Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jose Maria Aznar

There Is a Moral Void in the Oval Office

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

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True Friends of Israel

As we have noted, a new organization, the Friends of Israel Initiative, headed by former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar has been formed to combat efforts to delegitimize Israel and to make the positive case for why Israel is critical to the West. In a remarkable speech that should be read in full, Aznar explained:

Israel is under a new kind of attack. Not conventional war as in 1948, 56, 67 or 73. Not terrorism as we saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But a new kind of attack — an attack on Israel’s legitimacy, on her right to exist. A “soft-war,” where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGO’s to present internationally Israel as an illegitimate state, as a barbarian State, a State that should be isolated and converted into a pariah State.

We think this is intolerable. It is unjust, morally wrong, and a strategic risk — not only for Israel and its people — but for all of us. Israel is an integral part of the West, and the weaker it is, the weaker the entire West will be perceived to be.

He succinctly explains why we cannot let Israel — in other words, the Zionist undertaking — fail:

We want to stand up for the right of Israel to exist. Judeo-Christian values form the roots of our civilization. Delegitimizing Israel undermines our identity, warps our values and put at risk what we are and who we are.

So, dear friends, it is not only the threat that if Israel goes down, which, make no mistake, many of its enemies would like to see happen, we all go down. It is that letting Israel be demonized will lead to the delegitimation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.

That is the case that is too infrequently made. The Obami posit, in essence, that we are doing Israel a favor by offering our support, at great risk to ourselves. In fact, not only is Israel a valued ally, but the Jewish state is also crucial to us.

Perhaps Congress, becoming more daring in its defiance of a failing presidency, can help in this regard. In Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)  and Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) have introduced a resolution H.Con Res. 315:

“Recognizing the formation and supporting the objectives of the Friends of Israel Initiative.” It calls on Congress to recognize the formation of the Initiative, to affirm its goals as laid down in its mission statement as well as reaffirming Congress’s “enduring bipartisan support” for the US-Israeli relationship and for Israel’s right to exist as a secure and democratic Jewish state.

Sadly, this is very much needed because we have an administration that takes for granted — or abuses — our democratic ally. Caterwauling over a nonexistent wave of Islamophobia has distracted and befuddled the media (more so than usual). It is critical to redirect the public discussion and remind governments and their citizens what Israel stands for, why our relationship is essential, and why the notion of distancing ourselves from the Jewish state essentially means divorcing ourselves from the values at the core of Western civilization. The Friends of Israel couldn’t have stepped forward at a more opportune moment.

As we have noted, a new organization, the Friends of Israel Initiative, headed by former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar has been formed to combat efforts to delegitimize Israel and to make the positive case for why Israel is critical to the West. In a remarkable speech that should be read in full, Aznar explained:

Israel is under a new kind of attack. Not conventional war as in 1948, 56, 67 or 73. Not terrorism as we saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But a new kind of attack — an attack on Israel’s legitimacy, on her right to exist. A “soft-war,” where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGO’s to present internationally Israel as an illegitimate state, as a barbarian State, a State that should be isolated and converted into a pariah State.

We think this is intolerable. It is unjust, morally wrong, and a strategic risk — not only for Israel and its people — but for all of us. Israel is an integral part of the West, and the weaker it is, the weaker the entire West will be perceived to be.

He succinctly explains why we cannot let Israel — in other words, the Zionist undertaking — fail:

We want to stand up for the right of Israel to exist. Judeo-Christian values form the roots of our civilization. Delegitimizing Israel undermines our identity, warps our values and put at risk what we are and who we are.

So, dear friends, it is not only the threat that if Israel goes down, which, make no mistake, many of its enemies would like to see happen, we all go down. It is that letting Israel be demonized will lead to the delegitimation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.

That is the case that is too infrequently made. The Obami posit, in essence, that we are doing Israel a favor by offering our support, at great risk to ourselves. In fact, not only is Israel a valued ally, but the Jewish state is also crucial to us.

