Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mubarak

It’s Time to Take Incitement Seriously

Shortly after the Clinton administration ended and George W. Bush took office, and amidst the ashes of the Oslo process, Dennis Ross, Clinton’s Middle East envoy, was asked at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy talk what in hindsight he would identify as the greatest U.S. mistake in the long process to broker Arab-Israel peace. He was correct to identify incitement.

Whether it was the tendency of Yasser Arafat to say one thing in English and the opposite in Arabic, or the constant barrage of hatred which Palestinian textbooks and media indoctrinate, the State Department turned a deaf ear. Incitement was seen as secondary to diplomatic progress and was a headache which, if dealt with, might hamper the ability to get to yes on whatever interim agreement loomed at the time.

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Shortly after the Clinton administration ended and George W. Bush took office, and amidst the ashes of the Oslo process, Dennis Ross, Clinton’s Middle East envoy, was asked at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy talk what in hindsight he would identify as the greatest U.S. mistake in the long process to broker Arab-Israel peace. He was correct to identify incitement.

Whether it was the tendency of Yasser Arafat to say one thing in English and the opposite in Arabic, or the constant barrage of hatred which Palestinian textbooks and media indoctrinate, the State Department turned a deaf ear. Incitement was seen as secondary to diplomatic progress and was a headache which, if dealt with, might hamper the ability to get to yes on whatever interim agreement loomed at the time.

Diplomats reached agreements but, in practice, they meant little. Rather than prepare Palestinians for compromise, the Palestinian Authority used incitement to fan the flames of hatred, and then used that public disapproval of any peace as an excuse to avoid the difficult steps necessary.

It is not only the Palestinians who have been guilty of incitement. For many diplomats, the 1978 Camp David Accords suggest that perseverance against all odds can lead to peace. And, with Egypt-Israel peace now in doubt, some Israeli officials and scholars long for a return to Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship. Mubarak, however, bears much culpability for the current actions of the Egyptian public. As president, he oversaw a regime which used its state media to perpetuate anti-Semitism and crass conspiracies, and used its bureaucracy to quash any attempts by civil society to promote tolerance and interchange. The hatred which populists now channel against Israel is the result of more than three decades of unchecked incitement.

Alas, having turned a blind eye to incitement for so long, Americans will now feel its bite. After squandering the opportunity for four decades to reform, professionalize, and free the Egyptian media, Egypt’s new government now uses its media to incite against the United States and, specifically, the Americans the transitional Egyptian regime holds hostage.

Years of neglect suggest there will be no happy ending to the current crisis which increasingly appears as a repeat of the Iran hostage drama, but in slow motion. Perhaps it’s time for the State Department and Congress to have a fundamental rethink about the priority incitement has in its calculations. Should any country use public media to promote religious hatred or anti-Americanism, that country is not serious about peace nor is it deserving of American aid. Rather than treat incitement as a hiccup to ignore on the road to an agreement, perhaps it is time to address incitement as the primary hurdle which must be overcome before any aid can be expended or serious peacemaking can begin.

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No Good Alternative Left in Egypt

The year started with seemingly glorious news from Egypt: tens of thousands of people rallying in Tahrir Square to demand the end of dictatorship and the advent of representative government. It is ending on a grim note with the Muslim Brotherhood winning 47 percent of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections and even more hard-line Salafists winning another 21 percent. The second round of voting, which ended Thursday, is expected to confirm those results. Egyptian liberals now fear, as two of them wrote recently in Tablet magazine, that their country might “collapse into Islamist totalitarianism, or, even worse, total chaos.”

Does this vindicate the warnings of Realpolitikers—including most Israelis—who cautioned that President Obama was wrong to abandon Hosni Mubarak? More broadly, is this evidence that democratization in Muslim lands is a bad idea?

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The year started with seemingly glorious news from Egypt: tens of thousands of people rallying in Tahrir Square to demand the end of dictatorship and the advent of representative government. It is ending on a grim note with the Muslim Brotherhood winning 47 percent of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections and even more hard-line Salafists winning another 21 percent. The second round of voting, which ended Thursday, is expected to confirm those results. Egyptian liberals now fear, as two of them wrote recently in Tablet magazine, that their country might “collapse into Islamist totalitarianism, or, even worse, total chaos.”

Does this vindicate the warnings of Realpolitikers—including most Israelis—who cautioned that President Obama was wrong to abandon Hosni Mubarak? More broadly, is this evidence that democratization in Muslim lands is a bad idea?

Not really. Actually, recent events show why the U.S. should have been more consistent in applying its democratic principles in the past—and why we need to do better in the future.

By the time that massive protests erupted against the Mubarak regime he was a goner, one way or another. The only way he could have kept his grip on power would have been to slaughter his own people in the streets. But it is far from clear that the Egyptian army would have been willing to fire on its own people. And as the examples of Syria and Libya demonstrate, even a willingness to slaughter without mercy is no longer a guarantee of a dictator’s staying power. Moreover, if Mubarak had opened fire to stay in power, it is hard to imagine the U.S. remaining allied to him afterward. By carrying out a bloodbath, Mubarak would have sacrificed whatever scraps of legitimacy he had left, at home or abroad.

So Obama was not wrong to finally withdraw U.S. support from Mubarak. Nor was his action necessarily decisive. Obama was merely acknowledging the inevitable. The real mistake was made earlier—by a long line of presidents, from Reagan to Obama, who countenanced Mubarak’s dictatorial rule for so long.

Some of us had been arguing for years that it was a mistake to give Mubarak a blank check. In 2006, for example, I published an op-ed arguing that the U.S. should have punished Mubarak for jailing his chief liberal critic, Ayman Nour, by  “trimming or eliminating” our $1.8 billion annual subsidy to his regime and “redirecting the money to promotion of civil society in the Middle East.”

That advice was ignored even by George W. Bush, supposedly a wild-eyed “neocon,” because political reform in Egypt always took a backseat to short-term imperatives to win Mubarak’s cooperation on issues such as fighting al-Qaeda and fostering the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.”

Unfortunately, our Mubarak-über-alles policy backfired: It made a revolution, rather a gradual devolution of power, more likely—and when the revolution came it made it more likely that power would be seized by Islamists because the mosque was the only place where any independent political organizing could occur.

To see how things might have worked out differently, look at Morocco. I traveled there last week as a guest of its government, which is doing what Mubarak wouldn’t: opening up its political system in a controlled way. King Mohammed VI has forged a new constitution that allows the largest party in parliament to form a government while keeping for himself control of national security and religious affairs. In Morocco, as in Egypt, an Islamist party has emerged as the winner of a recent election. But, unlike in Egypt, there is little fear of the dark of night of totalitarianism descending. That’s in part because Morocco’s Islamists, organized in the Justice and Development Party, are so moderate; they are primarily focused (or say they are) on fighting corruption and expanding services such as health care and schooling, not on banning alcohol or repressing women. But it’s also because the king serves as an effective check on their power.

To be sure, it’s easier for Mohammed to play this role than it would have been for Mubarak because the king has far greater legitimacy as the heir to a well-established throne, as a descendent of the Prophet, and as “Commander of the Faithful.” But Mubarak could have enhanced his own authority if he had ceded a measure of political power years ago. The fact that he did not—and that the U.S. did not pressure him to do so—helps to account for the mess that Egypt currently finds itself in.

There is no good alternative left in Egypt: Either continue with some degree of rule by the military or cede complete power to potentially radical Islamists. In those circumstances, the least-bad option is for Washington to support the army in continuing to provide a check on unfettered majoritarian rule. But we might have avoided this difficult dilemma if we had pushed earlier to open up the sclerotic Egyptian political system.

This is a salutary lesson here in dealing with other illiberal allies such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. needs to push for real reform in those places before the current, pro-Western rulers find themselves toppled by anti-American revolutionaries. There is scant cause to believe that most Egyptians—or most other Muslims—want to live under Taliban-like rule, but extremists will be poised to seize power if more moderate parties cannot organize.

 

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Muslim Brotherhood Wants to End Israel Peace Treaty

A high-ranking member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has come out and said that any new Egyptian government must end the three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel.

