Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kosovo

Putin’s Crimes and the Kosovo Precedent

Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Crimea as a “sovereign and independent state” today, formalizing the theft of the region from the Ukraine. The United States and the European Union have responded with outrage and with limited sanctions on prominent members of the Putin regime (though not their leader) that are doing nothing to convince the Russians that they have made a mistake. The next step appears to be a decision by Putin to annex Crimea that may happen tomorrow. As the U.S. prepares its reaction to this outrage, no one should be laboring under the illusion that there is anything that President Obama or the Europeans can do to restore Ukrainian sovereignty. But there is still time to save what is left of the Ukraine from further Russian aggression as well as to ensure that other independent republics that were once part of the Soviet empire don’t suffer the same fate.

Can the West summon the will to restrain Russia? Putin is under the impression that President Obama is all talk and probably thinks even less of the Europeans. He has already calculated that serious economic sanctions on his country would be as painful for the EU as they are for Moscow. He knows that Obama is more interested in managing U.S. retrenchment from world-power status than in maintaining America’s credibility as a force on the world stage. He is also aware that growing isolationist sentiment on both the right and the left is sapping support for a strong stand in defense of Ukraine.

It is on that point that we should focus today in the aftermath of the staged plebiscite that took place in the Crimea lending the imprimatur of democratic legitimacy to Putin’s land grab. The Rand Paul isolationist wing of the Republican Party (as opposed to the followers of Ron Paul, who is an open Putin apologist) is making noises about this not being America’s fight as well as faintly echoing Putin’s main talking point about the stripping away of Crimea from the Ukraine being no different from the Western-backed secession of Kosovo from Serbia in 1999. Though there are superficial similarities between the two cases, this analogy should be completely rejected.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Crimea as a “sovereign and independent state” today, formalizing the theft of the region from the Ukraine. The United States and the European Union have responded with outrage and with limited sanctions on prominent members of the Putin regime (though not their leader) that are doing nothing to convince the Russians that they have made a mistake. The next step appears to be a decision by Putin to annex Crimea that may happen tomorrow. As the U.S. prepares its reaction to this outrage, no one should be laboring under the illusion that there is anything that President Obama or the Europeans can do to restore Ukrainian sovereignty. But there is still time to save what is left of the Ukraine from further Russian aggression as well as to ensure that other independent republics that were once part of the Soviet empire don’t suffer the same fate.

Can the West summon the will to restrain Russia? Putin is under the impression that President Obama is all talk and probably thinks even less of the Europeans. He has already calculated that serious economic sanctions on his country would be as painful for the EU as they are for Moscow. He knows that Obama is more interested in managing U.S. retrenchment from world-power status than in maintaining America’s credibility as a force on the world stage. He is also aware that growing isolationist sentiment on both the right and the left is sapping support for a strong stand in defense of Ukraine.

It is on that point that we should focus today in the aftermath of the staged plebiscite that took place in the Crimea lending the imprimatur of democratic legitimacy to Putin’s land grab. The Rand Paul isolationist wing of the Republican Party (as opposed to the followers of Ron Paul, who is an open Putin apologist) is making noises about this not being America’s fight as well as faintly echoing Putin’s main talking point about the stripping away of Crimea from the Ukraine being no different from the Western-backed secession of Kosovo from Serbia in 1999. Though there are superficial similarities between the two cases, this analogy should be completely rejected.

It is true that at the time the Russians, who were supporting Serbia, warned that a dangerous precedent was set when the United States and its NATO allies decided that Serbia should no longer be allowed to exercise its sovereignty over the province of Kosovo. Like the Ukrainians, the Serbs protested that the complaints of the Kosovars notwithstanding, the West had no right to decide that Serbia’s internationally recognized borders could be redrawn without Belgrade’s permission.

But unlike the situation in Ukraine, Serbian nationalists had created a genuine human-rights crisis in Kosovo with vicious repression of the ethnic Albanian majority in the region. Though Serbia had deep historic ties to Kosovo dating back to the Middle Ages, their rule there had lost its legitimacy due to their depredations that seemed to be a repeat of the horrors that Serbs had perpetrated in Bosnia only a few years earlier. Rather than stand by and watch the slaughter, this time the West intervened and a bombing campaign forced the Serbs to surrender the province. While this could have been seen as a bloodless war to create a greater Albania, in retrospect there’s little doubt that it was the right thing to do. The campaign prevented a potential catastrophe and ended the series of bloody Balkan wars that had followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

What has happened in Ukraine is nothing like that. Instead of an intervention by a great power to save people in a small country, Putin’s gambit is an attempt by a large power to victimize a small country. Though Putin has claimed he is intervening to save the ethnic Russians in the Ukraine, they were in no danger. The only potential human-rights problem is the result of Russian aggression in which ethnic Tatars in the Crimea now feel as if they are about to be squeezed out of a land where they were once the majority.

As Hillary Clinton rightly pointed out, Adolf Hitler patented the notion that local ethnic majorities can be used to tear nations apart in the 1930s. While Putin is no Hitler, his use of Russian nationalism to partition Ukraine threatens the independence and the sovereignty of every independent state in the former Soviet Union. It should be remembered that Ukraine’s independence is guaranteed by a treaty signed by the United States, as are those of other free nations in the region such as the Baltic states.

In allowing Kosovo to be sheared off from Serbia, President Clinton did potentially set a precedent that could be used by tyrants like Putin to threaten other small states. But the real precedent that governs actions such as the events in Kosovo and what is now going on in the former Soviet Union goes back farther than 1999.

Countries that use their sovereignty to victimize other, small peoples and nations effectively forfeit their rights in such situations. Just as Germany’s aggression rendered the complaints of ethnic Germans in Central Europe a mere pretext for atrocities, so too did the actions of the Serbs when they ran amok in the Balkans in the 1990s. Yet rather than legitimizing Russia’s conduct today, the opposite is true.

By smearing Ukraine and committing aggression on false pretexts, it is Russia that has forfeited its right to speak for ethnic Russians outside of its borders or to have its claims over the far-flung territories of the former Soviet empire respected. If there is a Kosovo precedent that applies here it is the one between Serbian aggression and the crimes being committed by the Putin regime. It is to be hoped that Western leaders understand this and won’t let any worries about Russian economic leverage or its claims of popular sovereignty undermine the West’s determination not to let Putin get away with this crime without paying a hefty price. 

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The Kosovo Precedent

The New York Times has an amusing article today about how Madeleine Albright, Wesley Clark, and other former Clinton administration officials and generals are trying to cash in in Kosovo, which American intervention rescued from Serbian oppression. As a result of the Clinton administration’s actions, Kosovo has become one of the most pro-American places in the world with streets named after both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and a statue of Clinton in the capital, Pristina.

What are the odds, I wonder, that there will be any similar outpouring of pro-American affection in Syria where, instead of intervening, the Obama administration is standing by even as the death toll climbs north of 45,000? The administration has now recognized a rebel government and blacklisted the Al Nusra Front as a terrorist organization but these small, symbolic steps are hardly leading to an outpouring of affection for Uncle Sam. Far from it. Indeed, as another Times article reports:

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The New York Times has an amusing article today about how Madeleine Albright, Wesley Clark, and other former Clinton administration officials and generals are trying to cash in in Kosovo, which American intervention rescued from Serbian oppression. As a result of the Clinton administration’s actions, Kosovo has become one of the most pro-American places in the world with streets named after both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and a statue of Clinton in the capital, Pristina.

What are the odds, I wonder, that there will be any similar outpouring of pro-American affection in Syria where, instead of intervening, the Obama administration is standing by even as the death toll climbs north of 45,000? The administration has now recognized a rebel government and blacklisted the Al Nusra Front as a terrorist organization but these small, symbolic steps are hardly leading to an outpouring of affection for Uncle Sam. Far from it. Indeed, as another Times article reports:

A growing number of anti-government groups — including fighters in the loose-knit Free Syrian Army that the United States is trying to bolster — have signed petitions or posted statements online in recent days expressing support for the Nusra Front. In keeping with a tradition throughout the uprising of choosing themes for Friday protests, the biggest day for demonstrations because it coincides with Friday Prayer, many called for this Friday’s title to be “No to American intervention — we are all Jabhet al-Nusra.”

These groups are rallying to the Al Nusra Front not because they like it–many of the other rebels hate the jihadist extremists who are intent on hijacking their struggle for freedom. But they are also pragmatic enough to know that the jihadists are fighting hard against Bashar Assad while the U.S. does nothing to help.

