Commentary Magazine


Topic: Kuwait

The Crimea-Kuwait Parallel

Another day, another (so far unfulfilled) promise by Vladimir Putin to move his troops back from the border of Ukraine. Meanwhile his proxies continue to try to exert influence in eastern Ukraine as Crimea becomes a fully fledged part of the Russian empire. 

In assessing the motives for Russian action, a lot of the explanation has rightly focused on Putin’s need to stoke nationalist sentiment to bolster his own popularity and on his need to destabilize the emerging pro-Western government in Kiev lest it take Ukraine too far into the Western camp. But a good Marxist–which Putin once was–would never overlook an economic motive for imperialist aggression. 

The New York Times notes that, in addition to all the other benefits that Russia accrues from Crimea, it is potentially an oil and gas bonanza. By seizing Crimea, Russia has also vastly expanded its maritime rights in the Black Sea, opening up access to energy deposits across 36,000 square miles of water worth potentially a trillion dollars. Meanwhile the loss of Crimea denies Ukraine pretty much all claim to those same rights. Russia has even taken control of the Crimean arm of Ukraine’s national oil company, which was already exploring for oil in the area. 

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Another day, another (so far unfulfilled) promise by Vladimir Putin to move his troops back from the border of Ukraine. Meanwhile his proxies continue to try to exert influence in eastern Ukraine as Crimea becomes a fully fledged part of the Russian empire. 

In assessing the motives for Russian action, a lot of the explanation has rightly focused on Putin’s need to stoke nationalist sentiment to bolster his own popularity and on his need to destabilize the emerging pro-Western government in Kiev lest it take Ukraine too far into the Western camp. But a good Marxist–which Putin once was–would never overlook an economic motive for imperialist aggression. 

The New York Times notes that, in addition to all the other benefits that Russia accrues from Crimea, it is potentially an oil and gas bonanza. By seizing Crimea, Russia has also vastly expanded its maritime rights in the Black Sea, opening up access to energy deposits across 36,000 square miles of water worth potentially a trillion dollars. Meanwhile the loss of Crimea denies Ukraine pretty much all claim to those same rights. Russia has even taken control of the Crimean arm of Ukraine’s national oil company, which was already exploring for oil in the area. 

In short there are some uncomfortable echoes here with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 which, if allowed to stand, would have vastly bolstered Saddam Hussein’s oil reserves. It was not allowed to stand, but the annexation of Crimea already looks like a fait accompli.

This makes it all the more imperative to impose stronger sanctions on Russia to make it more difficult to deploy the technology and resources it needs to exploit its ill-gotten gains.

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For Our Arab Allies, It’s “East of Suez” All Over Again

Evelyn Gordon is absolutely correct when she writes that the U.S. romance with Iran “terrifies” our Arab allies, but she hits only the tip of the iceberg. Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is only the latest in a long line of presidential statements, decisions, and actions which have antagonized America’s Arab allies.

Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman have quietly but steadily supported the United States for years. Bahrain and Kuwait host important U.S. military contingents (I write this from the Louisville, Kentucky airport where I am returning from a brief with a Fort Knox-based U.S. Army unit heading to Kuwait in a few months). The Sultanate of Oman has been a force for moderation and quiet backchannel diplomacy for years, and played a crucial role in the months after 9/11 as action neared in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has been at the forefront of the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, the most dangerous group to both democracy and stability in the Arab Middle East.

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Evelyn Gordon is absolutely correct when she writes that the U.S. romance with Iran “terrifies” our Arab allies, but she hits only the tip of the iceberg. Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is only the latest in a long line of presidential statements, decisions, and actions which have antagonized America’s Arab allies.

Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sultanate of Oman have quietly but steadily supported the United States for years. Bahrain and Kuwait host important U.S. military contingents (I write this from the Louisville, Kentucky airport where I am returning from a brief with a Fort Knox-based U.S. Army unit heading to Kuwait in a few months). The Sultanate of Oman has been a force for moderation and quiet backchannel diplomacy for years, and played a crucial role in the months after 9/11 as action neared in Afghanistan. The United Arab Emirates has been at the forefront of the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood, the most dangerous group to both democracy and stability in the Arab Middle East.

Imagine how the “Pivot to Asia” sounded to Gulf Arab leaders who, in their childhoods, heard British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s “East of Suez” speech and then saw the British military promptly abandon their Arab allies. It was against the backdrop of the British withdrawal that the United Arab Emirates, for example, experienced Iranian aggression firsthand when the Iranian military (with President Richard Nixon’s tacit approval) seized the disputed Tonb islands and Abu Musa.

Then, early in Obama’s first term, Hillary Clinton floated a trial balloon to extend a nuclear umbrella over the Gulf states should Iran ever go nuclear. Privately, our Gulf partners asked how they could ever trust such a guarantee since Obama and Clinton had been so willing to abandon the previous rock-solid guarantee that Iran would never go nuclear.

The Obama doctrine is a doctrine of betrayal. Just ask Georgia, Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, Honduras, Poland, and every Gulf Arab ally. Maybe pundits can spin, but there is no denying it in the perception of our Gulf allies. Alas, the reverberations of so quickly dispensing with commitments to allies will last long after Obama retires, and will be an insurmountable burden for U.S. diplomacy for decades to come.

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Kuwait as a Model

The bad news continues to flood in from across the Middle East: Tunisia—the best hope for the Arab Spring—is unstable after political assassinations against leading non-Islamist politicians. While I don’t shed any tears over the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which for decades has inspired terrorism and hatred, at best Egypt faces years of Islamist insurgency and economic life support. The Syrian civil war goes from bad to worse. Bahrain remains tense and what Bahraini police occasion do with rubber bullets, their Saudi counterparts in the Eastern Province do with live ammunition. Iraq is not the basket case many assume, but it has faced a wave of renewed terrorism as bad as anything experienced prior to the U.S.-led surge.

Is there any good news or responsible governance coming from the region? Certainly, Morocco is navigating the waters of the Arab Spring fairly well, with the king seemingly sincere in his reform. So too is Oman, where Sultan Qaboos’s regime has always been an example of moderation and responsibility. But Qaboos has no heir apparent and he’s not going to have one, meaning that the Sultanate of Oman upon which the United States and so many moderate regional states have come to rely may have an uncertain future as Iran and other nearby powers will try to muck about in his succession in order to further their own illiberal interests.

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The bad news continues to flood in from across the Middle East: Tunisia—the best hope for the Arab Spring—is unstable after political assassinations against leading non-Islamist politicians. While I don’t shed any tears over the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which for decades has inspired terrorism and hatred, at best Egypt faces years of Islamist insurgency and economic life support. The Syrian civil war goes from bad to worse. Bahrain remains tense and what Bahraini police occasion do with rubber bullets, their Saudi counterparts in the Eastern Province do with live ammunition. Iraq is not the basket case many assume, but it has faced a wave of renewed terrorism as bad as anything experienced prior to the U.S.-led surge.

Is there any good news or responsible governance coming from the region? Certainly, Morocco is navigating the waters of the Arab Spring fairly well, with the king seemingly sincere in his reform. So too is Oman, where Sultan Qaboos’s regime has always been an example of moderation and responsibility. But Qaboos has no heir apparent and he’s not going to have one, meaning that the Sultanate of Oman upon which the United States and so many moderate regional states have come to rely may have an uncertain future as Iran and other nearby powers will try to muck about in his succession in order to further their own illiberal interests.

I had the privilege of visiting Kuwait last year, my first extended stay in the country for almost two decades. Kuwait has had some rough patches over recent years both because of changing demography but also because the government has pushed forward with real attempts at reform, encouraging real dynamism, and giving women a long-overdue vote. At the same time, the Kuwaitis have had to navigate dangerous sectarian trends as they find themselves wedged between Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. This, they seem to have done masterfully, even as trouble continues to brew on the horizon. At any rate, I’ve delved into the issue of sectarianism in Kuwait and Kuwait’s response to it in this detailed essay, for those who want reassurance that some states actually do try to temper incitement rather than rely on shallow populism for immediate political purposes.

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Saudi Confederation Plans a Bad Idea

Every few years, the Saudi government proposes to remake the Gulf Cooperation Council by replacing it with a federation; in a way, a United States of Arabia. The proposals have never gone anywhere. Saudi Arabia is the big kid on the block and the neighborhood bully: No one wants to be second fiddle to the Saudis, nor do citizens of the Persian Gulf emirates want to sacrifice their freedoms to conform to the Saudi way of life.

That’s all changing now, as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia move forward with economic and social union. The reason is largely sectarian: The Shi’ites are the majority in Bahrain, and protests have evolved to the point where the Sunni-led royal family is no longer able to make the reforms Shi’ite political leaders demand. By joining a confederation, the Bahraini royal family can purchase further Saudi largesse and involve Saudi forces even more directly in quashing unrest.