As progressives continue to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually an enlightened, liberal political group, it’s important to note statements like these. While the Egyptian Brotherhood has renounced violence for the most part, it’s still a sworn enemy of Israel and would be a poor partner for the U.S. if it gained power in Egypt:

“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the outlawed movement, said on Japan’s NHTV.

The interview contrasted with earlier signals from the group. On Feb. 1, Mahmoud Ezzat, a spokesman for the brothers, told CBS News that his organization “will respect the peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel shows real progress on improving the lot of the Palestinians.”

Of course, the only reason the Brotherhood can make statements like this about Israel is because it probably won’t gain majority power in any sort of coalition government that replaces Mubarak. The group needs to maintain its Islamist street cred, and one of the ways to do this is by coming out strongly against Israel.

But the Brotherhood is also politically savvy and knows that getting rid of the treaty would result in a fight that the country simply can’t handle at the moment. And if the group wins a decent minority block of seats in a new coalition government, then it has the best of both worlds: it can continue the anti-Israel statements without having to deal the political fallout.

A high-ranking member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has come out and said that any new Egyptian government must end the three-decade-old peace treaty with Israel.

As progressives continue to argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is actually an enlightened, liberal political group, it’s important to note statements like these. While the Egyptian Brotherhood has renounced violence for the most part, it’s still a sworn enemy of Israel and would be a poor partner for the U.S. if it gained power in Egypt:

“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the outlawed movement, said on Japan’s NHTV.

The interview contrasted with earlier signals from the group. On Feb. 1, Mahmoud Ezzat, a spokesman for the brothers, told CBS News that his organization “will respect the peace treaty with Israel as long as Israel shows real progress on improving the lot of the Palestinians.”

Of course, the only reason the Brotherhood can make statements like this about Israel is because it probably won’t gain majority power in any sort of coalition government that replaces Mubarak. The group needs to maintain its Islamist street cred, and one of the ways to do this is by coming out strongly against Israel.

But the Brotherhood is also politically savvy and knows that getting rid of the treaty would result in a fight that the country simply can’t handle at the moment. And if the group wins a decent minority block of seats in a new coalition government, then it has the best of both worlds: it can continue the anti-Israel statements without having to deal the political fallout.

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RE: Egypt Needs Liberalism

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself. Read More

There’s not much more to say in a general sense about Michael Totten’s badly needed reality check differentiating liberal democracies — roughly, those that have robust democratic institutions that insulate themselves — from mere democratic spectacles. But it’s worth noting, as a way of beginning to evaluate how the Cairo riots will affect Near East diplomacy, just how much this fundamental point has been neglected in the specific context of Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

For Israel, the cold peace with Egypt and the intermittent peace with the Palestinian Authority have always been conducted against the backdrop of a see-no-evil approach to incitement. As long as Cairo and Ramallah cooperated with Jerusalem on security issues, Israeli and Western diplomats looked the other way as those regimes violated their Camp David and Oslo pledges to undertake normalization.

Put more bluntly: as long as Egypt and the Palestinian Authority helped stymie the terrorists of today, Israel and the West were content to let them go on creating the terrorists of tomorrow. Because at least those regimes were stable!

Those terrorists of tomorrow were made possible through geography textbooks that erased Israel, and through television programs that vilified Jews, and through official government propaganda that scapegoated the Jewish state for every imaginable social ill. As of this morning, the Mubarak regime is parading “protesters” in front of state-TV cameras to explain how they were trained by the Mossad to bring down the regime.

The result is that Egyptian and Palestinian civil society is a feverish cesspool of anti-Semitic conspiracism — recall the minor hysteria a few weeks ago over Zionist attack sharks — while Egyptians and Palestinians continue to very publicly indulge in fantasies of eradicating Israel itself.

These are the wages of making peace with governments while allowing normalization between societies to atrophy. Israel let its partners in peace purchase domestic tranquility by demonizing the Jewish state in terms that often crossed the line into outright bigotry, and so now that its partners in peace are collapsing — Cairo, Palileaks, etc. — we’re in a situation where serious people are talking about a return to cyclical nation-state war-fighting.

If a defensible land-for-peace framework returns — and that’s a real question — normalization will have to become more than a pro forma addendum to treaties. Above and beyond normalization being good in itself, an end to incitement will force regimes to undertake badly needed liberal reforms. If they don’t have the Jewish state to demonize for their problems, they might need to address those problems, and something approaching liberal democracy might begin to take shape.

But instead, our best foreign-policy minds are engaged in white-washing the Muslim Brotherhood into an organization with which we can do business. That’s not true and it’s never been true, but let’s pretend it is.

In that case, it would still be a disastrous decision, since it repeats the same stability-oriented mistakes of the old see-no-evil approach. Under autocracies, anti-Israel incitement suffocated liberal institutions indirectly, by channeling dissent into hatred of Israelis and Jews. A Muslim Brotherhood government would suffocate liberal institutions more directly, insofar as the party would make good on its promises to exclude gender and religious minorities from the highest echelons of Egyptian life.

If the instability in Egypt shows us that there’s a difference between democratic niceties and actual liberal democracy — and it does — then the question becomes one of how to create the conditions for liberal democracy. Viewed through that lens, there’s no real difference between engaging Mubarak and engaging the Muslim Brotherhood. Both are out to undermine the institutions and practices that are preconditions for genuine peace in the Middle East.

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Are Egyptians Growing Tired of the Protests?

At Pajamas Media, Michael Totten pointed out this excellent post today by Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey. The pro-democracy activist — who was rumored to have been arrested by Egyptian authorities today — wrote that some of his fellow citizens appear to be tiring of the mass demonstrations, and are showing signs that they may accept Mubarak’s rule until the next scheduled elections:

We started getting calls asking people to stop protesting because “we got what we wanted” and “we need the country to start working again.” People were complaining that they miss their lives. That they miss going out at night, and ordering Home Delivery. That they need us to stop so they can resume whatever existence they had before all of this. All was forgiven, the past week never happened and it’s time for Unity under Mubarak’s rule right now.

To all of those people I say: NEVER! I am sorry that your lives and businesses are disrupted, but this wasn’t caused by the Protesters. The Protesters aren’t the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did.

But despite his vow to keep fighting, the blogger concluded the post with little hope that the protesters will be able to bring about the democratic reforms they’ve been struggling for.

“I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay ‘because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people,’” wrote Sandmonkey. “This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t.”

The post is worth reading in full, as it gives a great perspective from someone who has been involved in the protests from the beginning. It’s important to remember that, despite the recent reports of looters, Islamic extremists, and violent rioters involved in the protests, a yearning for liberal democracy still exists at the heart of the demonstrations. Unfortunately, these democratic activists are caught in the middle of a fight between two extremes that both go against their interests: Islamist groups and the secular but oppressive Mubarak regime.

At Pajamas Media, Michael Totten pointed out this excellent post today by Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey. The pro-democracy activist — who was rumored to have been arrested by Egyptian authorities today — wrote that some of his fellow citizens appear to be tiring of the mass demonstrations, and are showing signs that they may accept Mubarak’s rule until the next scheduled elections:

We started getting calls asking people to stop protesting because “we got what we wanted” and “we need the country to start working again.” People were complaining that they miss their lives. That they miss going out at night, and ordering Home Delivery. That they need us to stop so they can resume whatever existence they had before all of this. All was forgiven, the past week never happened and it’s time for Unity under Mubarak’s rule right now.

To all of those people I say: NEVER! I am sorry that your lives and businesses are disrupted, but this wasn’t caused by the Protesters. The Protesters aren’t the ones who shut down the internet that has paralyzed your businesses and banks: The government did.

But despite his vow to keep fighting, the blogger concluded the post with little hope that the protesters will be able to bring about the democratic reforms they’ve been struggling for.

“I have no illusions about this regime or its leader, and how he will pluck us and hunt us down one by one till we are over and done with and 8 months from now will pay people to stage fake protests urging him not to leave power, and he will stay ‘because he has to acquiesce to the voice of the people,’” wrote Sandmonkey. “This is a losing battle and they have all the weapons, but we will continue fighting until we can’t.”