The administration’s stance would be akin to the Roosevelt administration in 1942 designating the NKVD as a terrorist organization and refusing to cooperate with Stalin. FDR was shrewder than that–he realized that, for all his dislike of Communism, sometimes the enemy of your enemy is your friend, at least temporarily. That is something that the current Democratic president does not seem to grasp.

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Selective Reading Results in Daft Analysis

You can always count on the Center for American Progress — a Democratic Party propaganda shop disguised as a think tank — to come up with a cheap partisan screed on any issue. And with their response to my concerns about cutting the defense budget, they do not disappoint. Their Matt Duss claims that my concern about cutting troop size is evidence of my animus against President Obama and that I was a cheerleader for a smaller force size under President Bush.

This feat he accomplishes through highly selective, indeed misleading, quotation. For instance, he cites a 2003 Foreign Affairs article I wrote in which I hailed the successful invasion of Iraq as a signal military achievement. He utterly ignores the fact that while I did say the U.S. armed forces could do more with less in a conventional conflict, I noted that this was not the case in nation-building and counterinsurgency. Here is what the article said:

It may make sense to transform some heavy armored units into lighter,
more deployable formations. It makes no sense to reduce the size of
the army as whole, an idea that Rumsfeld once toyed with. The army has
already shrunk from 18 active-duty divisions in 1990 to 10 today — a
force that is not adequate for all its responsibilities, which include
deployments in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sinai, South Korea, and
now Iraq. The army is overstretched and having to lean more heavily on
the reserves and the National Guard for vital functions such as
policing and civil affairs. These part-time soldiers are not happy
about becoming full-timers. The marines should pick up some of the
slack by shouldering occupation duties in Iraq and elsewhere. But the
active-duty army still needs to be increased in size. Airpower, no
matter how awesome, cannot police newly liberated countries — or
build democratic governments. Read More

You can always count on the Center for American Progress — a Democratic Party propaganda shop disguised as a think tank — to come up with a cheap partisan screed on any issue. And with their response to my concerns about cutting the defense budget, they do not disappoint. Their Matt Duss claims that my concern about cutting troop size is evidence of my animus against President Obama and that I was a cheerleader for a smaller force size under President Bush.

This feat he accomplishes through highly selective, indeed misleading, quotation. For instance, he cites a 2003 Foreign Affairs article I wrote in which I hailed the successful invasion of Iraq as a signal military achievement. He utterly ignores the fact that while I did say the U.S. armed forces could do more with less in a conventional conflict, I noted that this was not the case in nation-building and counterinsurgency. Here is what the article said:

It may make sense to transform some heavy armored units into lighter,
more deployable formations. It makes no sense to reduce the size of
the army as whole, an idea that Rumsfeld once toyed with. The army has
already shrunk from 18 active-duty divisions in 1990 to 10 today — a
force that is not adequate for all its responsibilities, which include
deployments in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sinai, South Korea, and
now Iraq. The army is overstretched and having to lean more heavily on
the reserves and the National Guard for vital functions such as
policing and civil affairs. These part-time soldiers are not happy
about becoming full-timers. The marines should pick up some of the
slack by shouldering occupation duties in Iraq and elsewhere. But the
active-duty army still needs to be increased in size. Airpower, no
matter how awesome, cannot police newly liberated countries — or
build democratic governments.

The army needs to tackle the task of “imperial” policing — not a
popular duty, but one that is as vital to safeguarding U.S. interests
in the long run as are the more conventional war-fighting skills on
display during the second Gulf War. The Army War College’s decision to
shut down its Peacekeeping Institute is not a good sign; it means that
the army still wants to avoid focusing on noncombat missions. The army
brass should realize that battlefield victories in places like Afghanistan and Iraq can easily be squandered if they do not do enough
to win the peace.

I picked up on this point in a 2005 Foreign Affairs article that Duss somehow ignores. I wrote:

Even if the Defense Department wanted to dramatically increase the size of the force in Iraq — a step that many experts believe is essential — it
would be hard pressed to find the necessary troops. As it is,
active-duty divisions are being worn down by constant rotations
through Afghanistan and Iraq, and the National Guard and reserves are
now feeling the strain as well. Essential equipment, such as Humvees
and helicopters, is getting worn out by constant use in harsh
conditions. So are the soldiers who operate them. Many officers worry
about a looming recruitment and retention crisis.

This points to the need to increase the overall size of the U.S.
military — especially the Army, which was cut more than 30 percent in
the 1990s. Bush and Rumsfeld have adamantly resisted any permanent
personnel increase because they insist, contrary to all evidence, that
the spike in overseas deployments is only temporary. Rumsfeld instead
plans to reassign soldiers from lower-priority billets to military
policing, intelligence, and civil affairs, while temporarily
increasing the Army’s size by 30,000 and moving civilians into jobs
now performed by uniformed personnel. In this way he hopes to increase
the number of active-duty Army combat brigades from 33 to at least 43.

These are welcome moves, but they are only Band-AIDS for a military
that is bleeding from gaping wounds inflicted by a punishing tempo of
operations. The U.S. armed forces should add at least 100,000 extra
soldiers, and probably a good deal more.

I have quoted extensively from my own writing to show what a crock this attack is. I have been consistently arguing for an increase in the size of our ground combat forces. Failure to increase end-strength more was one of the major mistakes that President Bush made — as I said at the time. I only hope that President Obama does not repeat this mistake.

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NATO Considering Peacekeeping Force in Middle East

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

Speaking at a press conference in Lisbon during NATO’s summit, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced that the alliance is prepared to consider sending a peacekeeping force to enforce an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, that is both very commendable and easy to say. Commendable, because it is a real commitment to invest resources to make a peace deal succeed; easy, because the likelihood of a peace deal is very remote.

Still, for skeptics, take a look at a paper produced by Florence Gaub, a scholar attached to the NATO Defence College in Rome. According to Gaub:

Independently from local security forces, the NATO force in Palestine … would, if it follows the example of the successful cases of Bosnia and Kosovo, need forces ranging from 43,700 to 76,000 men, including the police forces. Of these, between 16,100 and 28,000 would patrol Gaza, and between 27,600 and 48,000 the West Bank.

Gaub gives a long and detailed explanation as to how she gets to that number — an explanation that is worth reading because it is based on sound number-crunching from previous experiences of peacekeeping. She also confronts the unpleasant scenarios that putting boots on such ground would result in.

But quite aside from her assessment (which leads her to conclude that “NATO’s mission in Palestine would have slim chances of success and a high probability of failure”), what are the chances that NATO countries that found it hard to contribute an additional few thousand men to Afghanistan would give 76,000 for Palestine?

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The End of Obama’s Non-Peace-Talk Charade

No surprise here:

In perhaps the shortest round of peace negotiations in the history of their conflict, talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have ground to a halt and show little sign of resuming.

But this explanation has to make one smile:

Pressure to restart the talks eased after the Arab League said it would wait a month — until Nov. 8 — before ending Abbas’s mandate for negotiations, thus pushing the issue beyond the U.S. midterm elections. But if Republicans score big gains, some Israelis argue, that could limit Obama’s ability to pressure Israel to make concessions.

Because, for all the whining about making Israel a partisan issue, there is no doubt that support for Israel and opposition to Obama’s pitched assault on it are strongest on the Republican side of the aisle.

The extent of the administration’s naivete and incompetence is something to behold (my comments in brackets):

The Obama administration, worried that the impending end of the settlement freeze would leave a potentially dangerous vacuum, rushed forward with talks without a plan for dealing with the end of the moratorium, analysts say. The hope was that sheer momentum would carry the talks forward. [What momentum?]

That decision has come with costs, including some to Obama’s credibility. [Some? It does rather shatter it, no?] The president invested his personal prestige in launching the talks, and even appealed to Israel to extend the freeze during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly. [Because he imagined that the sheer swellness of himself, coupled with threats, could achieve what the Israelis plainly said was unacceptable?]

The Palestinians, taking their cue from previous administration statements, have made a settlement freeze a key requirement for continued talks, so any reversal in that stance would make them appear weak. Netanyahu, concerned about the impact an extension of the freeze would have on his right-leaning coalition, has put new demands on the table, such as upfront Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. [In other words, he screwed up the whole thing.]

