Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York Times

Still Another Peace Plan

Today’s New York Times describes the report by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute — “Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue” — which provides detailed maps showing that Israel’s borders could cover 80 percent of the settlers while providing Palestinians a contiguous state on 95 percent of the West Bank. Makovsky tells the Times that his report shows peace is possible:

The goal, Mr. Makovsky said, is to “demystify” the territorial hurdles that divide Israelis and Palestinians, and to debunk the notion that there is no way to reconcile the Palestinian demand for sovereignty over the West Bank with the Israeli demand for control over a majority of the settlers. … “There are land swaps that would offset whatever settlements Israel would retain. The impossible is attainable.”

Makovsky’s report demonstrates that the stated premise of the Palestinian’s draft UN resolution — that the settlements are “a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” — is false. But this is not exactly news: the premise has been demonstrably false for more than 10 years. If you look at the Makovsky map the Times links to in its article and compare it to Dennis Ross’s map of the Clinton Parameters (posted here), you can see the two maps are substantially the same.

In the past 10 years, the Palestinians received two offers of a contiguous state on virtually the entire West Bank — first in 2000 and again in 2008 — and rejected them both (for a total of seven rejections of a state since 1919). They received a settlementrein Gaza in 2005 and turned it into Hamastan. They demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition to negotiations (without offering any concessions of their own), got a 10-month moratorium on new construction … and refused to negotiate.

They could have had a state long ago, if a second state were what they wanted. But the Palestinian Authority is already a failed state several times over — unwilling to recognize a Jewish state next to it, unable to “live side by side in peace and security”™ even when given land without a single settler in it, unable to negotiate even when given a 10-month settlement freeze, unable even to hold local elections in the half-state it governs.

The Makovsky report is ultimately irrelevant, since it proposes a “solution” to what is not the problem.

Today’s New York Times describes the report by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute — “Imagining the Border: Options for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Territorial Issue” — which provides detailed maps showing that Israel’s borders could cover 80 percent of the settlers while providing Palestinians a contiguous state on 95 percent of the West Bank. Makovsky tells the Times that his report shows peace is possible:

The goal, Mr. Makovsky said, is to “demystify” the territorial hurdles that divide Israelis and Palestinians, and to debunk the notion that there is no way to reconcile the Palestinian demand for sovereignty over the West Bank with the Israeli demand for control over a majority of the settlers. … “There are land swaps that would offset whatever settlements Israel would retain. The impossible is attainable.”

Makovsky’s report demonstrates that the stated premise of the Palestinian’s draft UN resolution — that the settlements are “a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” — is false. But this is not exactly news: the premise has been demonstrably false for more than 10 years. If you look at the Makovsky map the Times links to in its article and compare it to Dennis Ross’s map of the Clinton Parameters (posted here), you can see the two maps are substantially the same.

In the past 10 years, the Palestinians received two offers of a contiguous state on virtually the entire West Bank — first in 2000 and again in 2008 — and rejected them both (for a total of seven rejections of a state since 1919). They received a settlementrein Gaza in 2005 and turned it into Hamastan. They demanded a settlement freeze as a precondition to negotiations (without offering any concessions of their own), got a 10-month moratorium on new construction … and refused to negotiate.

They could have had a state long ago, if a second state were what they wanted. But the Palestinian Authority is already a failed state several times over — unwilling to recognize a Jewish state next to it, unable to “live side by side in peace and security”™ even when given land without a single settler in it, unable to negotiate even when given a 10-month settlement freeze, unable even to hold local elections in the half-state it governs.

The Makovsky report is ultimately irrelevant, since it proposes a “solution” to what is not the problem.

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RE: Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman

Following up on John’s post on Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: a standard trope in the mainstream news media is to bemoan the decline of bipartisanship and the disappearance of centrist politicians. If only there were more lawmakers willing to vote based on their principles rather than politics, we often hear, Washington would be a better place. Except this week just such a politician announced his retirement, and instead of offering him tributes for his political bravery, he has been kicked in the shins for daring to deviate from the party line.

I am thinking, of course, of Joe Lieberman, who has come to define genuine bipartisanship in Washington. A liberal Democrat on many issues, he voted for ObamaCare and led the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But he also courageously supported the Iraq war even when it became extremely unpopular to do so, and he stood by his friend John McCain even when McCain was opposing Barack Obama, the liberal darling. Thus Lieberman’s retirement announcement has been greeted not with tributes to his statesmanship but with brickbats hurled by the likes of New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

In an ungraceful and unpleasant column, Collins cannot seem to find anything nice to say about one of the nicest people in Washington. She even slights him rather than praises him for his leadership on allowing gays to serve openly in the military:

Last month, when he helped lead the fight for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” some people seemed more than a tad resentful at having to give up complaining about him for the duration of the debate. “Of course, he wants gay people in the military,” wrote Alex Pareene at Salon.com, “He wants everyone in the military.”

Whatever happened to civility in politics — that virtue much praised in recent weeks? Do its dictates apply only to Republicans? And is “courage” a virtue that can be exhibited only by those who take liberal policy stands? Silly questions, I know.  The commentary on Lieberman’s retirement confirms that there is no institution quite so partisan as the MSM, even as it sings the praises of bipartisanship.

Following up on John’s post on Gail Collins and Joe Lieberman: a standard trope in the mainstream news media is to bemoan the decline of bipartisanship and the disappearance of centrist politicians. If only there were more lawmakers willing to vote based on their principles rather than politics, we often hear, Washington would be a better place. Except this week just such a politician announced his retirement, and instead of offering him tributes for his political bravery, he has been kicked in the shins for daring to deviate from the party line.

I am thinking, of course, of Joe Lieberman, who has come to define genuine bipartisanship in Washington. A liberal Democrat on many issues, he voted for ObamaCare and led the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But he also courageously supported the Iraq war even when it became extremely unpopular to do so, and he stood by his friend John McCain even when McCain was opposing Barack Obama, the liberal darling. Thus Lieberman’s retirement announcement has been greeted not with tributes to his statesmanship but with brickbats hurled by the likes of New York Times columnist Gail Collins.

