Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jeane Kirkpatrick

Libya and Liberty

The Wall Street Journal has published a story, an editorial, and an op-ed on Libya’s first multi-party elections since the early 1950s. And while complex election rules make it difficult to know the precise outcome, the Journal reports that “Libya’s vote is expected to curb the sway of Islamic groups.”

“Ideology is dead,” according to Mahmoud Jibril, the U.S.-educated former Qaddafu-era economic official who defected to become the face of Libya’s revolution last year. “We stand for inclusiveness,” he said of the coalition he leads. According to Ann Marlowe of the Hudson Institute, “this coalition is not liberal or secular in the Western sense, but it supports a civil state and is opposed to the values of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.”

“This is the day that we fix the past,” Maryem El-Barouni, a 23-year-old medical student told the Journal’s Margaret Coker. “We’ve come through a very bad period. This is our chance to feel freedom.”

About these developments, several things can be said. The first is that some critics of the Libyan intervention can still find dark linings in what has occurred. The second is that the Obama administration deserves praise for having intervened. The president’s actions, in concert with our European allies, toppled a brutal dictator and prevented slaughter at minimal human and financial cost to America and the West. Third, Libya’s transition to self-government has a very long way to go and much can go wrong. Still, at this early juncture, the intervention can be fairly judged to have been a success.

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The Wall Street Journal has published a story, an editorial, and an op-ed on Libya’s first multi-party elections since the early 1950s. And while complex election rules make it difficult to know the precise outcome, the Journal reports that “Libya’s vote is expected to curb the sway of Islamic groups.”

“Ideology is dead,” according to Mahmoud Jibril, the U.S.-educated former Qaddafu-era economic official who defected to become the face of Libya’s revolution last year. “We stand for inclusiveness,” he said of the coalition he leads. According to Ann Marlowe of the Hudson Institute, “this coalition is not liberal or secular in the Western sense, but it supports a civil state and is opposed to the values of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction Party.”

“This is the day that we fix the past,” Maryem El-Barouni, a 23-year-old medical student told the Journal’s Margaret Coker. “We’ve come through a very bad period. This is our chance to feel freedom.”

About these developments, several things can be said. The first is that some critics of the Libyan intervention can still find dark linings in what has occurred. The second is that the Obama administration deserves praise for having intervened. The president’s actions, in concert with our European allies, toppled a brutal dictator and prevented slaughter at minimal human and financial cost to America and the West. Third, Libya’s transition to self-government has a very long way to go and much can go wrong. Still, at this early juncture, the intervention can be fairly judged to have been a success.

But there are some additional points worth considering, and I’ll do so in the context of Peter Collier’s superbly written biography Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick. In it, Collier points out that during the Reagan years, Kirkpatrick was “slightly agnostic” about democracy promotion, that she was skeptical of America’s power “to democratize the world,” and that she was fearful we would be drawn into “expansive, expensive” global projects. She was critical of the Iraq war in part because Iraq lacked “the requirements for a democratic government: rule of law, an elite with a shared commitment to democratic procedures, a sense of citizenship and habits of trust and cooperation.”

On Iraq, Jeane might (or might not) have been correct. It’s too early to tell, just as it is in Egypt, where right now the path to freedom appears to be rockier than what we’re seeing in Libya. It’s certainly true that not every nation on earth is ready for self-government. There are prerequisites, and often outside assistance, that are necessary. But it’s also the case that many nations that have moved successfully toward self-government over the decades didn’t start out with all the “requirements for a democratic government” firmly in place. Even successful journeys can be slow and characterized by setbacks (for more, see America and its Civil War). In addition, as Robert Kagan pointed out in his 1997 essay in COMMENTARY, Kirkpatrick’s brand of realism represented a “strong repudiation of the policy followed by the Reagan administration, which made a very high priority out of promoting democracy in such places as El Salvador, Chile, the Philippines, and South Korea.”

So if elections are not an elixir, it’s also the case that any prudent American strategy needs to accommodate itself to the fact that people in other lands do not want to live in chains. They aren’t keen to live in a police state. The Egyptians overthrew Hosni Mubarak without us lifting a finger. It was an organic uprising, one Mubarak might have averted if years earlier he had put in place reforms.

One final observation: most of us come to these debates with a predisposition for or against democracy promotion (my tropism is toward it while Jeane’s was away from it). It shapes the way we interpret things. But what we tend to learn is that human societies are enormously complicated, and no theory or ideology has perfect predictive powers. There are unintended consequences – some good, some bad – to almost every large undertaking. And human beings, let alone tribes and entire nations, often act in ways we can’t anticipate. Which means that in some places, Kirkpatrick’s skepticism about democracy was misplaced, just as in some places my advocacy for democracy may well hit the rocks.

