Commentary Magazine


Topic: opposition leader

Israel’s Opposition Leader Puts Politics Before Pollard

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni hit a new low yesterday when she ordered her Knesset faction to vote against a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urging President Barack Obama to pardon Jonathan Pollard — and then had the nerve to take the podium and declare: “I will not turn Pollard into a political issue. We will give our support to every effort to free him.”

Ever since Pollard’s 1985 arrest for spying on Israel’s behalf, successive Israeli governments have quietly sought a pardon for him. Never before, however, has Israel publicly appealed for his release.

But if there was ever any chance of Obama granting this request, Livni has just killed it by her disgraceful show of partisanship. After all, the Obama administration has made no secret of its preference for Livni over Netanyahu: see, for instance, Hillary Clinton’s ostentatious hour-long meeting with Livni at the State Department last month, even as she allotted only 30 minutes in a side room of the Saban Forum that same weekend to the government’s representative, Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Thus Obama is highly unlikely to do anything that could be perceived as a victory for Netanyahu over Livni.

Had Livni’s faction backed the letter in the vote that Kadima itself requested, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would be clear that Netanyahu’s request was backed by a wall-to-wall Israeli consensus. But now that claim is impossible. By its vote, Kadima has made it clear that it views freeing Pollard as a lower priority than scoring points off Netanyahu. Livni’s assertion of support for “every effort to free him” is worse than meaningless when her party has just torpedoed the one serious effort actually in train.

This isn’t the first time Livni has displayed gross irresponsibility as opposition leader. Her joint interview to ABC with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last month, at which the two of them teamed up to blame Netanyahu for the lack of progress in the peace process, was also a new low. I can’t remember any previous Israeli opposition leader staging a joint press conference with an adversary in order to smear her own country to the American public — especially when said adversary, rather than her government, is the one who has actually been refusing to negotiate for the past two years.

But at least there she attacked Netanyahu over an issue on which they ostensibly disagreed. In the Pollard vote, Livni sabotaged him over an issue on which they ostensibly agreed.

The pity is that Livni actually began her stint as opposition leader by demonstrating impressive national responsibility. Unfortunately, the statesmanlike veneer didn’t last long.

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Netanyahu’s Lieberman-Livni Trap

In an ideal world, a foreign minister who publicly repudiated his prime minister’s positions on a key foreign-policy issue from the podium of the UN General Assembly would be fired instantly. So why didn’t Benjamin Netanyahu fire Avigdor Lieberman when the latter repudiated his boss’s Palestinian policy in his UN address yesterday? There’s a two-word answer: Tzipi Livni.

Firing Lieberman would push his 15-man faction out of the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a minority government. Even if such a government survived, it couldn’t accomplish anything. And it certainly wouldn’t have either the moral authority to conduct delicate and controversial negotiations or the political power to sell any deal to the public.

But the only possible replacement for Lieberman’s party is Kadima: the other non-coalition parties are five splinter factions, one far-left, one far-right, and three Arab. And Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s conditions for joining are so outrageous that even public humiliation by Lieberman is preferable.

When Netanyahu was elected last year, Kadima was actually his preferred coalition partner, because its views on many domestic issues resemble his. Since the “peace process” seemed to be going nowhere, he hoped Kadima would ally with his Likud to address crucial domestic problems that had been neglected for years as successive governments devoted themselves either to fruitless peace talks or to coping with the terror they inevitably spawned.

But in the ensuing coalition talks, Livni posed two unacceptable demands.

One was that she and Netanyahu should rotate the prime minister’s job, with each serving part of the term. Israel has had rotation governments before, when neither major party could form a coalition on its own. But in this case, the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu trounced Livni’s leftist bloc, 65 seats to 44. Thus Livni was essentially demanding that Netanyahu throw away his victory, overturn the will of the voters, and crown her prime minister instead — something no self-respecting politician could do.

Her second condition, however, was even worse: she demanded that during Netanyahu’s stint as prime minister, she, as foreign minister, should have sole and exclusive authority over Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, she wanted the elected prime minister to abdicate control over one of the most important issues in the government’s portfolio: negotiations that will determine Israel’s border, the status of its capital, security arrangements, and more.