In an ungraceful and unpleasant column, Collins cannot seem to find anything nice to say about one of the nicest people in Washington. She even slights him rather than praises him for his leadership on allowing gays to serve openly in the military:

Last month, when he helped lead the fight for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” some people seemed more than a tad resentful at having to give up complaining about him for the duration of the debate. “Of course, he wants gay people in the military,” wrote Alex Pareene at Salon.com, “He wants everyone in the military.”

Whatever happened to civility in politics — that virtue much praised in recent weeks? Do its dictates apply only to Republicans? And is “courage” a virtue that can be exhibited only by those who take liberal policy stands? Silly questions, I know.  The commentary on Lieberman’s retirement confirms that there is no institution quite so partisan as the MSM, even as it sings the praises of bipartisanship.

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Replacing the White House Economic Team May Not Be Enough

One of America’s finest reporters, Peter Baker, offers us — in a New York Times Magazine story — a behind-the-curtain look at the White House economic team of the past two years. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s a White House characterized by infighting and turmoil, out-of-control egos and dysfunctionality. “The team never embraced the no-drama-Obama ethos,” according to Baker.

Baker also writes that “their failure to define [the problems they faced in early 2009] from those early days has undermined a bedrock idea of American liberalism, the faith in the capacity of government to play a constructive role in the markets and make up for the limits of individuals to cope with them.”

It is little wonder that the president has brought in almost an entirely new economic team. But at some point, it may dawn on Mr. Obama that the problem is not simply his team, but the economic ideas and philosophy that are guiding his decisions. Those appear to be harder for him to replace than Larry Summers.

One of America’s finest reporters, Peter Baker, offers us — in a New York Times Magazine story — a behind-the-curtain look at the White House economic team of the past two years. It’s not a pretty picture. It’s a White House characterized by infighting and turmoil, out-of-control egos and dysfunctionality. “The team never embraced the no-drama-Obama ethos,” according to Baker.

Baker also writes that “their failure to define [the problems they faced in early 2009] from those early days has undermined a bedrock idea of American liberalism, the faith in the capacity of government to play a constructive role in the markets and make up for the limits of individuals to cope with them.”

It is little wonder that the president has brought in almost an entirely new economic team. But at some point, it may dawn on Mr. Obama that the problem is not simply his team, but the economic ideas and philosophy that are guiding his decisions. Those appear to be harder for him to replace than Larry Summers.

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One Responsible Response to the Tucson Tragedy

Since I’ve been critical of New York Times reporters and columnists for what they’ve written about the Tucson massacre, it’s only fair to praise one as well.

David Brooks appeared on PBS’s The News Hour and wrote a column on the coverage of the killings in Arizona on Saturday. He was Brooks at his best: intelligent and informed (including about mental illness and the difference between correlation and causation), measured and careful in his words, but also quite heartfelt in expressing his views.

When asked on the program whether he thought the relationship between speech and violence was a “profoundly important debate” to have, he answered, “Yeah, but not today.” When asked why, he said, “Because this is in context of this horrific crime” — a crime in which political speech had nothing to do with the killings. And speaking for many of us, Brooks wrote: “I have no love for Sarah Palin, and I like to think I’m committed to civil discourse. But the political opportunism occasioned by this tragedy has ranged from the completely irrelevant to the shamelessly irresponsible.”

These are wise words. I only wish his Times colleagues were a fraction as responsible as David Brooks is.

Since I’ve been critical of New York Times reporters and columnists for what they’ve written about the Tucson massacre, it’s only fair to praise one as well.

David Brooks appeared on PBS’s The News Hour and wrote a column on the coverage of the killings in Arizona on Saturday. He was Brooks at his best: intelligent and informed (including about mental illness and the difference between correlation and causation), measured and careful in his words, but also quite heartfelt in expressing his views.

When asked on the program whether he thought the relationship between speech and violence was a “profoundly important debate” to have, he answered, “Yeah, but not today.” When asked why, he said, “Because this is in context of this horrific crime” — a crime in which political speech had nothing to do with the killings. And speaking for many of us, Brooks wrote: “I have no love for Sarah Palin, and I like to think I’m committed to civil discourse. But the political opportunism occasioned by this tragedy has ranged from the completely irrelevant to the shamelessly irresponsible.”

These are wise words. I only wish his Times colleagues were a fraction as responsible as David Brooks is.

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Is the Right Worse Than the Left?

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric. Read More

Some on the left are still attempting to justify the biased nature of the story line that depicts conservative opinions as being the source of a poisoned debate that allegedly leads to violence. To that end, Michael Kinsley writes today in Politico that the real problem with coverage of the debate about Arizona isn’t the fact that the entire topic is a red herring promulgated in an attempt to silence the right, but that in the course of introducing this utterly false narrative, some liberals are accepting a “false balance” between the right and the left.

Though Kinsley concedes, “Democrats should be cautious about flinging accusations,” he still insists that “It seems — in fact, it seems obvious — that the situation is not balanced. Extremists on the right are more responsible for the poisonous ideological atmosphere than extremists on the left, whoever they may be. And extremists on the left have a lot less influence on nonextremists on the left than extremists on the right have on right-wing moderates.”

Why is this so? Because Kinsley says so, that’s why. From his perspective, the extreme left is represented by the chicly biased liberalism of NPR that is, I suppose, inherently more tasteful than Fox News.

But in order to accept Kinsley’s premise, you have to ignore the tone of Democratic opposition to President Bush for eight years, which was largely aimed at delegitimizing that administration and which encouraged even more extreme street rhetoric that manifested itself in demonstrations where vulgar and violent speech were commonplace. And you also have to ignore the rants that are heard today from the likes of Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, to mention just two left-wing talk-show hosts. Not to mention the more intellectual riffs of anti-conservative hatred that emanate from Paul Krugman of the New York Times and Princeton University. Yesterday I noted that Krugman called for “hanging Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy” because of the senator’s stand on ObamaCare. I neglected to mention that, according to a largely flattering profile in the New Yorker, Krugman hosted an election-night party at his home during which an effigy of Sen. John McCain was burned in effigy. Indeed, guests were invited to burn effigies of any politician they disliked. And yes, this is the same New York Times columnist who wrote that the Arizona shooting was the result of a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative rhetoric.

