t translate to the American condition at all. Yanks would feel like fools going down to Mexico and shouting “Veracruz!” at the fans there, and like imperialist heels hollering “Anzio!” or “Bulge!” — or perhaps, monstrously, “Dresden!” — at Europeans.

National and ethnic taunts are endemic to soccer fandom; see here, here, and here for a sampling. This survey leads to my second point: that the soccer phenomenon fails to resonate culturally with Americans precisely because of the exceptionalist character the left wants us to shed. Much of what drives our culture of exceptionalism is pure geography. Our continental expanse, our few and friendly neighbors, the great oceans on our flanks; these factors fostering exceptionalism are also opposite to the ones that encourage soccer to thrive. The left can’t do much about them. But while we may not have the limiting geography of Brazil, Germany, Italy, or England, the left would like us to act as if we did.

The truth, however, is that it would be uniquely offensive for Americans to roam the world’s soccer stadiums taunting other nations’ fans with our past political victories and their defeats. It would hurt because it would matter. That, ultimately, is what the American left finds distasteful. A flip side of that coin is that we don’t have nearly as much of a psychological need to channel nationalist yearnings and ethnic triumphalism into team sports.

Except, apparently, for the employees of NPR. I understand Emanuele Ottolenghi’s sentiment — that it’s good to see leftists letting their inner nationalist come out — but the problem is that the form of nationalism they approve of has a poor record of actually doing what the nation-state is good for: defending political liberty. I’ll take our American nationalism — and the goofy, sometimes autarchic sports exceptionalism that comes with it.

The debate today has sparked two thoughts in particular about soccer and the American left. One is that, for the rest of the world, soccer is absolutely about nationalism. People have their favorite individual teams within their countries, and many fans root for professional teams across borders, especially in Europe. But there is a robust body of nationalist chants chorused by fans when teams meet for cross-border play. Cheering on the team from one’s own country is only half the fun; equally necessary is denigrating the other team or poking fun at its nation’s history. Popular chants for English fans include this one (to the tune of “Camptown Races”), when playing a German team:

Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah
Two World Wars and one World Cup
Doo dah, doo dah day

This one is chanted at French fans:

If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts
If it wasn’t for the English
Wasn’t for the English
If it wasn’t for the English you’d be Krauts!

These are the more printable chants. Often the French and English keep it simpler and merely yell “Hastings!” and “Agincourt!” at each other. That causes American internationalists to swoon with delight, but it wouldn’t translate to the American condition at all. Yanks would feel like fools going down to Mexico and shouting “Veracruz!” at the fans there, and like imperialist heels hollering “Anzio!” or “Bulge!” — or perhaps, monstrously, “Dresden!” — at Europeans.

National and ethnic taunts are endemic to soccer fandom; see here, here, and here for a sampling. This survey leads to my second point: that the soccer phenomenon fails to resonate culturally with Americans precisely because of the exceptionalist character the left wants us to shed. Much of what drives our culture of exceptionalism is pure geography. Our continental expanse, our few and friendly neighbors, the great oceans on our flanks; these factors fostering exceptionalism are also opposite to the ones that encourage soccer to thrive. The left can’t do much about them. But while we may not have the limiting geography of Brazil, Germany, Italy, or England, the left would like us to act as if we did.

The truth, however, is that it would be uniquely offensive for Americans to roam the world’s soccer stadiums taunting other nations’ fans with our past political victories and their defeats. It would hurt because it would matter. That, ultimately, is what the American left finds distasteful. A flip side of that coin is that we don’t have nearly as much of a psychological need to channel nationalist yearnings and ethnic triumphalism into team sports.

Except, apparently, for the employees of NPR. I understand Emanuele Ottolenghi’s sentiment — that it’s good to see leftists letting their inner nationalist come out — but the problem is that the form of nationalism they approve of has a poor record of actually doing what the nation-state is good for: defending political liberty. I’ll take our American nationalism — and the goofy, sometimes autarchic sports exceptionalism that comes with it.

