Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obama administration

On Assad, Obama is Repeating Bush 41′s Saddam Mistake

On February 15, 1991, at a campaign stop in Ohio, President George H.W. Bush called for “the Iraqi people [to] take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside.” Saddam was a dangerous tyrant and would have to go. But, Bush’s re-election campaign was hot and heavy at the time and focused on the economy, not foreign policy. Bush’s national security advisers—some of whom now praise President Obama and castigate Mitt Romney’s team—did not want to entangle the United States in a prolonged conflict, and so the United States stood aside as Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards—many just days after their release from U.S. custody—mowed down Iraqi Shi’ites.

Fast forward a decade. The Syrian people rise up. At first, Secretary of State Clinton maintains the fiction that Bashar al-Assad is a reformer. If that’s what career diplomats were telling her, it should put an end to the nonsense that having an embassy in the country improves intelligence about it. But then again, diplomats said the same thing about Saddam Hussein. As a young Iraq desk officer, for example, Frank Ricciardone—today serving as U.S. ambassador to Turkey—pushed relentlessly for U.S. rapprochement with Saddam Hussein.

Clinton, however, changed tack as Assad’s massacres accelerated. “We think Assad must go,” she told ABC News two months ago in the wake of the Istanbul “Friends of the Syrian People Conference.” Just over a week ago, she said, “The Assad regime’s brutality against its own people must and will end.”  There is nothing more dangerous than promoting Assad’s ouster and then standing by when the Syrian people rise up and get massacred.

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On February 15, 1991, at a campaign stop in Ohio, President George H.W. Bush called for “the Iraqi people [to] take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside.” Saddam was a dangerous tyrant and would have to go. But, Bush’s re-election campaign was hot and heavy at the time and focused on the economy, not foreign policy. Bush’s national security advisers—some of whom now praise President Obama and castigate Mitt Romney’s team—did not want to entangle the United States in a prolonged conflict, and so the United States stood aside as Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards—many just days after their release from U.S. custody—mowed down Iraqi Shi’ites.

Fast forward a decade. The Syrian people rise up. At first, Secretary of State Clinton maintains the fiction that Bashar al-Assad is a reformer. If that’s what career diplomats were telling her, it should put an end to the nonsense that having an embassy in the country improves intelligence about it. But then again, diplomats said the same thing about Saddam Hussein. As a young Iraq desk officer, for example, Frank Ricciardone—today serving as U.S. ambassador to Turkey—pushed relentlessly for U.S. rapprochement with Saddam Hussein.

Clinton, however, changed tack as Assad’s massacres accelerated. “We think Assad must go,” she told ABC News two months ago in the wake of the Istanbul “Friends of the Syrian People Conference.” Just over a week ago, she said, “The Assad regime’s brutality against its own people must and will end.”  There is nothing more dangerous than promoting Assad’s ouster and then standing by when the Syrian people rise up and get massacred.

We still pay for the legacy of the elder Bush’s error. The Iraqi Shi’ites, who celebrated their liberation from Saddam and who just three years earlier had been fighting Iran, had little choice but to seek Iran’s protective embrace. Saddam put down the revolt and, during the subsequent 12 years, organized some Shi’ites into the Badr Corps and other radically anti-American militias.

By encouraging—however belatedly—a revolt in Syria and then stepping aside, the Obama administration is following the elder Bush’s playbook to the letter. While many in the Iraqi opposition fell under Iran’s sway, the longer the Obama administration waits in Syria, the more entrenched al-Qaeda ideologues become. And, if history repeats itself, then by allowing such a huge gap to develop between his administration’s rhetoric and the reality of its policy, President Obama is encouraging the most cynical anti-American conspiracy theories to become public perception, and risking Syria becoming a source of instability for years to come.

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Who Will Secure Syria’s Chemical and Biological Weaponry?

Just days before the 2004 presidential election, the New York Times sought to spring an October Surprise. It breathlessly broke a story that the U.S. military failed to guard an Iraqi weapons depot at al-Qa’qaa, allowing insurgents to make off with tons of weaponry. Subsequent reporting suggested problems with the Times’ story, but the larger point remains: As regimes collapse, militias and insurgents consider their caches of weaponry up for grabs.

In Libya, the Obama administration sought to “lead from behind” and so did little to stop militiamen—some affiliated with al-Qaeda—from looting Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s stockpiles of rockets and surface-to-air missiles.

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Just days before the 2004 presidential election, the New York Times sought to spring an October Surprise. It breathlessly broke a story that the U.S. military failed to guard an Iraqi weapons depot at al-Qa’qaa, allowing insurgents to make off with tons of weaponry. Subsequent reporting suggested problems with the Times’ story, but the larger point remains: As regimes collapse, militias and insurgents consider their caches of weaponry up for grabs.

In Libya, the Obama administration sought to “lead from behind” and so did little to stop militiamen—some affiliated with al-Qaeda—from looting Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s stockpiles of rockets and surface-to-air missiles.

In Syria, the problem of insecure weaponry looms. The longer fighting continues, the more al-Qaeda-affiliated groups entrench themselves in Syria. Bashar al-Assad sought to build a covert nuclear plant; it is far from clear that all nuclear material is under control. While the Central Intelligence Agency got pre-war intelligence about Iraq’s nuclear program wrong, there are still open questions about whether an Iraqi convoy that drove to Syria in the first days of Operation Iraqi Freedom carried chemical and/or biological weapons. Regardless, Syria had its own stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons prior to that conflict, and presumably still does.

The Obama administration is correct to say that a military option in Syria would be complicated—Syria hosts Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union; Iran is drooling at the prospect of embroiling America in another insurgency, and the Syrian opposition is fractured. But, it must also recognize that the cost of doing nothing will not only be a tragedy for the Syrian people, but will also come at a real cost for U.S. national security. At the very least, the Obama administration should actively plan to secure Syrian weaponry, if it is not already too late.

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Insider Dealing With Drug Lobby?

House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.

We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:

“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”

The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”

The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.

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House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee released a trove of emails they’ve collected as part of their investigation into the White House’s deal with the pharmaceutical lobby during the 2009 push for ObamaCare.

We already know that drug companies agreed to provide $80 billion in savings in the law, in exchange for industry protections in the legislation. But the new emails provide more details on the deal, including an agreement by the drug companies to run a public relations campaign on behalf of the White House, with TV ads touting both the health care reform law and the politicians who supported it. Bloomberg reports:

“As part of our agreement, PhRMA needs to undertake a very significant public campaign in order to support policies of mutual interest to the industry and the administration,” according to a July 14, 2009, memo from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We have included a significant amount for advertising to express appreciation for lawmakers’ positions on health care reform issues.”

The goal, the memo said, was to “create momentum for consensus health care reform, help it pass, and then acknowledge those senators and representatives who were instrumental in making it happen and who must remain vigilant during implementation.”

The internal memos and e-mails for the first time unveil the industry’s plan to finance positive TV ads and supportive groups, along with providing $80 billion in discounts and taxes that were included in the law. The administration has previously denied the existence of a deal involving political support.

