Commentary Magazine


Topic: New York Times

Erasing 20 Years of History

When I first read Jonathan’s post yesterday, I thought he was blaming President Barack Obama unfairly: The Palestinians don’t need Obama to produce excuses for shunning negotiations; they’ve produced plenty all by themselves (about which more in a separate post). But when I read the New York Times article he referenced, I was shocked – not by the Palestinians’ position, but by reporter Ethan Bronner’s. For when a Palestinian official asserted that Israel’s demand to retain the major settlement blocs “abandons … the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years,” Bronner, who as a veteran Israeli correspondent should surely have known better, parroted this without a word of demurral – thereby erasing 20 years of history in which every single proposal ever discussed had Israel keeping the settlement blocs.

President Bill Clinton’s parameters of 2000, long considered the blueprint for any final-status agreement, assigned the settlement blocs to Israel. President George W. Bush asserted in a 2004 letter that “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of 2008 – which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after rejecting at the time, suddenly embraced last year, once Olmert was gone and it was off the table – also had Israel retaining the settlement blocs.

Read More

When I first read Jonathan’s post yesterday, I thought he was blaming President Barack Obama unfairly: The Palestinians don’t need Obama to produce excuses for shunning negotiations; they’ve produced plenty all by themselves (about which more in a separate post). But when I read the New York Times article he referenced, I was shocked – not by the Palestinians’ position, but by reporter Ethan Bronner’s. For when a Palestinian official asserted that Israel’s demand to retain the major settlement blocs “abandons … the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years,” Bronner, who as a veteran Israeli correspondent should surely have known better, parroted this without a word of demurral – thereby erasing 20 years of history in which every single proposal ever discussed had Israel keeping the settlement blocs.

President Bill Clinton’s parameters of 2000, long considered the blueprint for any final-status agreement, assigned the settlement blocs to Israel. President George W. Bush asserted in a 2004 letter that “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of 2008 – which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after rejecting at the time, suddenly embraced last year, once Olmert was gone and it was off the table – also had Israel retaining the settlement blocs.

In short, Israeli retention of the settlement blocs is precisely “the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years.”

But along came Obama, with his assertion last May that the starting point for talks should be the 1967 lines rather than two decades of previous negotiations, and suddenly, 20 years of history have been erased: The Palestinians can unblushingly assert that Israel’s demand to retain the settlement blocs is a new demand, and a veteran New York Times reporter can unblushingly parrot that assertion. In effect, the starting point for talks has just been moved.

This would indeed be a serious obstacle to negotiations if they ever resumed, because in 20 years of conceding one “red line” after another, one of the few things successive Israeli governments have never wavered on is their insistence on retaining the settlement blocs. Yet the Palestinians can’t be more Catholic than the Pope: If the U.S. president deems the settlement blocs illegitimate, Palestinians can hardly do otherwise. That’s precisely why previous U.S. presidents were always careful to provide cover for Palestinian negotiators by making it clear that in their view, the settlement blocs should remain Israeli.

But Obama has practically single-handedly created a new narrative, in which Israeli retention of the settlement blocs is not a given, and his allies in the media are eagerly disseminating it. And that mistake, as Jonathan aptly said, will haunt Israeli-Palestinian talks for a long time to come.

Read Less

Identifying Israel’s “Main Enemies”

The controversy ended almost as soon as it began. Yesterday, Jerusalem Post editor Steve Linde told an audience that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told him a couple of weeks earlier the New York Times and Haaretz were Israel’s “main enemies” because “they set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world.” That comment, made during a private meeting with the journalist, set off a minor furor with many, including Linde, saying they thought it odd those two journalistic institutions would outrank Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran as the Jewish state’s main foes and that such a statement reflects Netanyahu’s Nixon-like paranoia about the press. However, the prime minister’s office immediately denied Netanyahu had said it, and Linde soon backtracked, telling Haaretz the words were merely his interpretation and not a direct quote.