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Every few years, the Saudi government proposes to remake the Gulf Cooperation Council by replacing it with a federation; in a way, a United States of Arabia. The proposals have never gone anywhere. Saudi Arabia is the big kid on the block and the neighborhood bully: No one wants to be second fiddle to the Saudis, nor do citizens of the Persian Gulf emirates want to sacrifice their freedoms to conform to the Saudi way of life.

That’s all changing now, as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia move forward with economic and social union. The reason is largely sectarian: The Shi’ites are the majority in Bahrain, and protests have evolved to the point where the Sunni-led royal family is no longer able to make the reforms Shi’ite political leaders demand. By joining a confederation, the Bahraini royal family can purchase further Saudi largesse and involve Saudi forces even more directly in quashing unrest.

The move is short-sighted, however. Not only may it change the comparatively liberal character for which Bahrain is known, at least relative to the other Persian Gulf states, but it will also hasten the spread of sectarian unrest into Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is, after all, an artificial country. (Like “Petoria” in the television show “Family Guy,” any country is artificial when it’s named after a person). The Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia is overwhelmingly Shi’ite, and quite resentful of Wahhabi rule.

Western journalists and human rights activists condemn the Bahraini government repeatedly for its crackdown because, despite Bahraini efforts to restrict access, Bahrain is a far freer society than Saudi Arabia, and so observers can witness the clashes between the government and opposition (as I did in February). Also, major organizations like Human Rights Watch may be loathe to condemn Saudi authorities, because they solicit money from the Saudis and so may compromise their integrity to pay their bills. While Bahraini security forces are relatively restrained – using mostly rubber bullets and tear gas – in the absence of international presence and attention Saudi forces have no such self-restraint, and favor live ammunition. After confederation, however, Bahraini Shi’ites will not waste a day before beginning to export their “best practices” to their Saudi Shi’ite brethren.

Other American allies in the region will also begin to feel pressure to choose sides. During a  recent trip to Kuwait, Kuwaitis explained it to me like this: Traditionally, countries like Kuwait and Qatar have survived by playing the two regional giants—Saudi Arabia and Iran—off each other. By forming a federation with Saudi Arabia, the emirates and kingdoms transform themselves into the designated space for proxy war. After all, if Bahrain becomes in effect Saudi, then the easiest place to target the Saudis is in Bahrain.

And while many elite foreign policy and military officials cultivate close relations with the Saudis, the Kingdom is far from a good ally. That Saudis formed the bulk of the 9/11 plot was not an accident; it was a direct result of the Saudi education system. And, when the going got tough, the Saudis kicked most American forces out of the country—something they might get tempted to do if they were to absorb Bahrain or Kuwait.

The best way forward for Bahrain is not confederation with Saudi Arabia, nor is it arms packages for anything else than defending the tiny island Kingdom from the Iranian threat. Rather, the course for U.S. policy would be to encourage quick and meaningful reform, and uncompromised Bahraini independence.

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Never Mind Israel, Iran’s First Target Might Be its Arab Neighbors

As Jonathan noted, the New York Times seems determined to downplay Iran’s verbal threats against Israel, first eliminating them from its report on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s speech last week and then dismissing them as mere “posturing and saber-rattling.” And I can understand why: Israel is the only country to be openly weighing military action against Tehran’s nuclear program. So dismiss the validity of the threat Iran poses to Israel, and you’ve also seemingly dismissed any need for military action.

The only problem with this approach is that far from being the only country seriously threatened by Iran, Israel may well not even be at the top of the list. To understand why this is so, it suffices to recall Saddam Hussein. Saddam also threatened night and day to destroy Israel. Yet the country he actually tried to wipe off the map wasn’t Israel, but Kuwait.

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As Jonathan noted, the New York Times seems determined to downplay Iran’s verbal threats against Israel, first eliminating them from its report on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s speech last week and then dismissing them as mere “posturing and saber-rattling.” And I can understand why: Israel is the only country to be openly weighing military action against Tehran’s nuclear program. So dismiss the validity of the threat Iran poses to Israel, and you’ve also seemingly dismissed any need for military action.

The only problem with this approach is that far from being the only country seriously threatened by Iran, Israel may well not even be at the top of the list. To understand why this is so, it suffices to recall Saddam Hussein. Saddam also threatened night and day to destroy Israel. Yet the country he actually tried to wipe off the map wasn’t Israel, but Kuwait.

Nor is this surprising: Saddam’s Iraq, like today’s Iran, aspired to dominate the region. And for that purpose, taking over neighboring Kuwait was far more useful than attacking Israel, both to acquire Kuwait’s bountiful oil fields and to undermine another contender for regional dominance, Kuwaiti ally Saudi Arabia.

Because Israel is isolated from the rest of the Middle East, it is completely irrelevant to the internal jockeying for supremacy among the region’s various Muslim powers. Hence, if Iran’s goal is regional hegemony, then attacking Israel would be a sideshow, just as it was for Saddam – who, while launching a full-scale invasion of Kuwait, made do with lobbing a token 40 Scuds at Israel. The most important targets would be Iran’s regional rivals, first and foremost Saudi Arabia and its allies.

That is why, as Wikileaks revealed two years ago, Arab countries have consistently demanded more forceful American action against Iran. Saudi Arabia, for instance, delivered “frequent exhortations to the U.S. to attack Iran,” demanding it “cut off the head of the snake.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi warned that “[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” King Hamad of Bahrain said Iran’s nuclear program “must be stopped,” because “the danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.” Lebanon’s Saad Hariri urged military action by saying, “Iraq was unnecessary. Iran is necessary.” A senior Jordanian official said even though bombing Iran would have “catastrophic” consequences, “he nonetheless thought preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons would pay enough dividends to make it worth the risks.”

What all these countries know is that they, rather than Israel, might well be Iran’s first targets – but unlike Israel, they lack the military capability even to credibly threaten to attack Iran themselves. And because these countries include some of the world’s major oil producers, that should be of great concern to the West.

None of this means the Iranian threat to Israel isn’t real: Even if a nuclear Iran never attacked Israel directly, it could still wreak havoc via satellite groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. But Israel is far from being the only country threatened by Iran. And it’s about time Western pundits and policymakers woke up to that fact.

 

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Iran: Calculus Changing for the “Force Option”?

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

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Iraq: Before and After Saddam

The New York Times has a story about Iraq’s parliament’s approving a new government yesterday. With all major political parties and ethnic groups participating for the first time in an Iraqi government, the 325-member parliament approved each of the 34 ministers proposed by Prime Minister Maliki.

There’s no question that the new government is fragile and that the delay in forming a government was frustrating. And the challenges facing Iraq are considerable. “A nation with virtually no democratic track record and a history of sectarian warfare must figure a way to move forward with a government that comprises four major blocs — two Shiite, one Sunni-backed and multi-sectarian, and one Kurdish — each with a different agenda,” according to the Times. But it also points out that against predictions and despite a number of coordinated, deadly attacks that rattled the country, Iraq did not experience an overall rise in violence during the impasse. President Obama called the vote in parliament a “significant moment in Iraq’s history” and “a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.”

Within the story is a quote from Prime Minister Maliki that caught my attention. He told lawmakers he was “very content” — even if he knew that they were not.

“I do not need anybody to sugarcoat me,” Maliki said. “I have not satisfied anybody at all. Everybody is angry with me, and everybody is frustrated with me.”

Such words were unimaginable in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In 2002, for example, Iraqi officials said the Iraqi president won 100 percent backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters — and every one of them voted for Saddam. (It’s worth pointing out that Saddam’s performance in 2002 was an improvement on the previous such vote, which gave the Iraqi leader only 99.96 percent support.)

Prime Minister Maliki is no saint and far from a perfect leader, and some people worry that he has authoritarian tendencies or even dictatorial aspirations. But I trust the judgment of Ryan C. Crocker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and came to know and respect Maliki. “Maliki’s vision is that the prime minister has to grab every shred of power, or centrifugal forces will kick in and Iraq will become unglued,” said Crocker. “He will try to accrue as much power as he can. But I think Maliki is light years away from being a truly authoritarian or dictatorial figure.”

Iraq unquestionably has a long way to go, and the road to the formation of the new government has been a difficult one. But a fragile democracy is a moral universe away from a totalitarian dictatorship. Read More

The New York Times has a story about Iraq’s parliament’s approving a new government yesterday. With all major political parties and ethnic groups participating for the first time in an Iraqi government, the 325-member parliament approved each of the 34 ministers proposed by Prime Minister Maliki.