Conservatism properly understood is skeptical about elevating creeds above human experience. It takes into account habits and customs, what Burke referred to (not unfavorably, by the way) as “prejudices” and “superstitions.” That doesn’t mean conservatism should ever be agnostic about human freedom, as freedom is (I would argue) based on the teleology and design of human nature. It simply means that in anticipating unfolding events, some degree of humility – on all sides – is in order.

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Neoconservatives and Democracy: A 30-Year Story

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent. Read More

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent.

For example, in the case of the anti-Communist efforts in Nicaragua, the CIA preferred working with the Contras, for whom its agents had essentially bought and paid, no matter their political coloration; officials at the State Department, however, thought that it was a mistake to align the United States with elements of the previous thug regime and that the U.S. should be promoting liberal forces within the Contra movement.

But probably the key year for the maturation of these ideas was 1986. It was a general axiom on the right, including among neoconservatives, that efforts to impose an economic embargo on South Africa were dangerous and naive because, though the apartheid regime might be unjust, it could be pushed to reform, and the sanctions might lead to a Soviet-aligned takeover of a strategically important country. When Congress voted for such sanctions, Ronald Reagan vetoed them. His veto was overridden.

And those of us who thought the sanctions would be disastrous were proved utterly mistaken. They turned out to be an effective strategy for crippling the regime without toppling it and forcing its end in a manner more pacific than anyone expected. (Not that South Africa post-apartheid is a wonderful model, but it was a gravely wounded civil society, and its healing will take a long time.) Part of the reason that sanctions have been a part of the American diplomatic toolbox ever since, and always with neoconservative support, is that they proved successful in South Africa.

The other thing that happened was an election in the Philippines, whose authoritarian junta regime was closely allied with the United States. The clear theft of the election by Ferdinand Marcos’s forces created a massive groundswell in the streets. At first, the White House did what Barack Obama did with the revolt in Egypt — it tried to stay out of it. Then-Secretary of State George Shultz, together with the later-notorious Paul Wolfowitz, who ran the State Department’s East Asia bureau, convinced Ronald Reagan to change policy, support those who said the election had been stolen, and eventually, with great efficiency, convince Marcos it was time for him to go.

And on it went, with South Korea and Taiwan and Chile and many other nations whose authoritarian regimes peacefully gave way to more liberal ones in part because of the encouragement of the United States.

It’s not a perfect strategy, by any means. No strategy is, and no strategy is applicable in every circumstance. The danger that Egypt might not follow in the path of the Philippines but rather in the path of revolutionary Iran is very real. But as the year of Carter-administration fecklessness on Iran that preceded Khomeini’s takeover in 1979 proved, a policy of passivity is not a way out for a president who does not know what to do.

America can’t not choose sides in such a struggle. Not choosing sides is, in effect, to choose sides. So it’s better to have a policy that offers a direction congruent with our values, and with a proven track record, than one that offers nothing but confusion.

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Go Read Kirkpatrick. Again.

Now more than ever, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships & Double Standards” essay deserves to be read and pondered. If this isn’t the greatest essay COMMENTARY has ever published, it’s certainly the most influential.

Amb. Kirkpatrick doesn’t tell us “what we should do” about Egypt, and it’s impossible to summarize such a brilliant piece. But she does make three relevant points: about freedom, revolution, and the American administration. First, as Peter has implied and as Abe has written, “The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings”; in other words, if we want to encourage autocracies to move towards democracy, it cannot be a crisis response.

Second, in foreign policy as elsewhere, the best is often the enemy of the good — or at least the marginally tolerable. John Steele Gordon says that this may be 1848 in the Arab World, and he might be right. But that is an invidious comparison, for in the one country that really mattered on the continent — Germany — 1848 turned out in retrospect to mark liberalism’s decisive defeat. In light of 1914, never mind 1939, it might have been better if 1848 had never happened.

It would be nice if, as Peter says, “the driving force of events in Egypt [is] tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression.” But as my colleague Jim Phillips points out, this is far from a sure bet, and the poisonous legacy of the Egyptian educational system that Alana refers to sure doesn’t help matters.

Third, and finally, there is the contrast between the president’s claim as of last Tuesday that “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored” and Iran, where this administration sat on its hands as a viciously anti-American regime with a nuclear-weapons program slaughtered and raped protesters at will. And Honduras, where it moved heaven and earth to reinstate a pro-Chavez dictator in the making. And Egypt, where it is mincing about reform partnerships with Mubarak and the Egyptian people, a partnership that exists nowhere except in the Obama administration’s fevered desire to catch up with events that have relentlessly outpaced it.