That, too, is something to which no prime minister could consent — especially when Kadima’s views on the peace process are so radically opposed to Likud’s: The last Kadima-led government, in which Livni served as foreign minister, even offered to cede the Western Wall!

And if these were Livni’s demands when she knew Netanyahu had a viable alternative (the government he eventually formed), one can only imagine what her demands would be should Netanyahu oust Lieberman, leaving himself utterly dependent on her.

It’s a pity that Israel’s opposition leader is too egomaniacal, even by political standards, to be a viable partner. But in a reality where his only alternative is Livni’s exorbitant and dangerous substantive demands, Netanyahu has no choice but to swallow Lieberman’s insults and try to contain the diplomatic fallout.

In an ideal world, a foreign minister who publicly repudiated his prime minister’s positions on a key foreign-policy issue from the podium of the UN General Assembly would be fired instantly. So why didn’t Benjamin Netanyahu fire Avigdor Lieberman when the latter repudiated his boss’s Palestinian policy in his UN address yesterday? There’s a two-word answer: Tzipi Livni.

Firing Lieberman would push his 15-man faction out of the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a minority government. Even if such a government survived, it couldn’t accomplish anything. And it certainly wouldn’t have either the moral authority to conduct delicate and controversial negotiations or the political power to sell any deal to the public.

But the only possible replacement for Lieberman’s party is Kadima: the other non-coalition parties are five splinter factions, one far-left, one far-right, and three Arab. And Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni’s conditions for joining are so outrageous that even public humiliation by Lieberman is preferable.

When Netanyahu was elected last year, Kadima was actually his preferred coalition partner, because its views on many domestic issues resemble his. Since the “peace process” seemed to be going nowhere, he hoped Kadima would ally with his Likud to address crucial domestic problems that had been neglected for years as successive governments devoted themselves either to fruitless peace talks or to coping with the terror they inevitably spawned.

But in the ensuing coalition talks, Livni posed two unacceptable demands.

One was that she and Netanyahu should rotate the prime minister’s job, with each serving part of the term. Israel has had rotation governments before, when neither major party could form a coalition on its own. But in this case, the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu trounced Livni’s leftist bloc, 65 seats to 44. Thus Livni was essentially demanding that Netanyahu throw away his victory, overturn the will of the voters, and crown her prime minister instead — something no self-respecting politician could do.

Her second condition, however, was even worse: she demanded that during Netanyahu’s stint as prime minister, she, as foreign minister, should have sole and exclusive authority over Israeli-Palestinian talks. In other words, she wanted the elected prime minister to abdicate control over one of the most important issues in the government’s portfolio: negotiations that will determine Israel’s border, the status of its capital, security arrangements, and more.

That, too, is something to which no prime minister could consent — especially when Kadima’s views on the peace process are so radically opposed to Likud’s: The last Kadima-led government, in which Livni served as foreign minister, even offered to cede the Western Wall!

And if these were Livni’s demands when she knew Netanyahu had a viable alternative (the government he eventually formed), one can only imagine what her demands would be should Netanyahu oust Lieberman, leaving himself utterly dependent on her.

It’s a pity that Israel’s opposition leader is too egomaniacal, even by political standards, to be a viable partner. But in a reality where his only alternative is Livni’s exorbitant and dangerous substantive demands, Netanyahu has no choice but to swallow Lieberman’s insults and try to contain the diplomatic fallout.

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Re: Naoto Kan’s Foreign Policy

Given many of the statements once made by the new Japanese prime minister, his comments yesterday about the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance are welcome. Naoto Kan must have learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, at least on the Okinawa base; he has promised to uphold the bilateral agreement that Yukio Hatoyama established before resigning last week.

However, the real test of Kan’s foreign policy will be how effectively he works with the United States on critical shared interests, not the statements he makes. Domestically, that means quickly pinning down the remaining details of the U.S. military base, as unpopular as such an endeavor may be among the Japanese. Internationally, that means continued U.S.-Japan security and defense collaboration, especially as North Korean bellicosity is on the rise. It will be interesting to see how much Kan’s outlook on foreign policy changes now that he is prime minister and not an opposition leader.

