Commentary Magazine


Topic: media reports

So What Was Human Rights Watch Up to in 2010?

It’s been continuing to single out the most humanitarian state in the Middle East for unwarranted criticism, of course. NGO Monitor just released a new analysis of the activities of Human Rights Watch over the past year and found that the organization continued to aim its ire at Israel while ignoring some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings:

• In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

• The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.”

• HRW’s credibility also suffered a blow last December when it threw in its lot with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The group’s report, titled “Separate and Unequal,” called on the U.S. to withhold funding equivalent to the amount spent on the settlements and to scrutinize the tax-exempt status of Americans organizations that give support to the settlements. I blogged more about this report here.

• The director of HRW’s Middle East division met with Hamas leaders, supported the anti-Israel Caterpillar boycott, and praised Lebanon on human rights.

• HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, has continued to publicly condemn the organization’s growing anti-Israel bias.

• HRW also reduced its transparency in 2010, removing its annual reports and the names of its staffers from the website. These changes allegedly came after media reports questioned the credibility and ideological bias of the organization’s employees and publications.

The entire report from the NGO Monitor can be read here. HRW’s bias against the Jewish state isn’t a new development, but this analysis really crystallizes the sheer amount of time and resources the group wastes on demonizing Israel while millions suffer under totalitarian regimes around the world. Hopefully, as organizations like the NGO Monitor continue to expose the ideological motivation behind HRW, the media and the public will finally begin to take its reports less seriously.

It’s been continuing to single out the most humanitarian state in the Middle East for unwarranted criticism, of course. NGO Monitor just released a new analysis of the activities of Human Rights Watch over the past year and found that the organization continued to aim its ire at Israel while ignoring some of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

Here’s a brief summary of the findings:

• In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

• The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.”

• HRW’s credibility also suffered a blow last December when it threw in its lot with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The group’s report, titled “Separate and Unequal,” called on the U.S. to withhold funding equivalent to the amount spent on the settlements and to scrutinize the tax-exempt status of Americans organizations that give support to the settlements. I blogged more about this report here.

• The director of HRW’s Middle East division met with Hamas leaders, supported the anti-Israel Caterpillar boycott, and praised Lebanon on human rights.

• HRW’s founder, Robert Bernstein, has continued to publicly condemn the organization’s growing anti-Israel bias.

• HRW also reduced its transparency in 2010, removing its annual reports and the names of its staffers from the website. These changes allegedly came after media reports questioned the credibility and ideological bias of the organization’s employees and publications.

The entire report from the NGO Monitor can be read here. HRW’s bias against the Jewish state isn’t a new development, but this analysis really crystallizes the sheer amount of time and resources the group wastes on demonizing Israel while millions suffer under totalitarian regimes around the world. Hopefully, as organizations like the NGO Monitor continue to expose the ideological motivation behind HRW, the media and the public will finally begin to take its reports less seriously.

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Afternoon Commentary

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

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Terrorists Target “Children, Daughters, and Sisters.”

Reason‘s Michael Moynihan has the scoop on an under-reported terrorist attack that occurred yesterday:

Two explosions rocked the downtown shopping district in Stockholm this evening as holiday shoppers crowded the chainstore-clogged area around Drottninggatan. According to early Swedish media reports, a car parked on the busy shopping street exploded at just after 5PM today, wounding two passersby. Two minutes later, say investigators, a second explosion was heard from a nearby street, where police found a bag stuffed with nails and the body, it appears, of the bomber.

According to this report in the tabloid newspaper Expressen, the Swedish security service and TT newswire (the Swedish equivalent to the AP) received a threat “against the Swedish people” ten minutes before the explosions. In a letter and audiotape, the bomber wrote that “Now your children, daughters, and sisters die like our brothers and sisters die.” He continued: “Our actions speak for themselves. As long as you don’t stop your war against Islam, and you degrade the Prophet, and your support for that stupid pig [cartoonist Lars] Vilks.”

Indeed, their actions do speak, repulsively, for themselves.

Reason‘s Michael Moynihan has the scoop on an under-reported terrorist attack that occurred yesterday:

Two explosions rocked the downtown shopping district in Stockholm this evening as holiday shoppers crowded the chainstore-clogged area around Drottninggatan. According to early Swedish media reports, a car parked on the busy shopping street exploded at just after 5PM today, wounding two passersby. Two minutes later, say investigators, a second explosion was heard from a nearby street, where police found a bag stuffed with nails and the body, it appears, of the bomber.

According to this report in the tabloid newspaper Expressen, the Swedish security service and TT newswire (the Swedish equivalent to the AP) received a threat “against the Swedish people” ten minutes before the explosions. In a letter and audiotape, the bomber wrote that “Now your children, daughters, and sisters die like our brothers and sisters die.” He continued: “Our actions speak for themselves. As long as you don’t stop your war against Islam, and you degrade the Prophet, and your support for that stupid pig [cartoonist Lars] Vilks.”

Indeed, their actions do speak, repulsively, for themselves.

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More Long-Term Repercussions of WikiLeaks

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

According to some media reports, the U.S. government is exaggerating the security threat of the latest WikiLeaks document dump. Take this McClatchy article, for instance. First the paper chides U.S. officials for “overstating the danger from WikiLeaks,” and then it commends reporters for their “unprecedented act of self censorship” by withholding information that could have put innocent lives in danger.

“[D]espite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death,” reported McClatchy.

The paper said that Julian Assange and the reporters he leaked to took all the proper precautions to “ensure nothing released could endanger lives or national security.”

And French newspaper Le Monde, one of the initial five media organizations to receive the documents, added that “All the identities of people the journalists believed would be threatened were redacted.” News outlets apparently even coordinated with WikiLeaks to “ensure sensitive data didn’t appear on the organization’s website.”

I suppose stories like these may help WikiLeaks’s defenders sleep well at night. But they shouldn’t. People who think that vulnerable human rights activists and journalists were the only ones endangered by the release of the documents are sadly mistaken. The leak doesn’t pose a threat just to the individuals directly mentioned in the cables; it puts all Americans (and our allies in the war on terror) in danger. As James Gordon Meek notes at the New York Daily News, WikiLeaks may have severely compromised the ability of U.S. officials to obtain intelligence about future terrorist attacks on our soil and around the world:

Allies in countries with populations that aren’t pro-U.S. may simply let Americans die rather than pass on tips about terror suspects if they think their secret role will wind up in the public eye.

Leaks that keep the government honest are good — but not if they ultimately put innocents in the terrorists’ cross hairs.

Preventing attacks in the U.S. isn’t just about eavesdropping with high-tech gadgets, invisible ink and undercover ops. It’s about relationships with tenuous allies from Islamabad to Sana’a. These disclosures may choke off critical intelligence to thwart terrorism, such as last month’s attempted bombings of U.S.-bound cargo planes from Yemen. That plot was stopped after a tip from Saudi Arabia — not long ago an unreliable partner against Al Qaeda.

These closet allies have little to lose if they neglect to warn the U.S. of a potential terror attack. But if their covert cooperation with our government is exposed, they run the risk of losing political capital within their own countries. Add that to the WikiLeaks-fueled perception that the U.S. can’t keep a handle on its own secret documents, and this could hinder our national security intelligence-gathering for years to come.

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Campaigning on Iran

Josh Rogin has been all over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias’s claim that Rep. Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill. Rogin has Giannoulias dead to rights:

But according to lawmakers, Congressional staffers, and outside groups who worked closely on the legislation, Kirk was in fact a key advocate for over four years of using gasoline and refined petroleum restrictions to pressure Iran to make concessions regarding its nuclear program.

In fact, Berman worked so closely with Kirk and others on the idea that media reports at the time acknowledged that Berman’s Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, introduced in April 2009, borrowed language from related legislation introduced earlier by Kirk and Rep. Brad Sherman.