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RE: Leftist Soccer Agony: U.S. Victory Equals Jingoism

For once, I need to strike a discordant note with my colleague Jonathan Tobin about soccer (or, as most of us call it, football). The real irony of the entire NPR newsroom bursting in enthusiastic cheers as the U.S. team scores is not about US exceptionalism vs. Third Worldism and a UN-driven mentality. This is what the World Cup is about: it is the triumph of primordial nationalist allegiances over the internationalist blah-blah of the NPR newsroom (and all their traveling companions across the enlightened liberal world). If I were a Marxist, I’d attribute their enthusiasm to false conscience; since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.

Just think about it — the first World Cup tournament took place in 1930 — the height of nationalistic jingoism in world history. Until the tournament had to be suspended because of a world war, the World Cup saw three tournaments — one in South America (not the beacon of democracy at the time) and two in Europe — in Italy and in France. Benito Mussolini took enormous satisfaction at the sight of his team winning twice in a row. Since then, the biggest soccer (football) event in the world is the World Cup — a competition between national teams that brings out the wildest and most primitive form of national allegiance one can imagine, especially among all those feckless UN fans, liberal internationalists, postmodern “let’s make love not war” crowds who scorn nationalism every single day of the four years in between one cup and the next as the root of all evils. And then, as if by magic, they dump their self-righteous moral indignation against the flag and all it stands for to wrap themselves in it with pride, joy, and not uncommonly with silly paints on their faces and all matters of bizarre and fashion-challenged clothing. Just to say they stand during the month of the World Cup for everything they loathe the rest of the time.

Just think about it — the French national team leaves in shame after it implodes due to ferocious disagreements with the coach and an abysmal performance on the pitch. France’s lead player is immediately received by the president of the republic, Nicholas Sarkozy, while the coach and the team are crucified in the press. Not by the president of the national football federation — by the president of the republic! Winners are bestowed medals, titles, national recognition, and, in cases like Pele (Brazil), Roger Milla (Cameroon), Platini (France), Beckenbauer (Germany), and Paolo Rossi (Italy,) they reach iconic status as national heroes.

All this is the quintessential expression of nationalism — that spent force Europe has turned its back to, the Third World has rhetorically fought against as the ultimate manifestation of imperialist aggression, and the NPR newsroom presumably blames for most global ills — starting, no doubt, with Israel (special dispensation to Palestinian nationalism notwithstanding).

Whether national team sport, as opposed to club sport, is “sheer humbug” is of course a matter of taste. But there is no escaping the fact that most international competitions in all sports (with the few possible exceptions of cycling, skiing, tennis, and the martial arts, which are very individualistic disciplines) attract far more attention and excitement than club sports. And that the U.S. has never sat alone and apart, isolated and removed by its exceptionalism, in such disparate disciplines as basketball, volleyball, water polo, and the likes, not to mention athletics, where in all tournaments that count, it is the national flag that matters, and not some local team or training gym.

Watching the US team join the big ones in soccer (football) should mean something else altogether (and should disturb all the useful idiots that root for American decline in the world); it means that even in a sport where America always lagged behind and ranked far below, we may see a time where American DOMINANCE takes over the world of soccer (football) as well. For this is one aspect of the exceptionalism of America — the ability to lead, excel, and triumph against the odds, to master foreign things, perfect them, and make them its own, without jingoism, chauvinism, or the cultural baggage that nationalism can have elsewhere. Three cheers for the U.S. team then — and a prayer that, before long, America’s players will conquer the heights of what once was a quintessentially European form of proud expression of national prowess.