Perhaps Congress, becoming more daring in its defiance of a failing presidency, can help in this regard. In Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.)  and Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) have introduced a resolution H.Con Res. 315:

“Recognizing the formation and supporting the objectives of the Friends of Israel Initiative.” It calls on Congress to recognize the formation of the Initiative, to affirm its goals as laid down in its mission statement as well as reaffirming Congress’s “enduring bipartisan support” for the US-Israeli relationship and for Israel’s right to exist as a secure and democratic Jewish state.

Sadly, this is very much needed because we have an administration that takes for granted — or abuses — our democratic ally. Caterwauling over a nonexistent wave of Islamophobia has distracted and befuddled the media (more so than usual). It is critical to redirect the public discussion and remind governments and their citizens what Israel stands for, why our relationship is essential, and why the notion of distancing ourselves from the Jewish state essentially means divorcing ourselves from the values at the core of Western civilization. The Friends of Israel couldn’t have stepped forward at a more opportune moment.

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An Alternative to the Insiders’ Game

There is reason to despair when reviewing the performance of mainstream Jewish groups over the past 18 months. Their leaders and members are troubled and angry over Obama’s assault on Israel, and they are waking to the realization that there is no game plan that will thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. Nevertheless, they can’t bear to break with the president, whom so many worked so arduously to elect (and to convince others he was truly Israel’s friend). They have been unable to break free of their business-as-usual approach to U.S. policymakers – don’t openly challenge those in power, seek the broadest support for what inevitably becomes mushy affirmations of pro-Israel sentiments, and cling to the notion that by their “behind-the-scenes” dealings and cozy White House meetings they are doing their job and promoting a healthy U.S.-Israel relationship.

What they seem to be missing — or can’t bear to come to terms with — is that the insiders’ game only works when it is essentially unneeded. When the White House is pro-Israel, and when lawmakers are disposed to maintain bipartisan funding and support for Israel, all that is required is to pat the friendly incumbents on the back and call out the few antagonistic voices. But that situation is a distant memory in the Obama era. So it should not be surprising that their strategy has been an abysmal failure and that these groups seem more farcical and less relevant with each new Obama attack on Israel.

Now, there is another approach – one better suited to the urgent times in which we find ourselves and that is appropriate in the face of an administration hostile to the Jewish state. Take a look at the Friends of Israel Initiative and its impressive statement of convictions. (The signatories include José María Aznar, prime minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004; George Weigel; and COMMENTARY contributors John Bolton and Andrew Roberts.) The statement begins:

1. Israel is a Western country. With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.

2. Israel´s right to exist should not be questioned. In the face of a uniquely campaign of deligitimation, we remind all people of goodwill of the true historical context in which the State of Israel was re-established following United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947. We state emphatically that that decision to recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination was not merely a gesture of compassion following the horrors that had befallen the Jewish people during the Holocaust. It was, above all, a recognition of the right of the Jewish people to establish a sovereign state on land in which they have had an enduring presence and to which they have had a historical claim for thousands of years.

The third is particularly noteworthy:

3. Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to self-defense. Israel is indeed a normal Western country, but it is one which faces unique threats and challenges. Israel is the only state in the world forced to fight one war after another to secure its very existence. Confronting some of the most violent and well equipped terrorist groups in the world it is also the only country whose right to self-defense is consistently and widely questioned. Today, Israel has been forced to fight on two fronts: one to defend its borders and another to defend its legitimacy. We stand with Israel, and demand that it be accorded the same legitimacy and the same right to defend itself as any other Western country. Human rights statutes designed to defend the dignity of people everywhere, laws on universal jurisdiction intended to be used against criminals and tyrants and international bodies established to secure justice, have been subverted, their guiding principles stood on their head, to wage war against Israeli democracy. The campaign against Israel is corroding the international system from within.

