Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kai Bird

A Free Pass for Iran Terror and Nukes

The 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon is back in the news today due to revelations made in a new book that alleges that one of the Iranian architects of that atrocity is currently living in the United States under the protection of the C.I.A. If true, the tale seems taken straight out of the Homeland television series in which an Iranian operative who was “flipped” by the CIA is one of the heroes of the show. The possibility that the person that is responsible for the deaths of 63 people, including 17 Americans (eight of them CIA officers) is enjoying the good life on the tab of the taxpayers will, no doubt, infuriate the families of the slain and others who will not understand that such defections are merely part of the great game of spying in which the U.S. must often throw morality and ethics out the window in order to combat the Islamist war on the real homeland.

But the main problem with the tradeoff here examined in a New York Times feature published today is not the attempt to balance the needs of U.S. intelligence to find out everything it can about current Iranian activity, including both terrorism and its nuclear-weapons program, against the demands of justice. While defining the moral calculus by which a murderer such as Ali Reza Asgari, the Iranian who committed that act of terrorism, is welcomed to the U.S. in order to thwart its nuclear ambitions is difficult, it is at least a problem in which the government is seeking the lesser of two evils. But the real dilemma here is not the unfortunate necessity to choose between justice and safety. It lies in the fact that while Asgari remains in the U.S. without having to answer for his crime, the same administration that protects him is pursuing a policy that is neither working to make the Iranian state pay for its continued sponsorship of terrorism or stopping its nuclear project.

Read More

The 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon is back in the news today due to revelations made in a new book that alleges that one of the Iranian architects of that atrocity is currently living in the United States under the protection of the C.I.A. If true, the tale seems taken straight out of the Homeland television series in which an Iranian operative who was “flipped” by the CIA is one of the heroes of the show. The possibility that the person that is responsible for the deaths of 63 people, including 17 Americans (eight of them CIA officers) is enjoying the good life on the tab of the taxpayers will, no doubt, infuriate the families of the slain and others who will not understand that such defections are merely part of the great game of spying in which the U.S. must often throw morality and ethics out the window in order to combat the Islamist war on the real homeland.

But the main problem with the tradeoff here examined in a New York Times feature published today is not the attempt to balance the needs of U.S. intelligence to find out everything it can about current Iranian activity, including both terrorism and its nuclear-weapons program, against the demands of justice. While defining the moral calculus by which a murderer such as Ali Reza Asgari, the Iranian who committed that act of terrorism, is welcomed to the U.S. in order to thwart its nuclear ambitions is difficult, it is at least a problem in which the government is seeking the lesser of two evils. But the real dilemma here is not the unfortunate necessity to choose between justice and safety. It lies in the fact that while Asgari remains in the U.S. without having to answer for his crime, the same administration that protects him is pursuing a policy that is neither working to make the Iranian state pay for its continued sponsorship of terrorism or stopping its nuclear project.

The revelations come in a new book by journalist Kai Bird about Robert Ames, the CIA Lebanon Station chief who was killed in the bombing. Kai, a lifelong critic of Israel whose last book was a memoir of his experiences as the child of a U.S. diplomat unsympathetic to the Jewish state’s early struggles for survival, reveals in his new book that Ames developed a strong friendship with the intelligence chief of the PLO during a period when the U.S. rightly branded the Palestinian organization as a terrorist group. But in the course of his research about Ames’s activities in the Middle East, Kai uncovered the fact that in 2007 the Bush administration granted asylum to Asgari in exchange for information about Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. As the Times notes, that information has since been superseded by subsequent revelations about another nuclear plant that is in a hardened mountainside bunker. But if Asgari, who may no longer still be in the United States, did tell his CIA interrogators everything he knew about Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism, the Americans got a treasure trove of vital information about one of the nation’s most dangerous foes in exchange for giving this killer a pass for his crimes.

But though the Bush administration’s approach to stopping Iran was inconsistent and largely resulted in kicking the can down the road for the next administration to handle, they at least never granted Tehran recognition of its “right” to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel as the Obama administration did with its weak interim nuclear deal signed last November. While the latest round of talks with the Iranians did not result in an agreement, there appears to be no doubt that the U.S. is seeking a deal in which Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and its stockpile of uranium (which can be easily reactivated to a dangerous state) will stay in place. The Iranians reportedly laughed at Western attempts to include its ballistic missile production in the negotiations and are also not likely to be asked to stop supporting terror in the agreement.

The point here is not so much whether the U.S. was right to give Asgari a “get-out-of-jail free card because of the Iran nuclear issue,” as a lawyer for the families of the embassy bombing victims asserts. It is, rather, that after giving him such a card, the Obama administration has pursued policies that will give the regime he left the same impunity. While Asgari’s escape from justice is troubling, the real scandal is the pass Obama may be about to give his former bosses.

Read Less

The Lessons of 1956: Nostalgia for a Betrayal of Israel

If you want an object lesson as to where contemporary Israel-bashing in the United States is headed, you can do no better than read an article published today in the Daily Beast by Kai Bird, the former Nation staffer, MacArthur Foundation “genius,” and Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The title, “Time to Talk Tough with Israel,” promises the familiar tiresome refrain about how America must slap the Israelis around for their own good and doesn’t disappoint. But Bird’s frame of reference isn’t just the usual slander about AIPAC running American foreign policy. Instead, he writes from the perspective of an important event in his childhood: the 1956 Sinai campaign, which took place while Bird’s father was serving in the American consulate in East Jerusalem. At that time, about half the city was illegally occupied by the Kingdom of Jordan. Jews were forbidden entry into the Old City, and Jewish holy places such as the Western Wall were abandoned and desecrated.