Even Democratic Congressional staffers gave Kirk credit for leading on the idea of petroleum sanction for Iran. They said that Berman’s bill was clearly built off of Kirk’s work, and criticized Berman for politicizing such a sensitive foreign policy issue.

“On this particular issue, Kirk has been a leader, if not the leader. When you talk about Iran petroleum sanctions, you talk about Mark Kirk,” said one Democratic Hill staffer who worked on the bill.

And if that weren’t enough, Democrat Josh Block, who recently left AIPAC (which championed the sanctions bill) to run a consulting firm with Lanny David, blows Giannoulias out of the water: “There’s no question that Mark Kirk was one of the first, if not the first member of Congress to advocate restricting the flow of gasoline to Iran as a way of pressuring Iran on its nuclear program.”

Yikes. It seems that in an election season, everyone is tough on Iran and pro-Israel. But when you examine candidates’ actual voting records, it’s another story. That is why groups like J Street fear “politicizing” Israel — in other words, holding elected leaders and candidates accountable for their votes, statements, and associations.

Josh Rogin has been all over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias’s claim that Rep. Mark Kirk didn’t have anything to do with the Iran-sanctions bill. Rogin has Giannoulias dead to rights:

But according to lawmakers, Congressional staffers, and outside groups who worked closely on the legislation, Kirk was in fact a key advocate for over four years of using gasoline and refined petroleum restrictions to pressure Iran to make concessions regarding its nuclear program.

In fact, Berman worked so closely with Kirk and others on the idea that media reports at the time acknowledged that Berman’s Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, introduced in April 2009, borrowed language from related legislation introduced earlier by Kirk and Rep. Brad Sherman.

Even Democratic Congressional staffers gave Kirk credit for leading on the idea of petroleum sanction for Iran. They said that Berman’s bill was clearly built off of Kirk’s work, and criticized Berman for politicizing such a sensitive foreign policy issue.

“On this particular issue, Kirk has been a leader, if not the leader. When you talk about Iran petroleum sanctions, you talk about Mark Kirk,” said one Democratic Hill staffer who worked on the bill.

And if that weren’t enough, Democrat Josh Block, who recently left AIPAC (which championed the sanctions bill) to run a consulting firm with Lanny David, blows Giannoulias out of the water: “There’s no question that Mark Kirk was one of the first, if not the first member of Congress to advocate restricting the flow of gasoline to Iran as a way of pressuring Iran on its nuclear program.”

Yikes. It seems that in an election season, everyone is tough on Iran and pro-Israel. But when you examine candidates’ actual voting records, it’s another story. That is why groups like J Street fear “politicizing” Israel — in other words, holding elected leaders and candidates accountable for their votes, statements, and associations.

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RE: Exporting the Imam’s Message

I was curious about the State Department’s invocation of Abe Foxman in defending its decision to send the imam of the planned Ground Zero mosque overseas. The spokesman declared, “I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views.” That seemed a bit odd, in part because the ADL — to the chagrin of the left — had released a statement urging the mosque be relocated and asserting:

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.  These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.

I contacted the ADL, which had this response:

P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman on FoxNews this morning mischaracterized what Abraham H. Foxman has said regarding Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, when he stated,

“…I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views…”

Mr. Foxman, who has known and had contact with the Imam on several occasions, has repeatedly said, “To the best of my knowledge he is a moderate and I have agreed to defend him against charges of his being a terrorist or extremist.”

Well, that is a helpful clarification, but frankly, it’s rather weak, given what we know about Rauf’s views on, for example, 9/11. In another era and with another ADL leader, I imagine a more robust response would have been forthcoming. An official of another Jewish organization remarked to me, “If the standard for ‘moderate’ includes embracing Hamas and implicating the United States in connection with 9/11, there is obviously a fundamental problem.” Indeed.

I was curious about the State Department’s invocation of Abe Foxman in defending its decision to send the imam of the planned Ground Zero mosque overseas. The spokesman declared, “I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views.” That seemed a bit odd, in part because the ADL — to the chagrin of the left — had released a statement urging the mosque be relocated and asserting:

In recommending that a different location be found for the Islamic Center, we are mindful that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values.  These questions deserve a response, and we hope those backing the project will be transparent and forthcoming.

I contacted the ADL, which had this response:

P.J. Crowley, State Department spokesman on FoxNews this morning mischaracterized what Abraham H. Foxman has said regarding Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, when he stated,

“…I have heard in media reports, where, Abe Foxman of the ADL, has vouched for his religious views…”

Mr. Foxman, who has known and had contact with the Imam on several occasions, has repeatedly said, “To the best of my knowledge he is a moderate and I have agreed to defend him against charges of his being a terrorist or extremist.”

Well, that is a helpful clarification, but frankly, it’s rather weak, given what we know about Rauf’s views on, for example, 9/11. In another era and with another ADL leader, I imagine a more robust response would have been forthcoming. An official of another Jewish organization remarked to me, “If the standard for ‘moderate’ includes embracing Hamas and implicating the United States in connection with 9/11, there is obviously a fundamental problem.” Indeed.

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How the Media Colluded with Hamas

I have read few things more disturbing than this week’s media reports from Gaza describing full supermarket shelves offering a wide variety of choices. For if this is true, there is only one way to interpret all the previous years’ reports: as intentional collusion with Hamas on an anti-Israel smear campaign.

For years, the media bombarded us with reports on the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza: people going hungry, children deprived of toys and schoolbooks, a population denied all the good things of life due to Israel’s cruel blockade.

But suddenly, now that Israel has agreed to end the blockade on most civilian products, we get reports like this one from the New York Times: “The store shelves were filled on Monday in Rafah and in Deir al Balah and Gaza City, the shops stocked with all kinds of supplies, stoves, refrigerators, fans, generators — most smuggled through tunnels dug deep beneath the border with Egypt.” People “said they were not starving” and that easing the blockade would improve their lives only “at the margins”: they would be able to buy soda in cans “that were not covered in sand,” or Israeli appliances instead of “low-quality Chinese goods.”

Or this report, from Haaretz: “The market is still full of items brought through the tunnels and it is possible that merchants will not immediately order ‘permitted’ items from Israel — because there are similar items from Egypt,” said economist Muhammed Skaik of the Gaza branch of Paltrade. And anyway, he added, “ketchup, snacks and mayonnaise, for example … are not essential items that will genuinely change the situation.” True, but isn’t that exactly what Israel claimed for years — to universal derision?

Indeed, the situation is so far from desperate that Hamas has announced it will bar many of the newly permitted products from entering Gaza altogether — such as Israeli cookies, juices, soft drinks, and salads. But has anyone noticed any media outcry lately against Hamas for depriving Gazans of the same products Israel was excoriated for withholding?

And then there is this interesting statistic: “An infant in Gaza has a life expectancy a year and a half longer than his Turkish cousin — 73.5 as compared to 72.” Anyone care to explain how, despite having been brutally starved by Israel for years, Gazans still manage to outlive residents of wealthy, peace-loving, democratic Turkey?

In reality, of course, none of this is new; reporters could have gone to Gaza anytime over the past few years and described the same full supermarket shelves and the same wide variety of products. But instead, they preferred to collude with Hamas in accusing Israel of causing widespread hunger and deprivation.

And the only reason they have changed their tune now is that Israel’s decision to end the civilian blockade makes it vital to update the smear campaign: to explain that Gaza is still a place of “limited options and few hopes for a better life” (to quote the Times), that easing the blockade will do nothing to change this, and that the misery is still, somehow, all Israel’s fault.

I have read few things more disturbing than this week’s media reports from Gaza describing full supermarket shelves offering a wide variety of choices. For if this is true, there is only one way to interpret all the previous years’ reports: as intentional collusion with Hamas on an anti-Israel smear campaign.

For years, the media bombarded us with reports on the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza: people going hungry, children deprived of toys and schoolbooks, a population denied all the good things of life due to Israel’s cruel blockade.