Having demonstrated that the U.S. is such a feckless friend of Israel and an unreliable interlocutor for the PA, Obama now faces the prospect that his beloved multilateral institution will try to dismember the Jewish state:

“We are going to go to Washington to recognize a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. If that doesn’t work, we’ll go to the U.N. Security Council and will ask Washington not to veto,” [PA negotiator Muhammad] Shatayeh said. If Washington vetoes, he said, then the Palestinians will appeal to the U.N. General Assembly.

Does the UN General Assembly have such power? Two foreign policy experts tell me that the involvement of the UN General Assembly is not unprecedented in such matters. The General Assembly was responsible for the 1947 partition. More recently, as they gurus explained, “after Kosovo declared its independence, Serbia asked the U.N. General Assembly to intervene and U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion, which it did.”

General Assembly resolutions are not, strictly speaking, binding. But legality is not the issue; this is a thugocracy, after all, which has been empowered and elevated by none other than Barack Obama. It is hard to believe that a single administration in just two years could have made such hash out of Middle East policy.

No surprise here:

In perhaps the shortest round of peace negotiations in the history of their conflict, talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have ground to a halt and show little sign of resuming.

But this explanation has to make one smile:

Pressure to restart the talks eased after the Arab League said it would wait a month — until Nov. 8 — before ending Abbas’s mandate for negotiations, thus pushing the issue beyond the U.S. midterm elections. But if Republicans score big gains, some Israelis argue, that could limit Obama’s ability to pressure Israel to make concessions.

Because, for all the whining about making Israel a partisan issue, there is no doubt that support for Israel and opposition to Obama’s pitched assault on it are strongest on the Republican side of the aisle.

The extent of the administration’s naivete and incompetence is something to behold (my comments in brackets):

The Obama administration, worried that the impending end of the settlement freeze would leave a potentially dangerous vacuum, rushed forward with talks without a plan for dealing with the end of the moratorium, analysts say. The hope was that sheer momentum would carry the talks forward. [What momentum?]

That decision has come with costs, including some to Obama’s credibility. [Some? It does rather shatter it, no?] The president invested his personal prestige in launching the talks, and even appealed to Israel to extend the freeze during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly. [Because he imagined that the sheer swellness of himself, coupled with threats, could achieve what the Israelis plainly said was unacceptable?]

The Palestinians, taking their cue from previous administration statements, have made a settlement freeze a key requirement for continued talks, so any reversal in that stance would make them appear weak. Netanyahu, concerned about the impact an extension of the freeze would have on his right-leaning coalition, has put new demands on the table, such as upfront Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. [In other words, he screwed up the whole thing.]

Having demonstrated that the U.S. is such a feckless friend of Israel and an unreliable interlocutor for the PA, Obama now faces the prospect that his beloved multilateral institution will try to dismember the Jewish state:

“We are going to go to Washington to recognize a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. If that doesn’t work, we’ll go to the U.N. Security Council and will ask Washington not to veto,” [PA negotiator Muhammad] Shatayeh said. If Washington vetoes, he said, then the Palestinians will appeal to the U.N. General Assembly.

Does the UN General Assembly have such power? Two foreign policy experts tell me that the involvement of the UN General Assembly is not unprecedented in such matters. The General Assembly was responsible for the 1947 partition. More recently, as they gurus explained, “after Kosovo declared its independence, Serbia asked the U.N. General Assembly to intervene and U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion, which it did.”

General Assembly resolutions are not, strictly speaking, binding. But legality is not the issue; this is a thugocracy, after all, which has been empowered and elevated by none other than Barack Obama. It is hard to believe that a single administration in just two years could have made such hash out of Middle East policy.

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The Israel Obsession Claims Another Victim: Europe’s Global Status

In his usual undiplomatic fashion, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his French and Spanish counterparts yesterday that they should solve Europe’s own problems — like Kosovo and Cyprus — before trying to tell Israel how to solve its problems. That predictably infuriated his guests. Yet in this instance, Lieberman was largely echoing the advice of one of the European Union’s own members — and not one known for pro-Israel sentiment.

Last month, Finnish Foreign Minister Alex Stubb presented the results of research he conducted into what EU foreign ministers do and don’t discuss during their monthly meetings. The results were astounding.

For instance, he found that over the past four years, the ministers had held exactly one discussion on the role of China as a foreign policy power. Yet given China’s growing assertiveness on the world stage, that would surely rank at the top of just about anyone’s list of major foreign policy issues.

So what were EU foreign ministers devoting their time to instead? To quote the New York Times’ summary,

Mr. Stubb’s research shows how foreign ministers tend to devote their discussions to crises, and to issues where Europe has limited influence.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, European foreign ministers discussed the Middle East peace process 12 times.

In other words, the ministers devoted more than half of their monthly meetings during this period (since 2010 isn’t a full year) to the Middle East peace process — an issue on which, by their own admission, they have little influence. Indeed, the main purpose of this week’s Israel visit was “to raise European involvement in the current diplomatic process, at a time when the EU’s role has proven very minimal.”

As a result, they have been neglecting issues of far more importance, like how to deal with a rising China. And the result is that Europe is rapidly losing its global power and influence. As Stubb said earlier last month, “Arguably, today Turkey is more influential in the world than any of our member states together or separately” — an embarrassing admission from a bloc that has repeatedly spurned this unwanted applicant for membership from Europe’s eastern flank.

Stubb’s conclusion from his research was that “for too long we have been preaching, paternalizing the rest of the world,” and now “we need to pick our fights better.”

That’s good general advice, but his own findings indicate that the problem is a good deal more specific: it’s the EU’s obsession with Israel in particular that has served as the main distraction. This obsession has prevented it from devoting time and attention to more important issues, like China, and to issues on which the EU could have a greater impact. And consequently, it has contributed significantly to the EU’s waning global status.

I’ve written repeatedly about the price the global obsession with Israel exacts worldwide, from victims of human rights abuses whose plights are ignored owing to this obsession, to Western democracy itself. But it seems that the Israel obsession can now chalk up one more victim: European power.

In his usual undiplomatic fashion, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his French and Spanish counterparts yesterday that they should solve Europe’s own problems — like Kosovo and Cyprus — before trying to tell Israel how to solve its problems. That predictably infuriated his guests. Yet in this instance, Lieberman was largely echoing the advice of one of the European Union’s own members — and not one known for pro-Israel sentiment.

Last month, Finnish Foreign Minister Alex Stubb presented the results of research he conducted into what EU foreign ministers do and don’t discuss during their monthly meetings. The results were astounding.

For instance, he found that over the past four years, the ministers had held exactly one discussion on the role of China as a foreign policy power. Yet given China’s growing assertiveness on the world stage, that would surely rank at the top of just about anyone’s list of major foreign policy issues.

So what were EU foreign ministers devoting their time to instead? To quote the New York Times’ summary,

Mr. Stubb’s research shows how foreign ministers tend to devote their discussions to crises, and to issues where Europe has limited influence.

For example, in 2009 and 2010, European foreign ministers discussed the Middle East peace process 12 times.

In other words, the ministers devoted more than half of their monthly meetings during this period (since 2010 isn’t a full year) to the Middle East peace process — an issue on which, by their own admission, they have little influence. Indeed, the main purpose of this week’s Israel visit was “to raise European involvement in the current diplomatic process, at a time when the EU’s role has proven very minimal.”

As a result, they have been neglecting issues of far more importance, like how to deal with a rising China. And the result is that Europe is rapidly losing its global power and influence. As Stubb said earlier last month, “Arguably, today Turkey is more influential in the world than any of our member states together or separately” — an embarrassing admission from a bloc that has repeatedly spurned this unwanted applicant for membership from Europe’s eastern flank.

Stubb’s conclusion from his research was that “for too long we have been preaching, paternalizing the rest of the world,” and now “we need to pick our fights better.”

That’s good general advice, but his own findings indicate that the problem is a good deal more specific: it’s the EU’s obsession with Israel in particular that has served as the main distraction. This obsession has prevented it from devoting time and attention to more important issues, like China, and to issues on which the EU could have a greater impact. And consequently, it has contributed significantly to the EU’s waning global status.

I’ve written repeatedly about the price the global obsession with Israel exacts worldwide, from victims of human rights abuses whose plights are ignored owing to this obsession, to Western democracy itself. But it seems that the Israel obsession can now chalk up one more victim: European power.