Kinsley is right when he decries hateful rhetoric. But he is not above taking comments out of context to back up his point. For instance, he claims Bill O’Reilly’s reaction to one of his columns consisted of a call by the FOX News host for Kinsley’s head to be cut off. That sounds despicable. But he neglects to mention that what O’Reilly was saying was that Kinsley’s opposition to Guantanamo and other tough anti-terror measures was so obstinate and foolish that perhaps the only thing that might change his mind was for al-Qaeda terrorists to treat him the same way they did Daniel Pearl. That’s pretty harsh, but not the same thing as a call for a beheading.

The cockeyed lesson that liberals seem intent on shoving down the throats of their fellow citizens is that when conservatives talk tough about liberals, it is tantamount to incitement to murder, but that when liberals talk tough about conservatives, it’s just talk, because liberals don’t mean anyone any harm. We have heard a great deal about the way political debate in this country has been debased by violent rhetoric in recent years. But for all of the nastiness of the left about Bush and of the right about Obama, I don’t think any of that has done as much damage to the fabric of democracy as the determination the past few days by the mainstream media and its liberal elites to exploit a crime carried out by a mentally ill person to further their own narrow partisan political agenda.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

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Exemptions Granted by U.S. Prove Iran Sanctions Won’t Work

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran. Read More

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran.

A story on the front page of today’s New York Times informs us that a “little known office of the Treasury Department has granted more than 10,000 licenses” allowing Americans to trade with Iran and other blacklisted countries. The companies that have gained these exemptions include some of the biggest, such as Kraft Food and Pepsi as well as major banks. While the purpose of the statute that allows for exemptions was to provide humanitarian aid, the Obama administration has let things like chewing gum, sports equipment and even hot sauce be sold to Iran. Even worse, it has allowed an American company to “bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation.”

An administration spokesman claimed that focusing on the vast number of exemptions “misses the forest for the trees,” since “no one can doubt that we are serious about this.” But as even former Clinton administration official Stuart Eizenstat told the Times, “When you create loopholes like this that you can drive a Mack truck through, you are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses.”

The loopholes in the law are bad enough. But, as the Times reports, they are widened by the influence of politicians who seek to grant favors to local businesses and contributors. In one instance, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) intervened to force the Treasury office to allow a company owned by one of his contributors to do business with a Chinese firm that had been banned for its role in selling missile technology to Iran and Pakistan.

The point here is not so much the corruption of our political system. Rather it is that as much as we doubted the determination of our allies to enforce sanctions, the United States government has shown itself to be equally incapable of getting tough with Iran. While concerned citizens can pray that clandestine operations, such as the Stuxnet virus, will undermine Iran’s nuclear program, the fact remains that the countdown toward an Iranian nuke proceeds. Though it was common knowledge that this administration, like its predecessor led by George W. Bush, seemed to lack the will to fully confront Iran, we didn’t know just how much our own government was allowing the existing sanctions to be flouted. In light of these revelations, it’s clear that sanctions will never work to halt the march of this terror sponsor toward nuclear capability. After reading this shocking story, there’s little doubt that Ahmadinejad and his tyrannical Islamist confederates are laughing at us.

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Fake Palestinian Diplomacy No Substitute for Actual Negotiations

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

The notion that the chief obstacle to peace in the Middle East is an Israeli unwillingness to make the sacrifices necessary for an agreement (settlements and Jerusalem) is a familiar theme in mainstream media coverage of the conflict. As such, today’s New York Times article about a luncheon hosted by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah for a group of largely left-wing Israeli parliamentarians and politicians serves to illustrate this theme in which the Israeli government can be portrayed as being in denial about having a peace partner. But the piece, which allowed Abbas to narrate the course of diplomacy over the past two years without any contradiction, simply swallowed the Palestinians’ dog and pony show whole.

While Abbas loves to talk about talking with Israel when presented with Western or left-wing Israeli audiences, such as the members of the marginal Geneva Initiative, who were provided with a kosher lunch in Ramallah yesterday, his attitude toward actual negotiations with the State of Israel is very different. He responded to then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem with a flat refusal. Since then, he has continued to invent excuses for not talking, such as his current specious demand for Israel to halt building in the West Bank prior to the commencement of new talks.

Times correspondent Isabel Kershner claims that “the overall point of Sunday’s dialogue was supposed to be less of recrimination and more of the possibility of peace based on a two-state solution, which would see the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside Israel.” But it isn’t recriminations or a lack of familiarity with each other that prevents Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from talking or even coming up with a deal. After more than 17 years of talks between Israel and the PA and its predecessor the PLO, they know each other only too well. The problem is that any deal, no matter how generous its terms or where Israel’s borders would be drawn, would pose a deadly threat to Abbas’s regime. The culture of Palestinian politics is such that any accord that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state or forced the descendants of the 1948 Palestinian refugees to be settled someplace other than Israel would enable Hamas to topple Abbas.

Thus, instead of actually talking with Israel’s government, all Abbas can do is stage events that allow him to pretend that he wants to sign a deal when it is actually the last thing in the world he wants to do. The Palestinians know this. So do most Israelis and, as recent developments have shown, even the Obama administration seems to have caught on.

So how does Abbas get away with this? While one can criticize the media for treating a fake story as if it were significant, the main culprit here is the willingness of the Israeli left to be Abbas’s accomplices. Kershner quotes Amram Mitzna, a former general who was buried in a landslide when he ran for prime minister against Ariel Sharon in 2003, as testifying to Abbas’s credibility. Mitzna ought to know better, but like other figures on Israel’s left, he is sufficiently bitter about his total marginalization in his country’s politics (due to his credulousness about Palestinian intentions) that he is prepared to play along with Abbas. For the Israeli left, the object of this game is not so much lost hopes of peace as it is the delegitimization of Israel’s government.

If the Palestinians can ever bring themselves to sign a deal on virtually any terms, they will find that most Israelis will embrace them. But since there is no deal, no matter how injurious its terms would be to Israel’s security or rights, that they will sign, all we are liable to get from Abbas are more photo-ops, such as this ridiculous show.

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The Kennedys Leave Washington with a Whimper

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

Today’s New York Times has an elegiac piece on the last days of Patrick J. Kennedy in Congress. It is a remarkable fact that when the new Congress convenes in January, it will be the first time since 1947 that a member of that family will not hold a federal office. The Times quotes the Brookings Institution’s Darrell M. West, who sees this moment as “a pretty dramatic fall and it’s a symbol of the decline of liberalism.” But that, I think, puts a little too much weight on the meaning of this clan’s long struggle to first acquire and then to retain political power.