For once, I need to strike a discordant note with my colleague Jonathan Tobin about soccer (or, as most of us call it, football). The real irony of the entire NPR newsroom bursting in enthusiastic cheers as the U.S. team scores is not about US exceptionalism vs. Third Worldism and a UN-driven mentality. This is what the World Cup is about: it is the triumph of primordial nationalist allegiances over the internationalist blah-blah of the NPR newsroom (and all their traveling companions across the enlightened liberal world). If I were a Marxist, I’d attribute their enthusiasm to false conscience; since I am sane, I can only explain their outburst of national pride as evidence that their false conscience is their commitment to internationalism — a silly ideological pose whose fallacy just a game of soccer (football) can expose.

Just think about it — the first World Cup tournament took place in 1930 — the height of nationalistic jingoism in world history. Until the tournament had to be suspended because of a world war, the World Cup saw three tournaments — one in South America (not the beacon of democracy at the time) and two in Europe — in Italy and in France. Benito Mussolini took enormous satisfaction at the sight of his team winning twice in a row. Since then, the biggest soccer (football) event in the world is the World Cup — a competition between national teams that brings out the wildest and most primitive form of national allegiance one can imagine, especially among all those feckless UN fans, liberal internationalists, postmodern “let’s make love not war” crowds who scorn nationalism every single day of the four years in between one cup and the next as the root of all evils. And then, as if by magic, they dump their self-righteous moral indignation against the flag and all it stands for to wrap themselves in it with pride, joy, and not uncommonly with silly paints on their faces and all matters of bizarre and fashion-challenged clothing. Just to say they stand during the month of the World Cup for everything they loathe the rest of the time.

Just think about it — the French national team leaves in shame after it implodes due to ferocious disagreements with the coach and an abysmal performance on the pitch. France’s lead player is immediately received by the president of the republic, Nicholas Sarkozy, while the coach and the team are crucified in the press. Not by the president of the national football federation — by the president of the republic! Winners are bestowed medals, titles, national recognition, and, in cases like Pele (Brazil), Roger Milla (Cameroon), Platini (France), Beckenbauer (Germany), and Paolo Rossi (Italy,) they reach iconic status as national heroes.

All this is the quintessential expression of nationalism — that spent force Europe has turned its back to, the Third World has rhetorically fought against as the ultimate manifestation of imperialist aggression, and the NPR newsroom presumably blames for most global ills — starting, no doubt, with Israel (special dispensation to Palestinian nationalism notwithstanding).

Whether national team sport, as opposed to club sport, is “sheer humbug” is of course a matter of taste. But there is no escaping the fact that most international competitions in all sports (with the few possible exceptions of cycling, skiing, tennis, and the martial arts, which are very individualistic disciplines) attract far more attention and excitement than club sports. And that the U.S. has never sat alone and apart, isolated and removed by its exceptionalism, in such disparate disciplines as basketball, volleyball, water polo, and the likes, not to mention athletics, where in all tournaments that count, it is the national flag that matters, and not some local team or training gym.

Watching the US team join the big ones in soccer (football) should mean something else altogether (and should disturb all the useful idiots that root for American decline in the world); it means that even in a sport where America always lagged behind and ranked far below, we may see a time where American DOMINANCE takes over the world of soccer (football) as well. For this is one aspect of the exceptionalism of America — the ability to lead, excel, and triumph against the odds, to master foreign things, perfect them, and make them its own, without jingoism, chauvinism, or the cultural baggage that nationalism can have elsewhere. Three cheers for the U.S. team then — and a prayer that, before long, America’s players will conquer the heights of what once was a quintessentially European form of proud expression of national prowess.

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Ya’alon Unloads on Obami

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

The entire interview with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon should be read in full here. But a few of the Q&As are certainly of particular note. On the American administration’s amnesia:

Does the US not see in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to accept Ehud Olmert’s generous offer in 2008 as a lack of willingness on the Palestinian side to come to an agreement?

Apparently not. From the dawn of Zionism there has not been a Palestinian leadership willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. This is the source of the problem, and not what is called the occupied territories since ’67. The opposition to Zionism began before we liberated Judea, Samaria and Gaza; before we established a state.

On the issue of settlements:

Israel’s critics say enlarging settlements helps Palestinian extremists and ruins any efforts to get the Palestinians to recognize our right to be here.