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Dismantling Joe Klein

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this: Read More

Correcting the errors in logic and fact by Joe Klein is more than a full-time job, and I usually have better things to do. But once in a while, he writes a piece that deserves to be examined and dismantled. The posting Klein did on Time magazine’s blog Swampland earlier this week, “Obama on Iraq,” qualifies as one of those instances. Let’s have a look.

1. On Monday Klein wrote this:

It is the way of the world that Barack Obama ‘ s announcement today of the end of the combat phase in Iraq … will not be remembered as vividly as George Bush’s juvenile march across the deck of an aircraft carrier, costumed as a combat aviator in a golden sunset, to announce — six years and tens of thousands of lives prematurely — the “end of combat operations.”

Now let’s see what Klein said about Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln on CBS’s Face the Nation, on May 4, 2003:

Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn’t air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

Bush’s moment went from being Hollywood cool then to a puerile act now. Such bipolar shifts of opinion in a high-ranking public official would be alarming and dangerous; in a columnist and blogger, they are comical and discrediting.

2. Klein asserts this:

Certainly, even if something resembling democracy prevails, the U.S. invasion and occupation — the carnage and tragedy it wrought — will not be remembered fondly by Iraqis anytime soon. We will own the destruction in perpetuity; if the Iraqis manage to cobble themselves a decent society, they will see it, correctly, as an achievement of their own. [emphasis added]

Here, Klein moves from the merely ludicrous to the offensive. What Klein is arguing is that even if things turn out well in Iraq, America deserves none of the credit. We were responsible only for carnage and tragedy, not liberation. The heroic sacrifices of America’s military men and women are dismissed as inconsequential. Those who have died have done so in vain, according to Klein’s line of reasoning; if the Iraqis manage to cobble for themselves a decent society, he insists, it will be an achievement of their own making alone.

This claim is flatly untrue. Without the intervention of the United States, Saddam Hussein would not have been deposed. And without the sacrifice of treasure and blood made by America, Iraq would have been convulsed by civil war and possibly genocide. It is certainly true that if Iraq continues on its path to self-government, its people will deserve a large share of the credit. But so will America — and so will those who wore America’s uniform into combat. For Klein to dismiss what our country and its warriors have done to advance liberty and humane ends is disturbing and revelatory.

3. Klein writes this:

As for myself, I deeply regret that once, on television in the days before the war, I reluctantly but foolishly said that going ahead with the invasion might be the right thing to do. I was far more skeptical, and equivocal, in print–I never wrote in favor of the war and repeatedly raised the problems that would accompany it–but skepticism and equivocation were an insufficient reaction, too.

Well, this admission marks progress of a sort, I suppose.

For the longest time, Klein denied ever having supported the war. He even complained about being criticized by liberals for his support of the Iraq war. “The fact that I’ve been opposed to the Iraq war ever since this 2002 article in Slate just makes it all the more aggravating,” Klein said.

But what proved to be even more aggravating to Joe is when people like Arianna Huffington and me pointed out that Klein supported the war immediately before it began, thus contradicting his revisionist claim.

For the record: On Feb. 22, 2003, Klein told the late Tim Russert that the war was a “really tough decision” but that he, Klein, thought it was probably “the right decision at this point.” Klein then offered several reasons for his judgment: Saddam’s defiance of 17 UN resolutions over a dozen years; Klein’s firm conviction that Saddam was hiding WMD; and the need to send the message that if we didn’t enforce the latest UN resolution, it “empowers every would-be Saddam out there and every would-be terrorist out there.”

It’s worth pointing out that to make a false claim and revise it in light of emerging evidence is something of a pattern with Joe. After all, he repeatedly and forcefully denied being the author of the novel Primary Colors until he was forced to admit that he, in fact, had written it. It takes him a while to grudgingly bow before incontrovertible evidence. But he does get there. Eventually. When he has no other choice.

4.  According to Klein:

In retrospect, the issue then was as clear cut as it is now. It demanded a clarity that I failed to summon. The essential principle is immutable: We should never go to war unless we have been attacked or are under direct, immediate threat of attack. Never. And never again.

Presumably, then, Klein believes that Great Britain declaring war on Germany two days after Hitler’s invasion of Poland (Great Britain and Poland were allies and shared a security pact) was a violation of an “essential” and “immutable” principle. So was the first Gulf War, when the United States repelled Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. So was Tony Blair’s intervention in Kosovo and Sierra Leone (the latter widely viewed as successful in helping save that West African country from barbarism and dictatorship). So, arguably, was the American Civil War; after all, Lincoln could have avoided war, had he given in on the matters of secession and slavery.

According to Klein, no war is justified unless a nation has been attacked or is under the direct, immediate threat of attack — which means interventions for the sake of aiding allies, meeting treaty obligations, averting massive humanitarian disasters, or advancing national interests and national security are always and forever off the table.

Klein’s arguments are those of a simpleton. He has drawn up a doctrine that isn’t based on careful reasoning, subtle analysis, or a sophisticated understanding of history; it is, in fact, a childish overreaction to the events of the moment. What Klein states with emphatic certainty one day is something he will probably jettison the next.

Iraq is a subject on which Joe Klein has been — let’s be gentle here — highly erratic. He both opposed and supported the war before it began. After the war started, he spoke hopefully about the movement toward democracy there. (“This is not a moment for caveats,” he wrote in 2005, after the Iraqi elections. “It is a moment for solemn appreciation of the Iraqi achievement — however it may turn out — and for hope.”) Now he refers to it as a “neo-colonialist obscenity.” President Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” went from being something that “seem[s] to be paying off” and that might even secure Bush the Nobel Peace Prize to a “delusional farce.” Klein ridiculed the idea of the surge, referring to it as “Bush’s futile pipe dream,” before conceding that the surge was wise, necessary, and successful.

This is all of a piece with Klein. And there is a kind of poignancy that surrounds his descent. Once upon a time, Joe was a fairly decent political reporter — but somewhere along the line, he went badly off track. He has become startlingly embittered, consumed by his hatreds, regarding as malevolent enemies all people who hold views different from his. In the past, his writings could be insightful, somewhat balanced, and at times elegant. These days, he’s not good for much more than a rant — and even his rants have become predictable, pedestrian, banal. Witless, even.

This cannot be what Henry Luce envisioned for his magazine.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Sidelight on the ICJ’s Kosovo Decision

Yesterday, the International Court of Justice, in a nonbinding opinion that resulted from a referral from the UN General Assembly at Serbia’s behest, ruled that Kosovo’s breakaway from Serbia was not illegal because “general international law contains no applicable prohibition on declarations of independence.” Well, that’s a relief.

On its merits, the opinion was correct. But this is exactly the kind of fundamentally political question that cannot be settled by the courts – especially not an international court. If the ICJ had decided that Kosovo’s independence was illegal, it would in theory have committed itself and the UN to reversing it. That could only be done by force applied by the so-called international community against Kosovo. There was and is not the slightest chance of that. The ICJ would have done better to refuse to accept the referral on the grounds that the matter was outside its competence.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Yesterday, the International Court of Justice, in a nonbinding opinion that resulted from a referral from the UN General Assembly at Serbia’s behest, ruled that Kosovo’s breakaway from Serbia was not illegal because “general international law contains no applicable prohibition on declarations of independence.” Well, that’s a relief.

On its merits, the opinion was correct. But this is exactly the kind of fundamentally political question that cannot be settled by the courts – especially not an international court. If the ICJ had decided that Kosovo’s independence was illegal, it would in theory have committed itself and the UN to reversing it. That could only be done by force applied by the so-called international community against Kosovo. There was and is not the slightest chance of that. The ICJ would have done better to refuse to accept the referral on the grounds that the matter was outside its competence.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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Kosovars Identify with Israel, Not Palestinians

What do Palestinians imagine an independent state will be like? After 16 years of Palestinian Authority and Hamas misrule in the West Bank and Gaza, we know it is not Shimon Peres’s vision of Benelux prosperity that he articulated in his faux visionary/comic 1993 book The New Middle East. According to Frida Ghitis, who writes in the Miami Herald, the answer is Kosovo.

Writing from Pristina, the capital of that Balkan enclave, Ghitis explains that Kosovo’s formula — a forced withdrawal of Serbian forces, followed by a unilateral declaration of independence and protection by international forces –- is worth emulating to some Palestinians. But as Ghitis rightly notes, the analogy between the Palestinians and the Kosovars is limited to their shared Muslim faith and desire for self-rule. Unlike Serbia, Israel has always been willing to live side by side with its Arab neighbors. Even more to the point:

Unlike Palestinians, Kosovars and their leaders never expressed a wish or intention to destroy all of Serbia. They never challenged Serbia’s right to exist, as Palestinians have about Israel. In fact, Kosovo’s new constitution affirms the nascent country has no designs on any more territory. Palestinians, even today, stand deeply divided in their aims. The charter of the radical Hamas, which rules Gaza, still calls for Israel’s destruction.