The fate of liberalism has little to do with the Kennedys. After all, they pushed their way onto the public square not as liberals but as stridently anti-Communist Democrats. Although in the aftermath of President John Kennedy’s assassination, first Robert and then Ted Kennedy became standard bearers for the liberal myth of Camelot, the idea that this family’s political fortunes are somehow the cause of a political movement’s rise and fall is utterly fallacious.

While America has had other dominant political dynasties (the Adamses, the Roosevelts, and the Bushes being the most important), the Kennedys represented a new twist on the theme. They may have touted themselves as merely following a legacy of public service into politics, but their enduring popularity was more the result of modern celebrity culture and media infatuation than anything else. How else can we explain the way they seemed to rise above scandals involving vehicular homicide, rape, and addiction that would have sunk the fortunes of others who thought to keep their hold on the reins of power?

Even as he leaves Congress for good, Patrick Kennedy is still attempting to burnish the fairy tale that the Kennedys stood for more than just a lust for power. Yet his undistinguished career is a rebuke to the idea that they were about “giving back” to their country. Indeed, from the first moment that his paternal grandfather, Joseph Kennedy, stepped onto the public stage in the 1930s as the chairman of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission and then ambassador to Britain until his own ignominious career in Congress, Patrick Kennedy’s family has been an exemplar of entitlement and living above and beyond the rules that apply to lesser mortals.

This last Kennedy must also be seen as the poster child for famous scions who have no business in politics. Patrick Kennedy, who entered the Rhode Island legislature at 21 (after being treated for cocaine addiction in his teens) and has been in Congress for 16 years, won and retained office solely on the basis of his famous name. As the Times reports, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder soon after arriving in Congress and behaved accordingly for much of his time there. He will be best remembered for crashing his car into a Capitol barricade in the middle of the night while under the influence, as well as for a bizarre rant during a congressional session during which he berated the press for not covering his speech.

As for liberalism, it will survive, for good or for ill, without the likes of Patrick Kennedy or any of the other equally unfortunate members of his generation that bear the same name. And for all the funereal-like prose of the Times piece, this probably won’t be the last Kennedy in office. There are a great many other members of the family still armed with what’s left of the first Joe Kennedy’s ill-gotten loot and the allure and the insatiable ambition that seems to come with the Kennedy moniker. But, if anything, Patrick Kennedy’s embarrassing and largely pointless public career should stand as a warning to other Kennedys, as well as the descendants of any other famous politician, that there is more to public life than the shallow celebrity that propelled this young man into a position of responsibility he never deserved.

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Hamas-Run Gaza Gets More Food, Israel Gets More Rocket Fire

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

Today’s New York Times dispatch from Gaza leads with the fact that there is more food in the Hamas-ruled strip than the people there can eat. But if you thought the easing of the blockade might lesson the chances of violence, you were wrong. While terrorist attacks across the international border against towns and villages are rarely mentioned in the media, the Times does note that despite Israel’s efforts to make the lives of Gazans easier, “rockets and mortar shells fly daily from here into Israel. … Since September, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority started peace talks, there have been 20 to 30 rockets and mortar shells shot monthly into Israel, double the rate for the first part of the year.”

It has been obvious for some time that Palestinian propaganda about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a flat-out lie, even though such charges continue to surface in the international media. Yet pressure from the United Nations and so-called human rights groups to completely lift the blockade, which aims to keep munitions and construction materials that could be used for military purposes by Hamas from entering Gaza, grows. But, as many supporters of Israel pointed out during the uproar over the Turkish aid flotilla last summer, those who support an end to the blockade are aiding Hamas while doing nothing for the people of Gaza.

While Israel’s critics like to say that the blockade helps Hamas, the opposite is closer to the truth. The Times quotes Ibrahim Abrach, a political science professor at Al Azhar University in Gaza, who points out the obvious: the easing of the Israeli siege was strengthening Hamas: “I fear that further lifting of the siege will lead to the loss of the West Bank. It is very hard to lift the siege and not boost Hamas.”

In other words, the end of the blockade will not only not hurt Hamas; it will seal the fate of the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, leaving Israel to face the Islamist terrorist group in that territory as well as in Gaza.

Just as ominous is the fact that the easing of the blockade has encouraged Hamas to be more active in its suppression of dissenting Palestinians:

Professor Abrach said that in recent months, as conditions here had eased, Hamas had grown bolder in its suppression of dissent. His apartment has been broken into and his computer taken, he said, and he has been called into the internal security office twice. Passports of Fatah activists have been confiscated.

Khalil al-Muzayen, a filmmaker, said a Swiss-financed drama he shot about the early days of the Israeli occupation here in the 1970s was banned because it depicted Israeli solders as not all monstrous. One or two were nice. “This was seen as pro-normalization,” he said.

For all the incessant chatter about how Netanyahu’s actions or Jewish settlements are an obstacle to peace, the real obstacle remains the intransigence of the Palestinians. Fatah and the PA can’t say yes to the Palestinian state that Israel has repeatedly offered it, because they know that doing so will ensure their rapid defeat at the hands of Hamas. And though credulous fools can always be found to assert that Hamas is showing signs of moderation, everything it does or says belies this claim.

In response to a question from the Times about reconciliation with Israel, Yusef Mansi, the Hamas minister of public works and housing, summed up the Islamists’ stand: “I would rather die a martyr like my son than shake the hand of my enemy.”

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We Are Winning in Afghanistan, Though Work Remains to Be Done

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

In the L.A. Times today, Pete Mansoor and I have an op-ed reporting on our recently completed trip to Afghanistan. (Mansoor is a retired army colonel who served two combat tours in Iraq and now teaches history at Ohio State). In brief, our message is that we are now winning in Afghanistan, at least in Helmand and Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban, where we have focused most of our resources. But don’t take our word for it. The New York Times runs a fantastic article by Carlotta Gall and Ruhullah Khapalwak that quotes an unnamed mid-level Taliban commander conceding that “the government has the upper hand now” in and around Kandahar — a message confirmed by local residents they spoke with. The article explains:

“The people are not happy with us,” the Taliban fighter said. “People gave us a place to stay for several years, but we did not provide them with anything except fighting. The situation is different now: the local people are not willingly cooperating with us. They are not giving us a place to stay or giving us food.”