Nevertheless, this non-story is a reminder of a great truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it would be absurd to actually rank the Times or Ha’aretz higher in the list of Israel’s foes than actual military and terrorist threats, biased media reports are a not inconsiderable problem for a beleaguered Jewish state. So whatever it is that Netanyahu actually said to Linde, his concern about a distorted vision of Israel’s policies being the lens through which most foreigners view his country is neither foolish nor paranoid.

Read More

The controversy ended almost as soon as it began. Yesterday, Jerusalem Post editor Steve Linde told an audience that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told him a couple of weeks earlier the New York Times and Haaretz were Israel’s “main enemies” because “they set the agenda for an anti-Israel campaign all over the world.” That comment, made during a private meeting with the journalist, set off a minor furor with many, including Linde, saying they thought it odd those two journalistic institutions would outrank Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran as the Jewish state’s main foes and that such a statement reflects Netanyahu’s Nixon-like paranoia about the press. However, the prime minister’s office immediately denied Netanyahu had said it, and Linde soon backtracked, telling Haaretz the words were merely his interpretation and not a direct quote.

Nevertheless, this non-story is a reminder of a great truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it would be absurd to actually rank the Times or Ha’aretz higher in the list of Israel’s foes than actual military and terrorist threats, biased media reports are a not inconsiderable problem for a beleaguered Jewish state. So whatever it is that Netanyahu actually said to Linde, his concern about a distorted vision of Israel’s policies being the lens through which most foreigners view his country is neither foolish nor paranoid.

Newspapers that invariably frame the conflict as one in which Israel is an oppressive state that bullies the Palestinians, violates human rights and responds to alleged threats with disproportionate force do help undermine support for the Jewish state. Journalists who treat the dispute over the West Bank and Jerusalem as one in which only the Palestinians have rights while the Israelis merely have overblown demands for security similarly help create a diplomatic playing field in which Israel is always at a disadvantage. Even worse, those who rarely, if ever, place stories about the conflict in the context of a 100-year-old Arab and Muslim war to eradicate the Jewish presence in the country, or who make any effort to accurately portray Palestinian public opinion about peace or their unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state do their audience and Israel a disservice.

Haaretz reports the news based on its political bias against Netanyahu’s party and ideology. The Times news and opinion sections follow the same script just as slavishly. The influence of these two papers is not inconsiderable, though it must be admitted the bias of America’s newspaper of record has done little to harm the widespread and bi-partisan support for Israel in the United States. However, the misperceptions of Israel and the conflict the Times has helped perpetuate have had an impact on American Jewish opinion. The effort to depict Israel as the Goliath of the Middle East rather than the David is a blow to the self-esteem of some liberal Times readers and has given them a reason to distance themselves from Zionism.

As such, Netanyahu does well to worry about this problem and to seek to counter the influence of those who have a destructive impact on his country’s image. Though the prime minister shouldn’t give in to the temptation to demonize the international media, just because he’s paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get him, or his country.

Read Less

The NYTimes’ Path of Deep Defense Cuts

The New York Times today has another example of my favorite kind of editorial–the self-refuting kind. The Times editors applaud President Obama’s new defense strategy for a “A Leaner Pentagon” and even fret that a renewed focus on the Pacific could justify “unrestrained” spending (this at a time of plummeting defense spending). Then the editors add what is known in the trade as a “to be sure” paragraph:

Still, the United States must be ready to face multiple contingencies. Our own chilling list includes a collapsing Pakistan, another state hijacked by al-Qaeda, Iran blocking oil shipping as it pursues its nuclear ambitions or a weak or unbalanced North Korean leader making a suicidal run across the South Korean border.

Read More

The New York Times today has another example of my favorite kind of editorial–the self-refuting kind. The Times editors applaud President Obama’s new defense strategy for a “A Leaner Pentagon” and even fret that a renewed focus on the Pacific could justify “unrestrained” spending (this at a time of plummeting defense spending). Then the editors add what is known in the trade as a “to be sure” paragraph:

Still, the United States must be ready to face multiple contingencies. Our own chilling list includes a collapsing Pakistan, another state hijacked by al-Qaeda, Iran blocking oil shipping as it pursues its nuclear ambitions or a weak or unbalanced North Korean leader making a suicidal run across the South Korean border.