The political campaign aspect is the most troubling part of the deal, and it’s not likely to sit well with Obama’s base. According to the emails, the administration killed Democrat-supported provisions that would cut into drug company profits in order to secure the industry’s political and financial support. And that’s not the only part that will enrage the left. The emails show Obama completely flouted his 2008 promises to stand up against special interests and conduct negotiations transparently — mere months after he was elected. As Phil Klein writes:

Taken together, the emails paint a picture of insider deal making with a powerful special interest – something that stands in stark contrast to Obama’s campaign pledges.

In 2008, Obama ran an ad titled “Billy,” blasting then PhRMA president Billy Tauzin and the art of deal making in Washington. “I don’t want to learn how to play the game better, I want to put an end to the game playing,” Obama vowed.

Yet months into his presidency, Obama cut a deal with Tauzin’s lobbying group, and did so behind closed doors – a violation of his pledge to broadcast all health care negotiations on C-SPAN.

The presidency did not crush Obama’s idealism. He was never a reformer, not even at the beginning of his term. Just look at the defense today from Obama’s supporters in Congress:

“President Obama’s efforts to enlist the support of private industry are exactly what presidents have always done to enact major legislation,” U.S. Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Diana DeGette of Colorado said in a joint statement.

In other words, it’s not Obama’s fault that voters actually believed his principled campaign rhetoric. He was just doing “exactly what presidents have always done.”

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Why Not Sell Weapons to Italy?

I don’t understand the controversy about the administration’s plan to arm with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs six Reaper drones already owned by Italy. Critics contend this would be a dangerous proliferation of American technology. But Italy is one of our closest allies, a stalwart democracy, and a country that is already part of the program to buy the F-35, the second-most-advanced manned fighter aircraft in our arsenal.

There is always a risk that remotely-piloted aircraft owned by Italy could somehow fall into the wrong hands—but that is a risk we run every time we operate those same aircraft over hostile territory. Recall that last December, an RQ-170 stealth drone crashed in Iran, where it was recovered by the authorities. That is one of the risks you take with sophisticated technology. But what’s the alternative? Not employing it at all?

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I don’t understand the controversy about the administration’s plan to arm with Hellfire missiles and precision-guided bombs six Reaper drones already owned by Italy. Critics contend this would be a dangerous proliferation of American technology. But Italy is one of our closest allies, a stalwart democracy, and a country that is already part of the program to buy the F-35, the second-most-advanced manned fighter aircraft in our arsenal.

There is always a risk that remotely-piloted aircraft owned by Italy could somehow fall into the wrong hands—but that is a risk we run every time we operate those same aircraft over hostile territory. Recall that last December, an RQ-170 stealth drone crashed in Iran, where it was recovered by the authorities. That is one of the risks you take with sophisticated technology. But what’s the alternative? Not employing it at all?

If we expect our allies to carry more of their burden of Western defense then we have to be prepared to sell them the tools to get the job done. In fact, I am mystified that we are not willing to sell the even more sophisticated F-22 to Japan and other close allies. The Reaper drone, while highly effective, isn’t nearly as cutting edge. It is precisely the sort of effective weapons system that will allow our allies to do more to help us.

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The Damaging Effects of Obamanomics

According to a recent Washington Post story,

The proportion of Americans in their prime working years who have jobs is smaller than it has been at any time in the 23 years before the recession, according to federal statistics, reflecting the profound and lasting effects that the downturn has had on the nation’s economic prospects.

By this measure, the jobs situation has improved little in recent years. The percentage of workers between the ages of 25 and 54 who have jobs now stands at 75.7 percent, just a percentage point over what it was at the downturn’s worst, according to federal statistics.

Before the recession the proportion hovered at 80 percent.

While the unemployment rate may be the most closely watched gauge of the economy in the presidential campaign, this measure of prime-age workers captures more of the ongoing turbulence in the job market. It reflects “missing workers” who have stopped looking for work and aren’t included in the unemployment rate.

During their prime years, Americans are supposed to be building careers and wealth to prepare for their retirement. Instead, as the indicator reveals, huge numbers are on the sidelines.

“What it shows is that we are still near the bottom of a very big hole that opened in the recession,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

The Post story goes on to point out that the percentage of prime-age men who are working is smaller now than it has been in any time before the recession, going all the way back to 1948, while the proportion of prime-age women is at a low not seen since 1988. A 50-year-old heating and AC technician from Alexandria, Virginia, was out of work in 2009 but found a job right away. He was laid off again about six months ago and, standing outside the Alexandria unemployment office, said it seems harder this time around.

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According to a recent Washington Post story,

The proportion of Americans in their prime working years who have jobs is smaller than it has been at any time in the 23 years before the recession, according to federal statistics, reflecting the profound and lasting effects that the downturn has had on the nation’s economic prospects.

By this measure, the jobs situation has improved little in recent years. The percentage of workers between the ages of 25 and 54 who have jobs now stands at 75.7 percent, just a percentage point over what it was at the downturn’s worst, according to federal statistics.

Before the recession the proportion hovered at 80 percent.

While the unemployment rate may be the most closely watched gauge of the economy in the presidential campaign, this measure of prime-age workers captures more of the ongoing turbulence in the job market. It reflects “missing workers” who have stopped looking for work and aren’t included in the unemployment rate.

During their prime years, Americans are supposed to be building careers and wealth to prepare for their retirement. Instead, as the indicator reveals, huge numbers are on the sidelines.

“What it shows is that we are still near the bottom of a very big hole that opened in the recession,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank.

The Post story goes on to point out that the percentage of prime-age men who are working is smaller now than it has been in any time before the recession, going all the way back to 1948, while the proportion of prime-age women is at a low not seen since 1988. A 50-year-old heating and AC technician from Alexandria, Virginia, was out of work in 2009 but found a job right away. He was laid off again about six months ago and, standing outside the Alexandria unemployment office, said it seems harder this time around.

“The economy is just really messed up right now,” he said.

Indeed it is.

Yesterday, we also learned that Americans’ confidence in the economy suffered the biggest drop in eight months. The Conference Board said that its Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 64.9, down from 68.7 in April. “Consumers were less positive about current business and labor market conditions, and they were more pessimistic about the short-term outlook,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board.

These are more signs (as if we needed them) that the economic recovery under Obama is historically weak. With a little more than five months left in the election, there’s nothing the president seems able to do about it. And the human suffering caused by his misguided policies continues to mount.

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Credit is Due for Chen’s Flight to Safety

Because I have been critical of President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues, it is only fair to give credit where it’s due. And the administration does deserve credit for engineering Chinese dissident’s Chen Guangcheng’s flight to safety in the U.S. along with his immediate family.

The administration stumbled initially by conniving in a deal to force Chen to leave sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing where he had fled after eluding thuggish security forces. But the administration, led in this case by Secretary of State Clinton, was not entirely to blame because it appears that Chen changed his mind about whether he wanted to leave the embassy or not. When he did decide that he wanted to come to the U.S., the administration went to bat for him even though “realpolitik” voices in the administration no doubt urged abandoning him to his fate so as not to disturb bilateral relations. President Obama and Secretary Clinton rightly rejected the siren song of faux realism and not only pressured Beijing to let him go but gave him sanctuary on our shores.