But suddenly, now that Israel has agreed to end the blockade on most civilian products, we get reports like this one from the New York Times: “The store shelves were filled on Monday in Rafah and in Deir al Balah and Gaza City, the shops stocked with all kinds of supplies, stoves, refrigerators, fans, generators — most smuggled through tunnels dug deep beneath the border with Egypt.” People “said they were not starving” and that easing the blockade would improve their lives only “at the margins”: they would be able to buy soda in cans “that were not covered in sand,” or Israeli appliances instead of “low-quality Chinese goods.”

Or this report, from Haaretz: “The market is still full of items brought through the tunnels and it is possible that merchants will not immediately order ‘permitted’ items from Israel — because there are similar items from Egypt,” said economist Muhammed Skaik of the Gaza branch of Paltrade. And anyway, he added, “ketchup, snacks and mayonnaise, for example … are not essential items that will genuinely change the situation.” True, but isn’t that exactly what Israel claimed for years — to universal derision?

Indeed, the situation is so far from desperate that Hamas has announced it will bar many of the newly permitted products from entering Gaza altogether — such as Israeli cookies, juices, soft drinks, and salads. But has anyone noticed any media outcry lately against Hamas for depriving Gazans of the same products Israel was excoriated for withholding?

And then there is this interesting statistic: “An infant in Gaza has a life expectancy a year and a half longer than his Turkish cousin — 73.5 as compared to 72.” Anyone care to explain how, despite having been brutally starved by Israel for years, Gazans still manage to outlive residents of wealthy, peace-loving, democratic Turkey?

In reality, of course, none of this is new; reporters could have gone to Gaza anytime over the past few years and described the same full supermarket shelves and the same wide variety of products. But instead, they preferred to collude with Hamas in accusing Israel of causing widespread hunger and deprivation.

And the only reason they have changed their tune now is that Israel’s decision to end the civilian blockade makes it vital to update the smear campaign: to explain that Gaza is still a place of “limited options and few hopes for a better life” (to quote the Times), that easing the blockade will do nothing to change this, and that the misery is still, somehow, all Israel’s fault.

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Does Israel Have a Right to Defend Itself?

The flotilla interdiction raises the same issue as Israel’s original response to Hamas’s rocket attacks into Israel. The fundamental question that Richard Goldstone, the UN, the J Street crowd, and the chorus of international critics have answered in the negative is whether Israel has the right to defend itself and its territory against threats to its citizens. In both cases, Israel attempted to use proportionate force and to avoid casualties.

In Gaza, extensive measures were undertaken to avoid killing innocents, behind whom Hamas hid. And in the flotilla, as others have noted, “the Israeli navy first sought to warn the ships off verbally, then sent in commandos armed with paintball guns, according to Israeli media reports. It was only after the humanitarians aboard the ship assaulted the commandos with clubs and knives that the Israelis used live fire.” When the Israeli commandos were set upon as they were lowered from a helicopter, they acted to defend themselves.

The rule set for Israel, which applies to no other nation in the world, is an intentionally impossible one to meet: the Jewish state can only defend itself without harming terrorists, who abide by no laws of war and exercise no concern for Israeli casualties. Words are twisted: Israel is transformed into  ”the aggressor” in each instance, and the “peace” forces — in this case, populated by Turkish IHH forces with ties to Hamas and other terror groups — are those that attacks Israelis.

This is a critical moment for Israel, for its supporters, for American Jewry, and for Obama. Who will defend Israel’s right to defend itself, and who will fall in with the venomous critics who will be satisfied only when Israel is a defenseless shell of its former self? We will see once again who is pro-Israel — and willing to defy partisan loyalty if need be — and who is so in name only.

The flotilla interdiction raises the same issue as Israel’s original response to Hamas’s rocket attacks into Israel. The fundamental question that Richard Goldstone, the UN, the J Street crowd, and the chorus of international critics have answered in the negative is whether Israel has the right to defend itself and its territory against threats to its citizens. In both cases, Israel attempted to use proportionate force and to avoid casualties.

In Gaza, extensive measures were undertaken to avoid killing innocents, behind whom Hamas hid. And in the flotilla, as others have noted, “the Israeli navy first sought to warn the ships off verbally, then sent in commandos armed with paintball guns, according to Israeli media reports. It was only after the humanitarians aboard the ship assaulted the commandos with clubs and knives that the Israelis used live fire.” When the Israeli commandos were set upon as they were lowered from a helicopter, they acted to defend themselves.

The rule set for Israel, which applies to no other nation in the world, is an intentionally impossible one to meet: the Jewish state can only defend itself without harming terrorists, who abide by no laws of war and exercise no concern for Israeli casualties. Words are twisted: Israel is transformed into  ”the aggressor” in each instance, and the “peace” forces — in this case, populated by Turkish IHH forces with ties to Hamas and other terror groups — are those that attacks Israelis.

This is a critical moment for Israel, for its supporters, for American Jewry, and for Obama. Who will defend Israel’s right to defend itself, and who will fall in with the venomous critics who will be satisfied only when Israel is a defenseless shell of its former self? We will see once again who is pro-Israel — and willing to defy partisan loyalty if need be — and who is so in name only.

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Obama Picked the Wrong Issue

At the time, many of us who have been highly critical of Obama’s Israel policy noted that it was a bad idea for him to make Jerusalem housing permits the focus of his ire (at least for now). There is no issue so emotional and no aspect of the conflict with the Palestinians that so unites Jews as the historic capital of the Jewish people. And today, the depth of his misjudgment is laid bare by Elie Wiesel, who takes out full page ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to object to the assault on what he calls “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.”

He doesn’t mention Obama by name but his point could not be clearer: forget it, Mr. President. He writes, in part:

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, is IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and joy are part of our collective memory.

He continues with a historical review of the city dating back to King David. And then he brings us up to date:

Today , for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.

What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atomosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?

It is significant that it is Wiesel – a Jewish figure without peer and the embodiment of Holocaust memory – who writes this. It is as powerful a rebuke to an American president as any he can receive. It is not simply a geopolitical critique; it is an indictment of Obama’s ignorance of and lack of sympathy with the Jewish people. It cannot be ignored.

At the time, many of us who have been highly critical of Obama’s Israel policy noted that it was a bad idea for him to make Jerusalem housing permits the focus of his ire (at least for now). There is no issue so emotional and no aspect of the conflict with the Palestinians that so unites Jews as the historic capital of the Jewish people. And today, the depth of his misjudgment is laid bare by Elie Wiesel, who takes out full page ads in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal to object to the assault on what he calls “the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.”

He doesn’t mention Obama by name but his point could not be clearer: forget it, Mr. President. He writes, in part:

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, is IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and joy are part of our collective memory.

He continues with a historical review of the city dating back to King David. And then he brings us up to date:

Today , for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.

What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atomosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issue, for such a time?

It is significant that it is Wiesel – a Jewish figure without peer and the embodiment of Holocaust memory – who writes this. It is as powerful a rebuke to an American president as any he can receive. It is not simply a geopolitical critique; it is an indictment of Obama’s ignorance of and lack of sympathy with the Jewish people. It cannot be ignored.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

Not what the Obami were spinning to AIPAC: “Well the Obama administration’s leverage is beginning to sound like ‘hard power’ — brutal even — to get Israel to toe the line. I have no doubt that in President Obama’s eyes, this is the way to promote U.S. interests. As non-objective as I am, I have the impression that it is not only a mistaken policy, but one that isn’t advancing the peace process. In effect, it is making it almost impossible for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table, because he has to insist he has no choice but to wait until the conditions that the U.S. is setting are met by Israel before he does,” says Moshe Arens, former Knesset member, defense minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to the United States. (Read the rest of the revealing interview.)

