Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kazakhstan

Why Kazakhstan? Symbolism Matters

The saddest thing about American diplomacy in the age of Obama is that the State Department does not know when the Islamic Republic is laughing at them. Take the previous round of talks: When the Iranian government suggested they would meet in Baghdad on May 24, 2012, the State Department jumped at the opportunity. After all, if the Iranians were willing to talk, who cares when and where the meeting takes place? Dialogue is the most important thing, the logic goes.

Yet, Iranian authorities had a reason for the date and place: May 24, 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the Liberation of Khorramshahr, once of the most decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq War. In the Iranian mind, Saddam Hussein had far greater American support in that war than reality would suggest (though any American support for Saddam while he occupied Iran was wrong). Therefore, by rebuffing the Americans, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his proxies could claim once again he had won a decisive victory against the Americans against the backdrop of Iraq. From Press TV:

Read More

The saddest thing about American diplomacy in the age of Obama is that the State Department does not know when the Islamic Republic is laughing at them. Take the previous round of talks: When the Iranian government suggested they would meet in Baghdad on May 24, 2012, the State Department jumped at the opportunity. After all, if the Iranians were willing to talk, who cares when and where the meeting takes place? Dialogue is the most important thing, the logic goes.

Yet, Iranian authorities had a reason for the date and place: May 24, 2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the Liberation of Khorramshahr, once of the most decisive battles of the Iran-Iraq War. In the Iranian mind, Saddam Hussein had far greater American support in that war than reality would suggest (though any American support for Saddam while he occupied Iran was wrong). Therefore, by rebuffing the Americans, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his proxies could claim once again he had won a decisive victory against the Americans against the backdrop of Iraq. From Press TV:

Pointing to the liberation of Iran’s city of Khorramshahr from Iraqi occupation on 24 May, 1982, Esma’il Kowsari said, “With the sacrifice of the proud Iranian youths in those times, Khorramshahr brought about a wave of honor for the nation.”  “And now that negotiations with the P5+1 group (Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States plus Germany) are being pursued; victory will certainly once again be ours,” the deputy head of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, added.

As for the supreme leader, he addressed a military audience on the eve of Liberation Day:

“In ‘The Decade of Progress and Justice’ the pioneering Iranian nation will continue its accelerated movement towards more progress and administration of justice. And in spite of its propaganda, the camp of oppression, arrogance and bullying is in decline… During the Sacred Defense Era, the Armed Forces gained timeless experiences and it is necessary to make use of them.”

The talks were not about nuclear resolution, they were stage-managed American humiliation.

But what about Kazakhstan? Here, the reason was simple. From the Islamic Republic News Agency:

Kazakhstan which is the host of the next round of talks between Iran and the G5+1 is not enforcing US unilateral sanctions against Tehran, a senior Foreign Ministry officials said Wednesday. Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific Affairs Abbas Araqchi, made the remarks while commenting on the reason behind choosing Kazakhstan as the host of the upcoming talks between Iran and G5+1 which is to be held on February 26.

Symbolism matters. And, for all its self-congratulations regarding it cultural sensitivity, it seems that the State Department remains aloof and naïve. Sometimes, the best way to ensure successful diplomacy is a willingness to push back and, if necessary, walk away until the Iranians show conflict resolution rather than propaganda to be their chief goal.

Read Less

Proud and Pleased to Join Venezuela

On Monday, Hillary Clinton issued a press release stating that the U.S. is “pleased” at its election to a second term on the notorious UN Human Rights Council. Like the winner of an academy award, she said she wanted to “thank the countries that voted for us in what was a highly competitive race” among “several qualified Western candidates.” Susan Rice held her own briefing the same day to say how “pleased and proud” the U.S. is, and to “thank all four of our highly qualified competitor countries for what was a very spirited campaign.” 

All 192 members of the UN vote on each UNHRC candidate, but membership is limited by region. The U.S., Germany, and Ireland beat out Greece and Sweden for the three available Western spots. Fifteen states from other regions were also elected on Monday, including seven countries that (according to Freedom House) “clearly fail to meet the Council’s criteria for membership” (since they do not “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”): Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. All seven got substantially more votes than the U.S. did.

Read More

On Monday, Hillary Clinton issued a press release stating that the U.S. is “pleased” at its election to a second term on the notorious UN Human Rights Council. Like the winner of an academy award, she said she wanted to “thank the countries that voted for us in what was a highly competitive race” among “several qualified Western candidates.” Susan Rice held her own briefing the same day to say how “pleased and proud” the U.S. is, and to “thank all four of our highly qualified competitor countries for what was a very spirited campaign.” 

All 192 members of the UN vote on each UNHRC candidate, but membership is limited by region. The U.S., Germany, and Ireland beat out Greece and Sweden for the three available Western spots. Fifteen states from other regions were also elected on Monday, including seven countries that (according to Freedom House) “clearly fail to meet the Council’s criteria for membership” (since they do not “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”): Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. All seven got substantially more votes than the U.S. did.

At yesterday’s State Department press conference, spokesperson Mark Toner was asked if the U.S. had a reaction to Venezuela’s election. He gave this response:

MR. TONER: Well, you buried the lead, because we’re very pleased to have been elected by the UN General Assembly to a second term on the Human Rights Council. And I believe Ambassador Rice spoke to this yesterday from New York. We certainly thank the countries that have voted for us in what was a very highly competitive race among several well-qualified Western European and Others Group [WEOG] candidates.

QUESTION: What was it, three out of five got elected?

MR. TONER: We received 131 votes, first-place in the WEOG group.

QUESTION: Ooh, first place.

In other words, the big story (in the view of the State Department) in an election packing the UNHRC with still more human-rights violators is: the election of the U.S. to another term. It shows that the world likes us. It really, really likes us (although not as much as Venezuela, Kazakhstan, et al.). On the other hand:

QUESTION: Don’t you think there is like a contradiction because Venezuela has been pointed out at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for not accomplish [sic] with human rights? So how do you put this in context, or –

MR. TONER: Well, in creating the Council, member states pledge to take into account the contribution of candidates, the promotion and protection of human rights. We think some countries elected to the Human Rights Council on clean slates have failed to show their commitment.

QUESTION: Aha. That’s what I want to get at. Because quite apart from Venezuela, you’ve got such paragons of human rights protection as Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan –

MR. TONER: I didn’t single out Venezuela.

QUESTION: – Pakistan, Gabon. Are you comfortable sitting on a body that’s supposed to make judgments about other countries’ human rights records when there are serial offenders on it?

MR. TONER: Again, Ambassador Rice in New York spoke to this very effectively yesterday. … We decided four years ago that we could best improve the Council by working within it rather than criticizing from outside.

The State Department also released Monday a fact sheet on U.S. “accomplishments” during “our first term,” including eight resolutions on Syria since 2011 (count ’em!); “suspending” Libya in 2011 from its seat on the Council (for massacring its own citizens); and a special rapporteur “speaking out” on human rights violations in Iran (which does not seem to have had any effect).

Missing from the list is any reduction in what the department diplomatically calls the UNHRC’s “excessive and unbalanced focus” on Israel. As Elliott Abrams more forthrightly notes, that focus is “ludicrous”: the “only country listed on the Council’s permanent agenda” is Israel — “Not North Korea, not Sudan, not Cuba — only Israel.” After four years, smart power has been unable to address that problem, but the U.S. is pleased and proud to have been re-elected.

Read Less

America Is Powerful, After All

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

The headlines claim that China was “scared to death of Nancy Pelosi,” but the real story is far more important:

China was “scared to death” over a visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is outspoken on human rights, and rejected her request to visit Tibet, according to files leaked Monday.

A top diplomat at the US embassy in Beijing said he asked Chin to consider letting Pelosi go to Tibet during her May 2009 visit to China, according to a cable obtained by whistleblower site WikiLeaks.

Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that China could not arrange the trip due to Pelosi’s “tight schedule,” according to the cable reprinted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The Chinese ambassador in Kazakhstan was blunter, telling his US counterpart over an expansive dinner that Beijing was “fearful” over Pelosi’s visit.