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Because I have been critical of President Obama’s handling of Afghanistan and other foreign policy issues, it is only fair to give credit where it’s due. And the administration does deserve credit for engineering Chinese dissident’s Chen Guangcheng’s flight to safety in the U.S. along with his immediate family.

The administration stumbled initially by conniving in a deal to force Chen to leave sanctuary in the U.S. embassy in Beijing where he had fled after eluding thuggish security forces. But the administration, led in this case by Secretary of State Clinton, was not entirely to blame because it appears that Chen changed his mind about whether he wanted to leave the embassy or not. When he did decide that he wanted to come to the U.S., the administration went to bat for him even though “realpolitik” voices in the administration no doubt urged abandoning him to his fate so as not to disturb bilateral relations. President Obama and Secretary Clinton rightly rejected the siren song of faux realism and not only pressured Beijing to let him go but gave him sanctuary on our shores.

Kudos to the president and his aides for recovering from an early gaffe and doing the right thing. Now the administration must stay closely involved to try to ensure that Chen’s friends and relatives, who aided him in his flight, do not suffer a harsh retribution for their courageous conduct, as seems likely.

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Solid Case Against Birth Control Mandate?

More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

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More than 40 religious institutions, included Catholic universities and charities, filed simultaneous lawsuits against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate yesterday, As The Hill reports, the biggest threat to the mandate in court is a 1993 religious freedom law, which was originally introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, of all people:

RFRA sailed through Congress with broad bipartisan support in response to an unpopular decision by the Supreme Court that was seen as curbing Native Americans’ religious freedom to use peyote, a traditional hallucinogen.

Now it will force the government to prove that federal regulators did not have another way to expand women’s access to birth control that would be less burdensome on religion — an argument experts say conservatives can win.

The law puts the onus on the federal government to show that it had a compelling interest in requiring Catholic employers to provide birth control coverage, and that it couldn’t have achieved these aims another way. The Hill reports that legal experts think this case is solid:

“I think the odds are pretty good for the plaintiffs here,” Marc DeGirolami, an assistant law professor at St. John’s University, told The Hill.

Because of the law, courts now have to apply certain standards to federal actions that might inadvertently infringe on religious liberty. In one sense, laws under scrutiny must aim to achieve a “compelling” government interest. In another sense, they must be designed in a way that burdens religion as little as possible.

It’s much smarter for Catholic groups to fight this in the courts than through Congress. The legal challenge will refocus the issue on religious freedom, and make it much more difficult for Democrats to argue that opposition to the birth control mandate is all about waging a “war on women.” And the administration will be forced to argue against a religious freedom law backed by the late Ted Kennedy and Democratic attack dog Chuck Schumer, who helped push the war on women narrative.

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Obama Rolls Over Again for the Turks

It was only last month when the State Department was acknowledging that Israel is “one of NATO’s partners [and] has participated over the years in many, many, many NATO activities, consultations, exercises, et cetera.” The context was a surreal exchange between the AP’s Matt Lee and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland regarding how Turkey was vetoing Israel from participating in this week’s Chicago NATO summit. Lee expressed confusion at the bland acquiescence with which the Obama administration was meeting Turkey’s machinations:

QUESTION: Toria, I’m trying to help you out here, because you’re going to get absolutely slammed.
MS. NULAND: I understand. Matt, there is no –
QUESTION: You are. If you can’t come out and say that the United States wants Israel to participate, its main ally in the Middle East and you won’t come out and say that the administration wants them to participate in whatever event is going on in Chicago, that’s – that is going to be seized on.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Turks wouldn’t be objecting to Israel’s participation if someone hadn’t proposed that Israel participate. And if you have proposed that they participate –
MS. NULAND: Again –
QUESTION: — and you’re not willing to stick up for it, I don’t understand why.

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It was only last month when the State Department was acknowledging that Israel is “one of NATO’s partners [and] has participated over the years in many, many, many NATO activities, consultations, exercises, et cetera.” The context was a surreal exchange between the AP’s Matt Lee and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland regarding how Turkey was vetoing Israel from participating in this week’s Chicago NATO summit. Lee expressed confusion at the bland acquiescence with which the Obama administration was meeting Turkey’s machinations:

QUESTION: Toria, I’m trying to help you out here, because you’re going to get absolutely slammed.
MS. NULAND: I understand. Matt, there is no –
QUESTION: You are. If you can’t come out and say that the United States wants Israel to participate, its main ally in the Middle East and you won’t come out and say that the administration wants them to participate in whatever event is going on in Chicago, that’s – that is going to be seized on.

QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Turks wouldn’t be objecting to Israel’s participation if someone hadn’t proposed that Israel participate. And if you have proposed that they participate –
MS. NULAND: Again –
QUESTION: — and you’re not willing to stick up for it, I don’t understand why.

Of course, Israel ended up getting excluded from the summit. The White House and State Department have subsequently scrambled from one excuse to another, lest people settle on the obvious: that the Obama administration is allowing Turkey to drive a wedge between Israel and NATO, thereby damaging NATO’s coordination with allies in the Eastern Mediterranean, undermining America’s ability to project power into the region, eroding the U.S.-Israel alliance, and making the Israelis feel isolated and nervous right as they’re making critical decisions about going it alone on Iran.

Administration officials first condescendingly insisted that critics had a “misconception” about how NATO worked. There just wasn’t enough time and space to invite members from “all those partnerships and alliance[s].” Then it turned out that there was room for members of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. The Initiative, though undoubtedly valuable, is unlikely to be as critical to NATO’s core focus on the Mediterranean than the Mediterranean Dialogue of which Israel is a part.

So last week the standard for attendance shifted. The new bar was participation in the NATO missions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Quote-unquote from NATO’s Secretary-General Rasmussen: “Israel has not been invited to attend the summit because Israel is neither a participant in ISAF, nor in KFOR.”

But that still won’t work. Summit participant Jordan is a formal ISAF partner but provides exactly nothing worth listing to the mission. Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Qatar are also in Chicago, even though none are in ISAF or KFOR.

One wonders, then, what new excuse the Obama administration will trot out this week?

The answer can’t be about providing input on Kosovo or Afghanistian. That might colorably bring the Stans on board – regional presence, supply lines, etc – but not Qatar. Even worse for the administration’s prevarication, they can’t use that to justify excluding Israel. It was just last month when IAF chief Ido Nechushtan was awarded a U.S. Air Force decoration for the contributions the IAF has made to America’s war-fighting capabilities in Afghanistan. If the goal is to brainstorm how to fight in and/or withdraw from the country, Israeli input would seem relatively valuable.

The White House’s overarching narrative is that Turkey never vetoed Israel’s invitation to the Chicago summit because Israel was never invited to the Chicago summit. That’s hard to believe but – if it’s true – it’s a cause for deep concern. Invitations were sent out to over 30 non-NATO members, including those with no connections to NATO, but no one remembered to invite the American ally and NATO partner that controls the Middle East’s most powerful military? Forget the Obama White House’s supine acquiescence to Turkey’s neo-Ottoman weight throwing. According to this theory, the most successful military alliance in history is being run by idiots.