It is essential, given the Obama administration’s false pledges of devotion and the “tough” love (minus the love) emanating from “liberal Zionists,” to restate what it means to be “pro-Israel” and what essential task that entails: those in power have to be held accountable for their actions, not their self-described feelings toward Israel. To the extent that mainstream Jewish groups are failing to do so, they are camouflaging the problem (namely, the shift in U.S. policy away from Israel) and providing cover for those whose policies are antithetical to the survival of the Jewish state and a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.  For fear of annoying Obama and losing their precious access to the inner sanctums of policymakers, they do damage to their own credibility and the goals of their own organizations. That creates an opening for groups like the Friends of Israel Initiative.

There is reason to despair when reviewing the performance of mainstream Jewish groups over the past 18 months. Their leaders and members are troubled and angry over Obama’s assault on Israel, and they are waking to the realization that there is no game plan that will thwart the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. Nevertheless, they can’t bear to break with the president, whom so many worked so arduously to elect (and to convince others he was truly Israel’s friend). They have been unable to break free of their business-as-usual approach to U.S. policymakers – don’t openly challenge those in power, seek the broadest support for what inevitably becomes mushy affirmations of pro-Israel sentiments, and cling to the notion that by their “behind-the-scenes” dealings and cozy White House meetings they are doing their job and promoting a healthy U.S.-Israel relationship.

What they seem to be missing — or can’t bear to come to terms with — is that the insiders’ game only works when it is essentially unneeded. When the White House is pro-Israel, and when lawmakers are disposed to maintain bipartisan funding and support for Israel, all that is required is to pat the friendly incumbents on the back and call out the few antagonistic voices. But that situation is a distant memory in the Obama era. So it should not be surprising that their strategy has been an abysmal failure and that these groups seem more farcical and less relevant with each new Obama attack on Israel.

Now, there is another approach – one better suited to the urgent times in which we find ourselves and that is appropriate in the face of an administration hostile to the Jewish state. Take a look at the Friends of Israel Initiative and its impressive statement of convictions. (The signatories include José María Aznar, prime minister of Spain from 1996 to 2004; George Weigel; and COMMENTARY contributors John Bolton and Andrew Roberts.) The statement begins:

1. Israel is a Western country. With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.

2. Israel´s right to exist should not be questioned. In the face of a uniquely campaign of deligitimation, we remind all people of goodwill of the true historical context in which the State of Israel was re-established following United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947. We state emphatically that that decision to recognize the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination was not merely a gesture of compassion following the horrors that had befallen the Jewish people during the Holocaust. It was, above all, a recognition of the right of the Jewish people to establish a sovereign state on land in which they have had an enduring presence and to which they have had a historical claim for thousands of years.

The third is particularly noteworthy:

3. Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to self-defense. Israel is indeed a normal Western country, but it is one which faces unique threats and challenges. Israel is the only state in the world forced to fight one war after another to secure its very existence. Confronting some of the most violent and well equipped terrorist groups in the world it is also the only country whose right to self-defense is consistently and widely questioned. Today, Israel has been forced to fight on two fronts: one to defend its borders and another to defend its legitimacy. We stand with Israel, and demand that it be accorded the same legitimacy and the same right to defend itself as any other Western country. Human rights statutes designed to defend the dignity of people everywhere, laws on universal jurisdiction intended to be used against criminals and tyrants and international bodies established to secure justice, have been subverted, their guiding principles stood on their head, to wage war against Israeli democracy. The campaign against Israel is corroding the international system from within.

It is essential, given the Obama administration’s false pledges of devotion and the “tough” love (minus the love) emanating from “liberal Zionists,” to restate what it means to be “pro-Israel” and what essential task that entails: those in power have to be held accountable for their actions, not their self-described feelings toward Israel. To the extent that mainstream Jewish groups are failing to do so, they are camouflaging the problem (namely, the shift in U.S. policy away from Israel) and providing cover for those whose policies are antithetical to the survival of the Jewish state and a robust U.S.-Israel relationship.  For fear of annoying Obama and losing their precious access to the inner sanctums of policymakers, they do damage to their own credibility and the goals of their own organizations. That creates an opening for groups like the Friends of Israel Initiative.