There’s no question that the new government is fragile and that the delay in forming a government was frustrating. And the challenges facing Iraq are considerable. “A nation with virtually no democratic track record and a history of sectarian warfare must figure a way to move forward with a government that comprises four major blocs — two Shiite, one Sunni-backed and multi-sectarian, and one Kurdish — each with a different agenda,” according to the Times. But it also points out that against predictions and despite a number of coordinated, deadly attacks that rattled the country, Iraq did not experience an overall rise in violence during the impasse. President Obama called the vote in parliament a “significant moment in Iraq’s history” and “a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division.”

Within the story is a quote from Prime Minister Maliki that caught my attention. He told lawmakers he was “very content” — even if he knew that they were not.

“I do not need anybody to sugarcoat me,” Maliki said. “I have not satisfied anybody at all. Everybody is angry with me, and everybody is frustrated with me.”

Such words were unimaginable in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In 2002, for example, Iraqi officials said the Iraqi president won 100 percent backing in a referendum on whether he should rule for another seven years. There were 11,445,638 eligible voters — and every one of them voted for Saddam. (It’s worth pointing out that Saddam’s performance in 2002 was an improvement on the previous such vote, which gave the Iraqi leader only 99.96 percent support.)

Prime Minister Maliki is no saint and far from a perfect leader, and some people worry that he has authoritarian tendencies or even dictatorial aspirations. But I trust the judgment of Ryan C. Crocker, who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 and came to know and respect Maliki. “Maliki’s vision is that the prime minister has to grab every shred of power, or centrifugal forces will kick in and Iraq will become unglued,” said Crocker. “He will try to accrue as much power as he can. But I think Maliki is light years away from being a truly authoritarian or dictatorial figure.”

Iraq unquestionably has a long way to go, and the road to the formation of the new government has been a difficult one. But a fragile democracy is a moral universe away from a totalitarian dictatorship.

With Iraq’s governing achievement in mind, it’s perhaps worth recalling the words of the late Michael Kelly, one of the greatest journalists and columnists of his generation. Mike, who covered the first Gulf war, had been deeply affected by what Iraq under Saddam Hussein had done to the people of Kuwait. He told about the innocent civilians who had been killed, ritualistically humiliated, robbed, beaten, raped, and tortured by Saddam’s forces. “Shattered people were everywhere,” he said. “I watched one torture victim, a big, strong man, being interviewed in the place of his torture by a BBC television crew — weeping and weeping, but absolutely silent, as he told the story.”

Kelly — who died in 2003 while on assignment in Iraq — went on to write this:

Tyranny truly is a horror: an immense, endlessly bloody, endlessly painful, endlessly varied, endless crime against not humanity in the abstract but a lot of humans in the flesh. It is, as Orwell wrote, a jackboot forever stomping on a human face.

I understand why some dislike the idea, and fear the ramifications of, America as liberator. But I do not understand why they do not see that anything is better than life with your face under the boot. And that any rescue of a people under the boot (be they Afghan, Kuwaiti, or Iraqi) is something to be desired. Even if the rescue is less than perfectly realized. Even if the rescuer is a great, overmuscled, bossy, selfish oaf. Or would you, for yourself, choose the boot?

Thanks to the sacrifices and beneficence of America, Iraq is now free from the boot. That may not be everything, but it is quite a lot.

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To Get Arab Support on Iran, Take a Leaf from Bush Sr.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

As Jennifer noted yesterday, the latest WikiLeaks revelations definitively refute Barack Obama’s “linkage” theory: that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians were necessary to persuade Arab states to oppose Iran’s nuclear program. But what the documents reveal about the profound strategic misconception behind this theory is frightening.

The list of Arab states urging America to bomb Iran, and the forcefulness with which they urged it, is astonishing. It includes Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates; virtually the only exception was Qatar. Clearly, no Israeli concessions were needed to persuade these countries that strong action against Iran was desirable.

But both Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush insisted that this behind-the-scenes urging wasn’t enough; they needed Arab states to go public with it. As CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid told UAE officials in 2007, “we need our friends to say that they stand with the Americans.”

If Bush had any strategy for achieving this goal, it doesn’t emerge from the reports I’ve seen. But Obama did: linkage. If America showed that it’s on the Arabs’ side by extracting Israeli concessions, the theory went, then Arab states would no longer be reluctant to stand publicly beside the U.S.

But the idea that “soft power” could solve a quintessentially hard-power problem is a profound misconception, because the issue wasn’t the Arabs’ view of Washington as too pro-Israel; that never stopped them from supporting America if it served their interests before.

The real issue was their fear, given the visible reluctance to attack Iran displayed by both Bush and Obama, that if they publicly urged America to bomb Iran, and then America didn’t do it — they would be left alone to face the wrath of a nuclear-armed neighbor. And no amount of arm-twisting directed at Israel could possibly assuage that fear.

Indeed, only one thing could have done so: a clear American determination to attack Iran. You needn’t look far to find the model; it’s the one used by the first President George Bush in the Gulf War.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Arab states also initially refused to publicly back American action against Iraq. The day after the invasion, the Arab League even passed a resolution warning against outside intervention in the conflict.

But Bush, ignoring the verbiage, took swift action to assure Iraq’s neighbors that America wouldn’t leave them to face Iraq alone. Within a week, two naval battle groups had deployed to the area and more than 80 fighter jets had begun patrolling Saudi Arabia’s border. More forces arrived subsequently.

Only then did he start forming his coalition to invade Iraq. And with their protection assured, nine Arab states ultimately joined it.

Today, too, Arab states won’t publicly support attacking Iran without the surety that America will follow through. Nor can you blame them: they’re the ones who will have to live with a vengeful nuclear neighbor if America punts.

But you can certainly blame Washington for the delusion that gestures on an unrelated issue would suffice to allay a well-grounded existential fear — and be deeply worried that American leaders could misread the situation that profoundly.

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On the Offense Against Israel’s Delegitimizers

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.’”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.’”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

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Saudi Arms Sale: Which War in View?

The sheer size of the proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia makes it worth critical reflection. The types of weapon systems in the Saudi shopping list are even more eye-catching. News outlets report that the sale is to be understood as a means of bolstering Saudi defenses and security confidence in the face of the threat from Iran. But the weapon systems in question don’t support that theory.

Other Persian Gulf nations like Bahrain and Kuwait have been loading up on missile-defense systems and air-defense fighters. The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters. The proposed sale includes 84 strike-configured F-15s along with the retrofit of the Saudis’ 72 existing F-15s, more than doubling the Royal Saudi Air Force’s (RSAF) inventory of medium-range strikers. Significantly, the purchase extends the range at which the RSAF can conduct ground strikes beyond the shorter, defense-oriented range of its British Tornado force.

The Saudis will also buy 70 Apache Longbow helicopters with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and 72 Black Hawk helicopters for combat transport. It’s not clear if any of these aircraft will supplant some of the 150 attack and multi-purpose helicopters the Saudis negotiated to buy from Russia a year ago. If all are delivered, the Saudis will have increased their heliborne ground combat capability by 500 percent.

The question is what they plan to do with all these aircraft. During the Saddam Hussein years, the threat of land attack against Saudi Arabia was obvious. Today, it’s not. The Saudis are buying for a major armed conflict on land, but nothing indicates that Iran presents a threat of that kind. Iran isn’t prepared militarily to invade the Arabian Peninsula, either by land or sea, nor is it making the effort to be. Iran is building up its navy, missile forces, and nuclear options; its regional “power projection” effort on land is accomplished through sponsoring terrorism. But the counterinsurgency warfare model (e.g., the U.S.’s in Iraq) is inapplicable in this case: population numbers and terrain inhibit the rise on the Arabian Peninsula of insurgencies with the profile of Hezbollah or the Taliban. The number of modern systems the Saudis propose to purchase outstrips such a requirement considerably.

They can’t be contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well. Riyadh is buying an unusually large number of weapons with which to project power and fight a land campaign at a greater range than ever before – but the weapons are a mismatch for the likely dimensions of a confrontation with Iran.

Perhaps the Saudis see a potential need to fight Iran on Iraqi or Kuwaiti territory in the future. It would certainly have to be a distant future, given the substantial U.S. military presence in those countries. This expeditionary concept would also be highly uncharacteristic in Saudi strategic thinking.

But Riyadh may be arming as a regional rival to Iran – not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant. Western analysts tend to miss the fact that Iran’s moves against Israel constitute a plan to effectively occupy territory that the Arab nations consider theirs to fight for. The concerns on both sides are more than ethnic and historical: they involve competing eschatological ideas.

The resurgence of Turkey, erstwhile Ottoman ruler, only accelerates the sense of powerful regional rivals polishing up their designs on the Levant. The Saudis’ military shopping list doesn’t match their defensive requirements against Iran, but if the strategic driver is a race to Jerusalem, it contains exactly what they need. Congress should take a critical look at the numbers involved – and the U.S. should take one at our disjointed and increasingly passive approach to the region.