The post is worth reading in full, as it gives a great perspective from someone who has been involved in the protests from the beginning. It’s important to remember that, despite the recent reports of looters, Islamic extremists, and violent rioters involved in the protests, a yearning for liberal democracy still exists at the heart of the demonstrations. Unfortunately, these democratic activists are caught in the middle of a fight between two extremes that both go against their interests: Islamist groups and the secular but oppressive Mubarak regime.

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Curious Quote of the Day

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

From a Bloomberg News article on turmoil in the Middle East:

In Egypt, where Mubarak, 82, has been a dependable U.S. ally for 30 years, the White House will need “a delicate touch” to “ensure that a successor government is neither virulently anti-American nor openly hostile to Israel,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Egypt is the fourth-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel, according to the State Department’s 2011 budget, receiving more than $1.5 billion a year.

“We should be quietly advising other leaders in the region to take steps to alleviate discontent” and “avoid the same fate that Mubarak is now experiencing,” Walt said.

There’s no further description of Professor Walt in the Bloomberg article, but those familiar with his record on matters relating to Jews or Israel may find the spectacle of his cautioning against an Egyptian government “openly hostile to Israel” to be somewhat stunning, akin to Karl Marx being quoted hoping that the new Egyptian government won’t be openly hostile to capitalism. Though I suppose it leaves open the possibility that Professor Walt is hoping for an Egyptian government that’s privately hostile to Israel while publicly professing to wish it no harm.

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John McCain: Right Again on Foreign Policy. But Will Obama Listen?

Say what you will about John McCain, he has an unerring instinct in a foreign crisis. He was right about the surge in Iraq. He was right about the Russian invasion of Georgia. And now he’s right about Egypt. He has come to the conclusion that, as his Twitter feed put it, “Regrettably the time has come 4 Pres. Mubarak 2 step down& relinquish power. It’s in the best interest of Egypt, its people &its military.” Leaving aside the inelegance of announcing an important position via such a limited medium (one that I admittedly use myself), this is a principled stand. More important, it’s the right stand.

McCain understands what Obama apparently does not, or at least what Obama is not willing to come out and say publicly: that having Mubarak try to cling to office by violence serves no one — not the people of Egypt, not the United States, and ultimately not even Mubarak himself. Mubarak’s historical reputation will only grow worse if he is seen as inflicting bloodshed on his people to preserve his rule. Further fighting of the kind we have seen today, with pro-regime thugs attacking peaceful protesters, also has the potential to fracture the army and to provide an opening to the Muslim Brotherhood. At this point, it is imperative for Mubarak to leave quickly, opening the way for a transition government that with military support could prepare the way for free and fair elections. The U.S. does not have the option of voting “present” in this crisis. What we say and do matters. It’s time for Obama to follow McCain’s lead — not for the first time.

Say what you will about John McCain, he has an unerring instinct in a foreign crisis. He was right about the surge in Iraq. He was right about the Russian invasion of Georgia. And now he’s right about Egypt. He has come to the conclusion that, as his Twitter feed put it, “Regrettably the time has come 4 Pres. Mubarak 2 step down& relinquish power. It’s in the best interest of Egypt, its people &its military.” Leaving aside the inelegance of announcing an important position via such a limited medium (one that I admittedly use myself), this is a principled stand. More important, it’s the right stand.

McCain understands what Obama apparently does not, or at least what Obama is not willing to come out and say publicly: that having Mubarak try to cling to office by violence serves no one — not the people of Egypt, not the United States, and ultimately not even Mubarak himself. Mubarak’s historical reputation will only grow worse if he is seen as inflicting bloodshed on his people to preserve his rule. Further fighting of the kind we have seen today, with pro-regime thugs attacking peaceful protesters, also has the potential to fracture the army and to provide an opening to the Muslim Brotherhood. At this point, it is imperative for Mubarak to leave quickly, opening the way for a transition government that with military support could prepare the way for free and fair elections. The U.S. does not have the option of voting “present” in this crisis. What we say and do matters. It’s time for Obama to follow McCain’s lead — not for the first time.

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Insights on Egypt from Israel

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

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Is This the End of Land-for-Peace?

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious “settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

Some have noted that the situation in Egypt may mark the demise of Israel’s land-for-peace strategy. At the New York Post, Abby Wisse Schachter makes this point well, as she looks into Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt (h/t Israel Matzav):

Consider how the agreement with Egypt worked out. Because of its military success in 1967 and 1973, Israel actually had the entire Sinai Peninsula with which to bargain and that piece of land represented a massive physical buffer between the two countries. Then, after having relinquished the territory and removed hundreds of Israelis from their homes in Yamit (no they were not crazy religious “settlers”), the Israelis got a cold, even belligerent, peace with Egypt that never prevented Egypt from remaining the greatest producer of anti-semitic literature in the world. … And finally, 30 years later, the agreement still rests in the hands of one man, the dictator of Egypt. If Mubarak had been assassinated as his predecessor Sadat was, the accord might have been cancelled years ago.

It’s still far from clear how a new Egyptian government would impact the peace treaty, but, according to the Jerusalem Post, protesters in Egypt have been calling for the peace treaty to be revised by the leadership that succeeds Mubarak:

[Egyptian protester Hazan] Ahmed said he didn’t want Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel completely demolished, but for it to undergo a serious change.

“It should be remodeled. With Mubarak leaving, we know that whoever comes next will remodel the agreement.”

And, of course, any land-for-peace deal with the increasingly unstable PA would be an even bigger strategic blunder if the West Bank government ends up collapsing. Israel undoubtedly has taken note of this, and it’s sure to be factored into the negotiations with the Palestinians.

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Obama and Egypt vs. Reagan and the Philippines

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.” Read More

President Mubarak’s supporters have decided to instigate violence against the anti-government protesters. This ugly turn of events underscores why Mubarak must leave sooner rather than later. The longer he hangs on to power, weakened but not gone from the scene, the worse everything in Egypt will be. That is why the Washington Post is right in its editorial criticizing the president’s response last night to Mubarak’s statements as “ambiguous.”

“He said he had told the Egyptian president in a phone call that ‘an orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful, and must begin now’ — but he did not object to the strongman’s plan to remain in office,” according to the Post. “Like Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Obama did not go far enough.”

It’s worth comparing what is happening in Egypt with what happened in the Philippines during the Reagan presidency.

In his book An American Life, Reagan writes about how Ferdinand Marco had stolen an election and that an uprising of Filipinos on behalf of Corazon Aquino, the legitimate winner, was inevitable.

On February 23, Reagan was at Camp David and told that Marcos and a loyal general, Fabian Ver, had amassed a force of tanks and troops to attack army units of two military leaders who had resigned from the Marcos government and given their support to Aquino. Ver’s tanks were turned back by hundreds of thousands of civilians — “but the next time,” Reagan wrote, “the result might be huge casualties.”

Reagan drafted an appeal to Marcos not to use force and attended a meeting in the Situation Room on February 23, 1986. “We agreed that it was inevitable that Marcos would have to give up power,” Reagan wrote. “He no longer had the popular support to remain in office. … Everyone agreed that we had to do everything possible to avoid bloodshed in Manila; we didn’t want to see it come down to a civil war. I also wanted to be sure we did not treat Marcos as shabbily as our country had treated another former ally, the shah of Iran. At the same time, I knew it was important to start off with a good relationship with the new government of the Philippines.”

Reagan’s diary entries from the period are even more interesting. On February 23, the day of the Situation Room meeting, Reagan wrote, “It was a long meeting with no disagreement but lots of frustration. President Marcos is stubborn and refuses to admit he can no longer govern. I made the point that a message from me must appeal to him on the grounds that if there is violence I’ll be helpless to continue support for the Philippines.”

On February 24, Reagan’s diary reads: “The situation in the Philippines is deteriorating. … We’ve agreed that he [Marcos] should be told I’m recommending he step down and we’ll take the lead in negotiating his safety and offering him sanctuary in the US. He says he wants to live out his life in the Philippines. Well, we’ll try to negotiate that.”