Luckily of course, that’s not true. NATO is not run by idiots, and all signs indicated that Israel was going to participate in Chicago. Then the Turks apparently rolled over the White House and excluded the Jewish State. One wonders, also, how much resistance they encountered.

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Burma’s Tricky Question

The beginning of this month was a week of firsts for Burma’s famed pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a seat in parliamentary by-elections and, unlike after her party’s overwhelming victory in 1990 that was immediately nullified by the ruling junta, was granted her seat on May 1. She was then awarded her first passport in 24 years, which she will use to fulfill other firsts: she will address both chambers of the British parliament, and she will travel to Norway and deliver her Nobel acceptance speech. (She won the Peace Prize in 1991 but was put under house arrest.)

The European Union had already agreed to suspend its economic sanctions against Burma, and on Friday U.S. officials said they would suspend the prohibition against American investment in Burma. This is both a momentous decision and a risky one. As Reuters reports this morning:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have discussed the need to protect against the country backsliding on reforms.

The U.S. on Friday said it would suspend a ban on American investment in the country also known as Burma. It was the Obama administration’s most significant step yet to reward Myanmar for its shift from five decades of authoritarian rule, although rights groups criticized the move as premature.

The State Department said Clinton called Suu Kyi on Sunday night, and that they agreed Myanmar’s progress remains fragile. Clinton said the U.S. was keeping its sanctions’ authorities in place as an insurance policy.

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The beginning of this month was a week of firsts for Burma’s famed pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She won a seat in parliamentary by-elections and, unlike after her party’s overwhelming victory in 1990 that was immediately nullified by the ruling junta, was granted her seat on May 1. She was then awarded her first passport in 24 years, which she will use to fulfill other firsts: she will address both chambers of the British parliament, and she will travel to Norway and deliver her Nobel acceptance speech. (She won the Peace Prize in 1991 but was put under house arrest.)

The European Union had already agreed to suspend its economic sanctions against Burma, and on Friday U.S. officials said they would suspend the prohibition against American investment in Burma. This is both a momentous decision and a risky one. As Reuters reports this morning:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have discussed the need to protect against the country backsliding on reforms.

The U.S. on Friday said it would suspend a ban on American investment in the country also known as Burma. It was the Obama administration’s most significant step yet to reward Myanmar for its shift from five decades of authoritarian rule, although rights groups criticized the move as premature.

The State Department said Clinton called Suu Kyi on Sunday night, and that they agreed Myanmar’s progress remains fragile. Clinton said the U.S. was keeping its sanctions’ authorities in place as an insurance policy.

In March, I asked if Burma will be considered a sanctions success story. It’s too early to tell, of course, but if handled well the process could turn out to be a much-needed feather in the cap of sanctions enthusiasts. But there are three reasons not to rush the lifting of all sanctions.

First, there is no sanctions-related humanitarian crisis. I pointed out that leading economic indicators and conversations with officials had enabled Min Zin to make a convincing case that “it’s not western sanctions that are causing Burma’s economic woes. It’s government policy.” So while lifting the sanctions would certainly help Burma’s economy, it doesn’t necessarily need to be rushed.

Second, Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom and election to parliament are powerful symbols–but, at this point, symbols nonetheless. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month:

Underscoring the continuing problems, Ms. Suu Kyi, 66-years-old, delayed taking her seat in parliament for several days despite her National League for Democracy winning 43 of 45 open seats in by-elections on April 1. She and her colleagues complained that the oath of office required them to swear to safeguard a military-drafted constitution which reserves a quarter of parliamentary seats for the armed forces.

In addition, changing the constitution requires at least 75 percent of the votes in parliament, effectively providing the army with a veto over any constitutional changes….

Ms. Suu Kyi is unlikely to have much of a voice in the legislature, at least for the time being. She and her fellow legislators from the National League for Democracy comprise around 8 percent of the total number of seats in the parliament.

Suu Kyi’s side backed down and joined parliament anyway. (Almost surely the right thing to do, rather than risk losing the momentum and goodwill of the moment.) It is not until the expected general elections in 2015 that the future of free elections in Burma will meet its next real test.

And third, both sides will want to do their best to ensure the cement dries on any democratization. There will be a strong impulse on the part of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton-led State Department to explain away backsliding on the part of the Burmese regime in order to protect the legacy of the administration’s Burma policy. We all remember the countrywide collective cringe at Clinton’s assertion of evidence that Bashar al-Assad was a reformer just a year ago. And President Obama’s reaction to the 2009 Iranian “election” and ensuing protests was to just keep mumbling the word “dialogue” over and over to himself while ignoring the brutal reality playing out on live television in front of him.

For a “suspended” sanctions policy to have any teeth, the administration must be willing to admit if and when steps are taken in the wrong direction. To be sure, thus far the regime’s behavior has been worthy of its plaudits, and the process has been encouraging. A guarded optimism and a bit of patience may get Burma, eventually, to freedom.

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Viewing Iran: Optimism or Annihilation?

Consider this an update to last February, when another high-ranking Iranian official pledged to “kill all Jews and annihilate Israel.” Last time, the genocidal threat came from Supreme Leader Khamenei’s strategy specialist Alireza Forghani, and was published on a Khamenei-linked website. This time, it’s Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, via what might politely be called the government-affiliated FARS outlet:

Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi… reiterated the Iranian nation and Supreme Leader’s emphasis on the necessity of support for the oppressed Palestinian nation and its causes, and noted, “The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.” The top military official reminded that the Iranian Supreme Leader considers defending Palestine as a full religious duty and believes that any kind of governance and rule by anyone other than the Palestinians as an instance of usurpation.

No doubt Iranian apologists will soon explain how the Iranian outlet FARS – which is where this passage comes from – is mistranslating Firouzabadi. Maybe the IRCG stooges who work there just don’t understand Farsi!

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Consider this an update to last February, when another high-ranking Iranian official pledged to “kill all Jews and annihilate Israel.” Last time, the genocidal threat came from Supreme Leader Khamenei’s strategy specialist Alireza Forghani, and was published on a Khamenei-linked website. This time, it’s Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, via what might politely be called the government-affiliated FARS outlet:

Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi… reiterated the Iranian nation and Supreme Leader’s emphasis on the necessity of support for the oppressed Palestinian nation and its causes, and noted, “The Iranian nation is standing for its cause that is the full annihilation of Israel.” The top military official reminded that the Iranian Supreme Leader considers defending Palestine as a full religious duty and believes that any kind of governance and rule by anyone other than the Palestinians as an instance of usurpation.

No doubt Iranian apologists will soon explain how the Iranian outlet FARS – which is where this passage comes from – is mistranslating Firouzabadi. Maybe the IRCG stooges who work there just don’t understand Farsi!

Do note, nevertheless, how Firouzabadi emphasizes the annihilation of Israel as a religious duty. That too echoes the previous February announcement, which laid out a “jurisprudential justification” for why the final war against the Jewish State must be led by Shias. Last week, the Iranians actually held a conference on the theme, with one Iranian official calling for an “Islamic awakening” to wipe out Israel.