The sheer size of the proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia makes it worth critical reflection. The types of weapon systems in the Saudi shopping list are even more eye-catching. News outlets report that the sale is to be understood as a means of bolstering Saudi defenses and security confidence in the face of the threat from Iran. But the weapon systems in question don’t support that theory.

Other Persian Gulf nations like Bahrain and Kuwait have been loading up on missile-defense systems and air-defense fighters. The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters. The proposed sale includes 84 strike-configured F-15s along with the retrofit of the Saudis’ 72 existing F-15s, more than doubling the Royal Saudi Air Force’s (RSAF) inventory of medium-range strikers. Significantly, the purchase extends the range at which the RSAF can conduct ground strikes beyond the shorter, defense-oriented range of its British Tornado force.

The Saudis will also buy 70 Apache Longbow helicopters with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and 72 Black Hawk helicopters for combat transport. It’s not clear if any of these aircraft will supplant some of the 150 attack and multi-purpose helicopters the Saudis negotiated to buy from Russia a year ago. If all are delivered, the Saudis will have increased their heliborne ground combat capability by 500 percent.

The question is what they plan to do with all these aircraft. During the Saddam Hussein years, the threat of land attack against Saudi Arabia was obvious. Today, it’s not. The Saudis are buying for a major armed conflict on land, but nothing indicates that Iran presents a threat of that kind. Iran isn’t prepared militarily to invade the Arabian Peninsula, either by land or sea, nor is it making the effort to be. Iran is building up its navy, missile forces, and nuclear options; its regional “power projection” effort on land is accomplished through sponsoring terrorism. But the counterinsurgency warfare model (e.g., the U.S.’s in Iraq) is inapplicable in this case: population numbers and terrain inhibit the rise on the Arabian Peninsula of insurgencies with the profile of Hezbollah or the Taliban. The number of modern systems the Saudis propose to purchase outstrips such a requirement considerably.

They can’t be contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well. Riyadh is buying an unusually large number of weapons with which to project power and fight a land campaign at a greater range than ever before – but the weapons are a mismatch for the likely dimensions of a confrontation with Iran.

Perhaps the Saudis see a potential need to fight Iran on Iraqi or Kuwaiti territory in the future. It would certainly have to be a distant future, given the substantial U.S. military presence in those countries. This expeditionary concept would also be highly uncharacteristic in Saudi strategic thinking.

But Riyadh may be arming as a regional rival to Iran – not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant. Western analysts tend to miss the fact that Iran’s moves against Israel constitute a plan to effectively occupy territory that the Arab nations consider theirs to fight for. The concerns on both sides are more than ethnic and historical: they involve competing eschatological ideas.

The resurgence of Turkey, erstwhile Ottoman ruler, only accelerates the sense of powerful regional rivals polishing up their designs on the Levant. The Saudis’ military shopping list doesn’t match their defensive requirements against Iran, but if the strategic driver is a race to Jerusalem, it contains exactly what they need. Congress should take a critical look at the numbers involved – and the U.S. should take one at our disjointed and increasingly passive approach to the region.

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The 31 Years’ War

Bret Stephens makes a convincing argument that we took too long to decide to and then act decisively to oust Saddam Hussein. Dubbing it the Twenty Years’ War (beginning with Desert Storm, which “proved an apt name for a military operation that had been blinded to its own real purposes”), he writes:

Kuwait was liberated but Saddam stayed on for another 12 years, supposedly—as Madeleine Albright notoriously put it—”in a box.” In that box, he killed tens of thousands of Iraq’s Shiites, caused a humanitarian crisis among the Kurds, attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush, profited from a sanctions regime that otherwise starved his own people, compelled a “no-fly zone” that cost the U.S. $1 billion a year to police, defied more than a dozen U.N. sanctions, corrupted the U.N. Secretariat, evicted U.N. weapons inspectors and gave cash prizes to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. …

The Twenty Years’ War lasted as long as it did because the first Bush administration failed to finish it when it could, and because the Clinton administration pretended it wasn’t happening. Should we now draw the lesson that hesitation and delay are the best policy? Or that wars are best fought swiftly to their necessary conclusion? The former conclusion did not ultimately spare us the war. The latter would have spared us one of 20 years.

Well, this would seem equally apt for the Thirty-One Years War that Iran has waged against the U.S. and the West more generally. Multiple administrations have done nothing as it waged a proxy war through terrorists groups against the West. Neither the Bush administration or the current one has responded to the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers (and Iraqi allies as well) killed by Iran’s weapons and operatives in Iraq. Iran too has committed human-rights atrocities against its own people and defied UN resolutions.

So now we are faced with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran that would, if it possesses nuclear weapons, certainly be emboldened to continue and step up its war on the West. The question for the Obama administration is whether to finally engage the enemy, thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and commit ourselves to regime change. The chances are slim indeed that this president would rise to the occasion. But perhaps, if Israel buys the world sufficient time (yes, we are down to whether the Jewish state will pick up the slack for the sleeping superpower), the next president will.

Bret Stephens makes a convincing argument that we took too long to decide to and then act decisively to oust Saddam Hussein. Dubbing it the Twenty Years’ War (beginning with Desert Storm, which “proved an apt name for a military operation that had been blinded to its own real purposes”), he writes:

Kuwait was liberated but Saddam stayed on for another 12 years, supposedly—as Madeleine Albright notoriously put it—”in a box.” In that box, he killed tens of thousands of Iraq’s Shiites, caused a humanitarian crisis among the Kurds, attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush, profited from a sanctions regime that otherwise starved his own people, compelled a “no-fly zone” that cost the U.S. $1 billion a year to police, defied more than a dozen U.N. sanctions, corrupted the U.N. Secretariat, evicted U.N. weapons inspectors and gave cash prizes to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. …

The Twenty Years’ War lasted as long as it did because the first Bush administration failed to finish it when it could, and because the Clinton administration pretended it wasn’t happening. Should we now draw the lesson that hesitation and delay are the best policy? Or that wars are best fought swiftly to their necessary conclusion? The former conclusion did not ultimately spare us the war. The latter would have spared us one of 20 years.

Well, this would seem equally apt for the Thirty-One Years War that Iran has waged against the U.S. and the West more generally. Multiple administrations have done nothing as it waged a proxy war through terrorists groups against the West. Neither the Bush administration or the current one has responded to the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers (and Iraqi allies as well) killed by Iran’s weapons and operatives in Iraq. Iran too has committed human-rights atrocities against its own people and defied UN resolutions.

So now we are faced with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran that would, if it possesses nuclear weapons, certainly be emboldened to continue and step up its war on the West. The question for the Obama administration is whether to finally engage the enemy, thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and commit ourselves to regime change. The chances are slim indeed that this president would rise to the occasion. But perhaps, if Israel buys the world sufficient time (yes, we are down to whether the Jewish state will pick up the slack for the sleeping superpower), the next president will.

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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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RE: Making No Friends in the Middle East

Jen, forget the fact that Muslim publics don’t like Barack Obama as much as they once did. Consider this: “the new [Pew] poll does show a modest increase over the past year in support for suicide bombing being often or sometimes justifiable, with a rise in Egypt from 15% to 20% and in Jordan from 12% to 20%.”

During the George W. Bush years, that number had plunged. In 2007, the BBC reported, “In Lebanon, Bangladesh, Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia, the proportion of Muslims who support suicide bombing has declined by half or more since 2002.”

Why did support for suicide bombing go up in the past year? In the U.S., our post-9/11 self-assessment is all about resenting the leader who took us into long and difficult fights. But the war against jihad plays out in Muslim publics as a war of ideas. For the endless jokes about his oratorical shortcomings, Bush articulated the choice with unsurpassed clarity: it’s Islamism v. democracy. What does each one offer? Islamism gives you a zombie doctrine of earthly denial so that you may, in death, triumph over your hopeless life. Under Bush, American democracy put your oppressive leaders on notice and gave you the hope, if not the actual opportunity, to change your hopeless life. Under Obama, democracy bows to your authoritarian king, extends an open hand to the autocrat who beats you over the head, and welcomes with open arms the dictator who tortured you in jail. Obama’s made the choice a no brainer.

As the Egyptian dissident Saad Ibrahim wrote in the Washington Post a few days ago:

To be sure, the methods through which Bush pursued his policies left much to be desired, but his persistent rhetoric and efforts produced results. From 2005 to 2006, 11 contested elections took place in the Middle East: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and Mauritania. These elections were not perfect, but the advances sparked unprecedented sociopolitical dynamism and unleashed tremendous pent-up desire for democratic choice.

Obama has put the cap back on. Where’s that pent-up desire headed? Americans still think it’s about a president with a Texas twang versus one who enunciates phonetic Farsi, or it’s about light skin versus dark, or some other cosmetic consideration. One awful aspect of postmodern culture is that identity is seen as more powerful than ideas. But despite the popularity of Obama’s identity, his country’s exceptional ideas are now losing ground to a retrograde death cult.