Not what any clear-eyed pro-Israel activist is going to buy from the Obami’s furious spin on their assault on Israel : “‘No crisis. Media reports are wrong. More agreement than disagreement’ inside the administration, regarding how to advance the Middle East peace process. [The administration’s] ‘hand was forced [with regard to] Jerusalem by circumstances during Biden’s trip,’ the source said, referring to the Israeli government’s announcement last month during Vice President Joe Biden’s good-will trip to Israel that it had approved construction of another 1,600 homes to be built in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.” This is simply pathetic.

Not what the Democrats were selling us for over a year (from Howard Fineman): “A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.”

Not what the Obami had in mind when they took their victory lap: “President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an alltime low of 44%, down five points from late March, just before the bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It is down 24 points since his all-time high last April. 41% now disapprove. . . . When it comes to health care, the President’s approval rating is even lower – and is also a new all-time low. Only 34% approve, while a majority of 55% disapprove.”

Not what you’d expect from the “most transparent administration in history” (unless you didn’t buy the label in the first place): “Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is accusing Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan of interfering with Congress’s oversight on key intelligence matters. King’s latest frustration came Friday morning when he read news accounts about the new Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) aviation security measures before being briefed on the program from anyone in the administration.”

Not what “bringing us all together” was supposed to mean: “The perplexing irony of Barack Obama’s presidency is that even as conservatives attack him as a crazed socialist, many on the left are frustrated with what they see as the president’s accommodationist backtracking from campaign promises.”

Not what is going to help the Democrats retain control over the Senate: “The family bank of Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias loaned a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer, according to a Tribune examination that provides new details about the bank’s relationship with the convicted felons.”

Not what the Obami and their elite media handmaidens want us to hear (especially from Juan Williams): “There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the tea party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt. Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats’ left-wing base. But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism.”

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RE: Spokesman for Evil

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

The Leveretts are on quite a roll — blogs, interviews, speeches all spinning the mullahs’ rhetoric. But they’ve also developed a nasty habit of talking about covert operations. We saw a hint of that in their embarrassing interview with Michael Crowley. Now comes this in their latest straight-from-the-mullahs’-PR-office blog:

Iranian officials are not the only sources claiming that U.S. intelligence is linked to groups carrying out terrorist operations inside the Islamic Republic. Some Western media reports—citing former CIA case officers—say that there are links between Jundallah and U.S. intelligence; for example, see this widely noted story published by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker in July 2008. Some of these reports say that Jundallah is one of a number of ethnic separatist groups (including Arab, Azeri, Baluch, and Kurdish groups) receiving covert support from the United States, as part of a covert campaign authorized during the George W. Bush Administration to press Tehran over the nuclear issue and destabilize the Islamic Republic.  For a recent discussion of the issue by a retired CIA officer, see here. As we ourselves have written, there is considerable evidence that President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for “democracy promotion” in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests.

As we have noted, Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs—a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran. We understand that, last year, the Obama Administration reviewed whether Jundallah should be designated a foreign terrorist organization, but decided not to do so. Why was that? And, even though the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) retains its designation as a foreign terrorist organization, the Obama Administration continues to push the Iraqi government not to consider longstanding a longstanding Iranian request that MEK cadres in Iraq—which were granted special protective status by the George W. Bush Administration—be deported to Iran. Why is the Obama Administration trying to protect members of a U.S. government-designated terrorist group?

It’s one thing to cite other press reports, but what in the world are they doing speaking from their own knowledge of top secret operations? Really, it’s bad enough to shamelessly shill for the butchers of Tehran but do they also have to blab information they have no legal or ethical standing to discuss publicly? They then do a final bit of water-carrying, assuring us that it wasn’t the Iranians who reneged on the Vienna dealmaking:

It has become conventional wisdom in Western commentary that Iran “reneged” from its commitment to a “swap” arrangement for refueling the TRR and “rejected” the generous ElBaradei proposal because of internal political conflicts that have left the leadership too divided to take clear decisions about important foreign policy matters. We have challenged this conventional wisdom, pointing out that, since the Vienna meeting in October, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has consistently stressed Iran’s “positive view regarding the essence and nature of the [ElBaradei] proposal”, but wanted to negotiate specific details of the “swap”, regarding timing—in particular, when Iranian LEU would need to be turned over to the IAEA and when new fuel for the TRR would be delivered, where Iranian LEU would be held pending delivery of new fuel for the TRR, and how much LEU Iran would need to swap for a given amount of finished fuel.  More strategically, we have argued that Iran’s reaction to the ElBaradei proposal was inevitably conditioned by the ongoing insistence of the United States and its British and French partners on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable long-term outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

A fine week indeed for the mullahs’ PR operation.

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Democrats Not Interested in Voter Intimidation Case Scandal

The House Judiciary Committee took up a resolution forced by Rep. Frank Wolf, calling on the Justice Department to fork over information on its endless, secretive, and (sources with direct knowledge tell me) quite lackadaisical investigation of the Obama Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case. As expected, the resolution was voted down on a party-line vote of 15-14. The House Democrats don’t really seem as though they need to know why the Justice Department wouldn’t enforce the law fully against all defendants (for whom the U.S. government had a default judgment in hand) who intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, 2008. As Ranking Minority Leader Rep. Lamar Smith explained in his prepared remarks:

No facts had changed. No new evidence was uncovered. The only thing that did change is the political party in charge of the Justice Department. So why would the Obama Administration suddenly drop charges in a case that had effectively been won? It appears that the Justice Department gave a free pass to its political allies—one of the defendants against whom charges were dropped was a Democratic poll watcher. Despite continued requests from Congress, the Justice Department has refused to give any explanation for dropping the charges. The Department’s silence appears to be an admission of guilt. According to media reports, senior political appointees may have overridden the decision of career attorneys. The decision to dismiss charges against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.

An observer at the hearing tells me that only Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee bothered to speak out against the motion, claiming that this was just an isolated incident of intimidation (is this a new standard for the enforcement of civil rights?) and going as far as to defend the New Black Panther Party as a good and honorable organization. (I suppose there may be some in the Obama Justice Department who are sympathetic to this view.) She thinks the Obama Justice Department will prosecute anyone guilty of voter intimidation. (Except in this case?)

Republicans took a different position. Rep. Trent Franks wanted to know what the Obama team is hiding and, contrary to his colleague, labeled the New Black Panther Party as a racist organization. Rep. James Sensenbrenner blasted the Justice Deaprtments invocation of privilege as reason to refuse cooperation and said Congress needs to press for answers. (That’s not happening unless the House changes control in November.) Other Republicans emphasized the egregious nature of the case, which was there for all to see on video tape, and went after the recent testimony of Civil Rights chief Thomas Perez, who claimed there was no interference with career lawyers.

This is what passes for congressional oversight these days. As Rep. Smith says, there are certainly grounds for probing further:

Yesterday, 24 hours before this markup, the Justice Department provided the Committee with responses to the Civil Rights Commission’s information requests. These comprise more of the same non-responsive replies the Justice Department provided the Commission and Congress earlier this year. The Department refused to answer, either wholly or in part, 31 of the Commission’s 49 written questions.

The Department is still either unwilling or unable to answer one simple question: what changed between January 2009 and May 2009 to justify walking away from a case of blatant voter intimidation?

But don’t hold your breath. The Democrats who railed against Alberto Gonzales and insisted on investigation after investigation during the Bush administration to uncover some alleged politicization of the administration of justice are now silent. Trust the Obama team, they say. It seems as though if anything is to be learned about this case, it will come from the efforts of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or those within the Justice Department who are offended by Obama political appointees’ meddling in what should have been a slam-dunk victory for the U.S. government in enforcing civil rights laws.