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The Irish and the Flotilla Inquiry

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

The addition of Lord David Trimble, the former Northern Irish Unionist leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for helping end the conflict in that province, to the Israeli commission investigating the Gaza flotilla controversy appears to illustrate the fault lines that have developed in Europe, and especially in Ireland, about the Middle East. As Robert Mackey writes in the New York Times blog, the Lede, Trimble’s inclusion in the inquiry has been greeted with dismay in Ireland because the country appears to be a stronghold for anti-Israel sentiment.

Part of the problem is that Trimble recently joined with other major figures including former American UN ambassador John Bolton and British historian Andrew Roberts (both COMMENTARY contributors) and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in a group that seeks to defend Israel’s right to exist within defensible borders. That articulating such a stand is considered controversial speaks volumes about just how virulent the spirit of anti-Zionism is in Europe. Regarding Ireland, Mackey quotes some commentators who allude to a tradition of support for Israel on the part of Ulster Protestants while Catholics in the North as well as in the Irish Republic in the South appear to favor the Palestinians. Ireland, the place where the term boycott was coined during the struggle against the British, has seen a number of attempts to stigmatize Israel and even, in a bit of historical irony, the boycotting of Israeli potatoes.

Why is this so? Last week Senator Feargal Quinn, an Independent and the lone supporter of Israel in the Irish Senate, told the BBC that Irish anti-Semitism was a major factor behind the anti-Israel incitement that has become standard fare in his country.

But the explanation also has to do with the fact that in the postwar era, Irish insurgents came to see themselves as part of a global Marxist revolutionary camp rather than as part of a Western revolutionary tradition that looked to America as its model. Indeed, a representative of Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group that laid down its arms as a result of the peace that Trimble helped forge, denounced Trimble’s participation in what they assumed would be a whitewash of international piracy.

Ironically, there was a time when Jews who were fighting the British to create a Jewish state in Palestine looked to Ireland for examples of how to fight for freedom. Menachem Begin, who led the pre-state Irgun underground for decades before becoming Israel’s prime minister, specifically took the IRA (the version that fought the British on behalf of a democratically-elected Irish Parliament, not the Marxist version) as his role model. Indeed, another Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, took the name “Michael” as his code name during his time in the anti-British underground in honor of Michael Collins.

And therein hangs the difference between Ireland’s struggle and that of the Palestinians.

Michael Collins, who led the IRA against the Brits during the 1918-1922 “Black and Tan War,” accepted partition of the country as the price of peace and Irish independence in the South. He paid for this with his life when IRA extremists assassinated him. But the peace he made stood the test of time. By contrast, the Palestinians, who are cheered in the Irish Republic, whose independence was bought with Collins’s blood, have consistently refused to accept a partition of the country or to make peace with Israel under any circumstances. Unlike Irish nationalists, who didn’t want to destroy Britain but just wanted to make it leave Ireland, the Palestinians are not fighting so much for their own independence (which they could have had at any time in the last 63 years, had they wanted it) but to eradicate Israel. It’s sad that the Irish identification with the Palestinian “underdog” has left the Irish indifferent to the rights of another people — the Jews — who, like the Irish, sought to revive their ancient culture, language, and identity, while living in freedom in their homeland.

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Spain’s Failed Pacificism

On the morning of March 11, 2004, Islamists detonated 10 bombs on commuter trains in a Madrid train station killing 191 people. The Spanish electorate thought the attack a direct result of their country’s involvement in the Iraq war, and, three days later, voted out Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Aznar was a tremendous ally of the U.S. and one of the few European leaders to call Islamism out as the fascistic threat that it is. The Spanish voted in the Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez, who announced immediately that Spain would withdraw her 1,300 troops fighting in Iraq.

From an Associated Press report two hours ago:

Spanish police have asked the National Court for more time to question 14 suspected Islamic militants detained on suspicion of planning a terror attack in Barcelona, a court spokeswoman said Monday.