An even greater difference is the character of Kosovar and Palestinian political cultures, as Ghitis writes:

The differences between Kosovars and Palestinians are, in fact, so strong that many in Kosovo have identified more with Israelis than with Palestinians. About 90 percent of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians — secular Muslims — demographically overwhelmed in a region where they find themselves surrounded by tens of millions of ethnic Slavs. It’s a situation some Kosovars say resembles that of Israel, surrounded by hundreds millions of often-hostile Arabs.

The creation of a virtually independent Kosovo has not been without problems. It is, as any Palestinian state would be, an economic basket case, totally reliant not only on foreign protection but also foreign aid. Yet for all the misgivings we might have about NATO’s Kosovo commitment, unlike the Hamasistan in Gaza, Kosovo is not a lethal threat to the surrounding countries, and it is not allied with Iran. Salam Fayyad’s talk about a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence should be met with reminders that Kosovo is not a relevant model to the Middle East conflict. Until Palestinians resolve to put away terror and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Israel, talk of independence for the Palestinians is merely a tactic in their ongoing war against the Jews, not a bid for peace.

What do Palestinians imagine an independent state will be like? After 16 years of Palestinian Authority and Hamas misrule in the West Bank and Gaza, we know it is not Shimon Peres’s vision of Benelux prosperity that he articulated in his faux visionary/comic 1993 book The New Middle East. According to Frida Ghitis, who writes in the Miami Herald, the answer is Kosovo.

Writing from Pristina, the capital of that Balkan enclave, Ghitis explains that Kosovo’s formula — a forced withdrawal of Serbian forces, followed by a unilateral declaration of independence and protection by international forces –- is worth emulating to some Palestinians. But as Ghitis rightly notes, the analogy between the Palestinians and the Kosovars is limited to their shared Muslim faith and desire for self-rule. Unlike Serbia, Israel has always been willing to live side by side with its Arab neighbors. Even more to the point:

Unlike Palestinians, Kosovars and their leaders never expressed a wish or intention to destroy all of Serbia. They never challenged Serbia’s right to exist, as Palestinians have about Israel. In fact, Kosovo’s new constitution affirms the nascent country has no designs on any more territory. Palestinians, even today, stand deeply divided in their aims. The charter of the radical Hamas, which rules Gaza, still calls for Israel’s destruction.

An even greater difference is the character of Kosovar and Palestinian political cultures, as Ghitis writes:

The differences between Kosovars and Palestinians are, in fact, so strong that many in Kosovo have identified more with Israelis than with Palestinians. About 90 percent of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians — secular Muslims — demographically overwhelmed in a region where they find themselves surrounded by tens of millions of ethnic Slavs. It’s a situation some Kosovars say resembles that of Israel, surrounded by hundreds millions of often-hostile Arabs.

The creation of a virtually independent Kosovo has not been without problems. It is, as any Palestinian state would be, an economic basket case, totally reliant not only on foreign protection but also foreign aid. Yet for all the misgivings we might have about NATO’s Kosovo commitment, unlike the Hamasistan in Gaza, Kosovo is not a lethal threat to the surrounding countries, and it is not allied with Iran. Salam Fayyad’s talk about a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence should be met with reminders that Kosovo is not a relevant model to the Middle East conflict. Until Palestinians resolve to put away terror and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Israel, talk of independence for the Palestinians is merely a tactic in their ongoing war against the Jews, not a bid for peace.

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Continued U.S. Presence Best Hope for Democracy in Iraq

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner makes a number of excellent points on Newsweek‘s cover story, “Victory at Last,” which heralds the emergence of Iraqi democracy. He points out, rightly, how remarkable the progress has been since 2007, how much credit President Bush deserves for ordering the surge, and how wrong the skeptics were (he mentions, in particular, Joe Klein and Tom Ricks). All good points, but I would add a few cautionary notes.

In the first place, as Pete himself acknowledges, terrible mistakes were made in the war’s early years. They do not in my judgment (or in Pete’s) make the invasion of Iraq “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy,” as Ricks has called it, but they will tarnish the Bush administration even if Iraq stays on its current trajectory toward full-blown democracy.

My second cautionary note concerns whether this will in fact be the case. Iraq has defied the naysayers since 2007, but recall how from 2003 to 2007 it also defied the Pollyannas of the Bush administration. There is no guarantee that its present progress will continue — any more than there was a guarantee that it would go into a death spiral in 2007, as so widely assumed in Washington.

The key to Iraq’s remarkable transformation has been the vigorous actions of American troops, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when they are withdrawn. If the Obama administration’s policy (which builds on an agreement reached by the Bush administration and the government of Iraq) continues unchanged, we will be down to 50,000 troops by September (from roughly 100,000 today) and then to zero by the end of 2011. That is a potentially worrisome development given how many violent rifts remain in Iraqi politics just below the surface — Sunni vs. Shia, Kurd vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, military vs. civilian, tribe vs. tribe — and how hard Iran is trying to destabilize the situation and put its proxies into position of power.

That’s why I agree with Ricks when he advocates that the Obama administration negotiate an accord with the new government of Iraq to allow American troops to remain beyond 2011. Not in a combat role, in all likelihood, but simply as a peacekeeping force, akin to the forces that still remain in Kosovo and Bosnia long after the end of their wars. The continued presence of U.S. troops will be the best possible guarantee that Iraq will continue to develop into a flourishing democracy. Although I disagreed with Ricks over the surge and the invasion of Iraq, he deserves kudos for taking this principled stand, because he knows how important it is not to leave Iraq as thoughtlessly as we arrived.

Over at National Review Online, Pete Wehner makes a number of excellent points on Newsweek‘s cover story, “Victory at Last,” which heralds the emergence of Iraqi democracy. He points out, rightly, how remarkable the progress has been since 2007, how much credit President Bush deserves for ordering the surge, and how wrong the skeptics were (he mentions, in particular, Joe Klein and Tom Ricks). All good points, but I would add a few cautionary notes.

In the first place, as Pete himself acknowledges, terrible mistakes were made in the war’s early years. They do not in my judgment (or in Pete’s) make the invasion of Iraq “the biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy,” as Ricks has called it, but they will tarnish the Bush administration even if Iraq stays on its current trajectory toward full-blown democracy.

My second cautionary note concerns whether this will in fact be the case. Iraq has defied the naysayers since 2007, but recall how from 2003 to 2007 it also defied the Pollyannas of the Bush administration. There is no guarantee that its present progress will continue — any more than there was a guarantee that it would go into a death spiral in 2007, as so widely assumed in Washington.

The key to Iraq’s remarkable transformation has been the vigorous actions of American troops, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen when they are withdrawn. If the Obama administration’s policy (which builds on an agreement reached by the Bush administration and the government of Iraq) continues unchanged, we will be down to 50,000 troops by September (from roughly 100,000 today) and then to zero by the end of 2011. That is a potentially worrisome development given how many violent rifts remain in Iraqi politics just below the surface — Sunni vs. Shia, Kurd vs. Arab, secular vs. religious, military vs. civilian, tribe vs. tribe — and how hard Iran is trying to destabilize the situation and put its proxies into position of power.

That’s why I agree with Ricks when he advocates that the Obama administration negotiate an accord with the new government of Iraq to allow American troops to remain beyond 2011. Not in a combat role, in all likelihood, but simply as a peacekeeping force, akin to the forces that still remain in Kosovo and Bosnia long after the end of their wars. The continued presence of U.S. troops will be the best possible guarantee that Iraq will continue to develop into a flourishing democracy. Although I disagreed with Ricks over the surge and the invasion of Iraq, he deserves kudos for taking this principled stand, because he knows how important it is not to leave Iraq as thoughtlessly as we arrived.

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The Centrist Tug

As he marks a year in office, President Obama has to deal with plunging opinion polls, repeated rebuffs abroad from nations as diverse as Israel and Iran, and now the loss of a Senate seat in solidly Democratic Massachusetts — a result only slightly more surprising than if the residents of Mecca had converted to Catholicism. That last setback has put his signature legislative initiative, an overhaul of the health-care system, in the critical-care ward.