On February 25, Reagan’s diary entry reads this way: “The call this morning was at 6:45. President Marcos and his family and close circle I was told are in our Clark Air Force Base.”

Now the situation in Egypt compared with that in the Philippines is different in important respects. Among other things, there was an obvious successor to Marcos, while there’s no obvious successor to Mubarak. And Reagan admitted that he didn’t want to push Marcos too hard. “We should lay down the facts and let [Marcos] make the decision we wanted him to make” is how Reagan put it.

The point is that, within 48 hours of Reagan’s laying down the facts, Marcos was gone. This development wasn’t the result of Reagan’s charm; it was the result of Reagan’s steel.

What happened to Marcos in the Philippines has to be to our goal with Mubarak in Egypt. Time is of the essence. The Egyptian dictator must leave. And it falls on President Obama to do what needs to be done to get him to exit, sooner rather than later, in a matter of hours or days rather than weeks or months. Otherwise Egypt might explode.

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Getting Ahead of the Curve in Egypt

I sympathize with President Obama as he performs the extremely difficult act of dealing with Egypt’s revolution-in-progress. I don’t know that he is doing any worse than any previous president confronted with such a chaotic situation in an important ally. That said, he has been consistently behind the curve. In the first place, events have plainly taken him by surprise. There was evidently no administration plan in place to respond to such a contingency, which everyone knew would come to pass some day. Thus Obama stumbled for a response. Over the weekend, the message from the administration was that Mubarak had to reform. Now the message is that Mubarak must not stand for re-election in September. Mubarak took that message to heart and made the announcement that was expected of him.

But does Obama really think that the vast throngs filling the streets of Cairo will stand for Mubarak remaining in office until September? That would have been a good demand to deliver a few months, weeks, or even days ago. Now it’s been overtaken by events. Clearly nothing will satisfy the demonstrators other than Mubarak’s removal from office.

The question is what comes next: who makes up the transitional government? One hopes that, behind the scenes, this question is consuming the administration and its best experts on Egypt, and that they are fruitfully engaging not only with the opposition but also with the army, which remains the most powerful power broker in the country. Liberal democrats are in a race with the Muslim Brotherhood to control Egypt’s destiny. We need to help them. We need to get ahead of the curve. For once.

I sympathize with President Obama as he performs the extremely difficult act of dealing with Egypt’s revolution-in-progress. I don’t know that he is doing any worse than any previous president confronted with such a chaotic situation in an important ally. That said, he has been consistently behind the curve. In the first place, events have plainly taken him by surprise. There was evidently no administration plan in place to respond to such a contingency, which everyone knew would come to pass some day. Thus Obama stumbled for a response. Over the weekend, the message from the administration was that Mubarak had to reform. Now the message is that Mubarak must not stand for re-election in September. Mubarak took that message to heart and made the announcement that was expected of him.

But does Obama really think that the vast throngs filling the streets of Cairo will stand for Mubarak remaining in office until September? That would have been a good demand to deliver a few months, weeks, or even days ago. Now it’s been overtaken by events. Clearly nothing will satisfy the demonstrators other than Mubarak’s removal from office.

The question is what comes next: who makes up the transitional government? One hopes that, behind the scenes, this question is consuming the administration and its best experts on Egypt, and that they are fruitfully engaging not only with the opposition but also with the army, which remains the most powerful power broker in the country. Liberal democrats are in a race with the Muslim Brotherhood to control Egypt’s destiny. We need to help them. We need to get ahead of the curve. For once.

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Go Read Kirkpatrick. Again.

Now more than ever, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships & Double Standards” essay deserves to be read and pondered. If this isn’t the greatest essay COMMENTARY has ever published, it’s certainly the most influential.

Amb. Kirkpatrick doesn’t tell us “what we should do” about Egypt, and it’s impossible to summarize such a brilliant piece. But she does make three relevant points: about freedom, revolution, and the American administration. First, as Peter has implied and as Abe has written, “The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings”; in other words, if we want to encourage autocracies to move towards democracy, it cannot be a crisis response.

Second, in foreign policy as elsewhere, the best is often the enemy of the good — or at least the marginally tolerable. John Steele Gordon says that this may be 1848 in the Arab World, and he might be right. But that is an invidious comparison, for in the one country that really mattered on the continent — Germany — 1848 turned out in retrospect to mark liberalism’s decisive defeat. In light of 1914, never mind 1939, it might have been better if 1848 had never happened.

It would be nice if, as Peter says, “the driving force of events in Egypt [is] tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression.” But as my colleague Jim Phillips points out, this is far from a sure bet, and the poisonous legacy of the Egyptian educational system that Alana refers to sure doesn’t help matters.

Third, and finally, there is the contrast between the president’s claim as of last Tuesday that “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored” and Iran, where this administration sat on its hands as a viciously anti-American regime with a nuclear-weapons program slaughtered and raped protesters at will. And Honduras, where it moved heaven and earth to reinstate a pro-Chavez dictator in the making. And Egypt, where it is mincing about reform partnerships with Mubarak and the Egyptian people, a partnership that exists nowhere except in the Obama administration’s fevered desire to catch up with events that have relentlessly outpaced it.

So yes, as Kirkpatrick said of Carter, Obama is “especially vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.” Yes indeed.

Now more than ever, Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships & Double Standards” essay deserves to be read and pondered. If this isn’t the greatest essay COMMENTARY has ever published, it’s certainly the most influential.

Amb. Kirkpatrick doesn’t tell us “what we should do” about Egypt, and it’s impossible to summarize such a brilliant piece. But she does make three relevant points: about freedom, revolution, and the American administration. First, as Peter has implied and as Abe has written, “The time to urge a dictator to grant his people freedoms is before he’s flitting between burning buildings”; in other words, if we want to encourage autocracies to move towards democracy, it cannot be a crisis response.

Second, in foreign policy as elsewhere, the best is often the enemy of the good — or at least the marginally tolerable. John Steele Gordon says that this may be 1848 in the Arab World, and he might be right. But that is an invidious comparison, for in the one country that really mattered on the continent — Germany — 1848 turned out in retrospect to mark liberalism’s decisive defeat. In light of 1914, never mind 1939, it might have been better if 1848 had never happened.

It would be nice if, as Peter says, “the driving force of events in Egypt [is] tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression.” But as my colleague Jim Phillips points out, this is far from a sure bet, and the poisonous legacy of the Egyptian educational system that Alana refers to sure doesn’t help matters.

Third, and finally, there is the contrast between the president’s claim as of last Tuesday that “American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored” and Iran, where this administration sat on its hands as a viciously anti-American regime with a nuclear-weapons program slaughtered and raped protesters at will. And Honduras, where it moved heaven and earth to reinstate a pro-Chavez dictator in the making. And Egypt, where it is mincing about reform partnerships with Mubarak and the Egyptian people, a partnership that exists nowhere except in the Obama administration’s fevered desire to catch up with events that have relentlessly outpaced it.

So yes, as Kirkpatrick said of Carter, Obama is “especially vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.” Yes indeed.

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The Mubarak Mirage and the ElBaradei Conundrum

I note considerable chatter among conservatives about the dangers of Muhammad ElBaradei. See, e.g., this post at Fox News by Anne Bayefesky. As my Wall Street Journal op-ed today should have indicated, I am hardly one to romanticize ElBaradei or to underestimate the difficulties of dealing with him. But what do his critics propose we do anyway?

Encourage Mubarak to kill lots of demonstrators to stay in power? Because at this point, that is probably what it would take for Mubarak to remain as president. Yet it is not even clear at this juncture that he could employ violence to save himself, given the fact that the Egyptian army has announced it will not fire on the demonstrators.

So what should the U.S. do? Demand that ElBaradei step down as the leader of the protest movement? Any such demand would be laughed off by the demonstrators, who are certainly not going to let their tune be called by Washington. Whom, at any rate, would we want to replace ElBaradei? There is not exactly a surfeit of well-respected liberal leaders, which is why ElBaradei was able to become the leader of the anti-Mubarak movement after having spent decades away from Egypt.