So yes, as Kirkpatrick said of Carter, Obama is “especially vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.” Yes indeed.

Now more than ever, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships & Double Standards” essay deserves to be read and pondered. If this isn’t the greatest essay COMMENTARY has ever published, it’s certainly the most influential.

Amb. Kirkpatrick doesn’t tell us “what we should do” about Egypt, and it’s impossible to summarize such a brilliant piece. But she does make three relevant points: about freedom, revolution, and the American administration. First, as Peter has implied and as Abe has written, “The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings”; in other words, if we want to encourage autocracies to move towards democracy, it cannot be a crisis response.

Second, in foreign policy as elsewhere, the best is often the enemy of the good — or at least the marginally tolerable. John Steele Gordon says that this may be 1848 in the Arab World, and he might be right. But that is an invidious comparison, for in the one country that really mattered on the continent — Germany — 1848 turned out in retrospect to mark liberalism’s decisive defeat. In light of 1914, never mind 1939, it might have been better if 1848 had never happened.

It would be nice if, as Peter says, “the driving force of events in Egypt [is] tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression.” But as my colleague Jim Phillips points out, this is far from a sure bet, and the poisonous legacy of the Egyptian educational system that Alana refers to sure doesn’t help matters.

Third, and finally, there is the contrast between the president’s claim as of last Tuesday that “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored” and Iran, where this administration sat on its hands as a viciously anti-American regime with a nuclear-weapons program slaughtered and raped protesters at will. And Honduras, where it moved heaven and earth to reinstate a pro-Chavez dictator in the making. And Egypt, where it is mincing about reform partnerships with Mubarak and the Egyptian people, a partnership that exists nowhere except in the Obama administration’s fevered desire to catch up with events that have relentlessly outpaced it.

So yes, as Kirkpatrick said of Carter, Obama is “especially vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.” Yes indeed.

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Delegitimizing the Delegitimizers

In the Knesset, Bibi went after international efforts to delegitimize Israel:

“They want to strip us of the natural right to defend ourselves. When we defend ourselves against rocket attack, we are accused of war crimes. We cannot board sea vessels when our soldiers are being attacked and fired upon, because that is a war crime.”

“They are essentially saying that the Jewish nation does not have the right to defend itself against the most brutal attacks and it doesn’t have the right to prevent additional weapons from entering territories from which it is attacked,” he said.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel has taken steps to push forward a resolution with the Palestinians though they have not reciprocated the gesture.

“The Palestinian side promoted the Goldstone report, organized boycotts, and tried to prevent our entrance into the OECD. The Palestinian Authority has no intentions of engaging in direct talks with us,” Netanyahu exclaimed.

Israel’s enemies have been at this for some time. But the efforts to use international organizations to delegitimize and constrain Israel have accelerated under Obama for at least three reasons.

First, he’s raised the profile of international organizations, conferred on them new prestige, elevated gangs of thugs like the UN Human Rights Council, and made clear that international consensus is near and dear to him, a priority above many other foreign policy goals. This has emboldened Israel’s foes, who now enjoy more respect and more visibility. Because Obama has put such a high price on consensus in these bodies and on internationalizing decisions, he is handing a veto to the more aggressively anti-Israel members.

Second, the U.S. has done nothing to discourage or rebut the delegitimizing. We’ve sat mutely when the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel. We haven’t denounced or even chastised the Israel-bashers. When Jeane Kirkpatrick or John Bolton held their posts, you would at least see the Israel-haters’ arguments demolished and their representatives put in their place. No such defense is offered these days by Susan Rice.

And finally, Obama  outside the confines of these bodies, has signaled that it’s fine to slap Israel around. When the American government condemns Israel, others are sure to follow. He’s announced his intention to put daylight between the U.S. and the Jewish state, which tells the Israel-haters they have a green light to take their own swings.

So if the goal were to delegitimize the delegitimizers, then we should do the opposite of what the Obama team has been doing. We should try to reduce the importance and prestige of these bodies while elevating that of democratic alliances. We should forcefully refute the arguments and resolutions and wield our veto. We should not participate in, fund, nor countenance assaults on Israel’s legitimacy and right to defend and manage its own affairs. And finally, we should in word and deed stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel, making clear that those who take on Israel will pay a price — financial, diplomatic, or otherwise. None of this will end the attempts at delegitimizing, but it may give those on the fence second thoughts about joining in the efforts and discourage those who now believe they can act with impunity. Right now the incentives are all going in the wrong direction.