Meanwhile the Obama administration is – per Haaretz – “radiating optimism” about cooperating with Iran:

The Obama administration and the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are entering a critical week of decisions over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. The sides are moving toward a “warming of relations alongside enrichment”, whereby the relationship between Washington and Tehran will improve, while Iran continues enriching uranium without pursuing a weapons program, but does not give up on its existing program. The threat of American or Israeli military action still exists, yet no one is holding the gun to Iran’s head. Several developments have taken place in the last couple of days, causing the White House to radiate optimism.

This news comes in the midst of a campaign of anti-Israel leaks, among them complaints hitting Jerusalem for its “narrow definition” of the Iranian threat. Seriously. Why can’t the Israelis just relax already?

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What Motivates Iran’s Nuclear Program?

As Western diplomats prepare to sit down with their Iranian counterparts in Baghdad, wishful thinking and a desire to reach a deal regardless of its contents appears increasingly to shape American strategic thinking. It is fair, however, to ask what shapes Iranian strategic thinking. Here, Iran’s Supreme Leader, his inner circle, and former Iranian negotiators provide important clues.

Take Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranian government says their goal is energy generation, while Western officials believe the regime wants nuclear weapons capability. (The Obama administration’s argument parsing the difference between nuclear weapons capability and nuclear weapons possession misses the point, as only about a week of hard labor separates the two, and the U.S. does not have the intelligence assets to determine whether Iranian authorities have taken the final leap until it will be too late).

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As Western diplomats prepare to sit down with their Iranian counterparts in Baghdad, wishful thinking and a desire to reach a deal regardless of its contents appears increasingly to shape American strategic thinking. It is fair, however, to ask what shapes Iranian strategic thinking. Here, Iran’s Supreme Leader, his inner circle, and former Iranian negotiators provide important clues.

Take Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranian government says their goal is energy generation, while Western officials believe the regime wants nuclear weapons capability. (The Obama administration’s argument parsing the difference between nuclear weapons capability and nuclear weapons possession misses the point, as only about a week of hard labor separates the two, and the U.S. does not have the intelligence assets to determine whether Iranian authorities have taken the final leap until it will be too late).

Despite debate about Supreme Leader Khamenei’s fatwa, various Iranian officials have suggested their goal is to acquire nuclear weapons and perhaps use them:

  • On December 14, 2001, Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani –often described as a pragmatist in Western circles, declared, “The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while the same against the Islamic world would only cause damage. Such a scenario is not inconceivable.”
  • Iran Emrooz quoted Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Kharrazi, secretary-general of Iranian Hezbollah, as saying on February 14, 2005, “We are able to produce atomic bombs and we will do that. We shouldn’t be afraid of anyone. The U.S. is not more than a barking dog.”
  • On May 29, 2005, Hojjat ol-Islam Gholamreza Hasani, the Supreme Leader’s personal representative to the province of West Azerbaijan, declared possession of nuclear weapons to be one of Iran’s top goals. “An atom bomb . . . must be produced as well,” he said.”That is because the Qur’an has told Muslims to ‘get strong and amass all the forces at your disposal to be strong.’” Hasani may be widely reviled by Iranians, but he is nevertheless the Supreme Leader’s direct appointee and charged with carrying his messages.
  • On February 19, 2006, Rooz, an Iranian website close to the Islamic Republic’s reformist camp, quoted Mohsen Gharavian, a Qom theologian close to Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, one of the regime’s leading ayatollahs, as saying it was only “natural” for the Islamic Republic to possess nuclear weapons.

No less important are the admissions by various Iranian officials that the purpose of negotiations was to divert Western attention while the Iranian regime accelerated its nuclear program:

  • On June 14, 2008, Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, former President Muhammad Khatami’s spokesman, debated advisers to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ramezanzadeh counseled Ahmadinejad to accept the Khatami approach: “We should prove to the entire world that we want power plants for electricity. Afterwards, we can proceed with other activities,” Mr. Ramezanzadeh said. The purpose of dialogue, he argued further, was not to compromise, but to build confidence and avoid sanctions. “We had an overt policy, which was one of negotiation and confidence building, and a covert policy, which was continuation of the activities,” he said.
  • This past October, Hassan Rowhani, Iran’s nuclear negotiator between 2003-2005, also acknowledged Iran’s insincerity: “We did not decide the nuclear goals of the country; they were decided by the regime. When I was trusted with the responsibility of the nuclear team, two goals became our priorities: The first goal was to safeguard the national security, and the second goal was to support and help the nuclear achievements… When I was entrusted with this portfolio, we had no production in Isfahan. We couldn’t produce UF4 or UF6. Had Natanz been filled with centrifuges, we did not have the material which needed to be injected. There was a small amount of UF6 which we had previously procured from certain countries and this was what we had at our disposal. But the Isfahan facilities had to be completed before it could remake yellow cake to UF4 and UF6. We used the opportunity [provided by talks] to do so and completed the Isfahan facilities… In Arak we continued our efforts and achieved heavy water… The reason for inviting the three European foreign ministers to Tehran and for the Saadabad negotiations was to make Europe oppose the United States so that the issue was not submitted to the Security Council.”

More telling has been the Supreme Leader’s comments on rapprochement with the United States. While diplomats and journalists cheered Obama’s offer to outstretch his hand if the Islamic Republic unclenched its fist, few bothered to cover the Supreme Leader’s response, delivered on the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran:

“This new president of America said beautiful things. He sent us messages constantly, both orally and written: ‘Come and let us turn the page, come and create a new situation, come and let us cooperate in solving the problems of the world.’ It reached this degree! We said that we should not be prejudiced, that we will look at their deeds. They said we want change. We said, well, let us see the change. On March 21, when I delivered a speech in Mashhad, I said that if there is an iron fist under the velvet glove and you extend a hand towards us we will not extend our hand… [Reformists] can’t roll out the red carpet for the United States in our country. They should know this. The Iranian nation resists.”

Just last month, Rafsanjani asked why, if the Islamic Republic had relations with Moscow and Beijing, relations with Washington should be out of the question. Hardliners surrounding the Supreme Leader pounced. Alef, a site close to the Supreme Leader and managed by his supporters, published an interview with Abbas Salimi-Namin, director of the Office for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies, in which he dismissed any notion of relations with the United States and suggested that Ayatollah Khomeini—the regime’s founding father—forbade them.

Only useful idiots would prioritize a deal over its substance. The Iranian regime reads poll numbers as much as any American inside-the-beltway politico. They understand that Obama will be much less likely to quibble over Iranian nuclear aims than would Governor Mitt Romney. No deal will change the overall trajectory of Iranian nuclear aims, however. The regime has already made those too clear, not only in terms of rhetoric but also in terms of action.

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Will Gay Marriage Oust Military Chaplains?

The question of legalization of same-sex marriages is generally presented as one of protecting the individual rights of gay citizens. And so long as the issue is merely one of whether the state should interfere with the desire of two persons to live as they like, that’s an argument that strongly appeals to the libertarian instincts of the majority of Americans. However, the problem arises when approval leads to government mandates that affect religious faiths that don’t approve of these relationships. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of the adoption field in certain states. And if President Obama has his way on the issue, the next victims may be military chaplains.