The Chinese were not, in fact, fearful of Pelosi. They were fearful of American ideals. This speaks to the enduring power of American condemnation. Onlookers are quick to dismiss the official naming and shaming of human rights abusers as a toothless substitute for “real” policy. That’s because they’ve come to underestimate the damage a little truth and justice can wreak on an abusive, secretive regime. This is why dissidents always push American leaders to talk about human rights abroad. They’ve lived under these regimes and have a feel for their fears and weaknesses. It’s only in free countries that we view public criticism of leaders as a form of impotence.

It’s no small thing to note that in an age when both threats and conciliations get us nowhere, a public embrace of our foundational ideals still sends a potent message. We talk about extending an outstretched hand to theocrats and the theocrats laugh. We talk about crippling sanctions and they laugh harder. To others, we offer aid in exchange for promises of an anti-terrorism crackdown; they collect and then ignore us. For others, we strain our alliances and make demands on our friends; we end up stymied. Still, to others we offer obsequious compromises and fresh starts; they smile kindly and make their own plans.  But we now know the one time in recent memory we had a regime “scared to death” was when it thought we’d mention the sanctity of human rights. Doubtless, this lesson in the fusion of ideals and interests will be lost on the great non-ideological, pragmatic leaders of our time.

Read Less

Man Bites Dog: Frank Talk About Islamist Hate in the Times

So much is wrong about the New York Times’s coverage of Jewish issues and Israel in particular. As John points out, this morning’s broadside against the funding of Jewish charities in the West Bank is an especially egregious example of the way this newspaper’s editorial agenda on Israel is allowed to distort the news pages.

But along with the avalanche of the bad, there is, every now and then, some good, such as Edward Rothstein’s column in today’s Arts section. Given the way things usually go at the Times, one might expect his essay reviewing two new books on anti-Semitism to stick to deploring the anti-Semites of the past while leaving out of the argument contemporary Jew-haters, especially those in the Muslim world and others who single Israel out for special treatment. But to Rothstein’s great credit, he hones in on the way criticisms of the state of Israel veer into traditional anti-Semitism: “There is a wildly exaggerated scale of condemnation, in which extremes of contempt confront a country caricatured as the world’s worst enemy of peace; such attacks (and the use of Nazi analogies) are beyond evidence and beyond pragmatic political debate or protest. Israel’s autonomy — its very presence — is the problem.”

Even better, after rightly analogizing the upsurge in anti-Semitism in the Islamic world to the history of the Nazis, Rothstein goes after Hannah Rosenthal, President Obama’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism. Last week in a speech in Kazakhstan, Rosenthal claimed that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were similar straits of hatred. But, as Rothstein points out, not only are they not the same thing, the latter is a concept invented to defend Islamists against the consequences of the hatred that they have propagated:

Islamophobia is a concept developed within the last two decades by those who wish to elevate Islam’s reputation in the West; anti-Semitism was a concept eagerly embraced and expanded by haters of Jews. One was constructed by a group’s supporters, the other by a group’s enemies. Moreover, much of what is characterized as Islamophobia today arises out of taking seriously the impassioned claims of doctrinal allegiance made by Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters. Anti-Semitism, though, has nothing to do with any claims at all.

Wisdom and frank talk about Islamist hate are rare these days. They are even more so at the Times.

So much is wrong about the New York Times’s coverage of Jewish issues and Israel in particular. As John points out, this morning’s broadside against the funding of Jewish charities in the West Bank is an especially egregious example of the way this newspaper’s editorial agenda on Israel is allowed to distort the news pages.

But along with the avalanche of the bad, there is, every now and then, some good, such as Edward Rothstein’s column in today’s Arts section. Given the way things usually go at the Times, one might expect his essay reviewing two new books on anti-Semitism to stick to deploring the anti-Semites of the past while leaving out of the argument contemporary Jew-haters, especially those in the Muslim world and others who single Israel out for special treatment. But to Rothstein’s great credit, he hones in on the way criticisms of the state of Israel veer into traditional anti-Semitism: “There is a wildly exaggerated scale of condemnation, in which extremes of contempt confront a country caricatured as the world’s worst enemy of peace; such attacks (and the use of Nazi analogies) are beyond evidence and beyond pragmatic political debate or protest. Israel’s autonomy — its very presence — is the problem.”

Even better, after rightly analogizing the upsurge in anti-Semitism in the Islamic world to the history of the Nazis, Rothstein goes after Hannah Rosenthal, President Obama’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism. Last week in a speech in Kazakhstan, Rosenthal claimed that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia were similar straits of hatred. But, as Rothstein points out, not only are they not the same thing, the latter is a concept invented to defend Islamists against the consequences of the hatred that they have propagated:

Islamophobia is a concept developed within the last two decades by those who wish to elevate Islam’s reputation in the West; anti-Semitism was a concept eagerly embraced and expanded by haters of Jews. One was constructed by a group’s supporters, the other by a group’s enemies. Moreover, much of what is characterized as Islamophobia today arises out of taking seriously the impassioned claims of doctrinal allegiance made by Islamic terrorist groups and their supporters. Anti-Semitism, though, has nothing to do with any claims at all.

Wisdom and frank talk about Islamist hate are rare these days. They are even more so at the Times.

Read Less

Obama’s Denigration Reflex

In his response to Jen and me, Max writes: “But in this particular instance, I would cut Obama some slack. It does sound as if the president raised human-rights issues with Nazarbayev, as he should have.”

The relevant question, of course, is not whether the issue of human rights was raised at all, but specifically what was said when the subject was broached. None of us were in the meeting between Obama and Nazarbayev, but here’s the report of what Michael McFaul, NSC senior director (who may well have been in the meeting), said:

In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.”

We also have this:

In an interview, Kazakh Ambassador Erlan Idrissov told [Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal], “There was no pressure at all in the meeting,” and that Obama quoted Winston Churchill as saying that democracy is “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, and you don’t need to have worked in the highest branches of the federal government, to understand what transpired in the Obama-Nazarbyev meeting. Rather than put any pressure on Nazarbyev, Obama decided to make the banal observation that none of us have reached perfection in our quest for the Ideal State, and to prove the point, America’s president highlighted America’s imperfections. And McFaul, when pressed on whether Obama was making a moral equivalence comparison, insists that wasn’t the case – and then proceeds to cite the presidency of Obama as evidence that we are in the process of perfecting American democracy.

These kind of exchanges are actually quite helpful in a certain way; they reveal a particular cast of mind. And Obama’s reflex often involves denigrating America in public and in private, to – well, to do what exactly?

I quite understand, as I’m sure Jen does, that, in Max’s words, “in this imperfect world some short-term compromises are necessary.” And neither of us is insisting that Obama should have cut off relations with Kazakhstan, which is playing an important role as it relates to Afghanistan. I just don’t think that Obama, who has a well-established habit of (a) downplaying human rights and (b) bashing our allies and showing remarkable deference to our enemies, is striking anything like the right balance here. Which is why I’m not inclined, in this particular case, to cut Mr. Obama any slack at all.

My former White House colleague Will Inboden, who worked in the NSC, weighs in with an intelligent post here [http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/].

In his response to Jen and me, Max writes: “But in this particular instance, I would cut Obama some slack. It does sound as if the president raised human-rights issues with Nazarbayev, as he should have.”

The relevant question, of course, is not whether the issue of human rights was raised at all, but specifically what was said when the subject was broached. None of us were in the meeting between Obama and Nazarbayev, but here’s the report of what Michael McFaul, NSC senior director (who may well have been in the meeting), said:

In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.”

We also have this:

In an interview, Kazakh Ambassador Erlan Idrissov told [Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal], “There was no pressure at all in the meeting,” and that Obama quoted Winston Churchill as saying that democracy is “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, and you don’t need to have worked in the highest branches of the federal government, to understand what transpired in the Obama-Nazarbyev meeting. Rather than put any pressure on Nazarbyev, Obama decided to make the banal observation that none of us have reached perfection in our quest for the Ideal State, and to prove the point, America’s president highlighted America’s imperfections. And McFaul, when pressed on whether Obama was making a moral equivalence comparison, insists that wasn’t the case – and then proceeds to cite the presidency of Obama as evidence that we are in the process of perfecting American democracy.

These kind of exchanges are actually quite helpful in a certain way; they reveal a particular cast of mind. And Obama’s reflex often involves denigrating America in public and in private, to – well, to do what exactly?