Perhaps we should demand that ElBaradei disassociate himself from the Muslim Brotherhood? Again, such a demand would be ignored, and probably rightly so. It is hard to see how any figure can claim to represent all the protesters without also speaking on behalf of the Brotherhood, which is the country’s largest and best-organized nongovernmental organization.

I am by no means trying to minimize the possible dangers ahead or to wish away the problems with ElBaradei. But the reality is that he has become the only realistic alternative to Mubarak, at least in the short-term. If he does the job right, he could preside over an interim government that would lift the state of emergency and allow the emergence of genuine political parties. Hopefully, we would see the emergence of popular leaders who would not be beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood. But for now, our options are severely limited.

As I’ve argued repeatedly, if we had wanted to avoid this dire situation, we should have been putting real pressure on Mubarak to reform in years past. But many of those who now decry ElBaradei also resisted attempts to force Mubarak to liberalize, because they were devoted to the mantra of “stability” above all. We are now seeing how deceptive the Mubarak mirage actually was.

I note considerable chatter among conservatives about the dangers of Muhammad ElBaradei. See, e.g., this post at Fox News by Anne Bayefesky. As my Wall Street Journal op-ed today should have indicated, I am hardly one to romanticize ElBaradei or to underestimate the difficulties of dealing with him. But what do his critics propose we do anyway?

Encourage Mubarak to kill lots of demonstrators to stay in power? Because at this point, that is probably what it would take for Mubarak to remain as president. Yet it is not even clear at this juncture that he could employ violence to save himself, given the fact that the Egyptian army has announced it will not fire on the demonstrators.

So what should the U.S. do? Demand that ElBaradei step down as the leader of the protest movement? Any such demand would be laughed off by the demonstrators, who are certainly not going to let their tune be called by Washington. Whom, at any rate, would we want to replace ElBaradei? There is not exactly a surfeit of well-respected liberal leaders, which is why ElBaradei was able to become the leader of the anti-Mubarak movement after having spent decades away from Egypt.

Perhaps we should demand that ElBaradei disassociate himself from the Muslim Brotherhood? Again, such a demand would be ignored, and probably rightly so. It is hard to see how any figure can claim to represent all the protesters without also speaking on behalf of the Brotherhood, which is the country’s largest and best-organized nongovernmental organization.

I am by no means trying to minimize the possible dangers ahead or to wish away the problems with ElBaradei. But the reality is that he has become the only realistic alternative to Mubarak, at least in the short-term. If he does the job right, he could preside over an interim government that would lift the state of emergency and allow the emergence of genuine political parties. Hopefully, we would see the emergence of popular leaders who would not be beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood. But for now, our options are severely limited.

As I’ve argued repeatedly, if we had wanted to avoid this dire situation, we should have been putting real pressure on Mubarak to reform in years past. But many of those who now decry ElBaradei also resisted attempts to force Mubarak to liberalize, because they were devoted to the mantra of “stability” above all. We are now seeing how deceptive the Mubarak mirage actually was.

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Realpolitik vs. the Long-Term Good

One of the ironies of the present crisis in Egypt is that it is exposing once again the ridiculousness of one of the nasty slurs flung against neocons by the likes of John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt who accuse them of being — what else? — agents of Israel, Likud, the International Zionist Conspiracy, or whatever. To hear these realpolitikers tell it, when neocons advocate liberal reform in the Middle East, they are secretly doing the bidding of their Zionist puppet-masters to the detriment of American interests (as understood, of course, by the same folks who thought that Mubarak was a rock of stability — and before him, the Shah of Iran). In reality, most Israelis fall firmly in the realpolitik camp and, were it not for their knee-jerk Israel-bashing, would agree with Mearsheimer/Walt about how to define American interests in the Middle East. (Natan Sharansky, a prominent advocate of Arab democratization, is one of the few exceptions, but he is seen as very much an outlier.)

Consider this Reuters dispatch headlined “Israel Shocked by Obama’s ‘Betrayal’ of Mubarak.” It quotes some truly hysterical comments from Israeli commentators bemoaning the apparent end of the Mubarak regime. A sample:

One comment by Aviad Pohoryles in the daily Maariv was entitled “A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam.” It accused Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of pursuing a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks.

Who is advising them, he asked, “to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president … an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East?”

“The politically correct diplomacy of American presidents throughout the generations … is painfully naive.”

This is the authentic voice of the Israeli public facing the loss of “their” man in Cairo. Like many Western realpolitikers, most Israelis I have spoken with assume that Arabs are incapable of practicing democracy and that any attempt to tinker with the stable if oppressive status quo in surrounding states will lead only to the creation of more anti-Israeli regimes. I have heard Israeli officials defend keeping in power the Assad regime in Syria, which is still technically at war with Israel. Needless to say, Israelis are even more devoted to Mubarak and the Hashemites in Jordan, who have actually made peace with them. Read More

One of the ironies of the present crisis in Egypt is that it is exposing once again the ridiculousness of one of the nasty slurs flung against neocons by the likes of John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt who accuse them of being — what else? — agents of Israel, Likud, the International Zionist Conspiracy, or whatever. To hear these realpolitikers tell it, when neocons advocate liberal reform in the Middle East, they are secretly doing the bidding of their Zionist puppet-masters to the detriment of American interests (as understood, of course, by the same folks who thought that Mubarak was a rock of stability — and before him, the Shah of Iran). In reality, most Israelis fall firmly in the realpolitik camp and, were it not for their knee-jerk Israel-bashing, would agree with Mearsheimer/Walt about how to define American interests in the Middle East. (Natan Sharansky, a prominent advocate of Arab democratization, is one of the few exceptions, but he is seen as very much an outlier.)

Consider this Reuters dispatch headlined “Israel Shocked by Obama’s ‘Betrayal’ of Mubarak.” It quotes some truly hysterical comments from Israeli commentators bemoaning the apparent end of the Mubarak regime. A sample:

One comment by Aviad Pohoryles in the daily Maariv was entitled “A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam.” It accused Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of pursuing a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks.

Who is advising them, he asked, “to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president … an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East?”

“The politically correct diplomacy of American presidents throughout the generations … is painfully naive.”

This is the authentic voice of the Israeli public facing the loss of “their” man in Cairo. Like many Western realpolitikers, most Israelis I have spoken with assume that Arabs are incapable of practicing democracy and that any attempt to tinker with the stable if oppressive status quo in surrounding states will lead only to the creation of more anti-Israeli regimes. I have heard Israeli officials defend keeping in power the Assad regime in Syria, which is still technically at war with Israel. Needless to say, Israelis are even more devoted to Mubarak and the Hashemites in Jordan, who have actually made peace with them.

Their outlook is understandable, but, I believe, short-sighted. As I argue in the Wall Street Journal today, Mubarak may have been friendly with Israeli and American leaders, but he also turned a blind eye to the vile anti-Semitic and anti-Western propaganda spread by his state media, schools, and mosques. This, along with the stagnation of his sclerotic regime, has made Egypt a prime breeding ground for Islamist extremism.

The U.S. and Israel have bought ourselves some help from Mubarak over the past 30 years but at a high price. It was always obvious that the bargain couldn’t last forever, because Mubarak was intensely unpopular and would fall sooner or later. Some of us were arguing for years that the U.S. had to do more to pressure Mubarak to reform, even to hold hostage his American aid package (see, for instance, this 2006 op-ed I wrote). Our concerns were dismissed by the realpolitikers, in both the U.S. and Israel, who said it was no business of ours to meddle in Egyptian politics. Now events are spinning out of control and we can do little to affect the outcome.

If there is one lesson that should be drawn from this crisis it is that we can’t back an unpopular and illegitimate status quo indefinitely. Now is the time to push for real reform in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other allied states — not to mention in hostile states such as Syria and Iran. But I bet Israel will prefer to cling to its realpolitik policies.

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‘Getting Out in Front’ on Egypt?

The administration’s handling of the Egypt crisis — as typified by the bizarre set of mixed messages sent by Secretary of State Clinton yesterday as she wandered without point from Sunday morning show to Sunday morning show — has demonstrated a stunning lack of elementary preparation or thinking on a matter that has been under discussion among serious Egypt-watchers for at least six years now. That said, the demand that the administration “get out in front” on the need for democratic change with extreme haste is more a result of the increasingly hysterical tempo of the news in the age of Twitter than it is a central need for U.S. foreign policy.