[…]

The suspects — 12 Pakistanis and two Indian nationals — were arrested in Barcelona’s Raval neighborhood, home to many Arabic-speaking and Muslim immigrants.

Three years after the Madrid bombing, and the Spanish attempt at pacification, jihad lives on in Spain. This should surprise no one, as jihadists consider Spain a crucial lost chunk of the Islamic caliphate. The Iraq war hasn’t a thing to do with this centuries-old gripe.

On the morning of March 11, 2004, Islamists detonated 10 bombs on commuter trains in a Madrid train station killing 191 people. The Spanish electorate thought the attack a direct result of their country’s involvement in the Iraq war, and, three days later, voted out Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Aznar was a tremendous ally of the U.S. and one of the few European leaders to call Islamism out as the fascistic threat that it is. The Spanish voted in the Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez, who announced immediately that Spain would withdraw her 1,300 troops fighting in Iraq.

From an Associated Press report two hours ago:

Spanish police have asked the National Court for more time to question 14 suspected Islamic militants detained on suspicion of planning a terror attack in Barcelona, a court spokeswoman said Monday.

[…]

The suspects — 12 Pakistanis and two Indian nationals — were arrested in Barcelona’s Raval neighborhood, home to many Arabic-speaking and Muslim immigrants.

Three years after the Madrid bombing, and the Spanish attempt at pacification, jihad lives on in Spain. This should surprise no one, as jihadists consider Spain a crucial lost chunk of the Islamic caliphate. The Iraq war hasn’t a thing to do with this centuries-old gripe.

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Shutting Chavez Up

Let’s have a round of applause for Spain’s King Juan Carlos. Yesterday, during the last working session of the XVII Iberoamerican Summit in Santiago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar “a fascist.” “Fascists are not human,” Chavez declared. “A snake is more human.”

Spain’s current prime minister, socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, began a dignified response when the Venezuelan repeatedly tried to interrupt him. The King then lost his patience with Chavez and snapped, “Why don’t you shut up?”

Diplomacy is almost always a matter of nuance and inflection. Sometimes, however, we just need to use plain words. Chavez has no trouble telling us what’s on his mind. It’s high time that Western leaders tell him what’s on theirs. Short of slapping the Venezuelan bully upside the head, words are our best weapon to put him in his place. And while we’re at it, let’s also belittle the world’s other autocrats when we have the opportunity. The West’s high-minded language of the last decade has only legitimized a whole new crew of despots.

In the meantime, I hope King Juan Carlos will give Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe a piece of his mind as well. Why stop with Chavez?

Let’s have a round of applause for Spain’s King Juan Carlos. Yesterday, during the last working session of the XVII Iberoamerican Summit in Santiago, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar “a fascist.” “Fascists are not human,” Chavez declared. “A snake is more human.”

Spain’s current prime minister, socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, began a dignified response when the Venezuelan repeatedly tried to interrupt him. The King then lost his patience with Chavez and snapped, “Why don’t you shut up?”

Diplomacy is almost always a matter of nuance and inflection. Sometimes, however, we just need to use plain words. Chavez has no trouble telling us what’s on his mind. It’s high time that Western leaders tell him what’s on theirs. Short of slapping the Venezuelan bully upside the head, words are our best weapon to put him in his place. And while we’re at it, let’s also belittle the world’s other autocrats when we have the opportunity. The West’s high-minded language of the last decade has only legitimized a whole new crew of despots.

In the meantime, I hope King Juan Carlos will give Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe a piece of his mind as well. Why stop with Chavez?

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Who Are the True Jihadists?

The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

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The exact meaning of jihad is not a new question. It came up, unsurprisingly, at the Conference on Democracy and Security organized by Natan Sharansky, Václav Havel, and José Maria Aznar in Prague last week (about which Joshua Muravchik has been blogging).

Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, was in the middle of a rousing speech about the mystique of democracy. He warned of the danger to democracies posed by jihadists, who abuse its freedoms to subvert democratic institutions. Up rose Sami Angawi, director general of the Amar Center in Saudi Arabia, to protest: “I am a jihadist!” Angawi explained how, as a Muslim, he saw his struggle for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Saudi Arabia as a jihad.