American neo-isolationists and faux realists love to pit the costs of democracy promotion abroad against the benefits of domestic spending. “How does Muslim democracy help Americans?” they ask. They may not spot the connections between the latest Pew poll, the uptick in attacks on America, and our new policy of democracy dismissal, but the next wave of potential jihadists are in a position to see it all too clearly.

Jen, forget the fact that Muslim publics don’t like Barack Obama as much as they once did. Consider this: “the new [Pew] poll does show a modest increase over the past year in support for suicide bombing being often or sometimes justifiable, with a rise in Egypt from 15% to 20% and in Jordan from 12% to 20%.”

During the George W. Bush years, that number had plunged. In 2007, the BBC reported, “In Lebanon, Bangladesh, Jordan, Pakistan and Indonesia, the proportion of Muslims who support suicide bombing has declined by half or more since 2002.”

Why did support for suicide bombing go up in the past year? In the U.S., our post-9/11 self-assessment is all about resenting the leader who took us into long and difficult fights. But the war against jihad plays out in Muslim publics as a war of ideas. For the endless jokes about his oratorical shortcomings, Bush articulated the choice with unsurpassed clarity: it’s Islamism v. democracy. What does each one offer? Islamism gives you a zombie doctrine of earthly denial so that you may, in death, triumph over your hopeless life. Under Bush, American democracy put your oppressive leaders on notice and gave you the hope, if not the actual opportunity, to change your hopeless life. Under Obama, democracy bows to your authoritarian king, extends an open hand to the autocrat who beats you over the head, and welcomes with open arms the dictator who tortured you in jail. Obama’s made the choice a no brainer.

As the Egyptian dissident Saad Ibrahim wrote in the Washington Post a few days ago:

To be sure, the methods through which Bush pursued his policies left much to be desired, but his persistent rhetoric and efforts produced results. From 2005 to 2006, 11 contested elections took place in the Middle East: in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and Mauritania. These elections were not perfect, but the advances sparked unprecedented sociopolitical dynamism and unleashed tremendous pent-up desire for democratic choice.

Obama has put the cap back on. Where’s that pent-up desire headed? Americans still think it’s about a president with a Texas twang versus one who enunciates phonetic Farsi, or it’s about light skin versus dark, or some other cosmetic consideration. One awful aspect of postmodern culture is that identity is seen as more powerful than ideas. But despite the popularity of Obama’s identity, his country’s exceptional ideas are now losing ground to a retrograde death cult.

American neo-isolationists and faux realists love to pit the costs of democracy promotion abroad against the benefits of domestic spending. “How does Muslim democracy help Americans?” they ask. They may not spot the connections between the latest Pew poll, the uptick in attacks on America, and our new policy of democracy dismissal, but the next wave of potential jihadists are in a position to see it all too clearly.

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The Beinart Critique, Dismantled

In his new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, Peter Beinart, formerly editor of the New Republic and now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, takes aim at the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

“There are no normal times.” With those words, written in 1991 and aimed straight at Jeane Kirkpatrick, the younger conservative generation fired its first shot.

The marksman was columnist Charles Krauthammer, an acid-tongued ex-psychiatrist from Montreal, and a man young enough to be Kirkpatrick’s son.

Beinart spends several pages summarizing and quoting from Foreign Affairs magazine, in which Krauthammer’s essay, “The Unipolar Moment,” appeared. Krauthammer argued: “We are in for abnormal times. Our best hope for safety in such times, as in difficult times past, is in American strength and will — the strength and will to lead a unipolar world, unashamedly laying down the rules of world order and being prepared to enforce them.” Krauthammer wrote that we must “confront” and, “if necessary, disarm” nations he called “Weapon States” like Iraq under Saddam Hussein and North Korea.

Beinart didn’t like “The Unipolar Moment” and wrote this:

It was no coincidence that Krauthammer published his attack on Kirkpatrick soon after the Gulf War. As usual in the development of hubris bubbles, it was only once things that formerly looked hard — like liberating Kuwait — had been made to look easy that people set their sights higher. Had America proved militarily unable to keep Saddam from gobbling his neighbors, Krauthammer could not have seriously proposed launching a new war, inside Iraq itself, to rid him of his unconventional weapons.

That all sounds very intriguing, except for one thing. On the first page of the Krauthammer essay, in the by-line, we read this:

Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist. This article is adapted from the author’s Henry M. Jackson Memorial Lecture delivered in Washington, D.C., Sept. 18, 1990.

Why does that matter? Because Krauthammer’s essay was adopted from a lecture he gave months before there could possibly have been a “hubris bubble.” Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait occurred on August 2, 1990. Krauthammer delivered his lecture on September 18. Operation Desert Storm didn’t begin until January 17, 1991. And hostilities ceased on February 28. The timeline of events, then, demolishes the Beinart critique.

The Krauthammer lecture itself, it’s worth adding, was no state secret. It was public, it was published, and it has been available as a monograph, in addition to the reference in the Foreign Affairs essay. In reading “The Unipolar Moment” — which was published months after the lecture on which it was based and which is not substantively different from the September 18 lecture — it is clear that the outcome of the war was unknown at the time it was written.

So Krauthammer didn’t set his sights higher because the liberation of Kuwait had been “made to look easy.” When he articulated his views on the “unipolar moment,” Kuwait had been invaded but it hadn’t been liberated. The U.S. was still months away from war. And, in fact, many predicted that if America went to war, it would be a difficult and bloody undertaking. (“Amid talk of body bags, honor and patriotism, the U.S. Congress yesterday began a formal debate on whether to go to war in the Persian Gulf,” the Toronto Star reported on January 11, 1991. “‘The 45,000 body bags that the Pentagon has sent to the gulf are all the evidence we need of the high cost in blood,’ said Senator Edward Kennedy. He added some military experts have estimated American casualties at the rate of 3,000 a week.”) That explains, in part, why the Senate vote on the Gulf War resolution was so close (52-47).

All of this is noteworthy not simply because of Beinart’s sloppiness (which is noteworthy enough), but because Beinart concocts an interpretative theory that is utter nonsense. It is based on a completely wrong premise. He builds a false explanation based on a false fact.

Beinart is not the first to have done so. On November 29, 2009 Andrew Sullivan, in a posting titled “The Positioning of Charles Krauthammer,” charged that while he had advocated a gasoline tax in December 2008, in Krauthammer’s “latest column” on climate change, “the gas tax idea is missing.” The reason, Sullivan informed us, was that “In the end, the conservative intelligentsia is much more invested in obstructing and thereby neutering Obama and the Democrats than in solving any actual problems in front of us. It’s a game for them, and they play it with impunity.”

There was one problem with Sullivan’s analysis: the column he refers to was published not in November 2009 but in May 2008 — when George W. Bush was still president and Barack Obama hadn’t yet won the Democratic nomination. Krauthammer proceeded to eviscerate Sullivan, who had the decency to issue an abject apology and correction. I wonder if Beinart will show the same decency, having made the same error.

I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false. And third, if you decide to target an individual and engage in a public debate, you might think about choosing someone other than Charles Krauthammer. Otherwise you will be made to look like fools.

In his new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, Peter Beinart, formerly editor of the New Republic and now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, takes aim at the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

“There are no normal times.” With those words, written in 1991 and aimed straight at Jeane Kirkpatrick, the younger conservative generation fired its first shot.

The marksman was columnist Charles Krauthammer, an acid-tongued ex-psychiatrist from Montreal, and a man young enough to be Kirkpatrick’s son.

Beinart spends several pages summarizing and quoting from Foreign Affairs magazine, in which Krauthammer’s essay, “The Unipolar Moment,” appeared. Krauthammer argued: “We are in for abnormal times. Our best hope for safety in such times, as in difficult times past, is in American strength and will — the strength and will to lead a unipolar world, unashamedly laying down the rules of world order and being prepared to enforce them.” Krauthammer wrote that we must “confront” and, “if necessary, disarm” nations he called “Weapon States” like Iraq under Saddam Hussein and North Korea.

Beinart didn’t like “The Unipolar Moment” and wrote this:

It was no coincidence that Krauthammer published his attack on Kirkpatrick soon after the Gulf War. As usual in the development of hubris bubbles, it was only once things that formerly looked hard — like liberating Kuwait — had been made to look easy that people set their sights higher. Had America proved militarily unable to keep Saddam from gobbling his neighbors, Krauthammer could not have seriously proposed launching a new war, inside Iraq itself, to rid him of his unconventional weapons.

That all sounds very intriguing, except for one thing. On the first page of the Krauthammer essay, in the by-line, we read this:

Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist. This article is adapted from the author’s Henry M. Jackson Memorial Lecture delivered in Washington, D.C., Sept. 18, 1990.