I quite understand, as I’m sure Jen does, that, in Max’s words, “in this imperfect world some short-term compromises are necessary.” And neither of us is insisting that Obama should have cut off relations with Kazakhstan, which is playing an important role as it relates to Afghanistan. I just don’t think that Obama, who has a well-established habit of (a) downplaying human rights and (b) bashing our allies and showing remarkable deference to our enemies, is striking anything like the right balance here. Which is why I’m not inclined, in this particular case, to cut Mr. Obama any slack at all.

My former White House colleague Will Inboden, who worked in the NSC, weighs in with an intelligent post here [http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/].

Read Less

Compromising with Kazakhstan

Following up on Jen’s and Pete’s posts regarding Obama’s meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the nuclear-security summit: yes, it’s a bit rich that Obama would tell Nazarbayev that the U.S. is still “working” on its democracy — just like Kazakhstan! It even sounds like a scene that would make a nice addendum to that comedy classic Borat.

But in this particular instance, I would cut Obama some slack. It does sound as if the president raised human-rights issues with Nazarbayev, as he should have. The larger issue is whether the president of the United States should be palling around with two-bit dictators like Nazarbayev.

I believe that our foreign policy should champion freedom and democracy, but I recognize that in this imperfect world some short-term compromises are necessary. That includes cutting deals with states such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the latter now the scene of a revolution against the dictator (Kurmanbek Bakiyev), with whom we made a deal to locate a critical American air base. That deal now looks suspect, but what choice did we have? To fight and win in Afghanistan, we need bases in the region, and the outcome in Afghanistan is more important than the outcome in Kyrgyzstan.

That is something that President Bush — denounced and praised as a “neocon” true believer — understand. He too hosted dictators like Nazarbayev at the White House — and no doubt said some soothing things to them about how much he respected them. That’s the kind of talk that is frequently used to grease diplomatic transactions.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that Obama isn’t doing much to promote democracy in states that are strategic allies. My problem is that he has missed — and is still missing — a golden opportunity to promote democracy in the country that happens to be our deadliest enemy at the moment. He has let the Green Revolution come and go in Iran while maintaining a hands-off attitude. There is surely a case to be made for attempting to reach a modus vivendi with the Nazarbayevs of the world — dictators who are concerned only with keeping power and are willing to accommodate our interests. There is no case to be made for accommodation with the Ahmadinejads and Khameinis of the world — dictators with grandiose ambitions that threaten ourselves and our allies and who have no interest at all in reaching any kind of entente with us.

Following up on Jen’s and Pete’s posts regarding Obama’s meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at the nuclear-security summit: yes, it’s a bit rich that Obama would tell Nazarbayev that the U.S. is still “working” on its democracy — just like Kazakhstan! It even sounds like a scene that would make a nice addendum to that comedy classic Borat.

But in this particular instance, I would cut Obama some slack. It does sound as if the president raised human-rights issues with Nazarbayev, as he should have. The larger issue is whether the president of the United States should be palling around with two-bit dictators like Nazarbayev.

I believe that our foreign policy should champion freedom and democracy, but I recognize that in this imperfect world some short-term compromises are necessary. That includes cutting deals with states such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the latter now the scene of a revolution against the dictator (Kurmanbek Bakiyev), with whom we made a deal to locate a critical American air base. That deal now looks suspect, but what choice did we have? To fight and win in Afghanistan, we need bases in the region, and the outcome in Afghanistan is more important than the outcome in Kyrgyzstan.

That is something that President Bush — denounced and praised as a “neocon” true believer — understand. He too hosted dictators like Nazarbayev at the White House — and no doubt said some soothing things to them about how much he respected them. That’s the kind of talk that is frequently used to grease diplomatic transactions.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that Obama isn’t doing much to promote democracy in states that are strategic allies. My problem is that he has missed — and is still missing — a golden opportunity to promote democracy in the country that happens to be our deadliest enemy at the moment. He has let the Green Revolution come and go in Iran while maintaining a hands-off attitude. There is surely a case to be made for attempting to reach a modus vivendi with the Nazarbayevs of the world — dictators who are concerned only with keeping power and are willing to accommodate our interests. There is no case to be made for accommodation with the Ahmadinejads and Khameinis of the world — dictators with grandiose ambitions that threaten ourselves and our allies and who have no interest at all in reaching any kind of entente with us.

Read Less

Obama’s Moral-Inversion Problem

Jen, your posting about President Obama’s discussion with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is spot on. It tells us a great deal about Obama’s approach to international affairs generally and human rights specifically, and all of it is disquieting. It is also of a piece with Obama’s unprecedented criticisms of America since he took office.

Our president simply doesn’t hold this nation in very high esteem.

It made me wonder, though: what does it tell us about Obama that he would go so easy on a nation like Kazakhstan, whose human rights record is troubling (as Josh Rogin points out in his post over at Foreign Policy), having created an atmosphere of “quiet repression,” while being so eager to hammer a nation like Israel, which is not only a strong American ally but a moral beacon in so many ways? (Israel is not the only ally that has been berated or bullied or disrespected by Obama; the list grows seemingly every week.)

The type of approach Obama is embracing is actually worse than moral equivalency (for the record and for what it’s worth, the Obama administration insists there was no equivalence meant whatsoever between America and Kazakhstan); it is an inversion of morality. Perhaps it is Professor Obama’s effort at the transvaluation of values, of creating a world in which the role of the president is to criticize America and pound her best allies while turning a mostly blind eye to those who routinely violate human rights, from Kazakhstan to Venezuela to Iran. Whatever it is that explains Obama’s behavior, it is all rather dispiriting and a matter of real concern.

Barack Obama is a groundbreaking president, that is for sure.

Jen, your posting about President Obama’s discussion with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is spot on. It tells us a great deal about Obama’s approach to international affairs generally and human rights specifically, and all of it is disquieting. It is also of a piece with Obama’s unprecedented criticisms of America since he took office.

Our president simply doesn’t hold this nation in very high esteem.

It made me wonder, though: what does it tell us about Obama that he would go so easy on a nation like Kazakhstan, whose human rights record is troubling (as Josh Rogin points out in his post over at Foreign Policy), having created an atmosphere of “quiet repression,” while being so eager to hammer a nation like Israel, which is not only a strong American ally but a moral beacon in so many ways? (Israel is not the only ally that has been berated or bullied or disrespected by Obama; the list grows seemingly every week.)

The type of approach Obama is embracing is actually worse than moral equivalency (for the record and for what it’s worth, the Obama administration insists there was no equivalence meant whatsoever between America and Kazakhstan); it is an inversion of morality. Perhaps it is Professor Obama’s effort at the transvaluation of values, of creating a world in which the role of the president is to criticize America and pound her best allies while turning a mostly blind eye to those who routinely violate human rights, from Kazakhstan to Venezuela to Iran. Whatever it is that explains Obama’s behavior, it is all rather dispiriting and a matter of real concern.

Barack Obama is a groundbreaking president, that is for sure.

Read Less

What Did He Say?!

At times Obama seems to embody the worst characteristics of the Left — near comical moral equivalence, indifference to human rights, and a willingness to disregard America’s stature as the world’s leading democracy. Add in some jaw-dropping egotism and you have a scene like this:

President Obama said Sunday that the United States is still “working on” democracy and a top aide said he has taken “historic steps” to improve democracy in the United States during his time in office. The remarks came as Obama met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev — one of the U.S. president’s many meetings with world leaders ahead of this week’s nuclear summit.

Kazakhstan, which has been touting its record on combating nuclear proliferation, is a key player in the NATO supply network to Afghanistan and currently heads the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Some observers see a conflict between Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the 56-nation OSCE, which plays an important role in monitoring elections in emerging democracies, and its own widely criticized human rights record.

But if the Obama administration saw any disconnect, it kept its criticism to itself.

“In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.” …

“You seemed to be suggesting there was some equivalence between their issues of democracy and the United States’ issues, when you said that President Obama assured him that we, too, are working on our democracy,” [Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan]Weisman said. “Is there equivalence between the problems that President Nazarbayev is confronting and the state of democracy in the United States?”