The House Judiciary Committee took up a resolution forced by Rep. Frank Wolf, calling on the Justice Department to fork over information on its endless, secretive, and (sources with direct knowledge tell me) quite lackadaisical investigation of the Obama Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the New Black Panther Party case. As expected, the resolution was voted down on a party-line vote of 15-14. The House Democrats don’t really seem as though they need to know why the Justice Department wouldn’t enforce the law fully against all defendants (for whom the U.S. government had a default judgment in hand) who intimidated voters at a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, 2008. As Ranking Minority Leader Rep. Lamar Smith explained in his prepared remarks:

No facts had changed. No new evidence was uncovered. The only thing that did change is the political party in charge of the Justice Department. So why would the Obama Administration suddenly drop charges in a case that had effectively been won? It appears that the Justice Department gave a free pass to its political allies—one of the defendants against whom charges were dropped was a Democratic poll watcher. Despite continued requests from Congress, the Justice Department has refused to give any explanation for dropping the charges. The Department’s silence appears to be an admission of guilt. According to media reports, senior political appointees may have overridden the decision of career attorneys. The decision to dismiss charges against political allies who allegedly intimidated voters on Election Day 2008 reeks of political interference.

An observer at the hearing tells me that only Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee bothered to speak out against the motion, claiming that this was just an isolated incident of intimidation (is this a new standard for the enforcement of civil rights?) and going as far as to defend the New Black Panther Party as a good and honorable organization. (I suppose there may be some in the Obama Justice Department who are sympathetic to this view.) She thinks the Obama Justice Department will prosecute anyone guilty of voter intimidation. (Except in this case?)

Republicans took a different position. Rep. Trent Franks wanted to know what the Obama team is hiding and, contrary to his colleague, labeled the New Black Panther Party as a racist organization. Rep. James Sensenbrenner blasted the Justice Deaprtments invocation of privilege as reason to refuse cooperation and said Congress needs to press for answers. (That’s not happening unless the House changes control in November.) Other Republicans emphasized the egregious nature of the case, which was there for all to see on video tape, and went after the recent testimony of Civil Rights chief Thomas Perez, who claimed there was no interference with career lawyers.

This is what passes for congressional oversight these days. As Rep. Smith says, there are certainly grounds for probing further:

Yesterday, 24 hours before this markup, the Justice Department provided the Committee with responses to the Civil Rights Commission’s information requests. These comprise more of the same non-responsive replies the Justice Department provided the Commission and Congress earlier this year. The Department refused to answer, either wholly or in part, 31 of the Commission’s 49 written questions.

The Department is still either unwilling or unable to answer one simple question: what changed between January 2009 and May 2009 to justify walking away from a case of blatant voter intimidation?

But don’t hold your breath. The Democrats who railed against Alberto Gonzales and insisted on investigation after investigation during the Bush administration to uncover some alleged politicization of the administration of justice are now silent. Trust the Obama team, they say. It seems as though if anything is to be learned about this case, it will come from the efforts of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights or those within the Justice Department who are offended by Obama political appointees’ meddling in what should have been a slam-dunk victory for the U.S. government in enforcing civil rights laws.

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Missiles? Yawn

The Obama administration’s reaction to Iran’s Sajjil-2 missile launch on Wednesday has been beyond perfunctory; in fact, it has been disjointed and blasé to the point of haplessness. One has the sense of a vacuum where the conventional signals on defense policy used to be, as if no serious effort were being made.

The Sajjil missile program is two things. It’s a game-changer for our own missile-defense planning—a type of game-changer anticipated in theory for some years, and now being tested live in Iran. The pace of its development is, in the words of Israel’s former missile-defense chief, “phenomenal.” The launch-testing program started in November 2008 and has straddled two U.S. administrations, a political disadvantage for the objective analysis of its import. But from a professional military standpoint, the program’s progress naturally cues an adjustment to our own planning.

It’s therefore misleading—even a touch disingenuous—for the Pentagon’s spokesman to dismiss the Sajjil-2 launch on December 16 (the missile’s second successful launch ever) as “not particularly different than [sic] anything we’ve seen before.” This is narrowly accurate, but it’s not what matters. Downplaying the significance of the Sajjil program is lazy and sloppy; the professional approach would be conveying that we are taking steps to position ourselves for its emergence—which we are, at least from a long-term programmatic perspective.

The Sajjil is also the kind of missile program Obama had in mind in September, when he announced he was changing our missile-defense policy to be better prepared for the “emerging medium-range threat.” This announcement was made with some fanfare, attended by a phalanx of officials and experts explaining how the Obama policy would position us better for missile defense in the near future. It’s therefore particularly odd that the administration spokesmen didn’t make that connection in their public comments about Wednesday’s missile launch.

Perhaps they were deterred by the fact that the individual elements of Obama’s missile-defense plan are either not proven against an Iran/Sajjil threat scenario or out of sync with the Sajjil program’s rapid time line (e.g., the ground-launched version of the Navy’s SM-3, which is to substitute for Bush’s silo-based interceptors in Europe, doesn’t exist yet). But I doubt it. Spinning a policy initiative to de-emphasize its inconvenient particulars is just basic political competence. In theory, Obama’s policy shift in September was targeted precisely on the threat represented by the Sajjil. That no one in an official capacity has promptly spun this point for positive effect argues a weird lack of interest and focus.

Media reports are pairing the Sajjil-2 launch with Monday’s earlier announcement that the Pentagon will test our silo-based interceptors—which are operationally deployed in Alaska and California— against a simulated Iranian attack scenario in January. The testing program for U.S missile defenses has concentrated on a North Korea scenario up to now, with the threat mimicking the No Dong missile, the prototype for Iran’s older Shahab. This certainly seems linked to the Sajjil story. But since the silo-based interceptors are exactly the ones Obama has decided not to put in Europe, it’s another story with loose ends. What does it mean that we are doing this?

We can speculate, and many are busy doing just that; but we shouldn’t have to. Neither should Iran—or Russia or China, for that matter. There is no downside to sending signals on this topic that are clear, consistent, and unified. There is a serious downside, however, to sending signals about our defense policy that come off as detached and random.

The Obama administration’s reaction to Iran’s Sajjil-2 missile launch on Wednesday has been beyond perfunctory; in fact, it has been disjointed and blasé to the point of haplessness. One has the sense of a vacuum where the conventional signals on defense policy used to be, as if no serious effort were being made.

The Sajjil missile program is two things. It’s a game-changer for our own missile-defense planning—a type of game-changer anticipated in theory for some years, and now being tested live in Iran. The pace of its development is, in the words of Israel’s former missile-defense chief, “phenomenal.” The launch-testing program started in November 2008 and has straddled two U.S. administrations, a political disadvantage for the objective analysis of its import. But from a professional military standpoint, the program’s progress naturally cues an adjustment to our own planning.

It’s therefore misleading—even a touch disingenuous—for the Pentagon’s spokesman to dismiss the Sajjil-2 launch on December 16 (the missile’s second successful launch ever) as “not particularly different than [sic] anything we’ve seen before.” This is narrowly accurate, but it’s not what matters. Downplaying the significance of the Sajjil program is lazy and sloppy; the professional approach would be conveying that we are taking steps to position ourselves for its emergence—which we are, at least from a long-term programmatic perspective.

The Sajjil is also the kind of missile program Obama had in mind in September, when he announced he was changing our missile-defense policy to be better prepared for the “emerging medium-range threat.” This announcement was made with some fanfare, attended by a phalanx of officials and experts explaining how the Obama policy would position us better for missile defense in the near future. It’s therefore particularly odd that the administration spokesmen didn’t make that connection in their public comments about Wednesday’s missile launch.

Perhaps they were deterred by the fact that the individual elements of Obama’s missile-defense plan are either not proven against an Iran/Sajjil threat scenario or out of sync with the Sajjil program’s rapid time line (e.g., the ground-launched version of the Navy’s SM-3, which is to substitute for Bush’s silo-based interceptors in Europe, doesn’t exist yet). But I doubt it. Spinning a policy initiative to de-emphasize its inconvenient particulars is just basic political competence. In theory, Obama’s policy shift in September was targeted precisely on the threat represented by the Sajjil. That no one in an official capacity has promptly spun this point for positive effect argues a weird lack of interest and focus.