NATO’s announcement that it would remain until a transfer to Afghan forces in 2014 has also convinced people that it will not withdraw quickly, he said.

“The Americans are more serious, and another thing that made people hopeful was when they said they would stay until 2014,” the Taliban commander said. “That has made people change their minds.”

Naturally, the article reports that the Taliban will plan to return to their old stomping grounds in the spring, but “in a dozen interviews, Afghan landowners, tribal elders and villagers said they believed that the Taliban could find it hard to return if American troops remained.”

That was exactly what Mansoor and I found. But isn’t there a danger that the insurgency, after setbacks in the south, will simply move to the north or east? That’s what another New York Times article claims.

Alissa Rubin reports from Kunduz in the north — an area garrisoned primarily by Germans — where she finds security conditions have deteriorated. No doubt that’s true, but there is scant chance that the Taliban could re-create strongholds in other parts of the country after being chased out of the south. That’s because the Taliban have essentially no appeal outside the Pashtun community, and there are few Pashtuns in the north or west. True, the Taliban have made some inroads among Pashtun pockets in those areas, but let’s not exaggerate. Most days, there are no reported attacks at all in the north or west. The Taliban may be spreading some fear and intimidation, but there is a natural limit on their appeal. The odds of their gaining support in the Tajik or Hazara communities are about as great as the odds of Hamas winning supporters in Jewish neighborhoods of Israel.

I do not, by any means, suggest that all the news from Afghanistan is great. As Mansoor and I note, governance and Pakistan sanctuaries remain difficult challenges, and the eastern part of the country — where there are a lot of Pashtuns — has not yet seen the kind of concerted counterinsurgency campaign that has taken place in the south. (There simply aren’t enough troops even now to pacify both south and east at the same time.) But overall, we are making great progress with the surge, which, after all, has only just been completed.

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Saudi Glasnost Cities Illustrate Tyranny’s Dilemma

Is it possible for a tyrannical system to modernize its society and economy while keeping its people in check? In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev tried and failed to save the Soviet Union for Communism by such an effort. Nevertheless, with help from Western businesses (of whom George Will once rightly said that they “loved commerce more than they loathed communism”), the gerontocracy that ruled Communist China succeeded in transforming the economy of its country while maintaining an iron grip on power in the world’s most populous nation.

But as difficult as such changes are for secular ideological tyrannies, the challenge is even greater for those ruled by religion. And that is the dilemma faced by Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s New York Times unveiled the plans for four new cities to be built in the Arabian desert whose purpose is to provide an outlet for the growing population of educated but underemployed Saudis. The cities, the first of which is to bear the catchy name of King Abdullah Economic City, are, as the Times notes, a dreary throwback to previous planned cities such as Brasilia or the urban monstrosities built by the Soviets in the 1930s. But the purpose of these cities is more reminiscent of Gorbachev’s glasnost than Stalin’s experiments. The Saudis want them to be places where a less-repressive form of Islam than the fanatical brand of Wahhabism that is the norm in the rest of the country will exist. They hope that the slight openings to freedom that will supposedly blossom there will satisfy their restive people and boost their economy without threatening the monarchy or the Islamist faith that has been an indispensable element in their regime’s hold on power.

But, as the article relates, the difficulties of opening the slightest crack toward a free society are enormous. Once the floodgates of freedom are even slightly ajar, it is hard to hold back the forces of change. That is why it is unlikely that much will come of this development in terms of real reform.

Those who deplore or fear the spread of democracy in the Arab world rightly note that the only current alternative to authoritarian regimes like the Saudi monarchy is an even more repressive Islamist movement. But the creation of institutions in which Islamist rules don’t always apply and that engineer a modern economy might mean that more liberal forces will appear.

The strength of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia may make that a pipe dream. Nevertheless, the Arabs deserve something better their current choices, in which the repressed anger of the people is always wrongly focused on outside forces, such as the West or Israel.

Is it possible for a tyrannical system to modernize its society and economy while keeping its people in check? In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev tried and failed to save the Soviet Union for Communism by such an effort. Nevertheless, with help from Western businesses (of whom George Will once rightly said that they “loved commerce more than they loathed communism”), the gerontocracy that ruled Communist China succeeded in transforming the economy of its country while maintaining an iron grip on power in the world’s most populous nation.

But as difficult as such changes are for secular ideological tyrannies, the challenge is even greater for those ruled by religion. And that is the dilemma faced by Saudi Arabia. Yesterday’s New York Times unveiled the plans for four new cities to be built in the Arabian desert whose purpose is to provide an outlet for the growing population of educated but underemployed Saudis. The cities, the first of which is to bear the catchy name of King Abdullah Economic City, are, as the Times notes, a dreary throwback to previous planned cities such as Brasilia or the urban monstrosities built by the Soviets in the 1930s. But the purpose of these cities is more reminiscent of Gorbachev’s glasnost than Stalin’s experiments. The Saudis want them to be places where a less-repressive form of Islam than the fanatical brand of Wahhabism that is the norm in the rest of the country will exist. They hope that the slight openings to freedom that will supposedly blossom there will satisfy their restive people and boost their economy without threatening the monarchy or the Islamist faith that has been an indispensable element in their regime’s hold on power.

But, as the article relates, the difficulties of opening the slightest crack toward a free society are enormous. Once the floodgates of freedom are even slightly ajar, it is hard to hold back the forces of change. That is why it is unlikely that much will come of this development in terms of real reform.

Those who deplore or fear the spread of democracy in the Arab world rightly note that the only current alternative to authoritarian regimes like the Saudi monarchy is an even more repressive Islamist movement. But the creation of institutions in which Islamist rules don’t always apply and that engineer a modern economy might mean that more liberal forces will appear.

The strength of religious extremism in Saudi Arabia may make that a pipe dream. Nevertheless, the Arabs deserve something better their current choices, in which the repressed anger of the people is always wrongly focused on outside forces, such as the West or Israel.