I differ from the general disenchantment with Obama only insofar as I was never that enchanted to begin with. Yet I am still glad in retrospect that he won. And not because I doubt that John McCain would have been a better president; I don’t. But if McCain had won, he would have faced a poisonous environment in Washington with embittered Democrats blocking his every initiative and castigating him as a Bush clone.

An overly long period in opposition can drive any political party to extremes. We saw it with Republicans in the 1990s. Many Republicans opposed well-justified interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo simply because they were “Clinton’s wars” and spent much of their time in ever-more-bizarre scandal-mongering regarding the occupant of the Oval Office. Democrats went even more overboard during the Bush years; some went so far as to accuse the president of usurping our liberties and starting wars for profit. Even the more respectable center of the Democratic Party gave vent to views that were often fantastically irresponsible. They seemed to believe that every foreign difficulty encountered by the U.S. was due to Bush’s truculence, and that a president who believed in “outreach” could somehow bring about a miraculous rapprochement with nations from Iran to Russia.

A year into the Obama presidency, those illusions are rapidly evaporating upon contact with reality. Democrats are learning that negotiations alone will not end the threat from rogue regimes and that no sales job can stop al-Qaeda from trying to kill us. President Obama has actually chosen in many areas, ranging from the Patriot Act to U.S. dealings with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, to continue Bush initiatives, sometimes providing more resources and acting more aggressively than Bush had done. (He has, for example, ordered more Predator strikes over Pakistan than Bush did.) In those areas where he has tried to carry out the biggest deviations from Bush policy — e.g., closing Gitmo and dealing with Tehran — he has met nothing but frustration and disappointment. Now we can most likely add health-care reform to the list of leftist failures in Obama’s first term. Wise Democrats realize that a more centrist course is needed to prevent Obama’s first term from becoming his only term.

This is exactly how our democracy is supposed to function. The result will be, I hope, a president and a party that emerge wiser and more responsible in their policy prescriptions than they had been during the years in the wilderness.

As he marks a year in office, President Obama has to deal with plunging opinion polls, repeated rebuffs abroad from nations as diverse as Israel and Iran, and now the loss of a Senate seat in solidly Democratic Massachusetts — a result only slightly more surprising than if the residents of Mecca had converted to Catholicism. That last setback has put his signature legislative initiative, an overhaul of the health-care system, in the critical-care ward.

I differ from the general disenchantment with Obama only insofar as I was never that enchanted to begin with. Yet I am still glad in retrospect that he won. And not because I doubt that John McCain would have been a better president; I don’t. But if McCain had won, he would have faced a poisonous environment in Washington with embittered Democrats blocking his every initiative and castigating him as a Bush clone.

An overly long period in opposition can drive any political party to extremes. We saw it with Republicans in the 1990s. Many Republicans opposed well-justified interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo simply because they were “Clinton’s wars” and spent much of their time in ever-more-bizarre scandal-mongering regarding the occupant of the Oval Office. Democrats went even more overboard during the Bush years; some went so far as to accuse the president of usurping our liberties and starting wars for profit. Even the more respectable center of the Democratic Party gave vent to views that were often fantastically irresponsible. They seemed to believe that every foreign difficulty encountered by the U.S. was due to Bush’s truculence, and that a president who believed in “outreach” could somehow bring about a miraculous rapprochement with nations from Iran to Russia.

A year into the Obama presidency, those illusions are rapidly evaporating upon contact with reality. Democrats are learning that negotiations alone will not end the threat from rogue regimes and that no sales job can stop al-Qaeda from trying to kill us. President Obama has actually chosen in many areas, ranging from the Patriot Act to U.S. dealings with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, to continue Bush initiatives, sometimes providing more resources and acting more aggressively than Bush had done. (He has, for example, ordered more Predator strikes over Pakistan than Bush did.) In those areas where he has tried to carry out the biggest deviations from Bush policy — e.g., closing Gitmo and dealing with Tehran — he has met nothing but frustration and disappointment. Now we can most likely add health-care reform to the list of leftist failures in Obama’s first term. Wise Democrats realize that a more centrist course is needed to prevent Obama’s first term from becoming his only term.

This is exactly how our democracy is supposed to function. The result will be, I hope, a president and a party that emerge wiser and more responsible in their policy prescriptions than they had been during the years in the wilderness.

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America’s Uncertain Presence in Haiti’s Uncertain Future

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

The New York Times wonders what the American role in Haiti is going to be after the current disaster is dealt with. The sad reality is that it’s hard to imagine a better future for Haiti absent a great deal of American involvement, but it’s equally hard to see what strategic calculation could justify such a stepped-up American presence.

Unfashionable though it may be to say so, some of Haiti’s best years — the years when it was most free of violence and turmoil — were between 1915 and 1934, when the country was occupied by U.S. Marines. They did not run Haiti directly, but they provided support for local elites who with American backing were able to impose more stability and freedom than Haiti has enjoyed before or since. But the reason for the American takeover was not altruism; it was fear that if the U.S. did not intervene, Germany or some other hostile power would, thereby creating a base that could threaten the Panama Canal and other vital American interests. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration lost interest and pulled out. This lack of American involvement allowed the rise of a string of tinhorn dictators, most famously the father and son duo of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier.

The American intervention in 1994 during the Clinton administration had less strategic justification; it was mainly an example of altruism in action although there were also concerns about Haitian boat people flooding into the United States if we did not stabilize the situation. That intervention involved putting Jean-Bertrand Aristide back into power. He turned out to be a singularly inept and vicious ruler whose departure was facilitated by the Bush administration in 1996. Since then the president of Haiti has been Rene Preval, but he has enjoyed limited power over a violent and chaotic country.

What stability there is has come from “Minustah,” which sounds like a Southern pronunciation of “minister” but in fact is the French acronym for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti. This is a Brazilian-led military and police mission designed to defeat Haiti’s notorious gangs and allow the government to rule. As has become apparent during the post-earthquake looting and mayhem, Minustah has not been terribly successful since being established in 1994. Brazil’s heart is in the right place, but its troops, and those of other nations, have not been able to impose the kind of peace that NATO forces have brought to Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is scant chance we will take over the peacekeeping mission ourselves. But it would make sense to provide more support to Minustah and work in general to strengthen such international mechanisms. We desperately need a way to place dysfunctional countries like Haiti into international receivership. Until such a mechanism is invented, it appears, alas, that Haiti will continue to experience more of the lawlessness and tragedy that have characterized its history ever since the establishment of a French slave regime in the 18th century.

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Re: Eurabia Debunked

Mark Steyn and Tony Blankley, both commentators for whom I have considerable respect, have responded to my “Eurabia Debunked” and a few other articles taking exception to their warnings about the Muslimization of Europe.

Mark cherry-picks data showing Muslims are supposedly 10 percent of the population in France, that one-fifth of British university students are Muslim, that Brussels’ governing socialist caucus is majority Muslim, etc. Actually, there is considerable uncertainty about these numbers because there is no definitive accounting of Muslims in Europe (or anywhere else). Consider this Pew study, which finds Muslims are only 6 percent of the French population, 5 perccent in Germany, and 2.7 percent in the United Kingdom. Overall, Europe has about 38 million Muslims, or 5 percent of the population, but most of them are concentrated in Russia, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

If there is uncertainty about how many Muslims are in Europe today, there is even greater cloudiness about how many there will be in the future. As this Newsweek article notes, the case made by Mark and other alarmists is based on the worst-case reading of long-term population projections, which are notoriously unreliable. As William Underhill writes in Newsweek:

For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that’s now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care.

That doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. Blankley is right to note the “powerful impact of even very small numbers of determined people in a host country riddled with guilt and political correctness.” David Frum makes a powerful point about how Britain has become a center of Muslim radicalization. That obviously is of great concern to us because of the easy access that British subject have to the U.S.

I agree with Steyn, Blankley, et al. that radical Muslims will continue to be a major problem in Europe. I just don’t think they will take over and turn the continent into “Eurabia.” In fact, there are already many signs of a backlash building — for instance, the Swiss banning the construction of new minarets, the French banning the veil in school and now proposing to ban burkas in public, and the British banning the radical group Islam4UK. I still see considerable resiliency in European civilization and great latent power that can and will be deployed against Muslim radicals who seriously threaten internal order.

Mark Steyn and Tony Blankley, both commentators for whom I have considerable respect, have responded to my “Eurabia Debunked” and a few other articles taking exception to their warnings about the Muslimization of Europe.