Media reports are pairing the Sajjil-2 launch with Monday’s earlier announcement that the Pentagon will test our silo-based interceptors—which are operationally deployed in Alaska and California— against a simulated Iranian attack scenario in January. The testing program for U.S missile defenses has concentrated on a North Korea scenario up to now, with the threat mimicking the No Dong missile, the prototype for Iran’s older Shahab. This certainly seems linked to the Sajjil story. But since the silo-based interceptors are exactly the ones Obama has decided not to put in Europe, it’s another story with loose ends. What does it mean that we are doing this?

We can speculate, and many are busy doing just that; but we shouldn’t have to. Neither should Iran—or Russia or China, for that matter. There is no downside to sending signals on this topic that are clear, consistent, and unified. There is a serious downside, however, to sending signals about our defense policy that come off as detached and random.

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Obama’s Extraordinary Irresponsibility

I wanted to follow up on the comments by Jennifer and Max regarding President Obama’s seeming inability to make a decision on General McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. To put things in context: the McChrystal report was sent to the Obama administration at the end of August. McChrystal was emphatic in his 66-page request: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

According to our commanding general in Afghanistan, then, we have a window of 12 months to regain the initiative or we risk losing the war. We are now approaching the middle of November — two and a half months after McChrystal’s request — and based on media reports, President Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national-security team. If true — and I know from my time in the White House that what is reported sometimes reflects, rather than the thinking of the president,  the views of aides trying to influence a decision via public leaks  — this is both stunning and reckless. As one person pointed out to me, the same president who wants to ram through health-care legislation, despite the fact that we don’t face a health-care emergency, seems unable to settle on a hugely consequential, time-sensitive decision in the midst of a war.

I have not begrudged President Obama the time to carefully think through a decision on Afghanistan — but this is ridiculous. This issue should have been front and center for the administration the moment it was clear Obama won the presidency. He has already presented (in March) his “new” strategy for Afghanistan. The fact that he wants to revisit his decision may be understandable, except for the fact that his foot-dragging is now harming us. Sometimes presidents are forced to make decisions based on external events and pressing outside needs. “The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance,” Henry Kissinger wrote in the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years. Governing the nation does not afford you the luxuries you have when conducting a college seminar.

President Obama not only needs to make a decision soon; once he does, assuming he does, we face the logistical challenges of getting the troops in place. Precious time has already been lost. If after all the time that’s been lost, Obama is now jettisoning all the options he has been presented with, including the McChrystal option, then what we are witnessing is extraordinarily irresponsible. Sometimes you can lose a war by not choosing. And that is the path we may well be on right now, if media reports are correct.

President Obama needs to get a grip on this process soon. Decisions need to be made and a war needs to be won.

I wanted to follow up on the comments by Jennifer and Max regarding President Obama’s seeming inability to make a decision on General McChrystal’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. To put things in context: the McChrystal report was sent to the Obama administration at the end of August. McChrystal was emphatic in his 66-page request: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

According to our commanding general in Afghanistan, then, we have a window of 12 months to regain the initiative or we risk losing the war. We are now approaching the middle of November — two and a half months after McChrystal’s request — and based on media reports, President Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national-security team. If true — and I know from my time in the White House that what is reported sometimes reflects, rather than the thinking of the president,  the views of aides trying to influence a decision via public leaks  — this is both stunning and reckless. As one person pointed out to me, the same president who wants to ram through health-care legislation, despite the fact that we don’t face a health-care emergency, seems unable to settle on a hugely consequential, time-sensitive decision in the midst of a war.

I have not begrudged President Obama the time to carefully think through a decision on Afghanistan — but this is ridiculous. This issue should have been front and center for the administration the moment it was clear Obama won the presidency. He has already presented (in March) his “new” strategy for Afghanistan. The fact that he wants to revisit his decision may be understandable, except for the fact that his foot-dragging is now harming us. Sometimes presidents are forced to make decisions based on external events and pressing outside needs. “The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstance,” Henry Kissinger wrote in the first volume of his memoirs, White House Years. Governing the nation does not afford you the luxuries you have when conducting a college seminar.

President Obama not only needs to make a decision soon; once he does, assuming he does, we face the logistical challenges of getting the troops in place. Precious time has already been lost. If after all the time that’s been lost, Obama is now jettisoning all the options he has been presented with, including the McChrystal option, then what we are witnessing is extraordinarily irresponsible. Sometimes you can lose a war by not choosing. And that is the path we may well be on right now, if media reports are correct.

President Obama needs to get a grip on this process soon. Decisions need to be made and a war needs to be won.

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What Financial Action?

The Financial Action Task Force to combat the financing of terrorism and money laundering has just issued its latest statement on Iran. It welcomes “the commitment made by Iran to improve its AML/CFT regime” but still advises its members and their financial institutions to apply “enhanced due diligence” in dealing with Iran due to its “deficiencies.” According to media reports, one of these deficiencies is that Iran’s money-laundering legislation is still wanting. A second is Iran’s lack of legislation combating terror financing:

Iran has, to our knowledge, no law in place at the moment dealing with terrorist financing,” task force executive secretary Rick McDonell told The Associated Press. “It has one in relation to money laundering–very recently–but that’s deficient.”

But this is, with all due respect to FATF and its members, quite inaccurate. Iran does have a law dealing with terrorist financing: the annual state budget.

The Financial Action Task Force to combat the financing of terrorism and money laundering has just issued its latest statement on Iran. It welcomes “the commitment made by Iran to improve its AML/CFT regime” but still advises its members and their financial institutions to apply “enhanced due diligence” in dealing with Iran due to its “deficiencies.” According to media reports, one of these deficiencies is that Iran’s money-laundering legislation is still wanting. A second is Iran’s lack of legislation combating terror financing:

Iran has, to our knowledge, no law in place at the moment dealing with terrorist financing,” task force executive secretary Rick McDonell told The Associated Press. “It has one in relation to money laundering–very recently–but that’s deficient.”

But this is, with all due respect to FATF and its members, quite inaccurate. Iran does have a law dealing with terrorist financing: the annual state budget.

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Good News, Bad News

The good news from Gaza today is that Israel will not prevent PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas from taking control of the Gaza-Egypt border. Even better news is that Egypt apparently will similarly acquiesce. The initiative enjoys the backing of Europe and Condoleeza Rice as well, according to media reports. The bad news is the only group whose agreement is really relevant–Hamas–is not going to let the Chairman have it.

The good news from Gaza today is that Israel will not prevent PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas from taking control of the Gaza-Egypt border. Even better news is that Egypt apparently will similarly acquiesce. The initiative enjoys the backing of Europe and Condoleeza Rice as well, according to media reports. The bad news is the only group whose agreement is really relevant–Hamas–is not going to let the Chairman have it.

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Nepotism is Good

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

Back in 1992, with a group of other Americans scholars, I had a lovely visit to North Korea to talk about world politics with our counterparts at a Pyongyang think tank. Kim Il Sung, the legendary “Great Leader” was running the show back then, and it was already obvious that his son, Kim Jong Il — known then as the “Dear Leader” — was the heir apparent.

I pressed our hosts about the succession issue, and how the dynastic principle could fit within the Marxist-Juche framework, the official ideology instilled in every North Korean man, woman, and child at birth. Their replies — each of the scholars said exactly the same thing in exactly the same words — made it very clear that their brand of Marxism was exceptionally supple; it could explain and glorify anything and everything that Kim Il Sung ever decreed or did.

Kim Il Sung managed to transfer power to his son upon his death in 1994. But how will Kim Jong Il, at age 66, fare?

USA Today has a highly informative story today, introducing us to the cast of characters “in North Korea’s ‘My Three Sons.’” Unless the regime collapses, one of them is likely to assume power at some point in the next decade or so.