As CNSNews.com reports:

The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

While there are arguments that can be mustered against prohibiting the use of military facilities for same-sex ceremonies, opposition to a measure that would ensure that chaplains couldn’t be ordered to officiate would imply a degree of compulsion that transforms the issue into a religious freedom fight rather than one of gay rights. If President Obama does veto the protections offered to chaplains by the House — as his Office of Management and Budget recommends — then it is possible to envision a future where Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Jewish clergy will no longer be welcome as military chaplains.

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The question of legalization of same-sex marriages is generally presented as one of protecting the individual rights of gay citizens. And so long as the issue is merely one of whether the state should interfere with the desire of two persons to live as they like, that’s an argument that strongly appeals to the libertarian instincts of the majority of Americans. However, the problem arises when approval leads to government mandates that affect religious faiths that don’t approve of these relationships. That is why Catholic and Orthodox Jewish agencies have been chased out of the adoption field in certain states. And if President Obama has his way on the issue, the next victims may be military chaplains.

As CNSNews.com reports:

The Obama administration “strongly objects” to provisions in a House defense authorization bill that would prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

While there are arguments that can be mustered against prohibiting the use of military facilities for same-sex ceremonies, opposition to a measure that would ensure that chaplains couldn’t be ordered to officiate would imply a degree of compulsion that transforms the issue into a religious freedom fight rather than one of gay rights. If President Obama does veto the protections offered to chaplains by the House — as his Office of Management and Budget recommends — then it is possible to envision a future where Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox Jewish clergy will no longer be welcome as military chaplains.

At the American Conservative, Rod Dreher quotes American Jewish Congress chief counsel Marc Stern as saying that, “no one seriously believes that clergy will be forced, or even asked, to perform marriages that are anathema to them.” Yet the “sea change” that same-sex marriage will create in American law will bring with it consequences that advocates for this measure aren’t acknowledging. As Dreher writes:

The strategy of the pro-SSM side seems to be to deny that anything like this could possibly happen, and that people who say it could are being irresponsible scaremongers. Then when it actually happens, they’ll say oh, who cares; those bigots deserve what they get.

Dreher is right. The legal problem here is not so much the direct issue of redefining marriage from the traditional understanding of it being one man and one woman. Rather, it is the implications that stem from government sanction that will redefine some religious believers as being outside of not only mainstream opinion but literally outlaws and vulnerable to prosecution and/or defunding on the grounds of discrimination against gays.

The only way for advocates of same-sex marriage to avoid the stigmatizing of some faiths in this manner is to agree to legal stipulations that remove any possibility that religious institutions could be compelled to sanction behavior their religion regards as immoral. But if they refuse to do so, as the White House is indicating with its opposition to House protections for military chaplains, then gay marriage ceases to be a civil rights issue and becomes the focal point of a kulturkampf in which religious freedom is on the line. If that is the way things are heading, then military chaplains won’t be the last victims in the purge of believers.

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The End of “No Drama Obama”

Remember the phrase “No Drama Obama”? Perhaps it should be retired after this week.

After all, we learned that Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, apologized to the president for forcing him to accelerate the timetable when it came to announcing Obama’s support of same-sex marriage. The West Wing is reportedly enraged at Biden. Here’s how Politico put it:

Biden’s remarks on “Meet the Press” deeply annoyed Obama’s team, people close to the situation tell Politico, because it aggrandized his role at the expense of Obama’s yeoman efforts on behalf of the community and pushed up the timing of a sensitive announcement they had hoped to break — at a time and place of their own choosing — in the weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this fall.

Nor did it tickle anyone, from Obama on down, that Biden — who backed the Defense of Marriage Act while serving in the Senate in the 1990s — seemed to be getting more credit in the LGBT community than a president who has actually taken steps to repeal the Clinton-era law that defined marriage as something that could only take place between a man and a woman.

And it chafed Obama’s team that Biden had, at times, privately argued for the president to hold off on his support of marriage equality to avoid a backlash among Catholic voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to two officials familiar with those discussions.

It’s not a good situation for any vice president to steal the applause and credit from the president; that must be triply the case when it comes to a man with Obama’s self-regard and tendency toward narcissism.

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Remember the phrase “No Drama Obama”? Perhaps it should be retired after this week.

After all, we learned that Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden, apologized to the president for forcing him to accelerate the timetable when it came to announcing Obama’s support of same-sex marriage. The West Wing is reportedly enraged at Biden. Here’s how Politico put it:

Biden’s remarks on “Meet the Press” deeply annoyed Obama’s team, people close to the situation tell Politico, because it aggrandized his role at the expense of Obama’s yeoman efforts on behalf of the community and pushed up the timing of a sensitive announcement they had hoped to break — at a time and place of their own choosing — in the weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this fall.

Nor did it tickle anyone, from Obama on down, that Biden — who backed the Defense of Marriage Act while serving in the Senate in the 1990s — seemed to be getting more credit in the LGBT community than a president who has actually taken steps to repeal the Clinton-era law that defined marriage as something that could only take place between a man and a woman.

And it chafed Obama’s team that Biden had, at times, privately argued for the president to hold off on his support of marriage equality to avoid a backlash among Catholic voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to two officials familiar with those discussions.

It’s not a good situation for any vice president to steal the applause and credit from the president; that must be triply the case when it comes to a man with Obama’s self-regard and tendency toward narcissism.

Then there’s the New York Post’s coverage of a new book by Edward Klein, The Amateur, in which it’s reported that Bill Clinton thought so little of President Obama — mocking him as an “amateur” — that he pressed Mrs. Clinton last summer to quit her job as secretary of state and challenge him in the primaries. “The economy’s a mess, it’s dead flat. America has lost its Triple-A rating . . . You know better than Obama does,” Bill reportedly told Hillary.

In addition, Bill Clinton insisted he had “no relationship” with Obama and had been consulted more frequently by his presidential successor, George W. Bush.

Obama, Bill Clinton said, “doesn’t know how to be president” and is “incompetent.”

When a presidential campaign is less than six months away from an election, trailing the challenger in several polls, the president has to publicly reprimand his vice president for getting “out a little bit over his skis” and “jump[ing] the gun,” and his administration has to respond to reports that the husband of the secretary of tate (and himself an ex-president) encouraged her to challenge the president in a primary, the West Wing is edging toward becoming a hostile working environment.

It looks as if “No Drama Obama” has exited stage left.

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More Evidence of the Damage of Leaks

Yesterday, I wrote about the damage that leaks can do to sensitive intelligence operations. Now, ABC News has reported: “The long running operation with the deep cover operative was one that intelligence agencies planned to keep running. It was pulled up short in the past week when leaks developed and put the infiltrator in jeopardy. Sources involved in the intelligence operation said the plan was to keep the operation running until a more complete picture of the still developing plots and plans of the Yemen based group and its sinister, creative bombmaker, were learned.”