In the Knesset, Bibi went after international efforts to delegitimize Israel:

“They want to strip us of the natural right to defend ourselves. When we defend ourselves against rocket attack, we are accused of war crimes. We cannot board sea vessels when our soldiers are being attacked and fired upon, because that is a war crime.”

“They are essentially saying that the Jewish nation does not have the right to defend itself against the most brutal attacks and it doesn’t have the right to prevent additional weapons from entering territories from which it is attacked,” he said.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel has taken steps to push forward a resolution with the Palestinians though they have not reciprocated the gesture.

“The Palestinian side promoted the Goldstone report, organized boycotts, and tried to prevent our entrance into the OECD. The Palestinian Authority has no intentions of engaging in direct talks with us,” Netanyahu exclaimed.

Israel’s enemies have been at this for some time. But the efforts to use international organizations to delegitimize and constrain Israel have accelerated under Obama for at least three reasons.

First, he’s raised the profile of international organizations, conferred on them new prestige, elevated gangs of thugs like the UN Human Rights Council, and made clear that international consensus is near and dear to him, a priority above many other foreign policy goals. This has emboldened Israel’s foes, who now enjoy more respect and more visibility. Because Obama has put such a high price on consensus in these bodies and on internationalizing decisions, he is handing a veto to the more aggressively anti-Israel members.

Second, the U.S. has done nothing to discourage or rebut the delegitimizing. We’ve sat mutely when the UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel. We haven’t denounced or even chastised the Israel-bashers. When Jeane Kirkpatrick or John Bolton held their posts, you would at least see the Israel-haters’ arguments demolished and their representatives put in their place. No such defense is offered these days by Susan Rice.

And finally, Obama  outside the confines of these bodies, has signaled that it’s fine to slap Israel around. When the American government condemns Israel, others are sure to follow. He’s announced his intention to put daylight between the U.S. and the Jewish state, which tells the Israel-haters they have a green light to take their own swings.

So if the goal were to delegitimize the delegitimizers, then we should do the opposite of what the Obama team has been doing. We should try to reduce the importance and prestige of these bodies while elevating that of democratic alliances. We should forcefully refute the arguments and resolutions and wield our veto. We should not participate in, fund, nor countenance assaults on Israel’s legitimacy and right to defend and manage its own affairs. And finally, we should in word and deed stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel, making clear that those who take on Israel will pay a price — financial, diplomatic, or otherwise. None of this will end the attempts at delegitimizing, but it may give those on the fence second thoughts about joining in the efforts and discourage those who now believe they can act with impunity. Right now the incentives are all going in the wrong direction.

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Obama to Israel: You’re on Your Own

Last week, Obama joined the NPT nations in finger-pointing at Israel, despite our longtime understanding that Israel would maintain a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on it nuclear capability and we would not demand that it join the NPT. At the time, many of us decried the Obama preference for consensus over solidarity with our ally. But Jewish groups — again — were mum. This week, a far more serious and destructive instance of the same behavior occurred at the UN.

In a must-read piece, Elliott Abrams takes the administration to task for caving in to the screeches of the UN Security Council and permitting a resolution on the flotilla rather than standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish state. Reminding us that a “lynch mob” always awaits Israel there unless the U.S. and a few others intervene, he explains:

This week the mob formed again, instantly, after the Gaza flotilla disaster, reinforced this time by the leadership of Turkey, whose language at the UN was more vicious than that used by the Arabs.  As usual there was really only one question once the mob began to gather.  It is the question that arose repeatedly in the Bush years—when the Hamas leaders Sheik Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were killed by Israel, when Israel acted in Gaza, when Israel put down the intifada in the West Bank, and during the 2006 war in Lebanon and the late 2008 fighting in Gaza: would Israel stand alone, or would the United States stand with her and prevent the lynching? Would the US, in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, “join the jackals”?

This week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone.  It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a “President’s Statement” on behalf of the Council, for such a statement requires unanimity.  The United States can just say “No,” and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed.  Then negotiations begin on a serious statement—or, there can be no statement at all.  The killing of dozens of South Korean sailors by North Korea in an action that truly threatens the peace did not evoke the kind of action the Security Council took against Israel, proving that the UN does not always act, or act in the same way, when news flashes hit.  Whether Israel is slammed depends on whether the United States is willing to take a stand.