Kim Jong Nam, 36 is Kim Jong Il’s eldest son. According to USA Today, this “would seem to give him an edge in a Confucian society that values seniority. But his pedigree is tainted by illegitimacy. His mother was Song Hye Rim, an actress who had a lengthy relationship with Kim Jong Il but never married him.” What’s more, Jong Nam is obese and unruly. In 2001, he was apprehended attempting to enter Japan with a fraudulent Chinese passport — under the Chinese name Pang Xiong, or “Fat Bear” — with the intention of visiting Tokyo’s Disneyland.  

Kim Jong Chul, 26. would seem to be the front runner. A cult of personality has already developed around his mother, one of several of Kim Jong Il’s wives. USA Today reports that Jong Chul has been educated in Switzerland and was seen attending an Eric Clapton concert in Germany last year. Has his exposure to the West made him soft? Let us hope so. 

Kim Jong Woon, 23 or 24,  may be young, but evidently he is also ambitious. South Korean media reports say that his mother has “ordered high-ranking North Korean officials to start calling him ‘the Morning Star General’ in an apparent bid to put him in the succession race.”

When are the fireworks likely to start? Life expectancy in North Korea is reported to be 72, which seems far too high, given the famines and other afflictions that have descended on the country in recent years. Of course, Kim Jong Il is well fed and well-tended to, so the average North Korean figure is irrelevant as far as he is concerned. But even if his personal life-expectancy is more like the South Korean average of 78, the succession issue will inevitably be upon him before too long.

Succession is a always a weak link of dictatorships, especially Marxists dictatorships. The classic study of the problem is Myron Rush’s Political Succession in the USSR. In North Korea’s case, the risks of running such an absolute Marxist monarchy would seem to be great. But so undoubtedly are the perquisites. If Kim Jong Nam gets the slot, he wouldn’t have to travel incognito to Disneyland; he could make an official visit, or better yet, build his own.

 

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The Other Fallujah Reporter

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” — Thomas Jefferson

I just returned home from a trip to Fallujah, where I was the only reporter embedded with the United States military. There was, however, an unembedded reporter in the city at the same time. Normally it would be useful to compare what I saw and heard while traveling and working with the Marines with what a colleague saw and heard while working solo. Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

Mr. al-Fadhily is unhappy with the way things are going in the city right now. It means little to him that the only shots fired by the Marines anymore are practice rounds on the range, and that there hasn’t been a single fire fight or combat casualty for months. That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, and perhaps to be expected from a reporter who isn’t embedded with the military and who focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians. The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice.

Some of what al-Fadhily writes is correct. The economy and infrastructure really are shattered. Unemployment is greater than 50 percent, as he says. It’s true that most Iraqis – in Fallujah as well as everywhere else – don’t have access to safe drinking water. But he proves himself unreliable, to put it mildly, after only one sentence: “The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues.”

There is no “siege” in Fallujah. He is referring here to the hard perimeter around the city manned by Iraqi Police who prevent non-residents from bringing their cars in. It’s an extreme measure, no doubt about it. But it keeps the car bombers and weapon smugglers out. Iraqis who live in Fallujah are free to come and go as they please. The non-resident vehicle ban is a defensive measure, like a national border or castle moat. Its purpose is to prevent a siege from the outside.

My colleague (of sorts) at least acknowledges that “military actions are down to the minimum inside the city.” He adds, however, that “local and U.S. authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.”

This is nonsense on stilts. Marines distribute food aid to impoverished local civilians. The electrical grid is being repaired now that insurgents no longer sabotage it. Solar-powered street lights have been installed on some of the main thoroughfares and will cover the entire city in two years if the war doesn’t come back. Locals are hired to pick up trash that went uncollected for months. A new sewage and water treatment plant is under construction in the poorest part of the city. Low-interest microloans are being distributed to small business owners to kick start the economy. American civilians donate school supplies to Iraqi children that are distributed by the Marines. Mr. al-Fadhily would know all this if he embedded with the U.S. military. Whether or not he would take the trouble to report these facts if he knew of them is another question.

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“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” — Thomas Jefferson

I just returned home from a trip to Fallujah, where I was the only reporter embedded with the United States military. There was, however, an unembedded reporter in the city at the same time. Normally it would be useful to compare what I saw and heard while traveling and working with the Marines with what a colleague saw and heard while working solo. Unfortunately, the other Fallujah reporter was Ali al-Fadhily from Inter Press Services.

Mr. al-Fadhily is unhappy with the way things are going in the city right now. It means little to him that the only shots fired by the Marines anymore are practice rounds on the range, and that there hasn’t been a single fire fight or combat casualty for months. That’s fair enough, as far as it goes, and perhaps to be expected from a reporter who isn’t embedded with the military and who focuses his attention on Iraqi civilians. The trouble is that Mr. Al-Fadhily’s hysterical exaggerations, refusal to provide crucial context, and outright fabrications amount to a serious case of journalistic malpractice.

Some of what al-Fadhily writes is correct. The economy and infrastructure really are shattered. Unemployment is greater than 50 percent, as he says. It’s true that most Iraqis – in Fallujah as well as everywhere else – don’t have access to safe drinking water. But he proves himself unreliable, to put it mildly, after only one sentence: “The city that was routed in November 2004 is still suffering the worst humanitarian conditions under a siege that continues.”

There is no “siege” in Fallujah. He is referring here to the hard perimeter around the city manned by Iraqi Police who prevent non-residents from bringing their cars in. It’s an extreme measure, no doubt about it. But it keeps the car bombers and weapon smugglers out. Iraqis who live in Fallujah are free to come and go as they please. The non-resident vehicle ban is a defensive measure, like a national border or castle moat. Its purpose is to prevent a siege from the outside.

My colleague (of sorts) at least acknowledges that “military actions are down to the minimum inside the city.” He adds, however, that “local and U.S. authorities do not seem to be thinking of ending the agonies of the over 400,000 residents of Fallujah.”

This is nonsense on stilts. Marines distribute food aid to impoverished local civilians. The electrical grid is being repaired now that insurgents no longer sabotage it. Solar-powered street lights have been installed on some of the main thoroughfares and will cover the entire city in two years if the war doesn’t come back. Locals are hired to pick up trash that went uncollected for months. A new sewage and water treatment plant is under construction in the poorest part of the city. Low-interest microloans are being distributed to small business owners to kick start the economy. American civilians donate school supplies to Iraqi children that are distributed by the Marines. Mr. al-Fadhily would know all this if he embedded with the U.S. military. Whether or not he would take the trouble to report these facts if he knew of them is another question.

He claims seventy percent of the city was destroyed during Operation Phantom Fury, also known as Al-Fajr, in November 2004. This is a lie. If he really went to Fallujah himself, he knows it’s a lie. It’s possible that as much as seventy percent of the city was damaged, if a single bullet hole in the side of a house counts as damage. I really don’t know. It’s hard to say. But I saw much more destruction in nearby Ramadi than I saw in Fallujah. Even there the percentage of the city that was actually destroyed is in the low single digits – nowhere near seventy percent. And I spent triple the amount of time in Fallujah as in Ramadi. I didn’t personally see every street or house, but I followed the Marines on foot patrols every day and never once retraced my steps.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Look at Google’s interactive satellite image of Fallujah from space. You can clearly see which parts of the city were destroyed and which weren’t. Most of the damage is in the north. Some of the blanks spots you’ll see are empty lots, some are cemeteries, others are destruction from war. Even if all the blank spots in the city were sites of destruction, the percentage of the total area destroyed is far closer to zero percent than to seventy. Mr. al-Fadhily’s exaggeration is on par with the libelous claim that the Israel Defense Forces killed thousands of people in the Jenin refugee camp in April of 2002 when the actual number was a mere 52.

“All of the residents interviewed by IPS were extremely angry with the media for recent reports that the situation in the city is good,” he wrote. “Many refused to be quoted for different reasons.”