Given many of the statements once made by the new Japanese prime minister, his comments yesterday about the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance are welcome. Naoto Kan must have learned from his predecessor’s mistakes, at least on the Okinawa base; he has promised to uphold the bilateral agreement that Yukio Hatoyama established before resigning last week.

However, the real test of Kan’s foreign policy will be how effectively he works with the United States on critical shared interests, not the statements he makes. Domestically, that means quickly pinning down the remaining details of the U.S. military base, as unpopular as such an endeavor may be among the Japanese. Internationally, that means continued U.S.-Japan security and defense collaboration, especially as North Korean bellicosity is on the rise. It will be interesting to see how much Kan’s outlook on foreign policy changes now that he is prime minister and not an opposition leader.

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Naoto Kan’s Foreign Policy

U.S.-Japan relations have been on the rocks since the Democratic Party of Japan overtook the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party last August. On Wednesday, the bedraggled prime minister resigned, leaving the U.S.-Japan relationship mired in even more uncertainty.

But Naoto Kan, the man chosen today to replace Hatoyama as Japanese prime minister, has made statements in the past that suggest cause for further concern. If Kan meant what he has said in the past, the United States can expect him to pursue a foreign policy of diminished U.S. military presence in Japan, low Japanese support for U.S. war efforts in Iraq, and further Japanese outreach to allies other than the United States.

Kan has ridden to power on a rapid change in Japanese public opinion. In August, the DPJ won after over half a century of LDP ascendency. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had played to populism, running his campaign partially on promises to reduce American presence in Japan. That backfired. Hatoyama initially tried to backtrack on an agreement with the United States about a military base in Okinawa, undermining American confidence. He eventually bowed to U.S. pressure, meeting public uproar. That concession, along with economic mismanagement and funds scandals, finally ended in Hatoyama’s resignation from office.

But Kan holds what Americans would perceive as a mixed record about the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Like Hatoyama, Kan seems to support the reduction or withdrawal of U.S. troops from Japan. In 2001, he said that “a pullout of the Marines ‘should not have a major impact on the US strategy for the Far East. We should perhaps formerly propose through diplomatic channels that (the Marines) return to US territory.” Likewise, in 2003, Kan said that “security in the Far East can be maintained without U.S. bases in Okinawa and the marines stationed there. We are eyeing having them moved out of Japan.”

Furthermore, Kan has a history of outspoken statements against the U.S. war in Iraq. He made his strongest statement in 2001. Kyodo News Service reported:

Japan’s opposition parties strongly criticized the US-led war on Iraq as well as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for backing the attack, saying the government’s position is antagonizing the voice of people in the international community.

“I cannot allow mass murder simply because Iraq did not fully comply with UN resolutions in the past,” said Naoto Kan, president of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

However, in September 2002, Kan insisted that the United States retain the ability to use its bases in Japan for the war in Iraq:

“If Japan refuses to allow the United States to use its bases here, we would have to risk breaking the very basis of the Japan-US security treaty,” DPJ Secretary-General Naoto Kan said. “We have never questioned the US use of bases in this country before,” he said, referring to the US forces’ use of facilities in Japan during the Vietnam War and other wars.  “We should keep this precedent intact,” he said…

That does not appear to mean that Kan supported the war effort. In 2003, Kyodo News Service reported that regarding Iraq, Kan “urged Washington to return to the framework of the United Nations to resolve international issues through dialogue.” Other news reports said that Kan considered the use of American force in Iraq a violation of the UN charter. Later in 2003, Kan criticized then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi for “a foreign policy of merely following in the footsteps of the United States like in the case of the Iraq bill.” Kan has consistently argued that sending Japanese troops into Iraq combat zones would violate the Japanese constitution. In 2004, Kan said, “Hasn’t this Iraq war contributed to an expansion of terrorism, rather than leading to its prevention?”