As Abrams points out, the Obama team continually wants to have it both ways — not completely abandon Israel (for then American Jewry might bestir itself and recoil against its liberal icon) but never stand athwart the international community and shout, “Stop!” So the Israel-haters have a resolution and call for a Goldstone-like investigation. (Is the former apartheid hanging judge up for thrusting one more dagger into the Jewish state?) In short, Obama had a choice, and he chose not to stand with Israel. (“The U.S. has the power to block all anti-Israel moves in the Security Council, not just some of them, and to do so without agreeing to unfair, damaging compromises.”)

We shouldn’t be surprised, Abrams writes:

The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel.  Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure. … Does the White House accept, indeed relish, the need to defend Israel against all comers—Pakistan, Turkey, the Arabs, weak-kneed Euro-dips, UN bureaucrats?  Is this understood as a chance to show what America really stands for in the world? Or is Israel seen by the president as a burden, an albatross, a complication in his grand struggle to re-position the United States as a more “progressive” power?

Come to think of it, American Jewry — at least the non-leaders of mainstream groups — is playing the exact same game. It wants to have it both ways — stick up for Israel but not cross Obama. So it rises up and defends Israel in the flotilla incident, struggling to get the facts out to the public, which has been inundated with an avalanche of distorted media and inane analysis. But what it refuses to do is criticize the mendacity of the administration and shatter the facade that this administration is acting as a loyal ally. No criticism of the NPT. No criticism of the phony sanctions. No criticism of the UN travesty. Here’s the thing: neither Obama nor American Jewry can have it both ways. They are trying to please irreconcilable parties — in Obama’s case the international community of Israel-haters and Israel, and in the case of Jewish non-leaders, Obama and Israel. It does not work.

There is a single question that every individual, group, and nation must answer. To borrow from the most pro-Israel president since Harry Truman: if you are not with Israel, you are against her. And if you do not oppose with every fiber of your being and every instrument at your disposal that which intends the Jewish state harm, you are enabling her destroyers.

Last week, Obama joined the NPT nations in finger-pointing at Israel, despite our longtime understanding that Israel would maintain a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on it nuclear capability and we would not demand that it join the NPT. At the time, many of us decried the Obama preference for consensus over solidarity with our ally. But Jewish groups — again — were mum. This week, a far more serious and destructive instance of the same behavior occurred at the UN.

In a must-read piece, Elliott Abrams takes the administration to task for caving in to the screeches of the UN Security Council and permitting a resolution on the flotilla rather than standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish state. Reminding us that a “lynch mob” always awaits Israel there unless the U.S. and a few others intervene, he explains:

This week the mob formed again, instantly, after the Gaza flotilla disaster, reinforced this time by the leadership of Turkey, whose language at the UN was more vicious than that used by the Arabs.  As usual there was really only one question once the mob began to gather.  It is the question that arose repeatedly in the Bush years—when the Hamas leaders Sheik Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi were killed by Israel, when Israel acted in Gaza, when Israel put down the intifada in the West Bank, and during the 2006 war in Lebanon and the late 2008 fighting in Gaza: would Israel stand alone, or would the United States stand with her and prevent the lynching? Would the US, in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, “join the jackals”?

This week the Obama administration answered the question: Yes we would, and Israel would stand alone.  It is simple to block the kind of attack issued as a “President’s Statement” on behalf of the Council, for such a statement requires unanimity.  The United States can just say “No,” and make it clear that orders have come from the White House and will not be changed.  Then negotiations begin on a serious statement—or, there can be no statement at all.  The killing of dozens of South Korean sailors by North Korea in an action that truly threatens the peace did not evoke the kind of action the Security Council took against Israel, proving that the UN does not always act, or act in the same way, when news flashes hit.  Whether Israel is slammed depends on whether the United States is willing to take a stand.

As Abrams points out, the Obama team continually wants to have it both ways — not completely abandon Israel (for then American Jewry might bestir itself and recoil against its liberal icon) but never stand athwart the international community and shout, “Stop!” So the Israel-haters have a resolution and call for a Goldstone-like investigation. (Is the former apartheid hanging judge up for thrusting one more dagger into the Jewish state?) In short, Obama had a choice, and he chose not to stand with Israel. (“The U.S. has the power to block all anti-Israel moves in the Security Council, not just some of them, and to do so without agreeing to unfair, damaging compromises.”)

We shouldn’t be surprised, Abrams writes:

The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel.  Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure. … Does the White House accept, indeed relish, the need to defend Israel against all comers—Pakistan, Turkey, the Arabs, weak-kneed Euro-dips, UN bureaucrats?  Is this understood as a chance to show what America really stands for in the world? Or is Israel seen by the president as a burden, an albatross, a complication in his grand struggle to re-position the United States as a more “progressive” power?