The prime minister said before the elections he was willing to accept the commitments of the previous government, among them the understanding between [George] Bush and [Ariel] Sharon, that no new settlements would be built in Judea and Samaria, and that construction in the settlements would be allowed [to enable] normal life, not exactly natural growth. That was the understanding, and construction continued through the Olmert and Sharon governments.

More than that, [Netanyahu] said we accept our commitment regarding dismantling 23 outposts that were defined by the Sharon government as illegal. He accepted that, until it became clear that the US administration does not accept the commitments of the previous administration.

Secondly, we completely reject the argument that the settlements are the reason there is no peace. I think Arafat was willing to go to Oslo because of the settlements. When he saw the [massive Russian] aliya, and the settlements, he thought he was going to lose everything.

But if we are talking about coexistence and peace, why the insistence that the territory they receive be ethnically cleansed of Jews? Why do those areas have to be Judenrein? Don’t Arabs live here, in the Negev and Galilee? Why isn’t that part of our public discussion? Why doesn’t that scream to the heavens?

In order for there to a proper prognosis, you need a proper diagnosis. We are arguing, and not only with them, but with the Israeli Left, about what is the root of the problem. Part of the issue, which influences the US and European positions, is our internal confusion.

I also used to think the solution was land for peace, until I became the head of military intelligence, saw things from up close and my thinking underwent an evolution.

And on the American role in thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

Which leaders today are the most determined regarding Iran?

We see France today demonstrating the right policies, and Britain. They understand the enormity of the challenge.

Does Obama?

Something has happened here that we haven’t seen in the past. Previously the US led the aggressive line. Today, as I said, the president of France and prime minister of Britain are leading a more aggressive line than the president of the US. And then you have Germany and Italy, who join up with the American position.

I don’t think there is an actor in the world who wants to see a nuclear Iran.

There is much more of interest, including his take on the potential for an  imposed settlement. (“If someone really thinks they can impose peace just like that, then they are detached from reality.”) What is most noteworthy is the candor with which the disdain for the American administration comes through. It seems the Israelis have at least adopted one of Obama’s suggestions — be more “honest” in public and in private.

It’s incumbent on the American Jewish community now to do likewise. It is a time to make clear whether it intends to shuffle along, meekly accepting the administration’s inertness on Iran and its ferocity toward our democratic ally.

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Strange Herring

Porn star drops out of Louisiana race, compares herself to Sarah Palin. Would have been worse if it had been the other way around.

Germans fine Catholic bishop $13K for denying Holocaust. I always thought you couldn’t put a price on stupid. Leave it to the Germans.

Italy is the safest place on earth to give birth. And it has nothing to do with prenatal care or better midwifery. It’s because God loves Italians better than anyone else and wants to make sure there are always plenty around. It’s a proven fact. Look it up in one of those newfangled science books already…

Anthropology prof insists degrees should be offered in UFO Studies. They already exist. I mean liberal arts degrees, not UFOs.

Seems Blago is going to be charged with a “near-constant conspiracy of extortion and kickbacks after his 2002 election.” Near constant, but not constant. So he has that going for him.

And seems Eliot Spitzer’s a multitasker. (Oh I can see those campaign ads now…)

Comet eaten by the sun. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg insists calorie content be displayed prominently.

Speaking of NYC, it’s about to charge the homeless rent. Because they have all that disposable income. Because they don’t pay rent. Because they didn’t have any money in the first place. (Your turn.)

More NYC news: An agreement has been reached to finally close those “rubber rooms.” No, not at Bellevue, but at your local “reassignment center,” where abusive, drunk, stupid, and/or lazy public school teachers spend the day fast asleep — sometimes for years, and on full salary — while their “cases” are investigated. Instead of closing these centers, they should put abusive, drunk, stupid, and/or lazy students in the same room with them. There would at least be some kind of symmetry, not to mention poetic justice.