Why does that matter? Because Krauthammer’s essay was adopted from a lecture he gave months before there could possibly have been a “hubris bubble.” Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait occurred on August 2, 1990. Krauthammer delivered his lecture on September 18. Operation Desert Storm didn’t begin until January 17, 1991. And hostilities ceased on February 28. The timeline of events, then, demolishes the Beinart critique.

The Krauthammer lecture itself, it’s worth adding, was no state secret. It was public, it was published, and it has been available as a monograph, in addition to the reference in the Foreign Affairs essay. In reading “The Unipolar Moment” — which was published months after the lecture on which it was based and which is not substantively different from the September 18 lecture — it is clear that the outcome of the war was unknown at the time it was written.

So Krauthammer didn’t set his sights higher because the liberation of Kuwait had been “made to look easy.” When he articulated his views on the “unipolar moment,” Kuwait had been invaded but it hadn’t been liberated. The U.S. was still months away from war. And, in fact, many predicted that if America went to war, it would be a difficult and bloody undertaking. (“Amid talk of body bags, honor and patriotism, the U.S. Congress yesterday began a formal debate on whether to go to war in the Persian Gulf,” the Toronto Star reported on January 11, 1991. “‘The 45,000 body bags that the Pentagon has sent to the gulf are all the evidence we need of the high cost in blood,’ said Senator Edward Kennedy. He added some military experts have estimated American casualties at the rate of 3,000 a week.”) That explains, in part, why the Senate vote on the Gulf War resolution was so close (52-47).

All of this is noteworthy not simply because of Beinart’s sloppiness (which is noteworthy enough), but because Beinart concocts an interpretative theory that is utter nonsense. It is based on a completely wrong premise. He builds a false explanation based on a false fact.

Beinart is not the first to have done so. On November 29, 2009 Andrew Sullivan, in a posting titled “The Positioning of Charles Krauthammer,” charged that while he had advocated a gasoline tax in December 2008, in Krauthammer’s “latest column” on climate change, “the gas tax idea is missing.” The reason, Sullivan informed us, was that “In the end, the conservative intelligentsia is much more invested in obstructing and thereby neutering Obama and the Democrats than in solving any actual problems in front of us. It’s a game for them, and they play it with impunity.”

There was one problem with Sullivan’s analysis: the column he refers to was published not in November 2009 but in May 2008 — when George W. Bush was still president and Barack Obama hadn’t yet won the Democratic nomination. Krauthammer proceeded to eviscerate Sullivan, who had the decency to issue an abject apology and correction. I wonder if Beinart will show the same decency, having made the same error.

I have some advice for liberals in general, but most especially for those who formerly edited the New Republic. First, learn to read dates on essays and columns before you attack them. Second, don’t impugn a person’s motives when your charges can so easily be shown to be false. And third, if you decide to target an individual and engage in a public debate, you might think about choosing someone other than Charles Krauthammer. Otherwise you will be made to look like fools.

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Devastating

Saad Ibrahim delivers a withering attack on the Obama administration in today’s Washington Post:

When a billboard appeared outside a small Minnesota town early this year showing a picture of George W. Bush and the words “Miss me yet?” the irony was not lost on many in the Arab world. Most Americans may not miss Bush, but a growing number of people in the Middle East do. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain unpopular in the region, but his ardent support for democracy was heartening to Arabs living under stalled autocracies. Reform activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and elsewhere felt empowered to press for greater freedoms during the Bush years. Unfortunately, Bush’s strong support for democracy contrasts sharply with President Obama’s retreat on this critical issue.

Or perhaps the Egyptian political dissident — jailed and tortured by the Mubarak regime multiple times — is really just another scary, racist Tea Party loon.

Saad Ibrahim delivers a withering attack on the Obama administration in today’s Washington Post:

When a billboard appeared outside a small Minnesota town early this year showing a picture of George W. Bush and the words “Miss me yet?” the irony was not lost on many in the Arab world. Most Americans may not miss Bush, but a growing number of people in the Middle East do. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain unpopular in the region, but his ardent support for democracy was heartening to Arabs living under stalled autocracies. Reform activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait and elsewhere felt empowered to press for greater freedoms during the Bush years. Unfortunately, Bush’s strong support for democracy contrasts sharply with President Obama’s retreat on this critical issue.

Or perhaps the Egyptian political dissident — jailed and tortured by the Mubarak regime multiple times — is really just another scary, racist Tea Party loon.

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Weak Leak

If it’s remotely possible, let’s inject some sanity into the oil leak that’s stopped the world from spinning. In 1991, as Saddam Hussein’s forces retreated from Kuwait, they dumped 8 million barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf. That still stands as the biggest oil spill in history. So, what were the lasting catastrophic effects? According to this New York Times article, written just two years later, there were none:

The vast amount of oil that Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait dumped into the Persian Gulf during the 1991 war did little long-term damage, international researchers say. …

“Given the phenomenal quantities of oil that were spilled into the Gulf, the results were rather cheering,” Chidi Ibe, of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission at Unesco, said in a statement today.

Coral reefs studied in early 1992 “appeared to be in good condition,” while fisheries showed “few unequivocal oil pollution effects attributable solely to the 1991 oil spills,” the study found.

Even if you take the highest estimates, the current spill would have to last for nearly a year before it did that kind of nonexistent ecological damage.

If it’s remotely possible, let’s inject some sanity into the oil leak that’s stopped the world from spinning. In 1991, as Saddam Hussein’s forces retreated from Kuwait, they dumped 8 million barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf. That still stands as the biggest oil spill in history. So, what were the lasting catastrophic effects? According to this New York Times article, written just two years later, there were none:

The vast amount of oil that Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait dumped into the Persian Gulf during the 1991 war did little long-term damage, international researchers say. …

“Given the phenomenal quantities of oil that were spilled into the Gulf, the results were rather cheering,” Chidi Ibe, of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission at Unesco, said in a statement today.

Coral reefs studied in early 1992 “appeared to be in good condition,” while fisheries showed “few unequivocal oil pollution effects attributable solely to the 1991 oil spills,” the study found.

Even if you take the highest estimates, the current spill would have to last for nearly a year before it did that kind of nonexistent ecological damage.

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The Limits of Anti-Israel Activists’ Compassion

For those who wish to end the continued existence of a sovereign Jewish state on the shores of the Mediterranean, there is only one cause worth caring about: breaking the limited blockade that both Israel and Egypt have placed on Hamas-ruled Gaza. No one in Gaza is starving. All are fed by a United Nations Agency — UNRWA — specifically set up to ensure the continued existence of a Palestinian refugee problem. Gaza is poor, but the region, which Israel evacuated in 2005, is now an independent entity ruled by the Hamas terrorist group. For years, it served as a launching pad for missile attacks on Israeli civilians in southern Israel. But after Israel’s counteroffensive in December 2008, the Islamists who run Gaza have mostly held their fire. This is done partly out of fear of more Israeli counterterror operations and partly because the blockade imposed on the area — a blockade that allows in food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies but not construction materials that could aid Hamas’s homegrown weapons industry — has made it difficult for them to replenish their arsenal.

Thus, efforts to break this blockade and the international isolation imposed on this Hamasistan, created to force Gaza’s rulers to renounce their allegiance to a program pledged to the violent destruction of Israel, have little to do with sympathy for Gazans and everything to do with fueling anti-Israel propaganda. Though European sympathy for the “plight” of besieged Gaza is commonplace, support for breaking the blockade means freedom for Hamas, not the people who must live under the rule of Islamist tyrants.

But that hasn’t stopped anti-Israel activists from attempting to stage propaganda incidents highlighting their opposition to the blockade against Hamas. The latest is a so-called Freedom Flotilla of eight ships that left Istanbul, Turkey, this week. Al Jazeera, whose peppered a “news” report about the launch editorialized about how the “issue of Gaza moves Turks more than any other single issue,” noted that the convoy “is from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, and is comprised of 800 people from 50 nationalities.” Though the rhetoric from the organizers centered on the supposed lack of food and medicine in Gaza, the report also noted that the ships are carrying 500 tons of construction equipment. Omitted from the Al Jazeera article was the fact that high-ranking members of the Hamas leadership also attended the festive launch of the ships. It is no surprise that Israel has said its Navy will prevent the ships from landing at Gaza and delivering their cargo. If they persist in trying to land, they will be diverted to Israel, where the passengers will be sent home, and any actual humanitarian supplies (as opposed to construction material) will be sent on to Gaza.

But though they claim they are trying to help people in need, there are limits to even the boundless compassion for humanity exhibited by those taking part in the Freedom Flotilla.

A lawyer representing the family of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006, approached the organizers of the Free Gaza flotilla. The Shalit family asked the pro-Palestinian group to bring letters and food packages to the kidnapped soldier, who has been denied Red Cross visits by his Hamas captors. In exchange, the family, which has the sympathy of all Israel and the ear of the Israeli government, offered to lobby to give the flotilla docking rights in Gaza. The response from these humanitarians: no!