The idea that Egyptians will like us better and that their new government will be friendlier to us because we said X on Sunday rather than on Wednesday is wishful thinking. A country of 80 million people with a complex economic and political structure and a radical Islamist wing will not make its future foreign-policy decisions based on when the U.S. said what. That might change if the army really opens fire on protesters and we do not instantly divide ourselves from Mubarak, or if we’re seen taking significant steps to bolster Mubarak’s regime, but that’s not the situation on the ground at present and looks unlikely to be the situation going forward.

Like many who supported the Bush push to open these closed societies to democratic change, I’m delighted to see the realists who pooh-poohed the agenda as unrealistic and foolish made to look unrealistic and foolish themselves — since if Mubarak had embraced rather than rejected the democracy agenda to the knowing nods of the foreign-policy cognoscenti, he might have ended his days as a hero of his nation rather than as a despised and rejected despot. And the fact that the Obama administration has come through two years without a clue when it comes to foreign policy in the Middle East should be sobering for everybody.

But at this point, whatever part the U.S. plays in the Mubarak endgame is likely to be very, very minor. What our refusal to speak out forthrightly against dictatorships and for popular change says about us is more the issue.

The administration’s handling of the Egypt crisis — as typified by the bizarre set of mixed messages sent by Secretary of State Clinton yesterday as she wandered without point from Sunday morning show to Sunday morning show — has demonstrated a stunning lack of elementary preparation or thinking on a matter that has been under discussion among serious Egypt-watchers for at least six years now. That said, the demand that the administration “get out in front” on the need for democratic change with extreme haste is more a result of the increasingly hysterical tempo of the news in the age of Twitter than it is a central need for U.S. foreign policy.

The idea that Egyptians will like us better and that their new government will be friendlier to us because we said X on Sunday rather than on Wednesday is wishful thinking. A country of 80 million people with a complex economic and political structure and a radical Islamist wing will not make its future foreign-policy decisions based on when the U.S. said what. That might change if the army really opens fire on protesters and we do not instantly divide ourselves from Mubarak, or if we’re seen taking significant steps to bolster Mubarak’s regime, but that’s not the situation on the ground at present and looks unlikely to be the situation going forward.

Like many who supported the Bush push to open these closed societies to democratic change, I’m delighted to see the realists who pooh-poohed the agenda as unrealistic and foolish made to look unrealistic and foolish themselves — since if Mubarak had embraced rather than rejected the democracy agenda to the knowing nods of the foreign-policy cognoscenti, he might have ended his days as a hero of his nation rather than as a despised and rejected despot. And the fact that the Obama administration has come through two years without a clue when it comes to foreign policy in the Middle East should be sobering for everybody.

But at this point, whatever part the U.S. plays in the Mubarak endgame is likely to be very, very minor. What our refusal to speak out forthrightly against dictatorships and for popular change says about us is more the issue.

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Some Unfashionable Thoughts About Egypt

Few moments in recent history have put political conservatism to the test like the ongoing uprising taking place in Egypt today. There are, after all, two different approaches to foreign policy that can be called “conservative”: one points to the spread of democracy as an expression of American greatness and seeks to sweep aside dictatorial rulers in order to promote democratic values, institutions, and elections wherever possible. The other is more strictly power-based: if America’s the good guy, then first we have to make sure that America’s allies are strong and its enemies are weak. Both approaches will point to Ronald Reagan as the ultimate example: the former for his unflinching fight against Soviet totalitarianism; the latter for his willingness to sometimes support less-than-democratic allies when the alternative was the further expansion of Soviet political and military dominance.

So what are we to make of Egypt? On the one hand, if the U.S. abandons Mubarak, it embraces democracy but loses heavily in the power calculus. By showing itself to be a fickle friend in times of need, America further erodes the confidence of all the other authoritarian allies in the Arab world who are forever fearful of the Iranian threat and who need to believe that the U.S. will really stand behind them.

At the same time, if America stands with Mubarak until the end, it risks (a) looking hypocritical in the face of what looks like a genuinely democratic (i.e., popular, spontaneous) uprising, and (b) repeating the mistakes made during the Iranian revolution, when the U.S. bet on the wrong horse, alienating the Iranian people by supporting the Shah, thus setting the stage for a whole generation of militant anti-American hostility in the Islamic Republic that emerged. Americans don’t want to make that mistake again.

Here in Israel, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm about the potential overthrow of Mubarak. Nobody has any illusions about his regime. And yet, the alternatives appear far worse. It’s true that there’s no single organized leadership behind the revolt. Both the more liberal and the Islamist oppositions were taken totally by surprise. The revolution is first of all about bread and jobs, much less about democratic ideals. In terms of ideas guiding it, there are very few other than “throw the bums out.” And this is exactly the problem. Read More

Few moments in recent history have put political conservatism to the test like the ongoing uprising taking place in Egypt today. There are, after all, two different approaches to foreign policy that can be called “conservative”: one points to the spread of democracy as an expression of American greatness and seeks to sweep aside dictatorial rulers in order to promote democratic values, institutions, and elections wherever possible. The other is more strictly power-based: if America’s the good guy, then first we have to make sure that America’s allies are strong and its enemies are weak. Both approaches will point to Ronald Reagan as the ultimate example: the former for his unflinching fight against Soviet totalitarianism; the latter for his willingness to sometimes support less-than-democratic allies when the alternative was the further expansion of Soviet political and military dominance.

So what are we to make of Egypt? On the one hand, if the U.S. abandons Mubarak, it embraces democracy but loses heavily in the power calculus. By showing itself to be a fickle friend in times of need, America further erodes the confidence of all the other authoritarian allies in the Arab world who are forever fearful of the Iranian threat and who need to believe that the U.S. will really stand behind them.

At the same time, if America stands with Mubarak until the end, it risks (a) looking hypocritical in the face of what looks like a genuinely democratic (i.e., popular, spontaneous) uprising, and (b) repeating the mistakes made during the Iranian revolution, when the U.S. bet on the wrong horse, alienating the Iranian people by supporting the Shah, thus setting the stage for a whole generation of militant anti-American hostility in the Islamic Republic that emerged. Americans don’t want to make that mistake again.

Here in Israel, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm about the potential overthrow of Mubarak. Nobody has any illusions about his regime. And yet, the alternatives appear far worse. It’s true that there’s no single organized leadership behind the revolt. Both the more liberal and the Islamist oppositions were taken totally by surprise. The revolution is first of all about bread and jobs, much less about democratic ideals. In terms of ideas guiding it, there are very few other than “throw the bums out.” And this is exactly the problem.

Leadership abhors a vacuum, and in the past 24 hours, we’ve seen that vacuum filled by Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize–winning former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who’s taken to the streets insisting that Mubarak pack up before he’s ridden through Cairo on a rail. He’s recently allied himself with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist militant organization closely allied with Hamas and up till now the leading opposition party to Mubarak. ElBaradei has repeatedly referred to Israel as the “number one threat to the Middle East” and has supported Hamas violence against Israel, saying that “the Israeli occupation only understands the language of violence.” As head of the IAEA, he’s been accused of doing more than anyone else to facilitate Iran’s nuclear efforts. And as Andrew McCarthy has pointed out, in the grand battle between American and Iranian influence in the region, a coalition of ElBaradei and the Muslim Brotherhood looks grim indeed.

It’s impossible to predict the future, not just what will happen a year from now, when Egypt could well go through a second revolution (as did Iran, indeed as did Russia way back when), but even whether Mubarak’s regime is in fact over. For now, the army is holding tight. Mubarak’s appointment of Omar Suleiman as the country’s first-ever vice president, and heir-apparent, was tailored to maintain support of the military for the regime. Nobody should be counting Mubarak out just yet.