Finally, Kan has consistently advocated for stronger relations with alternative allies besides the United States. That constitutes a significant shift in Japanese foreign policy, which has considered the United States its primary ally since the aftermath of WWII. In 2003, he said, “Our ties with the United States are vital, but our relations with Asian countries are equally important.” In 2006, he criticized Japanese foreign policy for “lean[ing] too much toward the U.S,” as the Japan Times reported. Kan said: “Our relations with the United States are definitely important. But at the same time, we also have to build relations with Asian countries and resume top-level dialogue with them.” It is encouraging that today he said: “I believe the Japan-U.S. relationship is the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy. … The course we need to take is to maintain a trusting relationship with the United States and at the same time to consider China as equally important. I think that’s the right course for Japan’s future as well.”

Japan has every right to pursue the policies that best fit its interests. And Naoto Kan the prime minister might be much more measured in his statements and actions than Naoto Kan the opposition leader. But many of the statements Kan has made in the past suggest more contention between the United States and Japan regarding security and defense issues.

Hatoyama left many defense and security issues unresolved, although his concession to the United States was one of his last acts as prime minister. Among broader Asian security concerns, Kan will have to work with the United States immediately to determine many details about U.S. military placement in Okinawa; yet to be determined is the configuration of the base, the exact location of its placement, and how to mitigate its possible environmental impacts, to name a few.

Kan would do well to learn from Hatoyama’s failure, acknowledging the controversial nature of these discussions but establishing a consistent and moderate foreign policy before addressing them. He will have to clarify his position on the issues he has in the past made statements about. Otherwise, he risks disapproval both in Washington and among his people.

U.S.-Japan relations have been on the rocks since the Democratic Party of Japan overtook the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party last August. On Wednesday, the bedraggled prime minister resigned, leaving the U.S.-Japan relationship mired in even more uncertainty.

But Naoto Kan, the man chosen today to replace Hatoyama as Japanese prime minister, has made statements in the past that suggest cause for further concern. If Kan meant what he has said in the past, the United States can expect him to pursue a foreign policy of diminished U.S. military presence in Japan, low Japanese support for U.S. war efforts in Iraq, and further Japanese outreach to allies other than the United States.

Kan has ridden to power on a rapid change in Japanese public opinion. In August, the DPJ won after over half a century of LDP ascendency. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had played to populism, running his campaign partially on promises to reduce American presence in Japan. That backfired. Hatoyama initially tried to backtrack on an agreement with the United States about a military base in Okinawa, undermining American confidence. He eventually bowed to U.S. pressure, meeting public uproar. That concession, along with economic mismanagement and funds scandals, finally ended in Hatoyama’s resignation from office.

But Kan holds what Americans would perceive as a mixed record about the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Like Hatoyama, Kan seems to support the reduction or withdrawal of U.S. troops from Japan. In 2001, he said that “a pullout of the Marines ‘should not have a major impact on the US strategy for the Far East. We should perhaps formerly propose through diplomatic channels that (the Marines) return to US territory.” Likewise, in 2003, Kan said that “security in the Far East can be maintained without U.S. bases in Okinawa and the marines stationed there. We are eyeing having them moved out of Japan.”

Furthermore, Kan has a history of outspoken statements against the U.S. war in Iraq. He made his strongest statement in 2001. Kyodo News Service reported:

Japan’s opposition parties strongly criticized the US-led war on Iraq as well as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for backing the attack, saying the government’s position is antagonizing the voice of people in the international community.

“I cannot allow mass murder simply because Iraq did not fully comply with UN resolutions in the past,” said Naoto Kan, president of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

However, in September 2002, Kan insisted that the United States retain the ability to use its bases in Japan for the war in Iraq:

“If Japan refuses to allow the United States to use its bases here, we would have to risk breaking the very basis of the Japan-US security treaty,” DPJ Secretary-General Naoto Kan said. “We have never questioned the US use of bases in this country before,” he said, referring to the US forces’ use of facilities in Japan during the Vietnam War and other wars.  “We should keep this precedent intact,” he said…

That does not appear to mean that Kan supported the war effort. In 2003, Kyodo News Service reported that regarding Iraq, Kan “urged Washington to return to the framework of the United Nations to resolve international issues through dialogue.” Other news reports said that Kan considered the use of American force in Iraq a violation of the UN charter. Later in 2003, Kan criticized then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi for “a foreign policy of merely following in the footsteps of the United States like in the case of the Iraq bill.” Kan has consistently argued that sending Japanese troops into Iraq combat zones would violate the Japanese constitution. In 2004, Kan said, “Hasn’t this Iraq war contributed to an expansion of terrorism, rather than leading to its prevention?”