I agree these are all very real, very worrisome scenarios–and the editors have hardly exhausted the list. How about the possibility of a clash with China? Or the possibility of a nuclear terrorist attack necessitating a massive response?

How, pray tell, is the U.S. supposed to get ready for dealing with all of these possible contingencies–much less for the prospect of more than one occurring at once–if the defense budget stands to be cut by as much as a trillion dollars during the next decade? The answer is, it’s impossible. Means don’t match ends. Resources are insufficient to safeguard against all these risks in a credible and convincing manner. Which is why we can’t afford to pursue the Times’ editors favored path of deep defense cuts.

 

Read Less

NYTimes Gives Solace to Virtual Lynch Mob

On December 29, Egyptian security forces descended on the offices of Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI), seizing both work and personal computers, and detaining staff members in their respective buildings. The State Department, for its part, said it was “deeply concerned,” and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s military strongman, to reiterate the condemnation.

Both NDI and IRI are funded by congressional grants administered through the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as grants from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. IRI does not receive money from the Republican Party, nor does NDI receive money from the Democratic Party. They are not like European political party foundations, in that they do not serve as arms of any political party. Because U.S. taxpayer money supports both organizations, they cooperate closely and do not compete. Sometimes they work exclusively in one country or another while in other places like Egypt where they both make sure they work on separate, complementary projects rather than competing projects. NDI and IRI staff are also impressive. They are far better in general than their State Department counterparts at breaking out of the bubble to get a sense of what is going on at ground level. They certainly deliver more bang for the taxpayer buck than do USAID or the State Department.

Read More

On December 29, Egyptian security forces descended on the offices of Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the International Republican Institute (IRI), seizing both work and personal computers, and detaining staff members in their respective buildings. The State Department, for its part, said it was “deeply concerned,” and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s military strongman, to reiterate the condemnation.

Both NDI and IRI are funded by congressional grants administered through the National Endowment for Democracy, as well as grants from the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. IRI does not receive money from the Republican Party, nor does NDI receive money from the Democratic Party. They are not like European political party foundations, in that they do not serve as arms of any political party. Because U.S. taxpayer money supports both organizations, they cooperate closely and do not compete. Sometimes they work exclusively in one country or another while in other places like Egypt where they both make sure they work on separate, complementary projects rather than competing projects. NDI and IRI staff are also impressive. They are far better in general than their State Department counterparts at breaking out of the bubble to get a sense of what is going on at ground level. They certainly deliver more bang for the taxpayer buck than do USAID or the State Department.

The New York Times has, along with other elite newspapers, covered the raids in generally a straight-forward fashion. In an editorial, the New York Times called IRI and NDI, “well known and respected.” How times have changed. In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, the New York Times published a series of hit pieces about IRI. While Democrats play a pro forma role at NDI, and Republicans do likewise at IRI, the New York Times sought to weave reality into a far more sinister, error-ridden conspiracy. Because he wanted to target John McCain, Times reporter Mike McIntire used IRI–an organization he knew very little about—as a foil, raising protests not only in the democracy community, but also overseas–among those whom IRI has long assisted.

That the New York Times would come to IRI’s defense against the Egyptian outrage, yet seek to tar and feather the organization in the context of a U.S. political campaign in which it had no involvement, shows the Gray Lady’s blatant politicization. The New York Times’ 2008 attack was not so different in spirit than Tantawi’s 2011 assault. The only difference was that Tantawi controls his own thugs, while  Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. could only give intellectual solace to a virtual lynch mob.