This provides further evidence of the damage of spilling secrets. The question is who leaked and why? It does not necessarily have to have been an American leak although the fact that the story was broken by Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press, an American reporter based in Washington working for an American news organization, suggests that it was. Heads should roll–if the administration can figure out who was responsible. Even if this operation were blown by a senator or representative based on classified briefings, the culprit should at least be named and shamed. If it was an executive branch official, he or she should be not only fired but prosecuted as well.

Yesterday, I wrote about the damage that leaks can do to sensitive intelligence operations. Now, ABC News has reported: “The long running operation with the deep cover operative was one that intelligence agencies planned to keep running. It was pulled up short in the past week when leaks developed and put the infiltrator in jeopardy. Sources involved in the intelligence operation said the plan was to keep the operation running until a more complete picture of the still developing plots and plans of the Yemen based group and its sinister, creative bombmaker, were learned.”

This provides further evidence of the damage of spilling secrets. The question is who leaked and why? It does not necessarily have to have been an American leak although the fact that the story was broken by Kimberly Dozier of the Associated Press, an American reporter based in Washington working for an American news organization, suggests that it was. Heads should roll–if the administration can figure out who was responsible. Even if this operation were blown by a senator or representative based on classified briefings, the culprit should at least be named and shamed. If it was an executive branch official, he or she should be not only fired but prosecuted as well.

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Civil War in Syria Drawing in Neighbors

While the Obama administration continues its shameful dithering on Syria, the violence, which has been going on for more than a year, is accelerating. The latest news is that two car bombs have exploded in the center of Damascus, near an intelligence headquarters, killing at least 55 people and injuring more than 350 others.

These types of attacks are a hallmark of al-Qaeda in Iraq. All indications are that this terrorist organization has now migrated from western Iraq into neighboring Syria where it is, in effect, stoking another sectarian war pitting majority Sunnis against the ruling Alawite minority (a Shi’ite offshoot sect). Meanwhile, there are credible reports of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government apparently helping Bashar al-Assad’s regime, especially by serving as a conduit for Iranian assistance. In other words, a deadly sectarian civil war is under way in Syria, and one that, like previous civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq, is drawing in its neighbors. We could be in for years of hellish, destabilizing violence.

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While the Obama administration continues its shameful dithering on Syria, the violence, which has been going on for more than a year, is accelerating. The latest news is that two car bombs have exploded in the center of Damascus, near an intelligence headquarters, killing at least 55 people and injuring more than 350 others.

These types of attacks are a hallmark of al-Qaeda in Iraq. All indications are that this terrorist organization has now migrated from western Iraq into neighboring Syria where it is, in effect, stoking another sectarian war pitting majority Sunnis against the ruling Alawite minority (a Shi’ite offshoot sect). Meanwhile, there are credible reports of Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-dominated government apparently helping Bashar al-Assad’s regime, especially by serving as a conduit for Iranian assistance. In other words, a deadly sectarian civil war is under way in Syria, and one that, like previous civil wars in Lebanon and Iraq, is drawing in its neighbors. We could be in for years of hellish, destabilizing violence.

There is only way to restore some semblance of peace, and that is to topple the Assad regime as expeditiously as possible. But that won’t happen until the U.S. gets off the sidelines and, in cooperation with our allies, extends more aid to the badly outgunned rebels. This New York Times article makes clear the rebels are a mixed bag: some are sectarian, others Islamist, still others more liberal in their orientation. Obviously, al-Qaeda and its ilk are part of the mix. But far from that being a reason not to help the rebels, it is all the more reason why we must step forward so as to empower more moderate rebel groups. Otherwise, we will leave an opening for the most extreme jihadists to come to the fore.

 

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Loose Lips Sink Ships

Remember the World War II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships”? Perhaps those posters should be reprinted and spread around the most classified departments of the U.S. government because our soldiers and spooks just can’t seem to keep their lips sealed–at least not when they have a triumph to brag about.

The first case in point was of course Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden. Details of how it was done, and of the resulting intelligence cache, were soon spread all over the news, notwithstanding an agreement among senior administration officials to keep the operation secret. More details have been gushing out in recent days–with still more to come–as President Obama uses this Special Operations Command triumph to bolster his reelection chances, never mind the palpable unease in Special Operations circles about the damage being done from the revelation of their “TTPs” (tactics, techniques, and procedures).

Now something similar is occurring with all the publicity resulting from an Associated Press leak about the double-agent who blew up the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a more sophisticated form of “underwear bomb.” No doubt Saudi intelligence officials who ran the double agent and provided information to the CIA are aghast to see the details splashed across front pages.

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Remember the World War II slogan, “Loose lips sink ships”? Perhaps those posters should be reprinted and spread around the most classified departments of the U.S. government because our soldiers and spooks just can’t seem to keep their lips sealed–at least not when they have a triumph to brag about.

The first case in point was of course Operation Neptune Spear, which killed Osama bin Laden. Details of how it was done, and of the resulting intelligence cache, were soon spread all over the news, notwithstanding an agreement among senior administration officials to keep the operation secret. More details have been gushing out in recent days–with still more to come–as President Obama uses this Special Operations Command triumph to bolster his reelection chances, never mind the palpable unease in Special Operations circles about the damage being done from the revelation of their “TTPs” (tactics, techniques, and procedures).

Now something similar is occurring with all the publicity resulting from an Associated Press leak about the double-agent who blew up the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula plot to blow up a U.S. airliner with a more sophisticated form of “underwear bomb.” No doubt Saudi intelligence officials who ran the double agent and provided information to the CIA are aghast to see the details splashed across front pages.

In fairness, there is a case to be made that having al-Qaeda fear penetration by double agents could actually be beneficial. It could lead to terrorist paranoia and fratricide that could prove harmful to its ability to carry out operations. But in general, secrecy is always to be preferred in the covert world of counter-terrorism. Without it, covert techniques are blown and foreign intelligence agencies, whose cooperation is vital to the U.S., become more reluctant to extend cooperation. Yet for some reason, those with top-level TS/SCI security clearances (top secret/sensitive compartmented information) can’t resist bragging about their exploits to the news media.

One hopes the administration will make every attempt to uncover and prosecute the leakers rather than looking the other way because these leaks are so politically convenient for the president.

 

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There Is No “Kinder, Gentler” Taliban

Are the Taliban the sort of people we can successfully negotiate with to guarantee the future of Afghanistan? You would think so based on the number of voices in Washington claiming the Taliban have learned lessons from the past decade and they will not be as dedicated to their hateful agenda in the future. We hear they supposedly are willing to give up their alliance with al-Qaeda, their insistence on enslaving the Afghan people to their fundamentalist philosophy, and so on. If only it were so. Alas, this is all wishful thinking from those who want to pull out of the war but avert their eyes from the consequences of an American pullout.

In reality, there is not a shred of evidence the Taliban have moderated in any way. Witness recent Taliban attacks on those trying to educate Afghan boys and girls. In Ghazni Province, Taliban threats recently forced the closure of a school teaching boys and girls together. Indeed, the Taliban have forced the closing of all schools (about 50 in all) in 14 of 17 districts in that province, where Polish troops have had not had much success in pacification efforts. (A brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division is now coming into Ghazni to increase security.) In Paktika Province, meanwhile, Taliban goons ambushed with bombs and guns a convoy of education officials, killing five and wounding three. Paktika is a province in eastern Afghanistan where there have not been nearly enough American and Afghan troops and where plans for “clear and hold” operations are on hold because of the overly hasty troop drawdown ordered by President Obama.