Come to think of it, American Jewry — at least the non-leaders of mainstream groups — is playing the exact same game. It wants to have it both ways — stick up for Israel but not cross Obama. So it rises up and defends Israel in the flotilla incident, struggling to get the facts out to the public, which has been inundated with an avalanche of distorted media and inane analysis. But what it refuses to do is criticize the mendacity of the administration and shatter the facade that this administration is acting as a loyal ally. No criticism of the NPT. No criticism of the phony sanctions. No criticism of the UN travesty. Here’s the thing: neither Obama nor American Jewry can have it both ways. They are trying to please irreconcilable parties — in Obama’s case the international community of Israel-haters and Israel, and in the case of Jewish non-leaders, Obama and Israel. It does not work.

There is a single question that every individual, group, and nation must answer. To borrow from the most pro-Israel president since Harry Truman: if you are not with Israel, you are against her. And if you do not oppose with every fiber of your being and every instrument at your disposal that which intends the Jewish state harm, you are enabling her destroyers.

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Missing Moynihan

Over 30 years ago, the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin came to New York City to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Amin had, during his eight years in power, declared that Hitler was right to murder six million Jews and welcomed a plane full of Israeli passengers hijacked by Palestinian terrorists into his country. In his speech before the Assembly, Amin called for “the extinction of Israel as a state.” (This was the year that the Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism, a resolution that was not repealed until 1991.)

The United States’s man at Turtle Bay at the time, former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a giant among statesmen, of the sort we are unlikely to see again. While suits in the State Department squirmed, Moynihan did what America’s finest ambassadors do best: tell the simple truth. In language highly unusual for an American diplomat, he said of Amin: “[I]t’s no accident, I fear, that this ‘racist murderer’—as one of our leading newspapers called him this morning—is head of the Organization of African Unity.” (That newspaper, by the way, was the New York Times. Imagine them calling Robert Mugabe a “racist murderer” today). Moynihan was forced out after just eight months on the job.

Moynihan, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, got his job because of an article he wrote for COMMENTARY. “The United States in Opposition,” published March 1975, was a stirring petition to America’s diplomatic corps to realize that the so-called “Non-Aligned Movement” was anything but neutral in the Cold War, and that the United Nations had descended into a den of anti-American vitriol. America could use a man of Moynihan’s caliber this week, in the face of another dictator’s visit.

We miss you, Pat.

Over 30 years ago, the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin came to New York City to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Amin had, during his eight years in power, declared that Hitler was right to murder six million Jews and welcomed a plane full of Israeli passengers hijacked by Palestinian terrorists into his country. In his speech before the Assembly, Amin called for “the extinction of Israel as a state.” (This was the year that the Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism, a resolution that was not repealed until 1991.)

The United States’s man at Turtle Bay at the time, former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was a giant among statesmen, of the sort we are unlikely to see again. While suits in the State Department squirmed, Moynihan did what America’s finest ambassadors do best: tell the simple truth. In language highly unusual for an American diplomat, he said of Amin: “[I]t’s no accident, I fear, that this ‘racist murderer’—as one of our leading newspapers called him this morning—is head of the Organization of African Unity.” (That newspaper, by the way, was the New York Times. Imagine them calling Robert Mugabe a “racist murderer” today). Moynihan was forced out after just eight months on the job.

Moynihan, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, got his job because of an article he wrote for COMMENTARY. “The United States in Opposition,” published March 1975, was a stirring petition to America’s diplomatic corps to realize that the so-called “Non-Aligned Movement” was anything but neutral in the Cold War, and that the United Nations had descended into a den of anti-American vitriol. America could use a man of Moynihan’s caliber this week, in the face of another dictator’s visit.

We miss you, Pat.

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Blaming the West (Again)

Last week, I wrote about one example of those who blame the West for Africa’s problems. I disputed the claim that the wide suspicion among many Africans about Western medicine can be laid at the feet of a handful of “Western medical miscreants.” This week brings another pertinent instance of this tired intellectual practice.

Over the past seven years, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has destroyed his once-prosperous country. Kicking white farmers off their land, he has turned a country that once exported food into one where most of the people are starving. Upon the death of COMMENTARY contributor Jeane Kirkpatrick last year, I wrote that the tragic trajectory of Zimbabwe from authoritarian to totalitarian rule proved her thesis on “Dictatorships & Double Standards” to be correct.

What does South Africa—which neighbors Zimbabwe and has absorbed millions of its refugees—have to say about this catastrophe? Nothing, according to the dictates of President Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy.” But now, according to a leaked South African government report, we find the true culprit in all of this mess: Great Britain.