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Israel’s Critics Cry About Being Repressed … from Their Usual Soapbox at the New York Times

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.” Read More

That the New York Times’s Roger Cohen has a problem with Israel is not exactly a secret. As far as he is concerned, the country’s democratically elected government and the people who elected it don’t measure up to his moral standards. Moreover, he and those who share his views, like writer Peter Beinart, think that any Jewish or non-Jewish friends of Israel who prefer to focus their efforts on continuing to defend Israel against an Arab/Muslim siege and anti-Zionist campaigners who seek to isolate it rather than spend their time flaying it for perceived sins are also not living up to the standards they are setting for them.

Today Cohen weighs in again to tell the sad tale of a liberal American who went to Israel to work for left-wing causes there and claims to have gotten into a scuffle with right-wingers after a demonstration in Tel Aviv during which he and his friends waved signs that said “Zionists Are Not Settlers.” Politics in Israel can be a bit rougher than what we’re used to here in America, but there’s no excuse for violence. It would have been far better for his antagonists to merely point out that Zionists have always been “settlers,” since there would be no state of Israel had not some Jews had the chutzpah to jump-start the rebirth of Jewish life in the Jewish homeland by planting roots in places where Arabs didn’t want them to be. Like, for example, the metropolis of Tel Aviv, where the demonstration took place, which a century ago was nothing but a small annoying Jewish settlement on the outskirts of Arab Jaffa.

But Cohen isn’t content to merely blackguard Israelis or their supporters. In order to put forward his argument in a way in which those who agree with him can be portrayed as victims rather than judgmental critics who don’t understand Israel’s dilemma, he has to claim that their views are being suppressed. Thus, it isn’t enough for him to promote the views of the left-wing lobby J Street or to echo the arguments of Beinart about Israel’s moral failures; he must also claim that the “debate remains stifled.”

What is his proof? Because left-wingers who tried to disrupt a speech being given by Israel’s prime minster were “dragged out” of the auditorium where Netanyahu was trying to speak in New Orleans. Never mind that if someone tried to do that to President Obama, he’d be arrested. What else? Because one synagogue in Massachusetts decided not to host a J Street leader. Shocking. Want more? Cohen claims that AIPAC, a vast group with across-the-board support from American Jews, won’t debate J Street, a small group largely funded by financier George Soros (though the group spent years inexplicably lying about Soros’s role in propping up this Potemkin organization) that is dedicated to supporting American pressure on Israel. Even worse, the young Jew whose story Cohen tells is getting some negative feedback from friends about his J Street activities. Isn’t that awful?

The truth is, despite promoting itself as the liberal alternative to AIPAC, a stance that ought to make it popular due to the fact that most Jews are liberals, J Street has little grassroots Jewish support. That’s because it has systematically taken stands on Israel’s right to self-defense and the nuclear threat from Iran that strike most Jews as being outside the pro-Israel consensus. But far from being silenced, J Street is the darling of a mainstream media that has consistently promoted it, especially in places where Israel’s supporters have trouble making their voices heard. Like the opinion pages of the New York Times.

But Cohen did get one thing right. He notes in passing that the administration’s latest attempt to pressure Israel failed because “President Barack Obama had virtually no domestic constituency” for his policy. This is absolutely true. The vast majority of Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, support the Jewish state and oppose twisting its arm in this manner. That they hold to this belief despite the constant drumbeat of attacks on Israel, such as those by Cohen, his Times colleague Nicholas Kristof, and Peter Beinart, speaks volumes about how marginal J Street still is.

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Obama Understands Economics in Spite of Himself

It turns out that Barack Obama understands the economic good sense of the so-called “tax cuts for the rich.” How do we know this? From reading the following in today’s New York Times: “President Obama is considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues in what would be his first major effort to begin addressing the long-term growth of the national debt.” Did you catch that? “[T]o lower rates and raise revenues.” It is the reality of that negative correlation — and not a desire to comfort the rich at the expense of the poor — that lies behind the proposal to keep the Bush tax cuts in place on higher incomes. Lowering tax rates does not mean lowering tax revenues.

Many conservatives understand that by lowering tax rates on the rich, you can raise tax revenues, because this makes people with higher incomes more likely to invest capital in taxable ventures. In fact, this happened under Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush. What’s news is that Obama is, at least in principle, aware of it.

However, as evidenced by his reluctance to let this happen among those earning $1 million or more a year — where it would do the most to pay off the debt and stimulate the economy — he seems to think the fundamental rules of economics change when applied to rich people. At that point, something called “fairness” kicks in, like quantum physics, to change the understood workings of the universe. “Republicans are going to have to explain to the American people over the next two years how making those tax cuts for the high end permanent squares with their stated desire to start reducing deficits and debt,” he said. To paraphrase a great campaigner, his own explanation is the one he’s been waiting for.

It turns out that Barack Obama understands the economic good sense of the so-called “tax cuts for the rich.” How do we know this? From reading the following in today’s New York Times: “President Obama is considering whether to push early next year for an overhaul of the income tax code to lower rates and raise revenues in what would be his first major effort to begin addressing the long-term growth of the national debt.” Did you catch that? “[T]o lower rates and raise revenues.” It is the reality of that negative correlation — and not a desire to comfort the rich at the expense of the poor — that lies behind the proposal to keep the Bush tax cuts in place on higher incomes. Lowering tax rates does not mean lowering tax revenues.

Many conservatives understand that by lowering tax rates on the rich, you can raise tax revenues, because this makes people with higher incomes more likely to invest capital in taxable ventures. In fact, this happened under Coolidge, Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush. What’s news is that Obama is, at least in principle, aware of it.

However, as evidenced by his reluctance to let this happen among those earning $1 million or more a year — where it would do the most to pay off the debt and stimulate the economy — he seems to think the fundamental rules of economics change when applied to rich people. At that point, something called “fairness” kicks in, like quantum physics, to change the understood workings of the universe. “Republicans are going to have to explain to the American people over the next two years how making those tax cuts for the high end permanent squares with their stated desire to start reducing deficits and debt,” he said. To paraphrase a great campaigner, his own explanation is the one he’s been waiting for.

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You Want to See Islamophobia?