Had they agreed to pass on the letters and packages from Shalit’s family, the pro-Palestinian group could have bolstered their shaky credibility as humanitarians. But by refusing, they have revealed themselves as nothing more than people bent on aiding and abetting an international terrorist group.

For those who wish to end the continued existence of a sovereign Jewish state on the shores of the Mediterranean, there is only one cause worth caring about: breaking the limited blockade that both Israel and Egypt have placed on Hamas-ruled Gaza. No one in Gaza is starving. All are fed by a United Nations Agency — UNRWA — specifically set up to ensure the continued existence of a Palestinian refugee problem. Gaza is poor, but the region, which Israel evacuated in 2005, is now an independent entity ruled by the Hamas terrorist group. For years, it served as a launching pad for missile attacks on Israeli civilians in southern Israel. But after Israel’s counteroffensive in December 2008, the Islamists who run Gaza have mostly held their fire. This is done partly out of fear of more Israeli counterterror operations and partly because the blockade imposed on the area — a blockade that allows in food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies but not construction materials that could aid Hamas’s homegrown weapons industry — has made it difficult for them to replenish their arsenal.

Thus, efforts to break this blockade and the international isolation imposed on this Hamasistan, created to force Gaza’s rulers to renounce their allegiance to a program pledged to the violent destruction of Israel, have little to do with sympathy for Gazans and everything to do with fueling anti-Israel propaganda. Though European sympathy for the “plight” of besieged Gaza is commonplace, support for breaking the blockade means freedom for Hamas, not the people who must live under the rule of Islamist tyrants.

But that hasn’t stopped anti-Israel activists from attempting to stage propaganda incidents highlighting their opposition to the blockade against Hamas. The latest is a so-called Freedom Flotilla of eight ships that left Istanbul, Turkey, this week. Al Jazeera, whose peppered a “news” report about the launch editorialized about how the “issue of Gaza moves Turks more than any other single issue,” noted that the convoy “is from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, and is comprised of 800 people from 50 nationalities.” Though the rhetoric from the organizers centered on the supposed lack of food and medicine in Gaza, the report also noted that the ships are carrying 500 tons of construction equipment. Omitted from the Al Jazeera article was the fact that high-ranking members of the Hamas leadership also attended the festive launch of the ships. It is no surprise that Israel has said its Navy will prevent the ships from landing at Gaza and delivering their cargo. If they persist in trying to land, they will be diverted to Israel, where the passengers will be sent home, and any actual humanitarian supplies (as opposed to construction material) will be sent on to Gaza.

But though they claim they are trying to help people in need, there are limits to even the boundless compassion for humanity exhibited by those taking part in the Freedom Flotilla.

A lawyer representing the family of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006, approached the organizers of the Free Gaza flotilla. The Shalit family asked the pro-Palestinian group to bring letters and food packages to the kidnapped soldier, who has been denied Red Cross visits by his Hamas captors. In exchange, the family, which has the sympathy of all Israel and the ear of the Israeli government, offered to lobby to give the flotilla docking rights in Gaza. The response from these humanitarians: no!

Had they agreed to pass on the letters and packages from Shalit’s family, the pro-Palestinian group could have bolstered their shaky credibility as humanitarians. But by refusing, they have revealed themselves as nothing more than people bent on aiding and abetting an international terrorist group.

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The Short List of Representative Arab States

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Daily Star in Lebanon, offers a tour d’horizon of the “modern Arab state” — the 22 members of the Arab League:

We also have broken states (Somalia), states that disappeared and/or returned (Kuwait, South Yemen), security-dominated states (Tunisia, Syria, Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein), erratic states (Libya), pirate states (Somalia), vulnerable states (Lebanon, Palestine), privatized states in the hands of small ruling elites (most Arab states), states that carry a specific family’s name (Saudi Arabia, Jordan), tribal states (Yemen, Oman), mini-states (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain), occupied states (Palestine, Iraq to an extent), and various degrees of client and proxy states, rogue states, gangster states, and others that defy description.

Khouri has a succinct description of what is missing from the above list:

Not a single Arab country can say with any certainty that the configuration of the state, the policies and values of the government, or the perpetuation of the incumbent ruling elite have been validated by the citizenry through any kind of credible, transparent, and accountable political process.

Well, there’s one — Iraq, which since 2005 has had successive elections whose outcomes were not preordained, involving a citizenry willing to risk their lives each time to go to the polls. A representative government replacing the most horrific Arab dictator in the region is a historic achievement — even if a fragile one, all the more remarkable in light of Khouri’s description of the other Arab states.

The “state” of “Palestine,” on the other hand, has been a failed one even before it was formed. It has rejected three formal offers of a state in the last decade. Half the putative state is occupied by an Iranian proxy pledged to destroy its neighbor. The other half lacks even the pretense of an elected government: its “president” is currently in the sixth year of his four-year term; its “prime minister” is an unelected appointee chosen by the holdover president; its funding comes primarily from the U.S., the EU, and Japan, not the 21 Arab states that supposedly consider it an urgent priority.

The Obama administration believes our strategic objectives should be to (1) withdraw from Iraq next year, and (2) form a Palestinian state as soon as possible. The first goal puts at risk the one Arab state on Khouri’s list with a representative government; the second seeks to add a 22nd Arab state on the unsupported assumption that it will live in peace with itself and its neighbors, but Khouri’s list suggests that the likely outcome would be otherwise.

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Daily Star in Lebanon, offers a tour d’horizon of the “modern Arab state” — the 22 members of the Arab League:

We also have broken states (Somalia), states that disappeared and/or returned (Kuwait, South Yemen), security-dominated states (Tunisia, Syria, Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein), erratic states (Libya), pirate states (Somalia), vulnerable states (Lebanon, Palestine), privatized states in the hands of small ruling elites (most Arab states), states that carry a specific family’s name (Saudi Arabia, Jordan), tribal states (Yemen, Oman), mini-states (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain), occupied states (Palestine, Iraq to an extent), and various degrees of client and proxy states, rogue states, gangster states, and others that defy description.

Khouri has a succinct description of what is missing from the above list:

Not a single Arab country can say with any certainty that the configuration of the state, the policies and values of the government, or the perpetuation of the incumbent ruling elite have been validated by the citizenry through any kind of credible, transparent, and accountable political process.

Well, there’s one — Iraq, which since 2005 has had successive elections whose outcomes were not preordained, involving a citizenry willing to risk their lives each time to go to the polls. A representative government replacing the most horrific Arab dictator in the region is a historic achievement — even if a fragile one, all the more remarkable in light of Khouri’s description of the other Arab states.

The “state” of “Palestine,” on the other hand, has been a failed one even before it was formed. It has rejected three formal offers of a state in the last decade. Half the putative state is occupied by an Iranian proxy pledged to destroy its neighbor. The other half lacks even the pretense of an elected government: its “president” is currently in the sixth year of his four-year term; its “prime minister” is an unelected appointee chosen by the holdover president; its funding comes primarily from the U.S., the EU, and Japan, not the 21 Arab states that supposedly consider it an urgent priority.

The Obama administration believes our strategic objectives should be to (1) withdraw from Iraq next year, and (2) form a Palestinian state as soon as possible. The first goal puts at risk the one Arab state on Khouri’s list with a representative government; the second seeks to add a 22nd Arab state on the unsupported assumption that it will live in peace with itself and its neighbors, but Khouri’s list suggests that the likely outcome would be otherwise.

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Why Buying Time on Iran Matters

There may be good reasons to forgo military action against Iran’s nuclear program, but the one that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen reiterated for the umpteenth time this week isn’t one of them. Speaking at Columbia University on Sunday, Mullen said that while a military strike could delay Iran’s nuclear program, “that doesn’t mean the problem is going to go away.” Given his further statement that an attack would be “incredibly destabilizing,” the implication was clear: the gain isn’t worth the cost.

Nor is Mullen alone: this is the argument most frequently cited by all opponents of military action (see, for instance, the New York Times’s editorial two days later).

It is unarguably true that military action cannot conclusively end Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, any more than Israel’s strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 ended Saddam Hussein’s quest for nuclear weapons. But that doesn’t mean buying time is pointless. On the contrary, buying time can be critical.

In Iraq’s case, for instance, Israel’s attack bought just enough time for Saddam to make one critical mistake: the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which sparked the 1991 Gulf War. That war ended with Iraq’s defeat by the U.S.-led coalition, enabling the victors to impose an intrusive regimen of weapons inspections on Iraq that discovered and dismantled Saddam’s reconstituted nuclear program. Subsequent inspections, conducted after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, concluded that the program had not been reconstituted.