Steven Seagal’s reality TV show, where he plays a reserve deputy-type of law-enforcement type, is being suspended until the whole sex-slave business is resolved. Or turned into a reality TV show.

Krugman vs. Sorkin over who’s the authentic Communist and who’s the poseur. Or something. I fell asleep as soon as I read “Krugman…”

One more reason why I wish Dante were still among the living. We need yet another level of hell.

Sale of iPad overseas delayed. Apple fears that the product’s awesomeness will destabilize fragile foreign minds, resulting in civil wars and widespread economic collapse. That and the company didn’t make enough.

Bernanke says not to worry about inflation. Unemployment will probably hit 65%, so no one will have money to buy anything anyway.

You know, for a country that no one can place on a map, and that some people confuse with Greenland, and others with the Lost City of Atlantis, Iceland sure does know how to stir up trouble.

And finally, a third-grader was found dealing heroin. He was suspended when it was learned that he was cutting the stuff with Count Chocula.

Porn star drops out of Louisiana race, compares herself to Sarah Palin. Would have been worse if it had been the other way around.

Germans fine Catholic bishop $13K for denying Holocaust. I always thought you couldn’t put a price on stupid. Leave it to the Germans.

Italy is the safest place on earth to give birth. And it has nothing to do with prenatal care or better midwifery. It’s because God loves Italians better than anyone else and wants to make sure there are always plenty around. It’s a proven fact. Look it up in one of those newfangled science books already…

Anthropology prof insists degrees should be offered in UFO Studies. They already exist. I mean liberal arts degrees, not UFOs.

Seems Blago is going to be charged with a “near-constant conspiracy of extortion and kickbacks after his 2002 election.” Near constant, but not constant. So he has that going for him.

And seems Eliot Spitzer’s a multitasker. (Oh I can see those campaign ads now…)

Comet eaten by the sun. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg insists calorie content be displayed prominently.

Speaking of NYC, it’s about to charge the homeless rent. Because they have all that disposable income. Because they don’t pay rent. Because they didn’t have any money in the first place. (Your turn.)

More NYC news: An agreement has been reached to finally close those “rubber rooms.” No, not at Bellevue, but at your local “reassignment center,” where abusive, drunk, stupid, and/or lazy public school teachers spend the day fast asleep — sometimes for years, and on full salary — while their “cases” are investigated. Instead of closing these centers, they should put abusive, drunk, stupid, and/or lazy students in the same room with them. There would at least be some kind of symmetry, not to mention poetic justice.

Steven Seagal’s reality TV show, where he plays a reserve deputy-type of law-enforcement type, is being suspended until the whole sex-slave business is resolved. Or turned into a reality TV show.

Krugman vs. Sorkin over who’s the authentic Communist and who’s the poseur. Or something. I fell asleep as soon as I read “Krugman…”

One more reason why I wish Dante were still among the living. We need yet another level of hell.

Sale of iPad overseas delayed. Apple fears that the product’s awesomeness will destabilize fragile foreign minds, resulting in civil wars and widespread economic collapse. That and the company didn’t make enough.

Bernanke says not to worry about inflation. Unemployment will probably hit 65%, so no one will have money to buy anything anyway.

You know, for a country that no one can place on a map, and that some people confuse with Greenland, and others with the Lost City of Atlantis, Iceland sure does know how to stir up trouble.

And finally, a third-grader was found dealing heroin. He was suspended when it was learned that he was cutting the stuff with Count Chocula.

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And the Best Picture Oscar Goes to … Everybody

I hate the new Best Picture scheme. Sure there are always laudable efforts that get overlooked when you reduce the nominees to five in number, but this list makes it seems as if all you had to do was get your film uploaded onto YouTube and you were in:

“Avatar”
“The Blind Side”
“District 9″
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

Where’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans? Or Confessions of a Shopaholic?

And how is it that five of those Best Picture nominees didn’t also rate Best Director nods? Were they first-rate films helmed by second-rate talents?