Perhaps American journalists eager to apologize to the world for America’s Islamophobia should take note of the following. According to the AP, “An Islamic centre has been firebombed in Berlin — one of more than half a dozen arson attacks on Islamic institutions in the city this year — prompting a Muslim official to demand police protection for all mosques in Germany.”

If New York City had seen six arson attacks on mosques in one year, Manhattanites would probably be under something like open-ended martial law. A handful of peaceful protests brought presidential pronouncements, sensational front-page scare stories, and New York Times apologias. One oddball Florida preacher mentioned his intention to burn the Koran and figures from all spheres of American leadership, including David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton, stepped in to dissuade him.

As Jonathan Tobin pointed out last week, the newest FBI data on hate-crime in the U.S. this past year shows “931 anti-Semitic incidents, compared with 107 anti-Islamic incidents, a ratio of better than 8 to 1.” There’s your great Islamophobic America for you. If someone really wants to have fun, they should compare the number of anti-Islamic incidents in the U.S. to figures for the rest of the world.

Perhaps American journalists eager to apologize to the world for America’s Islamophobia should take note of the following. According to the AP, “An Islamic centre has been firebombed in Berlin — one of more than half a dozen arson attacks on Islamic institutions in the city this year — prompting a Muslim official to demand police protection for all mosques in Germany.”

If New York City had seen six arson attacks on mosques in one year, Manhattanites would probably be under something like open-ended martial law. A handful of peaceful protests brought presidential pronouncements, sensational front-page scare stories, and New York Times apologias. One oddball Florida preacher mentioned his intention to burn the Koran and figures from all spheres of American leadership, including David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton, stepped in to dissuade him.

As Jonathan Tobin pointed out last week, the newest FBI data on hate-crime in the U.S. this past year shows “931 anti-Semitic incidents, compared with 107 anti-Islamic incidents, a ratio of better than 8 to 1.” There’s your great Islamophobic America for you. If someone really wants to have fun, they should compare the number of anti-Islamic incidents in the U.S. to figures for the rest of the world.

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Morning Commentary

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

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Morning Commentary

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

Chas Freeman’s New York Times column “Why Iran Loves WikiLeaks” is as scary as it sounds.

Obama finally speaks with China about North Korea, nearly two weeks after the North’s attack on South Korea. Some experts see this as a sign of strained relations between the U.S. and China.

New WikiLeaks dump reveals list of international facilities vital to U.S. security. There are concerns that these locations may become targets of terrorist attacks.

The New York Times’s public editor on why he’s glad the paper published WikiLeaks: “The Times, like other serious news organizations in democracies, exists to ferret out and publish information — most especially information that government, business and other power centers prefer to conceal. Arming readers with knowledge is what it’s about, and journalists are motivated to pursue that end.”

The Iranian foreign minister snubs Hilary Clinton in Bahrain as the heat turns up on Iran’s nuclear program. Talks between Tehran and P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear ambitions begin today.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about John Boehner can be found in an extensive New Yorker profile out today. The congressman takes over as speaker of the House on January 5.

Afghani confidence with the U.S. is faltering, according to a new poll: “[T]he results … lay bare the challenge that remains in encouraging more Afghans to repudiate the insurgency and cast their lot with the government.”

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Wicked Sense of Humor?

Now this is grading on a curve. From a New York Times article on competing books about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis‘s tenure as a book editor — during which she published such important tomes as Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker — comes this wondrous anecdote from her fellow editor Nan Talese:

Ms. Talese said she recognized her office colleague’s “wicked sense of humor.” “She got into the elevator one day, and someone said, ‘Oh, you’re Jackie Onassis!’ And she said, ‘No I’m not.’ ”

Oh, my sides! How wicked! What a sense of humor!

Now this is grading on a curve. From a New York Times article on competing books about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis‘s tenure as a book editor — during which she published such important tomes as Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker — comes this wondrous anecdote from her fellow editor Nan Talese:

Ms. Talese said she recognized her office colleague’s “wicked sense of humor.” “She got into the elevator one day, and someone said, ‘Oh, you’re Jackie Onassis!’ And she said, ‘No I’m not.’ ”

Oh, my sides! How wicked! What a sense of humor!

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Muslim Leaders Blame FBI for Foiling Portland Bomb Plot

While most around the country breathed a sigh of relief after undercover FBI agents foiled an Islamist extremist bomb plot in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend, apparently some Muslim leaders are unhappy about the bureau’s tactics. A “news analysis” in today’s New York Times details the complaints made by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which described the successful police work as having gone too far. The head of the Los Angeles branch of the group claimed that the agents who monitored Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the man who planned to turn a public Christmas-tree lighting into a scene of mass murder, had somehow pushed the alleged terrorist “over the edge” from mere anti-American rhetoric to terrorism.

Seeking to deflect attention from yet another Islamist terror plot uncovered in the United States, CAIR and other Muslim leaders were quick to blame the firebombing of the mosque Mohamud attended in Corvallis, Oregon, on the FBI. The responsibility for that crime (which thankfully resulted in no loss of life) belongs to the perpetrators, who, we hope, will soon be caught. But it is not the FBI’s fault. If the members of the mosque are unhappy with the publicity that was drawn to their place of worship, the fault lies with their fellow congregant who sought to commit mass murder, not the law-enforcement officials who prevented the planned crime. Also unmentioned in the story is the possibility that he may have been inspired to terrorism by his religious mentors, not the FBI.

While the Muslim groups seem to be implying that the FBI agents acted as agents provocateurs, there is no evidence that this is the case. Left unsaid here is the fact that the alternative to such proactive tactics is a situation where legal authorities simply sit back and wait for the terrorists to do their worse, which reflects a pre-9/11 mentality that is simply unacceptable.

Instead of a legitimate complaint, this appears to be yet another example of how CAIR (which was originally founded as a political front for a Hamas fundraising group that has since been shut down by the federal government) and other allies and fellow-travelers of Islamist ideology have sought to change the subject from the very real issue of home-grown Muslim terrorism to discussion of a “backlash” against Muslims. While crimes such as the attack on the mosque are deplorable, they are the exception that proves the rule of American tolerance for Muslims. Such attacks are, as I noted recently, quite rare and still outnumbered by a factor of eight to one by anti-Semitic hate crimes.