So much for the “kinder, gentler” Taliban. These latest atrocities expose this conceit for the wishful thinking that it is. The Taliban must be defeated, not accommodated.

 

Are the Taliban the sort of people we can successfully negotiate with to guarantee the future of Afghanistan? You would think so based on the number of voices in Washington claiming the Taliban have learned lessons from the past decade and they will not be as dedicated to their hateful agenda in the future. We hear they supposedly are willing to give up their alliance with al-Qaeda, their insistence on enslaving the Afghan people to their fundamentalist philosophy, and so on. If only it were so. Alas, this is all wishful thinking from those who want to pull out of the war but avert their eyes from the consequences of an American pullout.

In reality, there is not a shred of evidence the Taliban have moderated in any way. Witness recent Taliban attacks on those trying to educate Afghan boys and girls. In Ghazni Province, Taliban threats recently forced the closure of a school teaching boys and girls together. Indeed, the Taliban have forced the closing of all schools (about 50 in all) in 14 of 17 districts in that province, where Polish troops have had not had much success in pacification efforts. (A brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division is now coming into Ghazni to increase security.) In Paktika Province, meanwhile, Taliban goons ambushed with bombs and guns a convoy of education officials, killing five and wounding three. Paktika is a province in eastern Afghanistan where there have not been nearly enough American and Afghan troops and where plans for “clear and hold” operations are on hold because of the overly hasty troop drawdown ordered by President Obama.

So much for the “kinder, gentler” Taliban. These latest atrocities expose this conceit for the wishful thinking that it is. The Taliban must be defeated, not accommodated.

 

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Silence on Dissident’s Pro-Life Activism

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.

In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:

In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.

“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …

“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”

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Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is still confined to a hospital in Beijing, and the Chinese government is reportedly dragging its feet on issuing him a passport. As with any case like this, time is not on Chen’s side. With each passing day, media attention and public pressure diminishes. Already, the Chinese government is allegedly holding members of Chen’s family under house arrest. And obviously the crackdown could get worse as the story continues to fade from the front pages.

In an effort to keep attention on the case, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) plans to hold a hearing on Chen’s plight next week, Josh Rogin reports:

In an interview in the Capitol building, Smith said he intends to hold another congressional hearing on May 15 on the Chen case — to follow up on the hearing he held May 3, which Chen actually phoned into. Smith has invited Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and State Department Counselor Harold Koh to the hearing, but those officials have yet to RSVP.

“I don’t think they want the hearing frankly. But we need to keep the focus on this,” Smith said. …

“The administration has hermetically sealed his message, the man and why he was in trouble, from this incident,” Smith told The Cable. “Have you heard anybody talk about that he was defending women from forced abortion? Hillary Clinton? Not a word. I Googled it.”

Smith says the Obama administration hasn’t mentioned Chen’s life’s work – opposition to forced abortions and sterilization – the way it typically has in similar dissident cases. And it may not just be for fear of irritating China. Last year, President Obama released a statement praising the pro-democracy efforts of imprisoned Nobel Laureate and Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo:

All of us have a responsibility to build a just peace that recognizes the inherent rights and dignity of human beings – a truth upheld within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In our own lives, our own countries, and in the world, the pursuit of a just peace remains incomplete, even as we strive for progress. This past year saw the release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, even as the Burmese people continue to be denied the democracy that they deserve. Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos Horta has continued his tireless work to build a free and prosperous East Timor, having made the transition from dissident to president. And this past year saw the retirement of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu, whose own career demonstrates the universal power of freedom and justice to overcome extraordinary obstacles.

But Mr. Liu reminds us that human dignity also depends upon the advance of democracy, open society, and the rule of law. The values he espouses are universal, his struggle is peaceful, and he should be released as soon as possible.

Is the administration uncomfortable addressing Chen’s pro-life activism for political reasons? Or is there a concern it would be an unnecessary poke at China? Either way, the omissions are unfortunate. Chen’s story has refocused attention on China’s appalling human rights record, which is too often ignored, but his actual activism against forced abortions is rarely mentioned in the media. This is an issue that should get much more attention, and Rep. Smith is right to raise it.

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Chen and Family to “Study Abroad” in U.S.

The State Department confirmed this morning that it’s reached a deal with the Chinese government in the case of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng:

The Chinese Government stated today that Mr. Chen Guangcheng has the same right to travel abroad as any other citizen of China. Mr. Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.

The Chinese Government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen’s applications for appropriate travel documents. The United States Government expects that the Chinese Government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents and make accommodations for his current medical condition. The United States Government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.

This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership.

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The State Department confirmed this morning that it’s reached a deal with the Chinese government in the case of blind dissident Chen Guangcheng:

The Chinese Government stated today that Mr. Chen Guangcheng has the same right to travel abroad as any other citizen of China. Mr. Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.

The Chinese Government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen’s applications for appropriate travel documents. The United States Government expects that the Chinese Government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents and make accommodations for his current medical condition. The United States Government would then give visa requests for him and his immediate family priority attention.

This matter has been handled in the spirit of a cooperative U.S.-China partnership.

The statement says Chen has been offered a fellowship at an “American university,” but notably doesn’t mention which one yet. Obviously, the details are still being hammered out. But the deal sounds like a good one for all sides. Not only was the Chen case a public relations disaster for the Obama administration, it also put the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in the international media spotlight. Both had an incentive to end this story as quickly as possible. And it sounds like it will be a happy ending for Chen and his family, who will be able to take time in the U.S. and decide what they want to do on a permanent basis.

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Bin Laden Documents Show Obama Strategy a Farce

My AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar points out to me that, amongst the declassified Bin Laden documents released today, was mention that Muhammad Tayib Agha, an intermediary between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and American diplomats, was double-dealing and in close contact with bin Laden (see cursory mentions in document 10 and 15) and was discussing, among other items, how al-Qaeda could overthrow Karzai after the American withdrawal.

That the Obama administration continues its ill-considered plan to “engage” the Taliban when it has zero positive to show for its efforts and against all evidence that its strategy is actively harming U.S. servicemen and the U.S. position in Afghanistan and undercutting the desired outcomes in Afghanistan, is nothing short of policy malpractice.

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My AEI colleague Ahmad Majidyar points out to me that, amongst the declassified Bin Laden documents released today, was mention that Muhammad Tayib Agha, an intermediary between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and American diplomats, was double-dealing and in close contact with bin Laden (see cursory mentions in document 10 and 15) and was discussing, among other items, how al-Qaeda could overthrow Karzai after the American withdrawal.

That the Obama administration continues its ill-considered plan to “engage” the Taliban when it has zero positive to show for its efforts and against all evidence that its strategy is actively harming U.S. servicemen and the U.S. position in Afghanistan and undercutting the desired outcomes in Afghanistan, is nothing short of policy malpractice.

It is quite telling that if President Obama had to construct a strategy for defeat, it would not differ from what he and his aides describe as America’s way forward.

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