What makes this all the more obnoxious is that the best film of 2009 is missing altogether: Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo. In case you haven’t seen it (which is almost a sure best), imagine that Federico Fellini, Quentin Tarantino, Ken Russell, and Oliver Stone collaborated on a fictionalized account of former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti’s career, and you’re almost there. Fast, funny, witty, creepy, telling — with an extraordinary performance by Toni Servillo, who plays Andreotti as Renfield to his own Dracula.

Oh well. I console myself that the greatest director this country ever produced, Orson Welles, never won a Best Director Oscar. (At least the second best, John Ford, won four, almost as a kind of compensation.) And of course, that Red Buttons never got a dinner…

I hate the new Best Picture scheme. Sure there are always laudable efforts that get overlooked when you reduce the nominees to five in number, but this list makes it seems as if all you had to do was get your film uploaded onto YouTube and you were in:

“Avatar”
“The Blind Side”
“District 9″
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

Where’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans? Or Confessions of a Shopaholic?

And how is it that five of those Best Picture nominees didn’t also rate Best Director nods? Were they first-rate films helmed by second-rate talents?

What makes this all the more obnoxious is that the best film of 2009 is missing altogether: Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo. In case you haven’t seen it (which is almost a sure best), imagine that Federico Fellini, Quentin Tarantino, Ken Russell, and Oliver Stone collaborated on a fictionalized account of former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti’s career, and you’re almost there. Fast, funny, witty, creepy, telling — with an extraordinary performance by Toni Servillo, who plays Andreotti as Renfield to his own Dracula.

Oh well. I console myself that the greatest director this country ever produced, Orson Welles, never won a Best Director Oscar. (At least the second best, John Ford, won four, almost as a kind of compensation.) And of course, that Red Buttons never got a dinner…

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How NIAC Lobbied Against Dennis Ross

As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.
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As revealed in Eli Lake’s bombshell story, the National Iranian-American Council has often acted as an advocate for the interests of the Iranian regime, especially in the early days of the Obama administration and before the Iranian election in June. As Lake documents, the leader of this “Iranian-American” organization, Trita Parsi, is not an American citizen. And the council, which claims to speak on behalf of the 1-million-strong Iranian-American community, has only a few thousand members.

It is also a 501(c)(3), which means that its mission and operation must be nonpartisan — no lobbying allowed. But as information obtained in the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by NIAC against a critic shows, the organization has been deeply involved in political advocacy. What follows is but one example.

When it became clear in early January that President-elect Obama intended to pick Dennis Ross to oversee Iran policy at the State Department, NIAC sprung into action to scuttle the nomination.

In a Google group called the “New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee,” where several political allies of NIAC, including lobbying groups, participated, Patrick Disney, NIAC’s acting policy director, wrote that “I should be clear — I think we can still influence the [Ross] selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible.” He continued: “NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. … I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.”

This was followed by e-mail from Mike Amitay, who is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center, a George Soros–funded 501(c)(4) — a lobby. Amitay agreed on the need for action against Ross and added that “a most troubling aspects [sic] of [Ross's] limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.”

So, involvement in United Against a Nuclear Iran was a disqualification for the New Iran Policy Coordinating Committee. UANI’s goal is to “promote efforts that focus on vigorous national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures” in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. Its leadership consists of a bipartisan cast of foreign-policy leaders — it is an utterly, even conspicuously, centrist organization. But for NIAC, even an organization that so much as expresses concern about the nuclear program is unacceptable.

This e-mail exchange shows not just the political radicalism of NIAC and its advocacy of Iranian-regime interests but also the way the organization skates blithely across some very thin ice. Here we have an employee of NIAC acting in his official capacity and using his NIAC e-mail address to help organize a campaign to undermine an Obama-administration nominee. NIAC claims, and its tax status requires, that it is not a lobby and spends zero percent of its time lobbying. Yet Disney is joined by Amitay, a lobbyist, in organizing what is clearly a lobbying campaign. Nowhere is there an attempt to distinguish between the activities of the two groups or to assume roles consistent with their legal statuses. In fact, just the opposite — it is Disney who seeks to spearhead the campaign.