Even more to the point, as the Times article illustrates, most American Muslims are eager to cooperate with the FBI in the very real fight against domestic terrorism and have proved invaluable in preventing many lethal attacks planned by Islamists in the United States. Instead of putting this cooperation in jeopardy, as the Times’s piece alleges, the Portland plot proves the necessity of such cooperation. Rather than continuing to focus on a mythical backlash against Muslims, this story again demonstrates the very real nature of the threat from Islamist terrorists and the need for law-enforcement agencies and patriotic citizens of all faiths to do everything possible to stop them.

While most around the country breathed a sigh of relief after undercover FBI agents foiled an Islamist extremist bomb plot in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend, apparently some Muslim leaders are unhappy about the bureau’s tactics. A “news analysis” in today’s New York Times details the complaints made by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which described the successful police work as having gone too far. The head of the Los Angeles branch of the group claimed that the agents who monitored Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the man who planned to turn a public Christmas-tree lighting into a scene of mass murder, had somehow pushed the alleged terrorist “over the edge” from mere anti-American rhetoric to terrorism.

Seeking to deflect attention from yet another Islamist terror plot uncovered in the United States, CAIR and other Muslim leaders were quick to blame the firebombing of the mosque Mohamud attended in Corvallis, Oregon, on the FBI. The responsibility for that crime (which thankfully resulted in no loss of life) belongs to the perpetrators, who, we hope, will soon be caught. But it is not the FBI’s fault. If the members of the mosque are unhappy with the publicity that was drawn to their place of worship, the fault lies with their fellow congregant who sought to commit mass murder, not the law-enforcement officials who prevented the planned crime. Also unmentioned in the story is the possibility that he may have been inspired to terrorism by his religious mentors, not the FBI.

While the Muslim groups seem to be implying that the FBI agents acted as agents provocateurs, there is no evidence that this is the case. Left unsaid here is the fact that the alternative to such proactive tactics is a situation where legal authorities simply sit back and wait for the terrorists to do their worse, which reflects a pre-9/11 mentality that is simply unacceptable.

Instead of a legitimate complaint, this appears to be yet another example of how CAIR (which was originally founded as a political front for a Hamas fundraising group that has since been shut down by the federal government) and other allies and fellow-travelers of Islamist ideology have sought to change the subject from the very real issue of home-grown Muslim terrorism to discussion of a “backlash” against Muslims. While crimes such as the attack on the mosque are deplorable, they are the exception that proves the rule of American tolerance for Muslims. Such attacks are, as I noted recently, quite rare and still outnumbered by a factor of eight to one by anti-Semitic hate crimes.

Even more to the point, as the Times article illustrates, most American Muslims are eager to cooperate with the FBI in the very real fight against domestic terrorism and have proved invaluable in preventing many lethal attacks planned by Islamists in the United States. Instead of putting this cooperation in jeopardy, as the Times’s piece alleges, the Portland plot proves the necessity of such cooperation. Rather than continuing to focus on a mythical backlash against Muslims, this story again demonstrates the very real nature of the threat from Islamist terrorists and the need for law-enforcement agencies and patriotic citizens of all faiths to do everything possible to stop them.

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Applying Counterinsurgency Tactics Against Criminals

Americans are naturally focused on the counterinsurgency work being performed by our forces in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent in other areas of radical Islamist activity (e.g., Yemen and Pakistan). But there are many other insurgencies raging around the world and quite a few of them are primarily criminal not political. That is certainly the case in Mexico and Brazil — both countries that have seen their authority challenged by powerful gangs of drug traffickers.

Many of the same principles that apply in Afghanistan or Iraq also need to be observed in those countries. Chief among them is the importance of follow-through — the need to do not just “clear” operations but “clear, hold, and build.” That is something that U.S. forces have struggled with in the past, as have many other armed forces. Pakistan, for example, has not followed through in the Swat Valley, where its army attacked militants last year. There has been insufficient  development aid or security to keep the extremists from coming back.

I fear that Brazil might be making the same mistake when I read about its army and police making a celebrated sweep through the Alemão shantytown in Rio de Janiero — an area that has long been dominated by criminal gangs. My concern stems from this detail in a New York Times account of the recent operations:

It was also unclear how long the military and the police planned to stay, or how long they could.

Mr. Beltrame, Rio’s security secretary and the architect of the pacification program, has previously said that he did not expect to have enough officers to occupy either Alemão or Rocinha, another violent slum overhanging the city’s affluent South Zone, until next year.

If there are not enough forces to occupy the slum, then why bother clearing it in the first place? Odds are that the gangs will just come back and wreak vengeance on anyone who was seen as helping the forces of law and order. That, at least, has been the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countries such as Brazil would do well to study the lessons of counterinsurgency as they battle criminals on their own turf.

Americans are naturally focused on the counterinsurgency work being performed by our forces in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent in other areas of radical Islamist activity (e.g., Yemen and Pakistan). But there are many other insurgencies raging around the world and quite a few of them are primarily criminal not political. That is certainly the case in Mexico and Brazil — both countries that have seen their authority challenged by powerful gangs of drug traffickers.

Many of the same principles that apply in Afghanistan or Iraq also need to be observed in those countries. Chief among them is the importance of follow-through — the need to do not just “clear” operations but “clear, hold, and build.” That is something that U.S. forces have struggled with in the past, as have many other armed forces. Pakistan, for example, has not followed through in the Swat Valley, where its army attacked militants last year. There has been insufficient  development aid or security to keep the extremists from coming back.

I fear that Brazil might be making the same mistake when I read about its army and police making a celebrated sweep through the Alemão shantytown in Rio de Janiero — an area that has long been dominated by criminal gangs. My concern stems from this detail in a New York Times account of the recent operations:

It was also unclear how long the military and the police planned to stay, or how long they could.

Mr. Beltrame, Rio’s security secretary and the architect of the pacification program, has previously said that he did not expect to have enough officers to occupy either Alemão or Rocinha, another violent slum overhanging the city’s affluent South Zone, until next year.

If there are not enough forces to occupy the slum, then why bother clearing it in the first place? Odds are that the gangs will just come back and wreak vengeance on anyone who was seen as helping the forces of law and order. That, at least, has been the American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countries such as Brazil would do well to study the lessons of counterinsurgency as they battle criminals on their own turf.

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