“Absolutely not. … There was no equivalence meant whatsoever,” McFaul said. “[Obama's] taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States.”

This is astounding in several respects. First lumping the U.S. in with Kazakhstan has to be a new low (high) in moral obtuseness. As the report notes:

The State Department’s own 2009 human rights report on Kazakhstan reported widespread human rights violations, including severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; and pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system.

Freedom House’s 2010 world survey declared Kazakhstan “not free” and said, “Kazakhstan holds the chairmanship of the OSCE for the year 2010 despite a record of fraudulent elections and repression of independent critics in the media and civil society — behavior that only grew worse as 2010 approached.”

The latest Human Rights Watch report on Kazakhstan was entitled, “An atmosphere of quiet repression.”

Furthermore, what has Obama done that qualifies as historic steps to improve our own democracy? I’m stumped to think of a single thing. Great transparency? Hmm. Haven’t seen that in the health-care legislative process of elsewhere. Toleration and civility for the opposition? Puhleez. Does Obama regard his own presidency as some historic leap forward for American democracy? Apparently so, a troubling sign that his narcissism continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

At times Obama seems to embody the worst characteristics of the Left — near comical moral equivalence, indifference to human rights, and a willingness to disregard America’s stature as the world’s leading democracy. Add in some jaw-dropping egotism and you have a scene like this:

President Obama said Sunday that the United States is still “working on” democracy and a top aide said he has taken “historic steps” to improve democracy in the United States during his time in office. The remarks came as Obama met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev — one of the U.S. president’s many meetings with world leaders ahead of this week’s nuclear summit.

Kazakhstan, which has been touting its record on combating nuclear proliferation, is a key player in the NATO supply network to Afghanistan and currently heads the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Some observers see a conflict between Kazakhstan’s chairmanship of the 56-nation OSCE, which plays an important role in monitoring elections in emerging democracies, and its own widely criticized human rights record.

But if the Obama administration saw any disconnect, it kept its criticism to itself.

“In connection with the OSCE, the presidents had a very lengthy discussion of issues of democracy and human rights,” NSC senior director Mike McFaul said on a conference call with reporters Sunday. “Both presidents agreed that you don’t ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy.” …

“You seemed to be suggesting there was some equivalence between their issues of democracy and the United States’ issues, when you said that President Obama assured him that we, too, are working on our democracy,” [Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan]Weisman said. “Is there equivalence between the problems that President Nazarbayev is confronting and the state of democracy in the United States?”

“Absolutely not. … There was no equivalence meant whatsoever,” McFaul said. “[Obama's] taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States.”

This is astounding in several respects. First lumping the U.S. in with Kazakhstan has to be a new low (high) in moral obtuseness. As the report notes:

The State Department’s own 2009 human rights report on Kazakhstan reported widespread human rights violations, including severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their government; detainee and prisoner torture and other abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; and pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system.

Freedom House’s 2010 world survey declared Kazakhstan “not free” and said, “Kazakhstan holds the chairmanship of the OSCE for the year 2010 despite a record of fraudulent elections and repression of independent critics in the media and civil society — behavior that only grew worse as 2010 approached.”

The latest Human Rights Watch report on Kazakhstan was entitled, “An atmosphere of quiet repression.”

Furthermore, what has Obama done that qualifies as historic steps to improve our own democracy? I’m stumped to think of a single thing. Great transparency? Hmm. Haven’t seen that in the health-care legislative process of elsewhere. Toleration and civility for the opposition? Puhleez. Does Obama regard his own presidency as some historic leap forward for American democracy? Apparently so, a troubling sign that his narcissism continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Let’s hope it’s not true: “Sen. John Kerry has filed a formal request to visit Iran, Iranian news agencies reported Tuesday — news made public in the middle of the government’s bloody crackdown on dissidents that has left more than a dozen dead.” It would be frightful if the Obami foreign policy toward Iran were this incoherent.

Meanwhile, outside the Obami cocoon: “Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran’s nuclear activities.”

MSNBC going into rehab? It is redoing its daytime lineup. “MSNBC may need to prove its news commitment to viewers. With news of the attempted terrorist attack on a plane bound for Detroit breaking late on Christmas, the network stuck with pre-taped programming. CNN and Fox covered the story much more extensively.” The solution? “MSNBC will pair Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie for one hour at 9 a.m. in a newsy, nonpartisan look at the day’s upcoming events.” In MSNBC parlance, “nonpartisan” means no “Bush=Hilter” comments.

Hannah Rosenthal denies that slamming the Israeli Ambassador was out of bounds. Or it was taken out of context. (The “system worked”? No, that’s another gaffe-prone Obama flack.) In any event, she, as Shmuel Rosner points out, is picking up friends with the Israel-bashing crowd and is “on the way to becoming their new martyr.”

Second time is the charm? “Mr. Obama has been seeking to counter criticism that he was out of touch in the aftermath of the foiled plot, which took place Friday. For the first three days, he delegated public statements to subordinates before giving a statement Monday.” It would  be nice if he got it right the first time. (One wonders what the White House’s internal polling must show about the public reaction to its handling of the terror attack.)

And it certainly doesn’t look as though Abdulmutallab was an “isolated extremist”: “The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told the Washington Times.”

Diane Ravitch nails it: “So the crotch-bomber will be tried for a felony in a federal court, with all the rights and privileges of American citizens. So Khalid Sheik-Mohammed and his associates will be able to enlist an army of pro bono lawyers to defend their ‘constitutional rights,’ the same ones they tried to destroy, along with some 3,000 lives. So KSM and pals will get discovery proceedings, will demand a new venue, will insist that the U.S. produce witnesses to their alleged crimes, will inflict millions of dollars of unnecessary security costs on NYC (or any other host city) that might better be spent on schools. In short, the Obama administration has woven a web of confusion, rhetoric, and illogic that will entangle it for years to come, as it attempts to defuse, de-escalate and minimize the terrorist threat. The reason this strategy is politically foolish is that the terrorist threat is real.”

Meanwhile the Washington Post reports: “Former detainees of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have led and fueled the growing assertiveness of the al-Qaeda branch that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, potentially complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to shut down the facility.” It almost as though releasing dangerous terrorists is only enabling a network of fanatical murderers, huh? Must the Obami insist that closing Guantanamo is still a “national security imperative”? I think we have found the “systematic failure.”

This seems right: “By staying in Hawaii, the president has sent the message that the situation really isn’t all that serious, that things can proceed just fine until he’s back. And isn’t it that kind of reasoning that emboldens our never-vacationing enemies into thinking Christmas Day is the perfect time for them to strike?”

Let’s hope it’s not true: “Sen. John Kerry has filed a formal request to visit Iran, Iranian news agencies reported Tuesday — news made public in the middle of the government’s bloody crackdown on dissidents that has left more than a dozen dead.” It would be frightful if the Obami foreign policy toward Iran were this incoherent.

Meanwhile, outside the Obami cocoon: “Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran’s nuclear activities.”

MSNBC going into rehab? It is redoing its daytime lineup. “MSNBC may need to prove its news commitment to viewers. With news of the attempted terrorist attack on a plane bound for Detroit breaking late on Christmas, the network stuck with pre-taped programming. CNN and Fox covered the story much more extensively.” The solution? “MSNBC will pair Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie for one hour at 9 a.m. in a newsy, nonpartisan look at the day’s upcoming events.” In MSNBC parlance, “nonpartisan” means no “Bush=Hilter” comments.

Hannah Rosenthal denies that slamming the Israeli Ambassador was out of bounds. Or it was taken out of context. (The “system worked”? No, that’s another gaffe-prone Obama flack.) In any event, she, as Shmuel Rosner points out, is picking up friends with the Israel-bashing crowd and is “on the way to becoming their new martyr.”

Second time is the charm? “Mr. Obama has been seeking to counter criticism that he was out of touch in the aftermath of the foiled plot, which took place Friday. For the first three days, he delegated public statements to subordinates before giving a statement Monday.” It would  be nice if he got it right the first time. (One wonders what the White House’s internal polling must show about the public reaction to its handling of the terror attack.)

And it certainly doesn’t look as though Abdulmutallab was an “isolated extremist”: “The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told the Washington Times.”