Mark cherry-picks data showing Muslims are supposedly 10 percent of the population in France, that one-fifth of British university students are Muslim, that Brussels’ governing socialist caucus is majority Muslim, etc. Actually, there is considerable uncertainty about these numbers because there is no definitive accounting of Muslims in Europe (or anywhere else). Consider this Pew study, which finds Muslims are only 6 percent of the French population, 5 perccent in Germany, and 2.7 percent in the United Kingdom. Overall, Europe has about 38 million Muslims, or 5 percent of the population, but most of them are concentrated in Russia, Albania, Kosovo, and Bosnia.

If there is uncertainty about how many Muslims are in Europe today, there is even greater cloudiness about how many there will be in the future. As this Newsweek article notes, the case made by Mark and other alarmists is based on the worst-case reading of long-term population projections, which are notoriously unreliable. As William Underhill writes in Newsweek:

For the number of Muslims to outnumber non-Muslims by midcentury, it would require either breeding on a scale rarely seen in history or for immigration to continue at a pace that’s now politically unacceptable. More likely, new controls will slow Muslim immigration. The birthrate for Muslim immigrants is also likely to continue to decline, as it has tended to do, with greater affluence and better health care.

That doesn’t mean we have nothing to worry about. Blankley is right to note the “powerful impact of even very small numbers of determined people in a host country riddled with guilt and political correctness.” David Frum makes a powerful point about how Britain has become a center of Muslim radicalization. That obviously is of great concern to us because of the easy access that British subject have to the U.S.

I agree with Steyn, Blankley, et al. that radical Muslims will continue to be a major problem in Europe. I just don’t think they will take over and turn the continent into “Eurabia.” In fact, there are already many signs of a backlash building — for instance, the Swiss banning the construction of new minarets, the French banning the veil in school and now proposing to ban burkas in public, and the British banning the radical group Islam4UK. I still see considerable resiliency in European civilization and great latent power that can and will be deployed against Muslim radicals who seriously threaten internal order.

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From Middle East Journal: A Dark Corner of Europe

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

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Victory in Serbia

Often, when the U.S. is about to take some tough step abroad, advocates of a softer line will argue that unnecessary toughness will simply alienate foreign countries that might otherwise be friendly to us. We’ve heard endless variations of that line by those who favor withdrawal from Iraq and accommodation, rather than confrontation, with Iran, Russia, China, and other states.

It was also an argument often heard against the move to recognize Kosovo’s independence. After the U.S. and its allies went ahead, there were many dire predictions that the result would be a takeover by ultra-nationalists in Serbia. In other words, we would gain Kosovo but lose Serbia.

It didn’t work out that way in the most recent Serbian elections. As reported by the Financial Times:

The pro-European Union alliance led by Boris Tadic, Serbia’s president, won the advantage over hardline nationalists in snap elections on Sunday as voters demanded EU integration despite the loss of Kosovo.

The pro-EU list captured 38.7 per cent of votes and won 103 seats in the 250-seat parliament. The nationalist Radical party took 29.1 per cent and 77 seats, according to the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CESID), an independent monitoring group.

That comforting result calls to mind how Serbia became democratic in the first place. It was part of the fall-out from the 1999 war waged by NATO to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic was forced to concede defeat in that confrontation with the West, and not long thereafter he fell from power. In the case of Serbia, at least, tough Western actions–including repeated refusals to accommodate hard-line Serbian nationalists–have paid off. Is there perhaps a lesson here for other parts of the world?

Often, when the U.S. is about to take some tough step abroad, advocates of a softer line will argue that unnecessary toughness will simply alienate foreign countries that might otherwise be friendly to us. We’ve heard endless variations of that line by those who favor withdrawal from Iraq and accommodation, rather than confrontation, with Iran, Russia, China, and other states.

It was also an argument often heard against the move to recognize Kosovo’s independence. After the U.S. and its allies went ahead, there were many dire predictions that the result would be a takeover by ultra-nationalists in Serbia. In other words, we would gain Kosovo but lose Serbia.

It didn’t work out that way in the most recent Serbian elections. As reported by the Financial Times:

The pro-European Union alliance led by Boris Tadic, Serbia’s president, won the advantage over hardline nationalists in snap elections on Sunday as voters demanded EU integration despite the loss of Kosovo.

The pro-EU list captured 38.7 per cent of votes and won 103 seats in the 250-seat parliament. The nationalist Radical party took 29.1 per cent and 77 seats, according to the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CESID), an independent monitoring group.

That comforting result calls to mind how Serbia became democratic in the first place. It was part of the fall-out from the 1999 war waged by NATO to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic was forced to concede defeat in that confrontation with the West, and not long thereafter he fell from power. In the case of Serbia, at least, tough Western actions–including repeated refusals to accommodate hard-line Serbian nationalists–have paid off. Is there perhaps a lesson here for other parts of the world?

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From Middle East Journal: Builders of Nations

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

“This is my hardest deployment,” Marine Sergeant Cooley said as he unfastened his helmet and tossed it onto his bed. “We weren’t trained for this kind of thing.” He’s been shot at with bullets and mortars, and he’s endured IED attacks on his Humvee, but post-war Fallujah is more difficult and more stressful than combat. He isn’t unusual for saying so. Many Marines I spoke to in and around the Fallujah area said something similar.

“We’re trained as infantrymen,” Captain Stewart Glenn said. “But here we are doing civil administration and trying to get the milk factory up and running.”

“We make up all this stuff as we go,” Lieutenant Mike Barefoot added.

While most Americans go to school, work traditional day jobs, and raise their families, young American men and women like these are deployed to Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan where they work seven days a week rebuilding societies torn to pieces by fascism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and war. It is not what they signed up to do. Some may have geeked out on nation-building video games like Civilization, but none of the enlisted men picked up any of these skills in boot camp.

Officers pick up some basic relevant skills, though, as well as a more complete education. Lieutenant Nathan Bibler runs a Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah and works with local authorities every day.

He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. “In a lot of ways it helps me analyze and interpret,” he said. What helps more than anything, though, is a training program Marine officers go through in 29 Palms, California, before they’re deployed.

“We were living in a town they built out in the desert with Iraqis.”

“Really,” I said. “Iraqi-Americans?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know if they were all U.S. citizens, but Iraqis who were already in the U.S. We were living in this town that they built. We lived in the town with the Iraqi Police right next door. Actually they lived with us part of the time.”

Enlisted men don’t go through role playing training in 29 Palms, but every officer who mentioned it to me said those exercises were eerily effective, that actors from Iraq hired to play Iraqis in Iraq during counter-terrorist warfare turned out to be surprisingly like real Iraqis in a real counter-terrorist war.

Read the rest of this entry at MichaelTotten.com »

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Slapping Putin’s Back

Reuters reports that when President Bush meets Vladimir Putin this Sunday, the United States and Russia will sign what an unidentified Kremlin source describes as “a joint document which will become a road map of our cooperation during a transitional period and for the medium term.” Yesterday, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov, commenting on the document, said this: “Of course we have to register all the achievements during the two terms of presidents Bush and Putin.”

It’s good that the two countries want to accentuate the positive, but the upcoming summit between the friendly leaders runs the risk of irrelevance. As Jim Hoagland wrote on Friday, Bush and Putin wish to end their relationship as presidents “in the soft glow of mutual legacy-burnishing . . . They will leave relations between the White House and the Kremlin mired in a rare soggy middle ground of extended ambivalence.”

I hope Hoagland’s wrong: there’s no lack of substantive issues to tackle. There are, for instance, NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, America’s planned missile defense system for Europe, Russia’s adherence to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, the extension of START, recognition of Kosovo’s independence, the Kremlin’s support for the Iranian nuclear program, Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, and Moscow’s supply of advanced weaponry to China.

Bush, as we all know, leaves office soon. Back-slapping with the Russian autocrat in his seaside dacha seems like a particularly bad use of time, especially at this crucial moment.

Reuters reports that when President Bush meets Vladimir Putin this Sunday, the United States and Russia will sign what an unidentified Kremlin source describes as “a joint document which will become a road map of our cooperation during a transitional period and for the medium term.” Yesterday, Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov, commenting on the document, said this: “Of course we have to register all the achievements during the two terms of presidents Bush and Putin.”