In 1956, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser massed  his army in the Sinai and allowed Palestinian terrorists to use Egyptian-occupied Gaza as a terrorist sanctuary. Acting in conjunction with Britain and France, who were angry about Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal, Israel cleaned out both Gaza and the Sinai, dealing a serious blow to Nasser’s aggressive ambitions. But the United States, which hadn’t been consulted, wound up backing Nasser against the former colonial powers and their Israeli ally. In the end Nasser wasn’t compelled to make peace with Israel. Instead, Israel was forced to withdraw from the Sinai. All it got in exchange was the presence of a United Nations observer force on the border.

Bird considers that American diktat as a model for our current diplomacy. Which is to say, he wants the United States to demand that Israel give up every inch it won in 1967, including East Jerusalem. If Israel refuses, Bird advocates “severe trade and financial sanctions.”

But let’s examine the results of Bird’s ideal moment in American diplomacy. What did President Eisenhower achieve in 1956? He saved the skin of a vicious Arab dictator who would use the rest of his career to keep fomenting violence in the Middle East. And he set the stage for the 1967 Six-Day War, which took place after Nasser marched his army back into the Sinai along Israel’s border, blockaded the southern Israeli port of Eilat, and then demanded — and got — the withdrawal of the UN force. Far from helping peace, America’s betrayal of Israel only guaranteed that another war would follow. That wasn’t tough love; it was a disaster for both countries.

Bird believes that a similar betrayal of Israel — this time by Barack Obama — will help “Israeli liberals” defeat Netanyahu and give a two-state solution a chance. But the reason those “liberals” were annihilated at the last Israeli election in February 2009 was because the Palestinians have conclusively demonstrated their lack of interest in peace. And no Israeli government of any political stripe will abandon the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

It takes a particular kind of chutzpah for a writer who seems to have fond memories of the days when those Jerusalem neighborhoods were Judenrein — “Jew-free” — to call for a return to a policy of American hostility to Israel to revive such a situation. But that is what passes for intelligent commentary in some publications.

If you want an object lesson as to where contemporary Israel-bashing in the United States is headed, you can do no better than read an article published today in the Daily Beast by Kai Bird, the former Nation staffer, MacArthur Foundation “genius,” and Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The title, “Time to Talk Tough with Israel,” promises the familiar tiresome refrain about how America must slap the Israelis around for their own good and doesn’t disappoint. But Bird’s frame of reference isn’t just the usual slander about AIPAC running American foreign policy. Instead, he writes from the perspective of an important event in his childhood: the 1956 Sinai campaign, which took place while Bird’s father was serving in the American consulate in East Jerusalem. At that time, about half the city was illegally occupied by the Kingdom of Jordan. Jews were forbidden entry into the Old City, and Jewish holy places such as the Western Wall were abandoned and desecrated.

In 1956, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser massed  his army in the Sinai and allowed Palestinian terrorists to use Egyptian-occupied Gaza as a terrorist sanctuary. Acting in conjunction with Britain and France, who were angry about Nasser’s seizure of the Suez Canal, Israel cleaned out both Gaza and the Sinai, dealing a serious blow to Nasser’s aggressive ambitions. But the United States, which hadn’t been consulted, wound up backing Nasser against the former colonial powers and their Israeli ally. In the end Nasser wasn’t compelled to make peace with Israel. Instead, Israel was forced to withdraw from the Sinai. All it got in exchange was the presence of a United Nations observer force on the border.

Bird considers that American diktat as a model for our current diplomacy. Which is to say, he wants the United States to demand that Israel give up every inch it won in 1967, including East Jerusalem. If Israel refuses, Bird advocates “severe trade and financial sanctions.”

But let’s examine the results of Bird’s ideal moment in American diplomacy. What did President Eisenhower achieve in 1956? He saved the skin of a vicious Arab dictator who would use the rest of his career to keep fomenting violence in the Middle East. And he set the stage for the 1967 Six-Day War, which took place after Nasser marched his army back into the Sinai along Israel’s border, blockaded the southern Israeli port of Eilat, and then demanded — and got — the withdrawal of the UN force. Far from helping peace, America’s betrayal of Israel only guaranteed that another war would follow. That wasn’t tough love; it was a disaster for both countries.

Bird believes that a similar betrayal of Israel — this time by Barack Obama — will help “Israeli liberals” defeat Netanyahu and give a two-state solution a chance. But the reason those “liberals” were annihilated at the last Israeli election in February 2009 was because the Palestinians have conclusively demonstrated their lack of interest in peace. And no Israeli government of any political stripe will abandon the Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

It takes a particular kind of chutzpah for a writer who seems to have fond memories of the days when those Jerusalem neighborhoods were Judenrein — “Jew-free” — to call for a return to a policy of American hostility to Israel to revive such a situation. But that is what passes for intelligent commentary in some publications.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.