Diane Ravitch nails it: “So the crotch-bomber will be tried for a felony in a federal court, with all the rights and privileges of American citizens. So Khalid Sheik-Mohammed and his associates will be able to enlist an army of pro bono lawyers to defend their ‘constitutional rights,’ the same ones they tried to destroy, along with some 3,000 lives. So KSM and pals will get discovery proceedings, will demand a new venue, will insist that the U.S. produce witnesses to their alleged crimes, will inflict millions of dollars of unnecessary security costs on NYC (or any other host city) that might better be spent on schools. In short, the Obama administration has woven a web of confusion, rhetoric, and illogic that will entangle it for years to come, as it attempts to defuse, de-escalate and minimize the terrorist threat. The reason this strategy is politically foolish is that the terrorist threat is real.”

Meanwhile the Washington Post reports: “Former detainees of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have led and fueled the growing assertiveness of the al-Qaeda branch that claimed responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a U.S. airliner, potentially complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to shut down the facility.” It almost as though releasing dangerous terrorists is only enabling a network of fanatical murderers, huh? Must the Obami insist that closing Guantanamo is still a “national security imperative”? I think we have found the “systematic failure.”

This seems right: “By staying in Hawaii, the president has sent the message that the situation really isn’t all that serious, that things can proceed just fine until he’s back. And isn’t it that kind of reasoning that emboldens our never-vacationing enemies into thinking Christmas Day is the perfect time for them to strike?”

Read Less

The Giants Meet

Today, Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Beijing on his first foreign trip since assuming the Russian presidency. The two authoritarian giants wasted no time criticizing American plans to create a missile defense shield. In a joint statement, Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao said such a defensive system “harms the strengthening of trust between states and regional stability.”

Yet Medvedev did not fly all the way to the Chinese capital to make a rhetorical jab at Washington on something he can do nothing about. The Russian first wanted to remind the West that Russia has other friends. Putin’s initial foreign trip as president took him to London in 2000 to indicate that he was going to look to Europe and the Atlantic Alliance. His successor seeks to convince us that he can reverse that forward-looking orientation.

Second, Medvedev boarded a plane to make a second–and more immediate–point, this one intended for his Chinese hosts. Putin stopped off in Belarus on his way to England in 2000. Eight years later, Medvedev visited Kazakhstan before China. The former Soviet republic borders both Russia and China and represents a crucial prize in the seemingly eternal contest for Central Asia between Moscow and Beijing. Although the two large states see that their interests coincide when it comes to undermining the American superstate-hence all the talk about missile defense as well as a proposed treaty on banning weapons in space-they have plenty of differences among themselves.

The overriding reality is that both Russia and China need the West more than they need the other. Russia inked a $1 billion uranium enrichment deal today with China, and this will help bring the two nations together. Yet their bilateral trade last year was a puny $48 billion. In comparison, America’s bilateral trade with China was $386.7 billion during the same period and accounted for all but $6.2 billion of China’s overall trade surplus of $262.5 billion.

The Bush administration has allowed Moscow and China to throw darts at America, as if their growing relationship did not matter. Whether or not this passivity was justified in the past, the growing cooperation between the Chinese and Russians is now consequential. They are, for example, cooperating to block Western efforts on Iran, undoubtedly the most important matter at this moment. So, it’s about time for Washington to tell the autocrats in Moscow and Beijing that they are either with us or against us when it comes to solving urgent problems. They need us more than we need them. Now, when the international system looks as if it will fall apart, is the time to make this point in public. After all, Medvedev and Hu have no hesitancy in telling us off.

Today, Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Beijing on his first foreign trip since assuming the Russian presidency. The two authoritarian giants wasted no time criticizing American plans to create a missile defense shield. In a joint statement, Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao said such a defensive system “harms the strengthening of trust between states and regional stability.”

Yet Medvedev did not fly all the way to the Chinese capital to make a rhetorical jab at Washington on something he can do nothing about. The Russian first wanted to remind the West that Russia has other friends. Putin’s initial foreign trip as president took him to London in 2000 to indicate that he was going to look to Europe and the Atlantic Alliance. His successor seeks to convince us that he can reverse that forward-looking orientation.

Second, Medvedev boarded a plane to make a second–and more immediate–point, this one intended for his Chinese hosts. Putin stopped off in Belarus on his way to England in 2000. Eight years later, Medvedev visited Kazakhstan before China. The former Soviet republic borders both Russia and China and represents a crucial prize in the seemingly eternal contest for Central Asia between Moscow and Beijing. Although the two large states see that their interests coincide when it comes to undermining the American superstate-hence all the talk about missile defense as well as a proposed treaty on banning weapons in space-they have plenty of differences among themselves.

The overriding reality is that both Russia and China need the West more than they need the other. Russia inked a $1 billion uranium enrichment deal today with China, and this will help bring the two nations together. Yet their bilateral trade last year was a puny $48 billion. In comparison, America’s bilateral trade with China was $386.7 billion during the same period and accounted for all but $6.2 billion of China’s overall trade surplus of $262.5 billion.

The Bush administration has allowed Moscow and China to throw darts at America, as if their growing relationship did not matter. Whether or not this passivity was justified in the past, the growing cooperation between the Chinese and Russians is now consequential. They are, for example, cooperating to block Western efforts on Iran, undoubtedly the most important matter at this moment. So, it’s about time for Washington to tell the autocrats in Moscow and Beijing that they are either with us or against us when it comes to solving urgent problems. They need us more than we need them. Now, when the international system looks as if it will fall apart, is the time to make this point in public. After all, Medvedev and Hu have no hesitancy in telling us off.

Read Less

Another “Global Crisis”

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

Today, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the recent increase in food prices has become a “real global crisis.” His comments come after weeks of food riots in Haiti, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. The Thai and Pakistani governments have had to call out troops to protect crops. Cambodia and Kazakhstan are banning grain exports. Stores in the United States are limiting purchases of rice. North Korea faces famine. Is this a job for the UN?

Perhaps not. On Sunday, Jean Ziegler, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, accused the West of causing starvation in poor countries through, among other things, the promotion of biofuels and the maintenance of farm subsidies. “This is silent mass murder,” he said. Multinationals, for their part, are responsible for “structural violence.”

Ziegler also attacked commodity markets. “And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror,” he noted. “We have to put a stop to this.”

What we have to put a stop to is the UN promotion of world government and socialism. The solution to rising global food prices–they have increased 83 percent in the last three years according to the World Bank–is not more UN food aid, which has undermined agriculture in fragile states. The answer is allowing markets to work. Increasing food costs, after all, will encourage further farm production.

And let me add this: there is no right to food. There is, however, a right to live in a free society where people have the ability to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, the UN has yet to appoint a special rapporteur for common sense.

Read Less

The “Other Tibet”

“We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy,” said Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party boss in Tibet, in the middle of last week. That sounds a little dramatic, especially because no one thinks the Tibetans can gain independence, much less bring down the one-party state. Nonetheless, the mighty Communist Party is rightly concerned. The Tibetans aren’t the only restive minority group the Chinese rule.

Welcome to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the “other Tibet.” It is three times the size of France, a sixth of China’s landmass, and China’s largest province. This region is inhabited by Turkic Muslims who believe they should govern themselves in an independent state. The Uighurs, by all accounts, hate the Chinese more than the Tibetans do, if that is possible. Throughout history, these Muslims have managed to free themselves periodically from Chinese rule. Now, however, they live in the Autonomous Region, which for more than five decades has been tightly governed from a thousand miles away. In the wake of the Tibetan disturbances, Chinese authorities have tightened surveillance of Uighurs and have stepped up their national campaign against “splittists” of all types. On Saturday, People’s Daily, without evidence, accused the Dalai Lama of colluding with the country’s Muslims to plan attacks.

The People’s Republic of China is a vast multicultural empire. Unfortunately for the so-called Han, the dominant ethnic grouping in the country, most minority “citizens” do not think of themselves as “Chinese” and want no part of Beijing’s rule. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Uighurs, like the Tibetans, have periodically erupted in violence. The last major Muslim revolt occurred in 1997 and was centered in Yining, a remote city near the border with Kazakhstan. The Uighurs, at times, resort to terrorism and violence in large part because Beijing has attempted to control their homeland by importing Han settlers, just as it does in Tibet. The Dalai Lama rightly calls the tactic “cultural genocide.”