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Last week, I wrote about one example of those who blame the West for Africa’s problems. I disputed the claim that the wide suspicion among many Africans about Western medicine can be laid at the feet of a handful of “Western medical miscreants.” This week brings another pertinent instance of this tired intellectual practice.

Over the past seven years, Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe has destroyed his once-prosperous country. Kicking white farmers off their land, he has turned a country that once exported food into one where most of the people are starving. Upon the death of COMMENTARY contributor Jeane Kirkpatrick last year, I wrote that the tragic trajectory of Zimbabwe from authoritarian to totalitarian rule proved her thesis on “Dictatorships & Double Standards” to be correct.

What does South Africa—which neighbors Zimbabwe and has absorbed millions of its refugees—have to say about this catastrophe? Nothing, according to the dictates of President Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy.” But now, according to a leaked South African government report, we find the true culprit in all of this mess: Great Britain.

“The most worrisome thing is that the UK continues to deny its role as the principal protagonist in the Zimbabwean issue and is persisting with its activities to isolate Zimbabwe,” the government document says. “None of the Western countries that have imposed the sanctions that are strangling Zimbabwe’s economy have shown any willingness to lift them.”

The Americans and the EU have actually been very willing to lift the sanctions—targeted on Mugabe and his cronies—and have made the conditions for removing sanctions abundantly clear: respect for the rule of law; an end to the violence against opposition activists; and the instituting of free and fair elections. The suffering of the Zimbabwean people can be laid at the feet of the Mugabe regime and those who abet him—namely, South Africa itself. And while South Africa blames Great Britain for Zimbabwe’s plight, a British coup to topple Mugabe ought not to be taken off the table.

Last week I referred to Mbeki’s AIDS policies as “murderous.” His active abetting of a genocide next door is no less horrific.

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Kristof’s Sick Column

A few months ago, before Nicholas Kristof’s appearance in the Tufts University Hillel’s “Moral Voices” lecture series, a Tufts student asked him to define his own “guiding moral doctrine.” The New York Times columnist was able to articulate only this in response: “I don’t think I have any sort of, you know, particularly unusual or even sophisticated moral doctrine.” Kristof proves this, abundantly, in his column today: “Cheney’s Long-Lost Twin.”

Kristof ponders: “Could Dick Cheney and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be twins separated at birth?” The suggestion that Cheney and Ahmadinejad are “jingoistic twins” is fatuous, absurd on its face, whatever you may think of the Vice President. But the real damage that rhetoric of this kind does is to obscure the evil that Ahmadinejad represents. Suppose that the very worst accusations—cronyism, power-grabbing, even the subversion of the Constitution—leveled against Cheney by his fieriest critics were true. It’s hard to see how they would rank alongside the actions of which Ahmadinejad makes no secret: plans for genocide, a millenarian nuclearization program, proud sponsorship of Hizballah, interference in Iraq, scoffing at the IAEA. (David Billet exposes more of Kristof’s fatuities here.)

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A few months ago, before Nicholas Kristof’s appearance in the Tufts University Hillel’s “Moral Voices” lecture series, a Tufts student asked him to define his own “guiding moral doctrine.” The New York Times columnist was able to articulate only this in response: “I don’t think I have any sort of, you know, particularly unusual or even sophisticated moral doctrine.” Kristof proves this, abundantly, in his column today: “Cheney’s Long-Lost Twin.”

Kristof ponders: “Could Dick Cheney and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be twins separated at birth?” The suggestion that Cheney and Ahmadinejad are “jingoistic twins” is fatuous, absurd on its face, whatever you may think of the Vice President. But the real damage that rhetoric of this kind does is to obscure the evil that Ahmadinejad represents. Suppose that the very worst accusations—cronyism, power-grabbing, even the subversion of the Constitution—leveled against Cheney by his fieriest critics were true. It’s hard to see how they would rank alongside the actions of which Ahmadinejad makes no secret: plans for genocide, a millenarian nuclearization program, proud sponsorship of Hizballah, interference in Iraq, scoffing at the IAEA. (David Billet exposes more of Kristof’s fatuities here.)

Kristof contends that, as “61 percent [of Iranians] oppose the current Iranian system of government,” America should not bomb Iran, “the most pro-American Muslim country in the region.” But the props of his argument actually suggest a conclusion opposite from the one he draws: removing Ahmadinejad from power would be a welcome intervention for brutalized Iranians. Leaving the threat of a nuclear Islamic republic aside for a moment, one would think that Kristof, so concerned about the genocide in Sudan, would be in favor of removing Iran’s “wipe-Israel-off-the-map” president, and the regime that is the biggest sponsor of terror in the state system.