It’s good that the two countries want to accentuate the positive, but the upcoming summit between the friendly leaders runs the risk of irrelevance. As Jim Hoagland wrote on Friday, Bush and Putin wish to end their relationship as presidents “in the soft glow of mutual legacy-burnishing . . . They will leave relations between the White House and the Kremlin mired in a rare soggy middle ground of extended ambivalence.”

I hope Hoagland’s wrong: there’s no lack of substantive issues to tackle. There are, for instance, NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, America’s planned missile defense system for Europe, Russia’s adherence to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, the extension of START, recognition of Kosovo’s independence, the Kremlin’s support for the Iranian nuclear program, Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization, and Moscow’s supply of advanced weaponry to China.

Bush, as we all know, leaves office soon. Back-slapping with the Russian autocrat in his seaside dacha seems like a particularly bad use of time, especially at this crucial moment.

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John McCain Is Smiling Again

Former Bill Clinton aide (and current Barack Obama supporter) Greg Craig has released a memo essentially accusing Hillary of résumé fraud. She did not, according to Craig, bring peace to Northern Ireland or open borders to fleeing refugees from Kosovo when her husband was President. And her Beijing speech in favor of women’s rights was just a speech. In other words, she is just as unqualified as Obama on foreign policy. Craig also beats the “Obama was right on Iraq” drum, which is a popular (but increasingly stale) line for the Democratic base.

Meanwhile, Clinton hits Obama on the “double talk” front, this time on energy policy. On NAFTA, Iraq, and now energy, Clinton claims that Obama rhetoric does not match even his meager voting record.

It is hard to see how this “No, he’s unqualifed and unreliable”/”No, she’s unqualified and unreliable” argument does not wind up bolstering McCain, big time. This is free ad time for him, in essence, as the Democrats whack each other over the head with charges of puffery and inexperience. It all will come back in ads in the fall. But for now it is giving liberal pundits the shakes.

Former Bill Clinton aide (and current Barack Obama supporter) Greg Craig has released a memo essentially accusing Hillary of résumé fraud. She did not, according to Craig, bring peace to Northern Ireland or open borders to fleeing refugees from Kosovo when her husband was President. And her Beijing speech in favor of women’s rights was just a speech. In other words, she is just as unqualified as Obama on foreign policy. Craig also beats the “Obama was right on Iraq” drum, which is a popular (but increasingly stale) line for the Democratic base.

Meanwhile, Clinton hits Obama on the “double talk” front, this time on energy policy. On NAFTA, Iraq, and now energy, Clinton claims that Obama rhetoric does not match even his meager voting record.

It is hard to see how this “No, he’s unqualifed and unreliable”/”No, she’s unqualified and unreliable” argument does not wind up bolstering McCain, big time. This is free ad time for him, in essence, as the Democrats whack each other over the head with charges of puffery and inexperience. It all will come back in ads in the fall. But for now it is giving liberal pundits the shakes.

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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.

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McCain Blogger Call

John McCain just completed another blogger call. He began by talking about Kosovo, saying he believed it would be an independent country and that Vladimir Putin’s comments were “very unhelpful” and his discussion of Georgia’s breakaway provinces was “outrageous.” He also again took Barack Obama to task for offering to meet with Raul Castro without preconditions. He stated that Raul was “the bad guy of the duo” and responsible for sentencing people to death and maintaining a dictatorship and that McCain would only meet with him after “the prisons were emptied,” fair elections were held and other conditions had been met. (In response to a question later in the call he noted that the danger in meeting with Raul would be to legitimize him when a transition to a freer system might otherwise be possible. He argued that the embargo policy had successfully contained Castro.)

I asked him about the potential Democratic nominees’ unwillingness to recognize progress in Iraq. He said he was “disappointed but not surprised they continue to deny obvious facts” that political and military progress was being made. He termed it “almost Orwellian” that people would assert that the threat of withdrawal actually contributed to improved conditions. He suggested that his opponents need not “apologize” but they should admit they were wrong in opposing the surge. (He offered that MoveOn.org has a “significant influence in the Democrat party.”)

Abe Greenwald asked about Jay Lefkowitz’s criticisms (which were given the back of the hand by Secretary of State Condi Rice) that the Six Party talks involving North Korea should address human rights abuses. McCain said succinctly that he does believe the talks should address human rights and that North Korea remains the world’s largest functioning “gulag.” (He mentioned his disappointment that the South Korean government was not as “mindful” of the human rights abuses as it should be.) He said undue focus on the make-up of the talks rather than the content was misguided and drew analogies to Vietnam, mentioning that talks went on unsuccessfully for years until “B-52’s appeared in the skies.” He said that he was concerned about the North Korea’s failure to live up to its committments and its potential involvement with Syria’s nuclear program. (He ended his response by quoting Ronald Reagan’s “Trust but verify” addage.)

On other matters: 1) He expressed “distress” that Congressman Rick Renzi was indicted and agreed he would likely step down as an Arizona co-chair; 2) He said he was on “solid ground” in withdrawing from the public financing constraints imposed by the FEC as Congressman Dick Gephardt previously had done in similar circumstances; 3) He said he would be competitive in California and states in the northeast like New Jersey and even New York and intended to go to places Republicans usually don’t and compete in all states.; 4) Explained his “100 years in Iraq” comment as an indication that our security arrangements would be ongoing but that we would be successful militarily in the short term and defended himself against the Democratic charges that he was not expert on the economy by saying he was most expert on foreign policy given his decades of involvement in that area, but that his low tax, free market philosophy would stack up well against the Democrats. He declined to comment further on the New York Times lobbyist story.

In general, he seemed engaged and forward looking. There was no trace of animus or bitterness about yesterday’s events, and he seemed energized when talking about differences with his Democratic opponents.

John McCain just completed another blogger call. He began by talking about Kosovo, saying he believed it would be an independent country and that Vladimir Putin’s comments were “very unhelpful” and his discussion of Georgia’s breakaway provinces was “outrageous.” He also again took Barack Obama to task for offering to meet with Raul Castro without preconditions. He stated that Raul was “the bad guy of the duo” and responsible for sentencing people to death and maintaining a dictatorship and that McCain would only meet with him after “the prisons were emptied,” fair elections were held and other conditions had been met. (In response to a question later in the call he noted that the danger in meeting with Raul would be to legitimize him when a transition to a freer system might otherwise be possible. He argued that the embargo policy had successfully contained Castro.)

I asked him about the potential Democratic nominees’ unwillingness to recognize progress in Iraq. He said he was “disappointed but not surprised they continue to deny obvious facts” that political and military progress was being made. He termed it “almost Orwellian” that people would assert that the threat of withdrawal actually contributed to improved conditions. He suggested that his opponents need not “apologize” but they should admit they were wrong in opposing the surge. (He offered that MoveOn.org has a “significant influence in the Democrat party.”)

Abe Greenwald asked about Jay Lefkowitz’s criticisms (which were given the back of the hand by Secretary of State Condi Rice) that the Six Party talks involving North Korea should address human rights abuses. McCain said succinctly that he does believe the talks should address human rights and that North Korea remains the world’s largest functioning “gulag.” (He mentioned his disappointment that the South Korean government was not as “mindful” of the human rights abuses as it should be.) He said undue focus on the make-up of the talks rather than the content was misguided and drew analogies to Vietnam, mentioning that talks went on unsuccessfully for years until “B-52’s appeared in the skies.” He said that he was concerned about the North Korea’s failure to live up to its committments and its potential involvement with Syria’s nuclear program. (He ended his response by quoting Ronald Reagan’s “Trust but verify” addage.)

On other matters: 1) He expressed “distress” that Congressman Rick Renzi was indicted and agreed he would likely step down as an Arizona co-chair; 2) He said he was on “solid ground” in withdrawing from the public financing constraints imposed by the FEC as Congressman Dick Gephardt previously had done in similar circumstances; 3) He said he would be competitive in California and states in the northeast like New Jersey and even New York and intended to go to places Republicans usually don’t and compete in all states.; 4) Explained his “100 years in Iraq” comment as an indication that our security arrangements would be ongoing but that we would be successful militarily in the short term and defended himself against the Democratic charges that he was not expert on the economy by saying he was most expert on foreign policy given his decades of involvement in that area, but that his low tax, free market philosophy would stack up well against the Democrats. He declined to comment further on the New York Times lobbyist story.

In general, he seemed engaged and forward looking. There was no trace of animus or bitterness about yesterday’s events, and he seemed energized when talking about differences with his Democratic opponents.

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