In 2002, the Bush administration, at the behest of Beijing, designated the East Turkistan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization. Many dispute the characterization. But, whatever the facts, the United States should not help autocrats suppress ethnically distinct peoples. Due to their abhorrent policies, the Han Chinese will continue to suffer from minority revolts. The United States, however, need not be a part of this continuous dynamic of suppression and insurrection.

“We are now engaged in a fierce blood-and-fire battle with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death battle between us and the enemy,” said Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party boss in Tibet, in the middle of last week. That sounds a little dramatic, especially because no one thinks the Tibetans can gain independence, much less bring down the one-party state. Nonetheless, the mighty Communist Party is rightly concerned. The Tibetans aren’t the only restive minority group the Chinese rule.

Welcome to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the “other Tibet.” It is three times the size of France, a sixth of China’s landmass, and China’s largest province. This region is inhabited by Turkic Muslims who believe they should govern themselves in an independent state. The Uighurs, by all accounts, hate the Chinese more than the Tibetans do, if that is possible. Throughout history, these Muslims have managed to free themselves periodically from Chinese rule. Now, however, they live in the Autonomous Region, which for more than five decades has been tightly governed from a thousand miles away. In the wake of the Tibetan disturbances, Chinese authorities have tightened surveillance of Uighurs and have stepped up their national campaign against “splittists” of all types. On Saturday, People’s Daily, without evidence, accused the Dalai Lama of colluding with the country’s Muslims to plan attacks.

The People’s Republic of China is a vast multicultural empire. Unfortunately for the so-called Han, the dominant ethnic grouping in the country, most minority “citizens” do not think of themselves as “Chinese” and want no part of Beijing’s rule. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Uighurs, like the Tibetans, have periodically erupted in violence. The last major Muslim revolt occurred in 1997 and was centered in Yining, a remote city near the border with Kazakhstan. The Uighurs, at times, resort to terrorism and violence in large part because Beijing has attempted to control their homeland by importing Han settlers, just as it does in Tibet. The Dalai Lama rightly calls the tactic “cultural genocide.”

In 2002, the Bush administration, at the behest of Beijing, designated the East Turkistan Islamic Movement a terrorist organization. Many dispute the characterization. But, whatever the facts, the United States should not help autocrats suppress ethnically distinct peoples. Due to their abhorrent policies, the Han Chinese will continue to suffer from minority revolts. The United States, however, need not be a part of this continuous dynamic of suppression and insurrection.

Read Less

The Moderate Supermajority

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

My CONTENTIONS colleague Abe Greenwald takes a gloomy view of a new Gallup survey that shows 93 percent of the world’s Muslims are moderates. “We need to find out from one billion rational human beings why they largely refuse to stand up for humanity and dignity instead of cowering in the face of fascist thugs,” he wrote.

First of all, I’d like to agree with Abe’s point that even this sunny survey suggests we still have a serious problem. If seven percent of the world’s Muslims are radical, we’re talking about 91 million people. That’s 65 times the population of Gaza, and three and a half times the size of Iraq. One Gaza is headache enough, and it only took 19 individuals to destroy the World Trade Center, punch a hole in the Pentagon, and kill 3,000 people.

Some of the 93 percent supermajority support militia parties such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the West Bank’s Fatah. So while they may be religious moderates, they certainly aren’t politically moderate.

I’m less inclined than Abe to give the remaining Muslims — aside from secular terror-supporters — too hard a time. I work in the Middle East, and I used to live there. I meet moderate Muslims every day who detest al Qaeda and their non-violent Wahhabi counterparts. I know they’re the overwhelming majority, and a significant number are hardly inert in the face of fascists.

More than one fourth of the population of Lebanon demonstrated in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on March 14, 2005, and stood against the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah axis that has been sabotaging their country for decades. When I lived in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Beirut, the overwhelming majority of my neighbors belonged to that movement. The international media gave them lots of exposure, but moderate, liberal, secular, and mainstream conservative Muslims elsewhere rarely get any coverage. They are almost invisible from a distance, but it isn’t their fault.

Journalists tend to ignore moderate Muslims, not because of liberal bias or racism, but because sensationalism sells. At least they think that’s what sells.

And reporters often assume extremists are mainstream and “authentic” when they are not. Somehow, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been designated the voice of American Muslims. But CAIR is, frankly, an Islamic wingnut organization with a minuscule membership that has declined 90 percent since September 11, 2001. (More people read my medium-sized blog every day than are members of CAIR.)

The coalition of Islamist parties in Pakistan got three percent of the vote in the recent election. Pakistan’s radicals have made a real mess of the place, but they can’t get any more traction at the polls than Ralph Nader can manage in the United States.

Riots in the wake of the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad was one of the most pathetic “activist” spectacles I’ve ever seen, but the press coverage blew the whole thing way out of proportion. The same gaggle of the perpetually outraged have been photographed over and over again, like the bussed-in and coerced Saddam Hussein “supporters” at rallies in the old Iraq who vanished the instant television cameras stopped rolling. Take a look at the excellent 2003 film Live from Baghdad, written by CNN producer Robert Weiner, and you will see a dramatization of this stunt for yourself.

Last July in Slate Christopher Hitchens busted his colleagues. “I have actually seen some of these demonstrations,” he wrote, “most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot. We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy. Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews. When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses. And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has been quoted in tens of thousands of articles, but hardly any journalists have ever mentioned, let alone profiled, Sayyed Mohammad Ali El Husseini, the liberal Lebanese cleric who outranks Nasrallah in the Shia religious hierarchy and is an implacable foe of both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Every suicide and car bomber in Iraq gets at least a passing mention in newspapers all over the world while far fewer reporters have ever told their readers about the extraordinary anti-jihadist convulsion that swept the entire populations of Fallujah and Ramadi last year.

Almost no mention is given to the Kurds of Iraq who are just as Islamic as the Arabs in that country, and who purged Islamists root and branch from every inch of their autonomous region. “We will shoot them or break their bones on sight,” one Kurdish government official told me. More people have been murdered by Islamists in Spain than in their region of Iraq in the last five years. Such people can hardly be thought of as passive.

Let us also not forget the mass demonstrations and street battles with government thugs that have been ongoing all over Iran for several years now.

There is, I suppose, a dim awareness that the world’s newest country – Kosovo – has a Muslim majority. But who knows that the Kosovar Albanians are perhaps the most staunchly pro-American people in all of Europe, that they chose the Catholic Mother Theresa as their national symbol, that there was a cultural-wide protection of Jews during the Holocaust? Their leaders told Wahhabi officials from Saudi Arabia to get stuffed when help was offered during their war with the genocidal Milosovic regime in Belgrade.

Radical Islamists are more densely found in parts of the Arab world than most other places, but Arab countries as diverse as Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates are nearly Islamist-free. “Nothing Exploded in Tunis or Dubai Today” isn’t a headline, but I think it’s safe to infer from the utter dearth of sensationalist stories from such places that radical Islamism there isn’t much of a problem. It isn’t exactly clear to me what more the people in those countries ought to be doing. I have met hundreds of brave Iraqis who joined the police force and the army so they can pick up rifles and face the Islamists, but the moderate Muslims of countries such as Turkey, Kazakhstan, Mali, and Oman have few resident radicals to stand up against.

There certainly were radicals in Algeria. 150,000 people were killed there during the Salafist insurgency during the 1990s, and the government, military, police, and civilian watch groups have since all but annihilated the jihadists.

The world could use more moderate Muslims who push back hard against the Islamists, but huge numbers already do wherever it is necessary and possible. So far with the exception of Gaza, mainstream Muslims everywhere in the world risk arrest, torture, and death while resisting Islamist governments and insurgencies whenever they arise.

Read Less

The Price of UN Membership

As noted yesterday on contentions, Libya was elected on October 16, 2007 to the UN Security Council, a position it will assume in January. Last month Syria was elected Vice-Chair of the General Conference of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. These goings-on at the UN have been presented not only as perfectly normal but as laudable. While they have provoked strong reaction in some people, they should not come as a surprise.