And this comes in the context of a litany of other incriminating revelations — that Parsi set up meetings between U.S. congressmen and the Iranian ambassador to the UN, that members of NIAC attended meetings explicitly devoted to establishing lobbying agendas and tactics, and so on. And all this, it must be added, in order to help the Iranian regime get sanctions lifted and end American opposition to its nuclear ambitions.

Below the jump is a copy of the e-mail exchange in question.

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Amitay [mailto:mamitay@osi-dc.org]
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:35 PM
To: jparillo@psr.org; PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

Ross has not worked extensively on Iran, though his most recent employer WINEP, is a “think-tank” created by AIPAC leadership in the 1980s. As Jill points out, a most troubling aspects of his limited Iran-related resume is his role in crafting Bi-Partisan Policy Council report and prominence on Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran. (Holbrooke also serves on this body). UANI is a right-wing “pro-Israel” PR effort established to push a more militant US policy towards Iran. If in fact Ross appointment confirmed, I find this deeply troubling. One question to consider, however, is whether publicly objecting to Ross would damage our ability to work with him and others in USG in the future.

###########################################

Mike Amitay – Senior Policy Analyst
Middle East, North Africa and Central Eurasia
Open Society Institute / Open Society Policy Center
1120 19th Street, NW – 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036
202-721-5625 (direct) 202-530-0138 (fax)
www.soros.org / www.opensocietypolicycenter.org

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of Jill Parillo
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 2:03 PM
To: PDisney@niacouncil.org; new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: RE: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

On Ross, I sent an email earlier, but I would like to add:
Engagement with Iran is aimed at reducing tension in US-Iranian relations, to avoid war and build confidence, so to get to a point where together we can develop common policies that will US and Iranian concerns.

If someone is sent to the talks (like when Burns was) who could increase tension, the policy of engagement as a solution to the Iran challenge will not be a success.
We should talk to those that know Ross well and his policies, and ability to negotiate in a peaceful fair manner.

In spending time as part of the Department of Disarmament Affairs and at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, I sat through several high level negotiations where country Ambassadors walked out of the room because of Bush Administration officials being very rude. The right person and the right policy are important.

We need to also pay attention to who the envoy will report to, in this case it is Clinton, not Obama.
I have never met Ross in person, so I will not judge if he is a good or bad pick. However, I can say I have concerns, since he signed onto the attached paper which says, “WE BELIEVE A MILITARY STRIKE IS A FEASIBLE OPTION…..the United States will need to augment its military presence in the region. This should commence the first day the new President enters office.” I am taking this out of context, so please look at this section for yourself, but in any case, it is concerning.

Best,

Jill

PS. I am off to speak in Italy until Jan 19-Pugwash Conference, so I may not be available for much of the next 10 days. Thanks

—–Original Message—–
From: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com [mailto:new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com] On Behalf Of pdisney@niacouncil.org
Sent: Wednesday, January 07, 2009 1:33 PM
To: new-iran-policy-coordinating-committee@googlegroups.com; IranPWG@yahoogroups.com
Subject: Response to Ross as Iran envoy

All,

As the rumors appear to be more substantiated by the hour, I think we should start a conversation about what our response will be if Dennis Ross is named Iran envoy.

I should be clear–I think we can still influence the selection by submitting our recommendation as soon as possible. However, if it does prove to be Ross, we have to make a choice as to how to respond.

NIAC is obviously still formulating a plan, but we’re exploring the idea of coming out publicly, and relatively strongly, against Ross. We would make it clear that we prefer to work with Obama, and that Ross does not align with Obama’s plan to change America’s approach. Obviously, there are pro’s and con’s to any strategy, but if it’s simply impossible for us to work with Ross, we should be in a position to say I told you so after he messes everything up. But I’d like to hear others’ thoughts.