I listened to Angawi develop his point: that jihad is too important a concept for it to be the exclusive property of Islamists, and that it needs to be recaptured and decontaminated by moderate and secular Muslims. I felt real sympathy for Angawi—and not only because he stopped me from walking in front of a Prague streetcar. But there is, depite the best efforts of reformers like Angawi, little likelihood that jihad will lose its ominous connotations for non-Muslims any time soon.

The concept is freighted with memories that go back 1,400 years, to the earliest days of Islam. Whether moderate Muslims like it or not, jihad has a history that extends from Muhammad’s farewell address in 632 (“I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah’”) to Osama bin Laden’s deliberate echo of his words in November 2001. The proclamations of jihad against the West that we have witnessed since the Islamic revolution in Iran are not very different from those of Muslim conquerors throughout history (several of whom came close to fulfilling those proclamations).

Nor, it should be noted, does the fact that some of the Islamic warriors of the past were admired for their chivalry (rather than abhorred for their cruelty, as the Islamists of today are) mean that their concept of jihad was any less warlike and apocalyptic. In 1189, Saladin, the great antagonist of Richard Coeur de Lion, threatened to pursue his jihad across the sea to Europe “until there remains no-one on the face of the earth who does not acknowledge Allah.”

Ignác Goldziher, the Hungarian Jew who pioneered modern Islamic scholarship, began in the late 19th century the long effort by Western orientalists to reinterpret the meaning of jihad—an effort ongoing more or less ever since. But the paucity and insularity of Islamic hermeneutics means that no new interpretation of jihad is likely to gain acceptance in the dominant theological schools of Cairo and Mecca. The Wahhabi interpretation of jihad, which deliberately overlooks the prophetic injunction to practice “greater jihad” (peaceful struggle) as well as “lesser jihad” (war against the infidel), is hugely dominant among them, and will remain so. For these scholars, marooned in the 7th century, war against the infidel is not only legitimate, but laudable and even obligatory—however unholy such war may be in the eyes of more moderate Muslims.

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The Conference on Democracy and Security

With the U.S. military effort in Iraq having bogged down, with Islamists winning elections in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, with the rebirth of democracy in Lebanon thwarted by Syrian and Iranian intervention, the momentum of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, which had flowed high in the “Arab spring” of 2005, has ebbed. The Conference on Democracy and Security, which met in Prague June 4-6, grew out of former Soviet dissident and leading Israeli intellectual Natan Sharansky’s sense of the need to reinvigorate the Bush administration’s flagging project of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Sharansky found the ideal co-convener of the conference in Vaclav Havel. The former Czech president and the circle of one-time dissidents close to him (such as deputy prime minister Sacha Vondra and the Czech ambassador to Israel Michael Zantovsky) have demonstrated an unflagging and unparalleled dedication to the cause of freedom in the eighteen years since they won their own. They have, for example, set up a committee to monitor Beijing’s human-rights record during the 2008 Olympics and have had their diplomats succor dissidents in Cuba. In addition to their unusual dedication to principle, these Czech freedom-fighters keep a wary eye on Russia, where Vladimir Putin’s success in restoring dictatorship and a bullying foreign policy has put all of the former subject states of the Soviet empire on the qui vive.

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With the U.S. military effort in Iraq having bogged down, with Islamists winning elections in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, with the rebirth of democracy in Lebanon thwarted by Syrian and Iranian intervention, the momentum of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, which had flowed high in the “Arab spring” of 2005, has ebbed. The Conference on Democracy and Security, which met in Prague June 4-6, grew out of former Soviet dissident and leading Israeli intellectual Natan Sharansky’s sense of the need to reinvigorate the Bush administration’s flagging project of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Sharansky found the ideal co-convener of the conference in Vaclav Havel. The former Czech president and the circle of one-time dissidents close to him (such as deputy prime minister Sacha Vondra and the Czech ambassador to Israel Michael Zantovsky) have demonstrated an unflagging and unparalleled dedication to the cause of freedom in the eighteen years since they won their own. They have, for example, set up a committee to monitor Beijing’s human-rights record during the 2008 Olympics and have had their diplomats succor dissidents in Cuba. In addition to their unusual dedication to principle, these Czech freedom-fighters keep a wary eye on Russia, where Vladimir Putin’s success in restoring dictatorship and a bullying foreign policy has put all of the former subject states of the Soviet empire on the qui vive.