The UN, we are told, is an essential institution because of its unique inclusivity. The argument goes that the goals and values of democracies on the world scene are dependent on their doing business with dictators as equals. One state, one vote. Regardless of the numbers of real people being subdued in various ways back home. Regardless of the financial contribution made by each member state to the world organization. Regardless of the extent to which the founding principles and purposes of the UN are flaunted by the member state every day of the week.

So Libya and Syria join a long list of dictatorships, despotisms, and human-rights violators in UN leadership positions—positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their incumbents’ qualifications.

Here are only a few of today’s UN authority figures:

• UN Security Council: Libya
• International Atomic Energy Agency General Committee, Vice-President: Syria
• UN Disarmament Commission, Vice-Chairman: Iran. Rapporteur: Syria
• Committee on Information: China, Kazakhstan
• UN Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination, and Wider Appreciation of International Law Advisory Committee: Iran, Lebanon, Sudan
• Commission for Social Development: North Korea
• Commission on the Status of Women: Qatar, Togo, United Arab Emirates
• Commission on Sustainable Development: Sudan
• Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Libya, Russia
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vice-President: Myanmar
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Board: China
• UN Development Program Executive Board: Algeria, Kazakhstan
• General Assembly Vice-Presidents: Egypt, Turkmenistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo
• General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, Vice-Chairman: Syria
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Seyed Mohammad Hashemi of Iran
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Member: Saied Rajaie Khorasani of Iran
• UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) Governing Council: Zimbabwe
• UN High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee: Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan
• International Labor Organization Governing Body: Saudi Arabia
• World Food Program Executive Board: Sudan, Zimbabwe

In short, membership in the UN has no price tag, although, as this list suggests, Israel-bashing and anti-Americanism are its all-but universal currency.

As noted yesterday on contentions, Libya was elected on October 16, 2007 to the UN Security Council, a position it will assume in January. Last month Syria was elected Vice-Chair of the General Conference of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. These goings-on at the UN have been presented not only as perfectly normal but as laudable. While they have provoked strong reaction in some people, they should not come as a surprise.

The UN, we are told, is an essential institution because of its unique inclusivity. The argument goes that the goals and values of democracies on the world scene are dependent on their doing business with dictators as equals. One state, one vote. Regardless of the numbers of real people being subdued in various ways back home. Regardless of the financial contribution made by each member state to the world organization. Regardless of the extent to which the founding principles and purposes of the UN are flaunted by the member state every day of the week.

So Libya and Syria join a long list of dictatorships, despotisms, and human-rights violators in UN leadership positions—positions that entail responsibilities diametrically opposed to their incumbents’ qualifications.

Here are only a few of today’s UN authority figures:

• UN Security Council: Libya
• International Atomic Energy Agency General Committee, Vice-President: Syria
• UN Disarmament Commission, Vice-Chairman: Iran. Rapporteur: Syria
• Committee on Information: China, Kazakhstan
• UN Program of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination, and Wider Appreciation of International Law Advisory Committee: Iran, Lebanon, Sudan
• Commission for Social Development: North Korea
• Commission on the Status of Women: Qatar, Togo, United Arab Emirates
• Commission on Sustainable Development: Sudan
• Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Libya, Russia
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Vice-President: Myanmar
• UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Board: China
• UN Development Program Executive Board: Algeria, Kazakhstan
• General Assembly Vice-Presidents: Egypt, Turkmenistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo
• General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, Vice-Chairman: Syria
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Seyed Mohammad Hashemi of Iran
• Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Member: Saied Rajaie Khorasani of Iran
• UN Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) Governing Council: Zimbabwe
• UN High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee: Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan
• International Labor Organization Governing Body: Saudi Arabia
• World Food Program Executive Board: Sudan, Zimbabwe

In short, membership in the UN has no price tag, although, as this list suggests, Israel-bashing and anti-Americanism are its all-but universal currency.

Read Less

China’s Colonial Troubles

News of military unrest has come this past week from Chinese-occupied East Turkestan, the 636,000-square-mile territory on the northwest frontier of the People’s Republic, officially called Xinjiang. According to the Associated Press:

Cotton farmers in China’s far west clashed with police and paramilitary guards over alleged price-fixing by local authorities, leaving 40 people injured, witnesses and Hong Kong media said Friday.

The protesters, however, were no ordinary “farmers.” To begin with, they were not indigenous Turks. Nor were they civilians. They were members of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which is to say, Chinese soldiers and their families, descended from the original occupation troops sent to colonize the territory in 1954, today numbering over two million, and still having military organization. According to reports, the units involved were the 127 and 123 brigades of the Seventh Division of the corps.

Since at least the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Chinese rulers have settled soldiers on frontiers and in occupied territories in tuntian or “agricultural military colonies.” The idea has always been that the men and families so settled would support themselves by farming, while being available to fight attackers or local inhabitants, if required. The Seventh Division’s farms extend over a politically-charged area near what used to be the border with the USSR, now with Kazakhstan, where the Ili river flows out of the People’s Republic though mountains to Lake Balkhash.

Read More

News of military unrest has come this past week from Chinese-occupied East Turkestan, the 636,000-square-mile territory on the northwest frontier of the People’s Republic, officially called Xinjiang. According to the Associated Press:

Cotton farmers in China’s far west clashed with police and paramilitary guards over alleged price-fixing by local authorities, leaving 40 people injured, witnesses and Hong Kong media said Friday.

The protesters, however, were no ordinary “farmers.” To begin with, they were not indigenous Turks. Nor were they civilians. They were members of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which is to say, Chinese soldiers and their families, descended from the original occupation troops sent to colonize the territory in 1954, today numbering over two million, and still having military organization. According to reports, the units involved were the 127 and 123 brigades of the Seventh Division of the corps.

Since at least the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Chinese rulers have settled soldiers on frontiers and in occupied territories in tuntian or “agricultural military colonies.” The idea has always been that the men and families so settled would support themselves by farming, while being available to fight attackers or local inhabitants, if required. The Seventh Division’s farms extend over a politically-charged area near what used to be the border with the USSR, now with Kazakhstan, where the Ili river flows out of the People’s Republic though mountains to Lake Balkhash.

It seems the soldiers originally sent to secure the region, who now are settled in paramilitary formations, are rioting against the exactions of the currently active Chinese Army there. The Army has set the price at which it buys the cotton raised by the soldiers near or below the cost of production. On September 22 and 23, according to incomplete reports in the South China Morning Post, military farmers responded to nighttime army searches for hidden cotton in their homes by turning out en masse to destroy the local headquarters of the Chinese Army cotton purchasing and policing units. The protesters reportedly numbered about five thousand.

This story is of particular importance because the conflict it reports is not between Turks and Chinese in occupied East Turkestan (these are common), but between the descendants of the first wave of Chinese occupiers and the current Chinese military authorities. How will the army respond if called upon to repress its own? This question must be a headache for Beijing.

More broadly, these developments lend support to two predictions about the future of the People’s Republic of China. The first is that its terminal troubles will begin internally, as this army versus army conflict suggests. The second is that the problems will begin not on China’s highly developed east coast, but rather in its vast and ragged far western border region, where lie the profoundly alien and uncongenial (to Chinese people) occupied territories of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and East Turkestan.

Read Less

“Throw the Jew down the Well”

Comedy fans with strong stomachs may chuckle when Borat Sagdiyev, the faux-Kazakh journalist played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, sings the pseudo-folksong “In My Country There Is Problem”: “Throw the Jew down the well/ So my country can be free/ You must grab him by his horns/ Then we have a big party.” The song, praised by Slate as “hilarious” and “catchy,” raised concerns from the Anti-Defamation League last September: “One serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.”

This precise worry has become tragically current. In Kazakhstan’s neighbor Uzbekistan it is now clear that Jews are still being lynched. As Ynetnews reports, last week the noted Jewish-Uzbek stage director Mark Weil was stabbed to death outside his Tashkent home. “Uzbek police suspect the murder was an anti-Semitic attack,” according to Ynetnews. Last April, the 55-year-old theater director, founder in 1976 of the Ilkhom Theater (one of the oldest independent theaters in the former USSR), had hosted a festival in Tashkent of Contemporary Israeli Literature and Drama. Weil was stabbed to death by two men, “possibly due to his Jewish identity,” as the director was well known for his close ties to the local Jewish community. Despite U. S. State Department warnings, Weil had assured friends and colleagues that his theater “had no enemies,” although its avant-garde subject matter on occasion included gay love, which in the Central Asian Muslim country of Uzbekistan is still punishable by a prison sentence.