Again, this is a brainstorm rather than a concrete plan. I’d like for all of us to coordinate our message as much as possible. So let’s discuss things now and get prepared before things move ahead.
Thanks very much.
-p

January 7, 2009, 10:21 AM
Obama
Picks Foreign Envoys

Posted by Michelle

Levi

Transition officials confirm to CBS News’ Marc Ambinder that President-elect Obama has asked Dennis Ross, Richard Haas, and Richard Holbrooke, to serve as his chief emissaries to world hot spots. Ross and Holbrooke both served in senior Clinton administration roles. Haas had senior posts in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003 and in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

It’s expected that Ross will be assigned the Iran portfolio, that Holbrooke, the hard-headed architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, will take the difficult Southwest Asia portfolio, including India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that Haas will deal with the Middle East.

Each men’s turf is still in flux, so these early assignments are not firm.
Read More Posts In Transition

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Read Less

Sayonara, Susan

“If McCain gets in, it’s going to be very, very dangerous,” said Susan Sarandon to the London Telegraph in late May. “It’s a critical time, but I have faith in the American people. If they prove me wrong, I’ll be checking out a move to Italy. Maybe Canada, I don’t know. We’re at an abyss.”

Well, she’s right about looking into the abyss. But we are already standing at a precipice, and we’ll still be there whoever wins in November. So if Sarandon is worried about the dangers she personally faces, I suggest she go to the Arctic Circle. As much as she may like Barack Obama–and I’m not saying she shouldn’t support him–he is not able to wave away the threats we face at this moment. In fact, he could conceivably make them worse. After all, history has shown that the best way to get into a war is to be unwilling to fight one.

But that’s beside the point. There’s something deeply troubling about Sarandon’s comment about leaving. If she thinks so little of her country that she is contemplating abandoning it, then she should depart now. My wife overcame innumerable bureaucratic obstacles over more than a decade to become an American citizen, and I think we can make room for more people who really want to be a part of this country.

So Susan, it’s time to sell your home, pack your bags, and say goodbye to the rest of us. And the same goes for your long-time partner, Tim Robbins, who threatened to leave if George W. Bush won the 2000 election. And while you’re at it, please ask Barbara Streisand, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin–all of whom made the same threat eight years ago–to see if they want to go as well. I know many people who yearn for the opportunity to pledge allegiance to the only country that can save you, me, and the rest of the world from the abyss.

“If McCain gets in, it’s going to be very, very dangerous,” said Susan Sarandon to the London Telegraph in late May. “It’s a critical time, but I have faith in the American people. If they prove me wrong, I’ll be checking out a move to Italy. Maybe Canada, I don’t know. We’re at an abyss.”

Well, she’s right about looking into the abyss. But we are already standing at a precipice, and we’ll still be there whoever wins in November. So if Sarandon is worried about the dangers she personally faces, I suggest she go to the Arctic Circle. As much as she may like Barack Obama–and I’m not saying she shouldn’t support him–he is not able to wave away the threats we face at this moment. In fact, he could conceivably make them worse. After all, history has shown that the best way to get into a war is to be unwilling to fight one.

But that’s beside the point. There’s something deeply troubling about Sarandon’s comment about leaving. If she thinks so little of her country that she is contemplating abandoning it, then she should depart now. My wife overcame innumerable bureaucratic obstacles over more than a decade to become an American citizen, and I think we can make room for more people who really want to be a part of this country.

So Susan, it’s time to sell your home, pack your bags, and say goodbye to the rest of us. And the same goes for your long-time partner, Tim Robbins, who threatened to leave if George W. Bush won the 2000 election. And while you’re at it, please ask Barbara Streisand, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin–all of whom made the same threat eight years ago–to see if they want to go as well. I know many people who yearn for the opportunity to pledge allegiance to the only country that can save you, me, and the rest of the world from the abyss.

Read Less




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