Spain’s former prime minister Jose Maria Aznar joined as a third sponsor of the conclave. Aznar, who lost his post in 2004 when Spanish voters succumbed to al Qaeda’s intimidation, has remained a steadfast friend of the U.S. despite the strong European trend to the contrary. (Although this trend will now perhaps change, with the ascents of Merkel and Sarkozy.)

President Bush delivered an outstanding keynote speech, notable for several reasons:

1) It was as forceful a statement of commitment to the global democratic cause as one could imagine from an elected leader, dispelling any idea of second thoughts and signaling his determination to soldier on as long as he is in office. “The most powerful weapon in the struggle against extremism is not bullets or bombs, it is the universal appeal of freedom,” Bush said. He then added a lovely line that may live on in the annals of presidential oratory: “Freedom is the design of our Maker, and the longing of every human soul.”

2) Bush’s delivery was smooth, well-paced, and confident, suggesting perhaps how comfortable he was with his audience and his subject. Not only did he avoid his trademark malapropisms, he even did a workmanlike job of pronouncing the names of Arab and eastern European dissidents.

3) In addition to its moving rhetoric, the speech contained a notable action point. The President said he had “asked Secretary Rice to send a directive to every U.S. ambassador in an unfree nation: seek out and meet with activists for democracy [and] those who demand human rights.”

4) In rattling off the names of five “dissidents who couldn’t join us because they are being unjustly imprisoned or held,” Bush mentioned figures in Belarus, Burma, Cuba, and Vietnam, all of which are easy to talk about. Then he named a tough one: Ayman Nour, the Egyptian presidential candidate currently languishing in jail. No country has been seen as more of a weather vane of U.S. determination about democracy promotion than Egypt, where Washington has so many other diplomatic interests. During Secretary Rice’s last visit to Egypt, her failure to mention Nour was widely read as a sign of American retreat. But if retreat it is, the Commander in Chief apparently hasn’t gotten the message.

Tomorrow, I’ll report on some of the other highlights of the conference.

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Weekend Reading

On Monday, an international conference will open in Prague, headed jointly by the former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, former President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel, and former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. The Conference on Democracy and Security will play host to reformers, dissidents, and democracy activists from every quarter of the world, as well as political leaders including President George W. Bush. Its purpose is to provide a voice for global democracy—something COMMENTARY has been doing for decades. On the eve of the conference, we offer a number of items from our archives on the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights worldwide.

Defending and Advancing Freedom: A Symposium
November 2005

Life, Liberty, Property
Richard Pipes – March 1999

Democracy for Everyone?
Peter L. Berger – September 1983

Human Rights and American Foreign Policy: A Symposium
November 1981

Dictatorships and Double Standards
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick – November 1979

On Monday, an international conference will open in Prague, headed jointly by the former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, former President of the Czech Republic Václav Havel, and former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. The Conference on Democracy and Security will play host to reformers, dissidents, and democracy activists from every quarter of the world, as well as political leaders including President George W. Bush. Its purpose is to provide a voice for global democracy—something COMMENTARY has been doing for decades. On the eve of the conference, we offer a number of items from our archives on the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights worldwide.

Defending and Advancing Freedom: A Symposium
November 2005

Life, Liberty, Property
Richard Pipes – March 1999

Democracy for Everyone?
Peter L. Berger – September 1983

Human Rights and American Foreign Policy: A Symposium
November 1981

Dictatorships and Double Standards
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick – November 1979

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