Both the strength and weakness of political ideals is that they push heavily toward optimism. They allow us to see possibilities when everything looks grim. But they can also lead us to delusions about what can happen in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The fact is that Egypt doesn’t have much of a democratic tradition. Less so even than Lebanon, postwar Iraq, or the Palestinian Authority. If I had to make a guess about what will happen if Mubarak falls, I think it’s foolish to assume that a real democratic regime will emerge there, as opposed to a new dictatorship that is far less amenable to American interests. And if he doesn’t fall, the U.S. will have egg on its face for not backing him. That, too, will strengthen Iran.

None of the options looks terribly pleasing to Western eyes. But then again, Egypt isn’t a Western country, is it?

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Obama’s Egypt Position Is Becoming Ridiculous

The corner that the Obama administration has boxed itself into on Egypt is growing increasingly cramped and awkward by the hour. As Leon Wieseltier noted at the New Republic website yesterday, the U.S.’s position is “strategically complicated: since Mubarak may fall, it cannot afford to alienate the protestors, but since the protestors may fail, it cannot afford to alienate Mubarak.”

The end result is like watching a tight-rope walker swaying dangerously from one side to the other. It’s stomach-churning. First, it looked like the administration would throw its full support behind Mubarak, with Vice President Biden asserting that the Egyptian leader was no dictator. Then the U.S. position appeared to lurch sharply to the other side during Robert Gibbs’s Friday press conference, where he announced that President Obama hadn’t even tried to contact Mubarak. And then, just when it looked like the administration was about to tip to the side of the Egyptian people, Obama’s public address made it clear that he wasn’t ready to throw “President Mubarak” under the bus just yet.

The equivocation is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Mainly because it’s so plainly obvious — to both the people saying it and listening to it — that it’s equivocation.

But now that the administration has set out on this strategic high-wire, it’s following it to the end. On Fox News Sunday this morning, Hillary Clinton noted that the Egyptian people “have legitimate grievances and are seeking greater political freedom, a real path to democracy, and economic opportunity.”

She then added that this democratic change could come about under the current regime. “[W]e see a dialogue opening … that has the concrete steps for democratic and economic reform that President Mubarak himself said that he was going to pursue,” she said.

From a logical standpoint, this is an impossible position. You can’t support both the will of the people and Mubarak. Yes, the people want democracy, political freedom, and economic reform. But, more plainly, they don’t want Mubarak — and they could not have made that more obvious over the past few days.

As Max wrote earlier, the Obama administration needs to make a decision. The current balancing act isn’t fooling anybody.

The corner that the Obama administration has boxed itself into on Egypt is growing increasingly cramped and awkward by the hour. As Leon Wieseltier noted at the New Republic website yesterday, the U.S.’s position is “strategically complicated: since Mubarak may fall, it cannot afford to alienate the protestors, but since the protestors may fail, it cannot afford to alienate Mubarak.”

The end result is like watching a tight-rope walker swaying dangerously from one side to the other. It’s stomach-churning. First, it looked like the administration would throw its full support behind Mubarak, with Vice President Biden asserting that the Egyptian leader was no dictator. Then the U.S. position appeared to lurch sharply to the other side during Robert Gibbs’s Friday press conference, where he announced that President Obama hadn’t even tried to contact Mubarak. And then, just when it looked like the administration was about to tip to the side of the Egyptian people, Obama’s public address made it clear that he wasn’t ready to throw “President Mubarak” under the bus just yet.

The equivocation is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to watch. Mainly because it’s so plainly obvious — to both the people saying it and listening to it — that it’s equivocation.

But now that the administration has set out on this strategic high-wire, it’s following it to the end. On Fox News Sunday this morning, Hillary Clinton noted that the Egyptian people “have legitimate grievances and are seeking greater political freedom, a real path to democracy, and economic opportunity.”

She then added that this democratic change could come about under the current regime. “[W]e see a dialogue opening … that has the concrete steps for democratic and economic reform that President Mubarak himself said that he was going to pursue,” she said.

From a logical standpoint, this is an impossible position. You can’t support both the will of the people and Mubarak. Yes, the people want democracy, political freedom, and economic reform. But, more plainly, they don’t want Mubarak — and they could not have made that more obvious over the past few days.

As Max wrote earlier, the Obama administration needs to make a decision. The current balancing act isn’t fooling anybody.

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So Much for Dictator Engagement

Elliott Abrams gets to the heart of why the Obama administration has been caught flat-footed by the recent revolts in the Arab world:

U.S. officials talked to Mubarak plenty in 2009 and 2010, and even talked to the far more repressive President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, but they talked about their goals for Israeli-Palestinian peace and ignored the police states outside the doors of those presidential palaces. When the Iranian regime stole the June 2009 elections and people went to the streets, the Obama administration feared that speaking out in their support might jeopardize the nuclear negotiations. The “reset” sought with Russia has been with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, not the Russian people suffering his increasingly despotic and lawless rule.

This has been the greatest failure of policy and imagination in the administration’s approach: Looking at the world map, it sees states and their rulers, but has forgotten the millions of people suffering under and beginning to rebel against those rulers. “Engagement” has not been the problem, but rather the administration’s insistence on engaging with regimes rather than with the people trying to survive under them.

Abrams wonders if the Obama administration will now realize that “dictatorships are never truly stable.” It’s hard to say. Let’s not forget that Obama viewed Egypt as the pinnacle of Muslim Middle East stability. So much so that he chose to make his “address to the Muslim world” from Cairo, despite criticism that he’d be bolstering a dictatorship.

Clearly, from the assorted and contradictory messages coming out of the State Department and White House today, the administration has yet to catch up to events, let alone decide on a future policy course. The rest of the world cares little about lame-duck comebacks, moving memorial speeches, and State of the Union sales pitches. Obama cannot campaign his way into meaningful foreign policy. If he fails to support genuinely the forces of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, the region’s democrats won’t be consoled by sunny rhetoric any more than police states will be cowed by the occasional and vague mention of “political reform.”

Elliott Abrams gets to the heart of why the Obama administration has been caught flat-footed by the recent revolts in the Arab world:

U.S. officials talked to Mubarak plenty in 2009 and 2010, and even talked to the far more repressive President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, but they talked about their goals for Israeli-Palestinian peace and ignored the police states outside the doors of those presidential palaces. When the Iranian regime stole the June 2009 elections and people went to the streets, the Obama administration feared that speaking out in their support might jeopardize the nuclear negotiations. The “reset” sought with Russia has been with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, not the Russian people suffering his increasingly despotic and lawless rule.

This has been the greatest failure of policy and imagination in the administration’s approach: Looking at the world map, it sees states and their rulers, but has forgotten the millions of people suffering under and beginning to rebel against those rulers. “Engagement” has not been the problem, but rather the administration’s insistence on engaging with regimes rather than with the people trying to survive under them.

Abrams wonders if the Obama administration will now realize that “dictatorships are never truly stable.” It’s hard to say. Let’s not forget that Obama viewed Egypt as the pinnacle of Muslim Middle East stability. So much so that he chose to make his “address to the Muslim world” from Cairo, despite criticism that he’d be bolstering a dictatorship.

Clearly, from the assorted and contradictory messages coming out of the State Department and White House today, the administration has yet to catch up to events, let alone decide on a future policy course. The rest of the world cares little about lame-duck comebacks, moving memorial speeches, and State of the Union sales pitches. Obama cannot campaign his way into meaningful foreign policy. If he fails to support genuinely the forces of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, the region’s democrats won’t be consoled by sunny rhetoric any more than police states will be cowed by the occasional and vague mention of “political reform.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

More European nations in trouble. “The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.”

More evidence that the IRS is targeting the hawkish pro-Israel group Z Street. Wouldn’t it be front-page news if J Street were asked if it supported Iran sanctions?

More reason to doubt that the Obami have a clue about what to do about North Korea. The State Department’s PJ Crowley tweets “SecClinton talked with Chinese FM Yang today and encouraged Beijing to make clear that North Korea’s behavior is unacceptable.” Is “unacceptable” really the strongest they can do? Or is “unacceptable” (as in “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable”) just diplomat-speak for “We’re sorry to see X happen.”