In a sorry irony, Kristof cites, as source of this wisdom, Gary Sick of Columbia University, perhaps the last man whose advice our country should heed. Sick oversaw Iranian affairs on Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council. Together with Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Sick presided over the worst blunder in American postwar foreign policy: our inaction in the face of the fall of the Shah, and his replacement by revolutionary Islamists. As Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote in “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” “the Carter administration not only failed to prevent the undesired outcome, it actively collaborated in the replacement of moderate autocrats friendly to American interests with less friendly autocrats of extremist persuasion.”

And this is Kristof’s sage?

COMMENTARY research assistant Daniel Halper collaborated on this post.

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Clark the Peacemaker

No one ever described the post-Vietnam Democratic party better than the late Jeane Kirkpatrick when she said “they always blame American first.”

In the 1990’s, President Bill Clinton nudged the Democrats toward rediscovering their patriotism. But when Clinton left office, the blame-America-firsters came roaring back, reasserting their grip on the party by mobilizing in the 2006 primary to oust the Democratic hawk, Senator Joseph Lieberman. (Lieberman went on to win re-election as an independent.)

With the power of the party’s antiwar wing so vividly displayed, the aspirants for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination have all been running to the Left. Out of the pack a surprising dark horse has taken an early lead in the blaming-America sweepstakes: General Wesley Clark. In a message on the website of his PAC, Clark declares: “For three years, the Bush administration has hectored and threatened Iran and Syria, and unsurprisingly, they have both worked continuously to feed the fighting in Iraq.”

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No one ever described the post-Vietnam Democratic party better than the late Jeane Kirkpatrick when she said “they always blame American first.”

In the 1990’s, President Bill Clinton nudged the Democrats toward rediscovering their patriotism. But when Clinton left office, the blame-America-firsters came roaring back, reasserting their grip on the party by mobilizing in the 2006 primary to oust the Democratic hawk, Senator Joseph Lieberman. (Lieberman went on to win re-election as an independent.)

With the power of the party’s antiwar wing so vividly displayed, the aspirants for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination have all been running to the Left. Out of the pack a surprising dark horse has taken an early lead in the blaming-America sweepstakes: General Wesley Clark. In a message on the website of his PAC, Clark declares: “For three years, the Bush administration has hectored and threatened Iran and Syria, and unsurprisingly, they have both worked continuously to feed the fighting in Iraq.”

Then he adds, on the self-described “left/progressive/liberal” blog DailyKos, that “since 9/11 the Iranians have tried on several occasions to open a dialogue with the United States.” But “the Bush administration would have none of it, and branded Iran a member of the Axis of Evil.”

Complaining that Bush is “ratcheting up the pressure on Iran,” the soldier-turned-peacenik sermonizes: “The United States can do better than this.” He elaborates: “while the latest actions against Iran’s banking system show the sharp stick of U.S. power, the potential carrots are enormous, too,” because as “a proud nation,” Iran cannot “ignore a more hopeful vision of its future.” Contrary to Bush’s hectoring approach, the U.S. should “work to establish a sustained dialogue, and seek to benefit the people of Iran and the region.” He asks rhetorically: “Could not such a dialogue . . . begin a process that could, over time, help realign hardened attitudes and polarizing views within the region?”

Clark did not wait to become commander-in-chief to try out this approach. In 1994, the nemesis with which America was girding for conflict was the so-called Bosnian Serb Republic, which for two years had been raining war on Bosnia’s civilian Muslim population. Clark was an official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ignoring State Department objections, Clark traveled at his own initiative to “Republika Serpska” for a tête-à-tête with General Ratko Mladic, the commander of Bosnian Serb forces who, as early as 1992, had already been labeled a war criminal by then-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

Clark was not there to take Mladic’s measure but rather, as his actions made clear, to “realign hardened attitudes.” He yukked it up with Mladic: the pair mugged for news cameras wearing one another’s uniform caps. “Like cavorting with Hermann Goering,” said one disgusted U.S. official to the Washington Post. Clark accepted gifts from Mladic of a bottle of brandy and an inscribed pistol. Since the inscription was in Cyrillic, it might as well have said “ethnic cleanser,” for all Clark knew.

Less than one year later, Mladic personally planned and directed the massacre of some 7,000 to 10,000 bound Serbs at Srebrenica, for which he has been indicted. But what do you expect, considering that Eagleburger had already called Mladic names, just as Bush has called Iran names, and we had ratcheted up the military pressure on Republika Serpska rather than continuing the courtship that Clark had initiated? So who is really to blame for Srebrenica? Look in the mirror, America. Then vote for Wes Clark.

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