Read Less

Israel Won’t “Bibiwash” NYTimes Bias

The unceasing drumbeat of Israel-bashing on the pages of the New York Times is not exactly a secret. The paper’s editorial pages along with columnists Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof have presented a solid front of opposition to the State of Israel with none of the paper’s other columnists presenting an alternative view. The avalanche of one-sided sniping at the Jewish state reached a crescendo this week with a column by Friedman in which he mimed anti-Semitic attacks on Israel’s backers by claiming that Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

But the office of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is apparently not prepared to play along with the pretense that the Grey Lady practices objective journalism. As the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday, Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, wrote to the Times to tell them the PM would not write a piece for the op-ed page because doing so would “Bibiwash” the paper. Though the Times invited Netanyahu to contribute a piece defending his policies, Dermer pointed out that 19 of 20 op-ed articles published since September were blasts aimed at Israel. After a litany of outrageous assaults on the country, there was no need for the prime minister to legitimize the Times with a token article.

Read More

The unceasing drumbeat of Israel-bashing on the pages of the New York Times is not exactly a secret. The paper’s editorial pages along with columnists Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof have presented a solid front of opposition to the State of Israel with none of the paper’s other columnists presenting an alternative view. The avalanche of one-sided sniping at the Jewish state reached a crescendo this week with a column by Friedman in which he mimed anti-Semitic attacks on Israel’s backers by claiming that Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

But the office of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is apparently not prepared to play along with the pretense that the Grey Lady practices objective journalism. As the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday, Ron Dermer, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, wrote to the Times to tell them the PM would not write a piece for the op-ed page because doing so would “Bibiwash” the paper. Though the Times invited Netanyahu to contribute a piece defending his policies, Dermer pointed out that 19 of 20 op-ed articles published since September were blasts aimed at Israel. After a litany of outrageous assaults on the country, there was no need for the prime minister to legitimize the Times with a token article.

As Dermer pointed out out, the only op-ed article published by the Times during this period that defended Israel was by Judge Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist whose claim to fame is the fact that he lent his name to a libelous United Nations report attacking Israel that he has since recanted. Every other piece has been part of the one-sided campaign in which the Jewish state has been skewered from every possible angle including some outrageous and clearly false assertions a less biased paper would never have considered. That list included an absurd article claiming it was wrong for Israel to take pride in its fine record on gay rights and one by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in which he re-wrote history by claiming Arab armies invaded the newborn Israel in 1948 to protect Palestinian Arabs rather than to destroy the Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s office is only just now noticing something the paper’s readers deduced long ago. The editors of the Times abandoned any semblance of balance on their opinion page many years ago. In terms of American domestic politics and foreign policy that means a preponderance of liberal views with only token and half-hearted opposition by the Times’s house “conservatives.” However, when it comes to Israel, it means a page in which Israel’s friends are unwelcome while its critics and enemies enjoy a year-round open season on the Jewish state. In the not-so-distant past, writers like A.M. Rosenthal and William Safire would balance the views of the editorial column and the paper’s left-wing columnists, but now there is no one on staff ready to do so.

Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s koshering of the Times would do nothing but allow the paper to pretend to be fair. Though its doubtful anybody at the Times is likely to take this criticism to heart, by calling them out for their bias Dermer and his boss have performed a public service that should warm the hearts of many of the paper’s readers as well as those who have long since given up reading it.

Read Less

Holocaust Scholar Quoted in Anti-Glenn Beck Letter Criticizes the Campaign

A Holocaust scholar quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice’s anti–Glenn Beck letter has criticized the group’s campaign as one-sided and political.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, is the fourth person or organization cited in the letter who has questioned the political motives of the anti-Beck campaign. The Jewish Funds for Justice letter, published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and the Jewish Daily Forward last week, called on Fox News to sanction Beck because of his use of “Holocaust imagery.”

“I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad,” wrote Lipstadt in a column in the Forward yesterday. “That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.”

While still maintaining that Beck’s comments about the Holocaust crossed the line, Lipstadt noted that, in recent years, some of the most offensive Holocaust rhetoric has come from the political left:

During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can’t Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration’s policies and concluded: “People look at all this and think of Hitler — and rightly so.” British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration “more dangerous than Nazi Germany.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, references to Israelis as “Nazis” and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.