Read More

Comedy fans with strong stomachs may chuckle when Borat Sagdiyev, the faux-Kazakh journalist played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, sings the pseudo-folksong “In My Country There Is Problem”: “Throw the Jew down the well/ So my country can be free/ You must grab him by his horns/ Then we have a big party.” The song, praised by Slate as “hilarious” and “catchy,” raised concerns from the Anti-Defamation League last September: “One serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.”

This precise worry has become tragically current. In Kazakhstan’s neighbor Uzbekistan it is now clear that Jews are still being lynched. As Ynetnews reports, last week the noted Jewish-Uzbek stage director Mark Weil was stabbed to death outside his Tashkent home. “Uzbek police suspect the murder was an anti-Semitic attack,” according to Ynetnews. Last April, the 55-year-old theater director, founder in 1976 of the Ilkhom Theater (one of the oldest independent theaters in the former USSR), had hosted a festival in Tashkent of Contemporary Israeli Literature and Drama. Weil was stabbed to death by two men, “possibly due to his Jewish identity,” as the director was well known for his close ties to the local Jewish community. Despite U. S. State Department warnings, Weil had assured friends and colleagues that his theater “had no enemies,” although its avant-garde subject matter on occasion included gay love, which in the Central Asian Muslim country of Uzbekistan is still punishable by a prison sentence.

Weil, who is survived by a wife and two daughters, is scarcely the first victim of recent anti-Semitic violence in Uzbekistan. Last year, 33-year-old Avraham Hakohen Yagudayev, a Jewish leader, died of cranial injuries in Tashkent after what local authorities called a traffic accident, but what local Hillel director asserted “was no accident,” pointing to overt anti-Semitism as the motive. (In 2000, his synagogue had been gutted by a fire that authorities pooh-poohed, claiming it was caused by a short circuit.) Since 1989, some 83,000 Uzbeki Jews have fled to Israel, with only around 17,000 remaining. As the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress explains, anti-Semitic violence in Uzbekistan is prevalent and a matter of ongoing concern.

During the filming of Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 The Great Dictator (a satire about Europe’s evolving historical tragedies), Chaplin realized that “Hitler [was] a horrible menace to civilization rather than someone to laugh at.” As the death toll of Central Asian Jews continues to increase, cinema audiences may wish to reconsider whether it is really timely to laugh at Borat, a character from a region of the world where (at least for Jews) the laughs have dried up entirely.

Read Less

Freedom House v. Anatol Lieven

Anatol Lieven—a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Ethical Realism: A Vision of America’s Role in the World—has emerged in recent years as one of the more relentless critics of democratization as a core project of U.S. foreign policy. The latest effort in his anti-democratization campaign is a January 26 column published in the Financial Times in response to Freedom House’s recently released annual index of global political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. (contentions blogger Joshua Muravchik wrote about the Washington Post‘s own attempt to spin this report here.) Lieven levels a number of serious charges at Freedom House and democracy advocates in general. Let’s examine these charges, one by one:

1. Democracy advocates, presumably including Freedom House, have exaggerated the impact of the elections in Iraq.

In its reports and findings on Iraq, Freedom House has consistently stressed the high incidence there of violence, terrorism, and sectarian strife. Freedom House has never described Iraq as a democracy or as a free society, and the country’s rating has remained “not free” throughout the period of occupation.

2. Freedom House distorts its findings to suit the ideological leanings of the American government.

Only someone who has not read Freedom in the World carefully could come to this conclusion. The latest index suggests that, far from being on the march, freedom has entered a period of stagnation, with very little progress in recent years—a conclusion hardly in line with the ideological leanings of the Bush administration.

3. Freedom House gives the United States the highest possible freedom score while judging other countries by the degree of their alliance with America.

The United States does, indeed, receive the highest possible rating—as do practically all the countries of Western Europe. One feels almost ridiculous in pointing out that a number of these countries—for starters, France, Spain, and Germany—have had sharp differences with America over its foreign policy in recent years. At the same time, Freedom in the World gives low scores to such American allies or “partners” as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

4. Freedom House does not appreciate the levels of freedom in China and Russia.

China devotes billions of dollars to the political censorship of the Internet. The authorities regularly imprison journalists, human-rights lawyers, and ordinary citizens seeking redress in cases of official abuse of power. Russia is moving precipitously in the wrong direction in almost every sphere of freedom. (For a detailed look at Russia’s regression, see Leon Aron’s What Does Putin Want? in the December issue of COMMENTARY.) What, exactly, are we meant to appreciate?

5. Freedom House has a narrow and extremist definition of freedom that fails to consider political developments leading to “a real sense of individual rights and personal liberty.”

Again, had Lieven read the report more carefully, he would have learned that Freedom House stresses precisely those institutions that are the key guarantors of “individual rights and personal liberty.” The issues of concern singled out in the report include the global decline in freedom of expression and the press, the widespread failure to create the effective rule of law, and rampant corruption.

Anatol Lieven calls himself an “ethical realist.” The “realist” component of this description seems to consist in his support of “benevolent” autocrats the globe over. Where the “ethical” comes in, given his slipshod reporting of the contents of Freedom in the World, remains rather mysterious.

Anatol Lieven—a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the co-author of Ethical Realism: A Vision of America’s Role in the World—has emerged in recent years as one of the more relentless critics of democratization as a core project of U.S. foreign policy. The latest effort in his anti-democratization campaign is a January 26 column published in the Financial Times in response to Freedom House’s recently released annual index of global political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World. (contentions blogger Joshua Muravchik wrote about the Washington Post‘s own attempt to spin this report here.) Lieven levels a number of serious charges at Freedom House and democracy advocates in general. Let’s examine these charges, one by one:

1. Democracy advocates, presumably including Freedom House, have exaggerated the impact of the elections in Iraq.

In its reports and findings on Iraq, Freedom House has consistently stressed the high incidence there of violence, terrorism, and sectarian strife. Freedom House has never described Iraq as a democracy or as a free society, and the country’s rating has remained “not free” throughout the period of occupation.

2. Freedom House distorts its findings to suit the ideological leanings of the American government.

Only someone who has not read Freedom in the World carefully could come to this conclusion. The latest index suggests that, far from being on the march, freedom has entered a period of stagnation, with very little progress in recent years—a conclusion hardly in line with the ideological leanings of the Bush administration.

3. Freedom House gives the United States the highest possible freedom score while judging other countries by the degree of their alliance with America.

The United States does, indeed, receive the highest possible rating—as do practically all the countries of Western Europe. One feels almost ridiculous in pointing out that a number of these countries—for starters, France, Spain, and Germany—have had sharp differences with America over its foreign policy in recent years. At the same time, Freedom in the World gives low scores to such American allies or “partners” as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan.

4. Freedom House does not appreciate the levels of freedom in China and Russia.

China devotes billions of dollars to the political censorship of the Internet. The authorities regularly imprison journalists, human-rights lawyers, and ordinary citizens seeking redress in cases of official abuse of power. Russia is moving precipitously in the wrong direction in almost every sphere of freedom. (For a detailed look at Russia’s regression, see Leon Aron’s What Does Putin Want? in the December issue of COMMENTARY.) What, exactly, are we meant to appreciate?

5. Freedom House has a narrow and extremist definition of freedom that fails to consider political developments leading to “a real sense of individual rights and personal liberty.”

Again, had Lieven read the report more carefully, he would have learned that Freedom House stresses precisely those institutions that are the key guarantors of “individual rights and personal liberty.” The issues of concern singled out in the report include the global decline in freedom of expression and the press, the widespread failure to create the effective rule of law, and rampant corruption.

Anatol Lieven calls himself an “ethical realist.” The “realist” component of this description seems to consist in his support of “benevolent” autocrats the globe over. Where the “ethical” comes in, given his slipshod reporting of the contents of Freedom in the World, remains rather mysterious.

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.