More criticism of Obama’s approach to Egypt. “The president and his secretary of state have brought up democracy and human rights in private conversations with Egyptian leaders but shied away from them in public. They have failed to make any connection between Mr. Mubarak’s domestic repression and the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives every year, much of it directed to the military. They have not supported efforts in Congress to pass legislation or even nonbinding resolutions linking bilateral relations to political reform.”

More defensiveness from Sarah Palin. Not helpful for a presidential contender. Dead-on for a conservative community organizer.

More nonsense from Tom Friedman. No, Tom, too much texting by American kids is not a bigger problem than North Korean nukes. Another example of not-very-smart liberal punditry.

More problems for Rahm Emanuel. “Through an odd chain of events, Mr. Halpin, a 59-year-old industrial real-estate developer here, has become the face of a movement to force Mr. Emanuel out of the race to become Chicago’s next mayor. A lawsuit filed with the Chicago Board of Election Commissions Friday by a Chicago attorney on behalf of two city residents charges that Mr. Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, is ineligible to run because he lost his Chicago residency when he rented his home to Mr. Halpin in 2009.” Really, wasn’t the entire race an excuse to get off the sinking White House ship?

More evidence that the GM bailout was no success for the taxpayers. The union? Well, that’s another story. “General Motors Co.’s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company’s union. Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.”

More European nations in trouble. “The debt crisis in Europe escalated sharply Friday as investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in panicked selling, substantially heightening the prospect that one or both countries may need to join troubled Ireland and Greece in soliciting international bailouts.”

More evidence that the IRS is targeting the hawkish pro-Israel group Z Street. Wouldn’t it be front-page news if J Street were asked if it supported Iran sanctions?

More reason to doubt that the Obami have a clue about what to do about North Korea. The State Department’s PJ Crowley tweets “SecClinton talked with Chinese FM Yang today and encouraged Beijing to make clear that North Korea’s behavior is unacceptable.” Is “unacceptable” really the strongest they can do? Or is “unacceptable” (as in “A nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable”) just diplomat-speak for “We’re sorry to see X happen.”

More criticism of Obama’s approach to Egypt. “The president and his secretary of state have brought up democracy and human rights in private conversations with Egyptian leaders but shied away from them in public. They have failed to make any connection between Mr. Mubarak’s domestic repression and the more than $1 billion in U.S. aid Egypt receives every year, much of it directed to the military. They have not supported efforts in Congress to pass legislation or even nonbinding resolutions linking bilateral relations to political reform.”

More defensiveness from Sarah Palin. Not helpful for a presidential contender. Dead-on for a conservative community organizer.

More nonsense from Tom Friedman. No, Tom, too much texting by American kids is not a bigger problem than North Korean nukes. Another example of not-very-smart liberal punditry.

More problems for Rahm Emanuel. “Through an odd chain of events, Mr. Halpin, a 59-year-old industrial real-estate developer here, has become the face of a movement to force Mr. Emanuel out of the race to become Chicago’s next mayor. A lawsuit filed with the Chicago Board of Election Commissions Friday by a Chicago attorney on behalf of two city residents charges that Mr. Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, is ineligible to run because he lost his Chicago residency when he rented his home to Mr. Halpin in 2009.” Really, wasn’t the entire race an excuse to get off the sinking White House ship?

More evidence that the GM bailout was no success for the taxpayers. The union? Well, that’s another story. “General Motors Co.’s recent stock offering was staged to start paying back the government for its $50 billion bailout, but one group made out much better than the taxpayers or other investors: the company’s union. Thanks to a generous share of GM stock obtained in the company’s 2009 bankruptcy settlement, the United Auto Workers is well on its way to recouping the billions of dollars GM owed it — putting it far ahead of taxpayers who have recouped only about 30 percent of their investment and further still ahead of investors in the old GM who have received nothing.”

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Center for Constitutional Rights: What It Means to Hate America

There is appropriate horror being expressed today all over the blogosphere about the statement released by the radical leftist group called the Center for Constitutional Rights on the verdict in the Ghailani trial: “CCR questions the ability of anyone who is Muslim to receive a truly fair trial in any American judicial forum post-9/11,” it says. “However, on balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal criminal trials are far superior to military commissions for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit evidence obtained by torture. If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani’s acquittal on 284 counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him.”

The astounding and vicious vulgarity of the sentiments expressed here — no Muslim can get a fair trial, anyone dissatisfied with the fact that a man who confessed to his role in the murder of 224 people has been acquitted of those killings should be more upset that the person who killed those people was treated roughly by agents of the U.S. government — tells you everything you need to know about the Center for Constitutional Rights. Atop a CCR website posting by a member of the organization’s board denouncing the guilty verdict and sentencing of Lynne Stewart, a lawyer who served as a courier for terrorist messages sent through her from her imprisoned client to his network, is a quote from Karl Marx: “At all times throughout history the ideology of the ruling class is the ruling ideology.” That same item described Stewart’s client, the “blind sheikh” Abdel Rahman, as “was the leading oppositionist to the U.S.-sponsored Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt,” whereas in fact what he did was oversee the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

The Lynne Stewart monstrousness is of a piece with the monstrous work done by CCR altogether. It is run by Michael Ratner, who conveniently espouses a hate-America and evils-of-capitalism philosophy even as he swims in his own family’s real estate billions. (His brother Bruce is, among other things, the Machiavellian developer of Atlantic Yards, the Brooklyn megaproject.) It is, and I say this advisedly, an evil organization. In the guise of protecting civil liberties, it uses the American legal system to attack the American political system and the American way of life. Its approach is to offer aggressively self-righteous defenses of the morally indefensible — i.e., the logic that says a waterboard is worse than a killing — in a classic bait-and-switch according to which any form of state action against anyone is unacceptable unless that person happens to be a cop, a soldier, or an official of the U.S. government, in which case he is guilty until proven innocent.

So while I share the disgust expressed by Benjamin Wittes, Tom Joscelyn, and others, it just seems all in a day’s work for the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization whose loathing of America is exceeded only by its masterful exploitation and manipulation of America’s blessings.

There is appropriate horror being expressed today all over the blogosphere about the statement released by the radical leftist group called the Center for Constitutional Rights on the verdict in the Ghailani trial: “CCR questions the ability of anyone who is Muslim to receive a truly fair trial in any American judicial forum post-9/11,” it says. “However, on balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal criminal trials are far superior to military commissions for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit evidence obtained by torture. If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani’s acquittal on 284 counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him.”

The astounding and vicious vulgarity of the sentiments expressed here — no Muslim can get a fair trial, anyone dissatisfied with the fact that a man who confessed to his role in the murder of 224 people has been acquitted of those killings should be more upset that the person who killed those people was treated roughly by agents of the U.S. government — tells you everything you need to know about the Center for Constitutional Rights. Atop a CCR website posting by a member of the organization’s board denouncing the guilty verdict and sentencing of Lynne Stewart, a lawyer who served as a courier for terrorist messages sent through her from her imprisoned client to his network, is a quote from Karl Marx: “At all times throughout history the ideology of the ruling class is the ruling ideology.” That same item described Stewart’s client, the “blind sheikh” Abdel Rahman, as “was the leading oppositionist to the U.S.-sponsored Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt,” whereas in fact what he did was oversee the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

The Lynne Stewart monstrousness is of a piece with the monstrous work done by CCR altogether. It is run by Michael Ratner, who conveniently espouses a hate-America and evils-of-capitalism philosophy even as he swims in his own family’s real estate billions. (His brother Bruce is, among other things, the Machiavellian developer of Atlantic Yards, the Brooklyn megaproject.) It is, and I say this advisedly, an evil organization. In the guise of protecting civil liberties, it uses the American legal system to attack the American political system and the American way of life. Its approach is to offer aggressively self-righteous defenses of the morally indefensible — i.e., the logic that says a waterboard is worse than a killing — in a classic bait-and-switch according to which any form of state action against anyone is unacceptable unless that person happens to be a cop, a soldier, or an official of the U.S. government, in which case he is guilty until proven innocent.

So while I share the disgust expressed by Benjamin Wittes, Tom Joscelyn, and others, it just seems all in a day’s work for the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization whose loathing of America is exceeded only by its masterful exploitation and manipulation of America’s blessings.

Read Less




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