“Is this about principle, or is it about politics?” asked Lipstadt. “Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch?”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and COMMENTARY were also quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice letter and have all since clarified that they are not associated with the campaign. However, as noted yesterday, Jewish Funds for Justice is continuing to collect signatures for the letter on its website.

A Holocaust scholar quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice’s anti–Glenn Beck letter has criticized the group’s campaign as one-sided and political.

Deborah Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, is the fourth person or organization cited in the letter who has questioned the political motives of the anti-Beck campaign. The Jewish Funds for Justice letter, published as a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and the Jewish Daily Forward last week, called on Fox News to sanction Beck because of his use of “Holocaust imagery.”

“I don’t disagree with the thrust of JFSJ’s ad,” wrote Lipstadt in a column in the Forward yesterday. “That said, I do worry that it is a distortion to focus solely on the conservative end of the political spectrum.”

While still maintaining that Beck’s comments about the Holocaust crossed the line, Lipstadt noted that, in recent years, some of the most offensive Holocaust rhetoric has come from the political left:

During his term in office, President George W. Bush was frequently compared to Hitler. A 2006 New York Times ad from a group called the World Can’t Wait, signed by a number of prominent leftists (as well as five Democratic members of Congress), cited a litany of complaints about the Bush administration’s policies and concluded: “People look at all this and think of Hitler — and rightly so.” British playwright and Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter, who signed onto the ad, went to so far as to call the Bush administration “more dangerous than Nazi Germany.” (emphasis added)

Similarly, references to Israelis as “Nazis” and claims that Israel is committing genocide abound in left-wing discourse. Because of their ubiquity, we have almost become inured to the horror of such comparisons.

“Is this about principle, or is it about politics?” asked Lipstadt. “Is this about anti-Semitism, or about Rupert Murdoch?”

The Anti-Defamation League, the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, and COMMENTARY were also quoted in the Jewish Funds for Justice letter and have all since clarified that they are not associated with the campaign. However, as noted yesterday, Jewish Funds for Justice is continuing to collect signatures for the letter on its website.

Read Less

And You Think We’ve Got Troubles . . .

Two articles in today’s New York Times show just how much trouble Japan is in economically. On the front page is an article on how young Japanese are finding it increasingly difficult to find a good job. Only 56.7 percent of college students have a firm job offer when they graduate, an all-time low.

An aging population is clogging the nation’s economy with the vested interests of older generations, young people and social experts warn, making an already hierarchical society even more rigid and conservative. The result is that Japan is holding back and marginalizing its youth at a time when it actually needs them to help create the new products, companies and industries that a mature economy requires to grow.

With a population that is actually falling in numbers, a very low birth rate, virtually no immigration, and an ever-increasing life expectancy, Japan is a demographic time bomb as the average age of the population steadily increases. There are more and more recipients of old-age pensions and medical care and fewer and fewer young workers to fund them.

And Standard and Poor’s has lowered Japan’s credit rating, down to AA-. That’s three steps below the top grade of AAA. China has the same rating, but China is growing rapidly, and its debt is only about 15 percent of GDP. Japan’s debt this year will reach 203 percent. (The debt/GDP ratio of Greece last year when it nearly defaulted and had to be rescued by the European Union was 137 percent.)

Of all the major economic powers, Japan is by far in the worst shape, and its politicians seem unable to take the tough steps necessary to turn things around. It’s hard to imagine that only 25 years ago, there was a spate of chin-pulling books and articles on how Japan was poised to become the world’s leading economy.

Two articles in today’s New York Times show just how much trouble Japan is in economically. On the front page is an article on how young Japanese are finding it increasingly difficult to find a good job. Only 56.7 percent of college students have a firm job offer when they graduate, an all-time low.

An aging population is clogging the nation’s economy with the vested interests of older generations, young people and social experts warn, making an already hierarchical society even more rigid and conservative. The result is that Japan is holding back and marginalizing its youth at a time when it actually needs them to help create the new products, companies and industries that a mature economy requires to grow.