This is about as believable as his seventy-percent destruction claim. What media reports from Fallujah are the residents talking about? Fallujah is very nearly a journalist-free zone. Mr. al-Fadhily and I are practically the only ones who have been there for some time. Google News finds hardly any articles filed from the city aside from mine and his. Noah Shachtman published a Fallujah piece in Wired recently, but it’s unlikely that anyone there came across it. It’s also not very likely that the Arabic-language satellite channels Fallujah residents have access to are bursting with reports of good news from the former insurgent stronghold.

Anyway, the situation in the city isn’t good. Not at all. What it is is non-violent. It’s not a war zone anymore. The infrastructure and economy are only just now beginning to slowly recover because the war, until recently, made rebuilding impossible.

“Many residents told IPS that US-backed Iraqi police and army personnel have detained people who have spoken to the media,” al-Fadhily wrote.

Some Iraqis may well have said this. The idea that Americans were setting off car bombs was another theory that made the rounds in Fallujah not long ago. Only the most paranoid or irresponsible of reporters would bother to publish such claims without a dash of skepticism or evidence.

I have been to the Iraqi Police jail in Fallujah. It’s a terrible place that probably ought to be investigated by Human Rights Watch or the like. (The Marines I spoke to insist it is an abomination.) The Iraqi Police force gets, and deserves, a lot of legitimate criticism. But the idea that its officers arrest citizens for talking to journalists is about as plausible as the silly claim made by Iraqis in Nassiriya recently that the Americans dumped a shark in a Euphrates River canal to frighten people.

Mr. al-Fadhily quotes many disgruntled Iraqis. That’s all fine and good. I, too, heard lots of complaints. There’s plenty to gripe about. Fallujah is a broken-down, ramshackle, impoverished wreck of a city. It was ruined by more than three years of war. What else can you expect of a place that only stopped exploding this summer? But if the best possible scenario ever unfolds, if peace arrives even in Baghdad, if the government becomes truly moderate and representative, if rainbows break out in the skies and the fields fill with smiling children and bunny rabbits, somebody, somewhere, will complain that Iraq has been taken over by the imperial powers of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks.

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The Leak Wars

“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

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“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

The conundrum is easily resolved. First, McConnell, as the nation’s top intelligence officer, and unlike any reporter or editor at the Times, is in a position to evaluate whether a given disclosure will cause damage to American security.

Second, McConnell has the authority, under law, to declassify information when he determines it is in the national interest. The New York Times claims the same authority under the First Amendment. But the First Amendment is compatible with a whole range of restrictions on the press, as in the law of libel, the laws governing commercial speech, and so forth. By contrast, the idea that the media is not obligated to follow laws currently on the books restricting publication of national-defense information flies in the face of both reason and precedent.  

Third, in disclosing the success of the U.S. surveillance program in averting a disaster in Germany, McConnell was not revealing anything new. Why not? Because the Times had already compromised the key facts about the scope of National Security Agency surveillance in a series of stories that began in December 2005.

The fact that even after the Times had tipped them off, terrorists continue to use readily interceptible telephones and email demonstrates how difficult it is for them to find alternative means of rapid long-distance communication. But that is by no means a justification for what the Times did. A host of governments officials–Democrats and Republicans alike–have attested to the damage inflicted on U.S. counterterrorism efforts by the Times’s reporting.

CIA Director General Michael V. Hayden, speaking earlier this week at the Council on Foreign Relations, addressed the problem. His words are worth quoting at length:

Revelations of sources and methods or what seems to me to be an impulse to drag anything CIA does to the darkest corner of the room can make it very difficult for us to perform our vital work. When our operations are exposed–you know, the legal, authorized operations overseen by Congress–when those operations are exposed, it reduces the space and it damages the tools we use to protect Americans.

After the press report on how banking records in the international Swiss network could be monitored, I read a claim that this leak–and I’m quoting now–”bears no resemblance to security breaches”. . . I could not disagree more strongly. In a war that largely depends on our success on collecting intelligence on the enemy, publishing information on our sources and methods can be just as damaging as revelations of troop or ship movements have been in the past. Now the compromise to safety can be both immediate and lasting, and it extends beyond specific individuals. Each revelation of our methods in tracking terrorists, tracking WMD, tracking other threats allows our enemies to cover their tracks and change their practices. We’ll respond, but it takes us valuable time to readjust.

Now, some are out there who say there’s no evidence that leaks of classified information have actually harmed national security. As CIA director, I’m telling you there is and they have. Let me give you just two examples. In one case, leaks provided ammunition for a government to prosecute and imprison one of our sources whose family was also endangered. The revelations had an immediate chilling affect on our ability to collect [intelligence] against a top priority target. In another, a spate of media reports cost us several promising counterterrorism and counter-proliferation assets. Sources not even involved in the operation that was exposed lost confidence that their relationship with us could be kept secret and so they stopped reporting.
. . . On their own, journalists often simply don’t have all the facts needed to make the call on whether the information can be released without harm. I’ve heard some justify a release based on their view of the sensitivity of their story’s content with no understanding of the effect the release may have on the intelligence source at the heart of the story. . . [W]he the media claims an oversight role on clandestine operations, it moves that clandestine operation into an arena where we cannot clarify, we cannot explain, we cannot defend our actions without doing even further damage to our national security.

It’s important–as I say this, it’s important to bear in mind that my agency is subject to another oversight mechanism that has full access to our operations and takes our security requirements into account, it’s your representatives in Congress.

George Tenet and Porter Goss, George Bush’s previous CIA directors, never said anything nearly as sustained or lucid on this vital subject–and they and we paid for their silence with an accelerating flow of leaks appearing in the media. It is unlikely that Hayden’s caution will be heeded by many in the press, least of all at the New York Times. But the issue, at least, has finally been joined in a serious way by the Bush administration.

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Hitler’s Record Collection?

It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

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It is ironic that just as the death of the distinguished Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg is announced, the media here and abroad should broadcast news of the rediscovery of Hitler’s presumed “record collection.” Der Spiegel reported that the daughter of Lev Bezymensky (1920-2007), a World War II Soviet military intelligence officer, revealed some 100 records, which her father reportedly stole from the Berlin Reich chancellery in 1945, after the Red Army invasion. Readers may remember that the same Lev Bezymensky (his name transliterated as Bezymenski) authored the 1968 book The Death of Adolf Hitler: Unknown Documents from Soviet Archives, in which Bezymensky claimed to have been present at Hitler’s autopsy. Bezymensky himself later admitted the claim was a lie. Toeing the line of the notorious Soviet counter-intelligence organization SMERSH, Bezymensky’s memoir of the autopsy was persuasively exposed as fraud in Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil.

The London Times trumpeted the story about Hitler’s record collection with headlines like “Hitler’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ turn up in a dead Russian soldier’s attic” and “A cultivated taste that went for very best,” lauding the dictator’s musical acumen. This praise was based on information that the collection includes recordings by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin singing Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, the violinist Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish Jew, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and pianist Artur Schnabel, an Austrian Jew, performing a Mozart sonata. These recordings are available on CD from Naxos, Pearl, and Music & Arts Records respectively; they are exceptional performances from a time when the choice of major musical repertory on disc was limited.

The London Times goes so far as to praise Hitler as a recordings connoisseur: “Hitler appeared to enjoy a good tune.” This sentiment echoes such mock kudos from Mel Brooks’s The Producers as “Hitler was a better dancer than Churchill.” Other media reports managed to find a moral to the story. A headline in the Australian proclaimed that “Hitler relaxed to music of Jews”; the article that followed suggested he was guilty of hypocrisy. The cellist Steven Isserlis claims in the Guardian that “racial rules could be stretched where the glory and comfort of supermen were concerned.”

Do we really need new reasons to despise Hitler? The hoopla surrounding this record collection rates as the most frivolous innovation in Third Reich studies since Lothar Machtan’s 2001 The Hidden Hitler claimed that Hitler was gay (an idea also advanced by The Producers). Even during the slow news days of summer, the media would do well to maintain a sense of the ridiculous, as well as a healthy suspicion of reports originating from deceased Soviet intelligence officers.

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