In Iran, a military strike would probably buy less time than it did in Iraq, given that Iran may well have uranium stockpiles and/or processing facilities unknown to foreign intelligence agencies. But it is also very possible that less time is needed.

President Barack Obama, for instance, will certainly be replaced by 2017 at the latest (and possibly as early as 2013), and his successor may be willing to impose the kind of truly painful sanctions on Iran to which Obama currently appears unalterably opposed.

Moreover, while Saddam’s grip on his country was rock-solid in 1981, the mullahs’ grip on Iran is looking decidedly shaky these days. No one can predict when regime change will occur, but it now seems far more plausible than it did a year ago. And since regime change is the development most likely to permanently end the nuclear threat posed by Iran, buying time for it to happen makes a lot of sense.

Finally, of course, there is the unforeseen. No one in 1981 could have predicted Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait a decade later, or its consequences for his nuclear program; similarly unforeseen events could affect Iran’s nuclear program in ways unimaginable today.

There is obviously no guarantee that any of the above will happen, but buying time at least gives such developments a fighting chance. Whereas if we don’t buy time, given how things stand now, a nuclear Iran looks like a certainty.

There may be good reasons to forgo military action against Iran’s nuclear program, but the one that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen reiterated for the umpteenth time this week isn’t one of them. Speaking at Columbia University on Sunday, Mullen said that while a military strike could delay Iran’s nuclear program, “that doesn’t mean the problem is going to go away.” Given his further statement that an attack would be “incredibly destabilizing,” the implication was clear: the gain isn’t worth the cost.

Nor is Mullen alone: this is the argument most frequently cited by all opponents of military action (see, for instance, the New York Times’s editorial two days later).

It is unarguably true that military action cannot conclusively end Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, any more than Israel’s strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 ended Saddam Hussein’s quest for nuclear weapons. But that doesn’t mean buying time is pointless. On the contrary, buying time can be critical.

In Iraq’s case, for instance, Israel’s attack bought just enough time for Saddam to make one critical mistake: the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which sparked the 1991 Gulf War. That war ended with Iraq’s defeat by the U.S.-led coalition, enabling the victors to impose an intrusive regimen of weapons inspections on Iraq that discovered and dismantled Saddam’s reconstituted nuclear program. Subsequent inspections, conducted after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, concluded that the program had not been reconstituted.

In Iran, a military strike would probably buy less time than it did in Iraq, given that Iran may well have uranium stockpiles and/or processing facilities unknown to foreign intelligence agencies. But it is also very possible that less time is needed.

President Barack Obama, for instance, will certainly be replaced by 2017 at the latest (and possibly as early as 2013), and his successor may be willing to impose the kind of truly painful sanctions on Iran to which Obama currently appears unalterably opposed.

Moreover, while Saddam’s grip on his country was rock-solid in 1981, the mullahs’ grip on Iran is looking decidedly shaky these days. No one can predict when regime change will occur, but it now seems far more plausible than it did a year ago. And since regime change is the development most likely to permanently end the nuclear threat posed by Iran, buying time for it to happen makes a lot of sense.

Finally, of course, there is the unforeseen. No one in 1981 could have predicted Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait a decade later, or its consequences for his nuclear program; similarly unforeseen events could affect Iran’s nuclear program in ways unimaginable today.

There is obviously no guarantee that any of the above will happen, but buying time at least gives such developments a fighting chance. Whereas if we don’t buy time, given how things stand now, a nuclear Iran looks like a certainty.

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“Rescue” Jerusalem

What a difference a year makes. In January 2009, Arab League summitry was in disarray. Members assembling to discuss the Gaza crisis couldn’t even agree on holding a single, unified summit: “moderates” met in Kuwait that month and “radicals” in Doha, Qatar, with factional differences centering on suspicion of Iran and the rift between Fatah and Hamas. When the annual Arab League summit convened in March 2009, observers largely agreed with this assessment that the meeting ended ingloriously, yielding no decisions of substance.

The atmosphere is markedly different as the 2010 summit opens this week in Sirte, Libya. For one thing, with Libya acting as host, it appears that longstanding disputes between Muammar Qaddafi and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are being papered over. Lebanon’s President Suleiman will not attend the summit due to a Lebanese grudge against Qaddafi dating to 1978, but he’s the only holdout. Lebanon will probably send a lower-level delegation; pressure is mounting for a show of unity by the league’s membership. Saudi Arabia is also hard at work on brokering a last-minute reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas so that a unified Palestinian delegation can be assembled for the leaders’ meetings on March 27 and 28.

The push for unity, in conjunction with Libya’s de facto readmission to the ranks of the respectable, distinguishes this summit from its predecessors over the past decade. And there is no mistaking the basis on which Libya has been restored to the fold: Qaddafi has spent the past 18 months accusing Israel of fomenting strife in Africa, charging Israel with genocide in the UN, and agreeing with Bashar al-Assad that the Arab nations must “unite against Israel.”

Reports this week have concentrated on the upcoming summit’s agenda of unifying Arabs to “rescue Jerusalem.” The wording of that theme seems to have emerged after the Obama administration overreacted to Israel’s March 9 announcement on construction in East Jerusalem. A presentation outlining the “occupation” of Jerusalem since 1967 is now promised as a summit event, with the yet-to-be-assembled Palestinian delegation on the hook to brief it.

In light of the energy building for this summit, Tuesday’s news that the Arab League is seeking closer cooperation with Iran strikes an ominous note. The impetus for that move comes as much from the regional perception that U.S. policy is ineffective as from any other source. Obama proposes, moreover, to shore up the Arab nations against Iran by arming them, an approach hardly calculated to act as a brake on anti-Israel rhetoric or actions. With Russia making landmark arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Libya (as well as Kuwait and Algeria), conditions are ripening for partisan saber-rattling — as they deteriorate for honestly brokered negotiations and a peaceful resolution.

Support for Israel in the U.S. Congress is an encouraging sign after the barrage of rhetorical attacks from the Obama administration. But it’s the president whose signals are typically decisive for both allies and opponents abroad. The Arab League’s members have been reading Obama’s signals for more than a year now. Their posture in Sirte this weekend will be a reflection of the effect he has had.

What a difference a year makes. In January 2009, Arab League summitry was in disarray. Members assembling to discuss the Gaza crisis couldn’t even agree on holding a single, unified summit: “moderates” met in Kuwait that month and “radicals” in Doha, Qatar, with factional differences centering on suspicion of Iran and the rift between Fatah and Hamas. When the annual Arab League summit convened in March 2009, observers largely agreed with this assessment that the meeting ended ingloriously, yielding no decisions of substance.

The atmosphere is markedly different as the 2010 summit opens this week in Sirte, Libya. For one thing, with Libya acting as host, it appears that longstanding disputes between Muammar Qaddafi and the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are being papered over. Lebanon’s President Suleiman will not attend the summit due to a Lebanese grudge against Qaddafi dating to 1978, but he’s the only holdout. Lebanon will probably send a lower-level delegation; pressure is mounting for a show of unity by the league’s membership. Saudi Arabia is also hard at work on brokering a last-minute reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas so that a unified Palestinian delegation can be assembled for the leaders’ meetings on March 27 and 28.

The push for unity, in conjunction with Libya’s de facto readmission to the ranks of the respectable, distinguishes this summit from its predecessors over the past decade. And there is no mistaking the basis on which Libya has been restored to the fold: Qaddafi has spent the past 18 months accusing Israel of fomenting strife in Africa, charging Israel with genocide in the UN, and agreeing with Bashar al-Assad that the Arab nations must “unite against Israel.”

Reports this week have concentrated on the upcoming summit’s agenda of unifying Arabs to “rescue Jerusalem.” The wording of that theme seems to have emerged after the Obama administration overreacted to Israel’s March 9 announcement on construction in East Jerusalem. A presentation outlining the “occupation” of Jerusalem since 1967 is now promised as a summit event, with the yet-to-be-assembled Palestinian delegation on the hook to brief it.

In light of the energy building for this summit, Tuesday’s news that the Arab League is seeking closer cooperation with Iran strikes an ominous note. The impetus for that move comes as much from the regional perception that U.S. policy is ineffective as from any other source. Obama proposes, moreover, to shore up the Arab nations against Iran by arming them, an approach hardly calculated to act as a brake on anti-Israel rhetoric or actions. With Russia making landmark arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Libya (as well as Kuwait and Algeria), conditions are ripening for partisan saber-rattling — as they deteriorate for honestly brokered negotiations and a peaceful resolution.

Support for Israel in the U.S. Congress is an encouraging sign after the barrage of rhetorical attacks from the Obama administration. But it’s the president whose signals are typically decisive for both allies and opponents abroad. The Arab League’s members have been reading Obama’s signals for more than a year now. Their posture in Sirte this weekend will be a reflection of the effect he has had.

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