With a population that is actually falling in numbers, a very low birth rate, virtually no immigration, and an ever-increasing life expectancy, Japan is a demographic time bomb as the average age of the population steadily increases. There are more and more recipients of old-age pensions and medical care and fewer and fewer young workers to fund them.

And Standard and Poor’s has lowered Japan’s credit rating, down to AA-. That’s three steps below the top grade of AAA. China has the same rating, but China is growing rapidly, and its debt is only about 15 percent of GDP. Japan’s debt this year will reach 203 percent. (The debt/GDP ratio of Greece last year when it nearly defaulted and had to be rescued by the European Union was 137 percent.)

Of all the major economic powers, Japan is by far in the worst shape, and its politicians seem unable to take the tough steps necessary to turn things around. It’s hard to imagine that only 25 years ago, there was a spate of chin-pulling books and articles on how Japan was poised to become the world’s leading economy.

Read Less

Middle East Optimism Requires Blinders

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end. Read More

Optimism about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has always been a matter of religious faith rather than rational analysis. Every new proof that the process begun in 1993 with the Oslo Accords was based on false premises must be dismissed or ignored simply because believers in peace insist it is possible and because they wish it be so. While the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg has not generally been among the most dogged optimists about peace, he was still willing to co-author a 2,200-word essay with Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine published on today’s New York Times op-ed page that argues that despite the evidence of our lying eyes, there is still plenty of room for belief that the process can be revived.

Their thesis rests on the idea that changes in the political cultures of both Israel and the Palestinians make progress inevitable. It is true that there is an overwhelming consensus within Israel in favor of a two-state solution and that even the supposedly intransigent right-wing government of the country has made it clear it is ready to accept a Palestinian state. It is also true that the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has made great strides toward making the territories a better place for its inhabitants, though Goldberg and Ibish overestimate the PA’s abandonment of anti-Semitic incitement and the language of delegitimization of Israel. The PA has also created a security apparatus that has been allowed greater scope by the Israelis, and Abbas and Fayyad understand it is in their interest to clamp down on terrorism.

These are factors that theoretically ought to allow the two sides to come to an agreement and finally make peace. But that hasn’t happened. The reason is that the less-hopeful developments of the past few years are still far more important in determining whether the conflict can be brought to an end.

The chief of these is the power of Hamas. Optimists like Goldberg acknowledge the fact that Gaza is a Hamas state and that no peace can be signed without its agreement. Unacknowledged in the Goldberg-Ibish piece is the fact that Abbas’s hold on the West Bank rests not on his legitimacy or the strength of his forces but on Israel’s unwillingness to allow it to fall into the hands of Hamas, as happened in Gaza in 2006. After all, Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2008 and was turned down flat. President Obama’s foolish insistence on an Israeli settlement freeze even in those areas (as the recently released Al Jazeera documents show) the PA had already agreed would stay in Israeli hands has made it impossible for those talks to be renewed. But even if Abbas were to return to the table, he would be faced with the same dilemma he had before. Were he to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn, he would face the wrath of his own people (as the reaction from the released documents proves), and even Israel’s support might not be enough to keep him in power, or alive.

Goldberg and Ibish conclude their lengthy article by calling for both Netanyahu and Abbas to visit the other side and acknowledge their antagonists’ respective rights and pain much in the way that Anwar Sadat and King Hussein of Jordan once did. But they forget that the original Oslo Accords were just such an acknowledgment, and that while Israelis swooned over such gestures (even though Yasir Arafat’s credibility was very much doubtful), Palestinians merely took Israel’s willingness to make concessions as a sign of weakness and lack of faith in the rightness of their cause. Moreover, Abbas doesn’t dare do more. In a region where both Israel and the PA are faced with the growing influence of Iran and its allies Hezbollah (which is moving toward control of Lebanon) and Hamas, the tide of extremism is more than a match for Fayyad’s pragmatism. Under such circumstances, optimism about peace requires the sort of tunnel vision that comes only with blind faith.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.”

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.”

Read Less

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.

Read Less

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.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.