Finally, Kan has consistently advocated for stronger relations with alternative allies besides the United States. That constitutes a significant shift in Japanese foreign policy, which has considered the United States its primary ally since the aftermath of WWII. In 2003, he said, “Our ties with the United States are vital, but our relations with Asian countries are equally important.” In 2006, he criticized Japanese foreign policy for “lean[ing] too much toward the U.S,” as the Japan Times reported. Kan said: “Our relations with the United States are definitely important. But at the same time, we also have to build relations with Asian countries and resume top-level dialogue with them.” It is encouraging that today he said: “I believe the Japan-U.S. relationship is the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy. … The course we need to take is to maintain a trusting relationship with the United States and at the same time to consider China as equally important. I think that’s the right course for Japan’s future as well.”

Japan has every right to pursue the policies that best fit its interests. And Naoto Kan the prime minister might be much more measured in his statements and actions than Naoto Kan the opposition leader. But many of the statements Kan has made in the past suggest more contention between the United States and Japan regarding security and defense issues.

Hatoyama left many defense and security issues unresolved, although his concession to the United States was one of his last acts as prime minister. Among broader Asian security concerns, Kan will have to work with the United States immediately to determine many details about U.S. military placement in Okinawa; yet to be determined is the configuration of the base, the exact location of its placement, and how to mitigate its possible environmental impacts, to name a few.

Kan would do well to learn from Hatoyama’s failure, acknowledging the controversial nature of these discussions but establishing a consistent and moderate foreign policy before addressing them. He will have to clarify his position on the issues he has in the past made statements about. Otherwise, he risks disapproval both in Washington and among his people.

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The Real Demographic Threat

As Israel celebrates its 62nd Independence Day this evening, is the country actually independent? Judging by the remarks of some of its leading politicians, one would have to conclude that the answer is no.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday, for instance, Defense Minister and Labor-party chairman Ehud Barak declared that only by signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians could Israel preserve its Jewish majority. Ehud Olmert made this claim even more bluntly in 2007, when he was prime minister, declaring that if “the two-state solution collapses … the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert’s successor as head of the Kadima party, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, has made similar remarks.

In other words, Israel has no control over its own fate; its continued existence depends entirely on the goodwill of a nation that would like nothing better than to see it disappear. Moreover, all the Palestinians have to do to secure this outcome is to continue doing exactly what they have done for the past 17 years: say “no” to every peace offer Israel makes. If that is true, Israel really is finished.

In reality, of course, the Barak-Olmert-Livni conclusion is ridiculous even if one believes the demographic doomsayers (there are grounds for skepticism, but that’s another story). Should Israel someday decide the status quo is untenable, it doesn’t need a peace agreement to leave; it can always quit the West Bank unilaterally, just as it did Gaza. After decades of condemning Israel’s “illegal occupation” and demanding its end, the world could hardly object if Israel complied.

Unfortunately, “ridiculous” is not the same as “harmless.” This credo is actually deadly dangerous, on at least four levels.

First, it encourages Palestinian intransigence: if Palestinians can destroy the Jewish state just by saying no, they have no incentive to ever say yes.

Second, it could lead Israeli leaders to make concessions that truly do endanger the state’s survival.

Third, it encourages world leaders to pressure Israel into such concessions, by enabling them to claim they’re really doing it for Israel’s own good. After all, if Israel’s own leaders say the state can’t survive without a peace deal, isn’t any concession that might appease the Palestinians, however dangerous, better than the alternative of certain death?

Finally, it demoralizes Israel’s own citizens, most of whom know perfectly well that no peace agreement is attainable in the foreseeable future. If Israel’s continued existence really depends on an unachievable peace, then Israelis have no reason to remain here and no reason to continue sending their sons to fight and die in the state’s defense. And should enough Israelis reach that conclusion, the state really will collapse.

Thus if Israel is to survive another 62 years, it desperately needs its leaders to relearn the wisdom that guided its founders in 1948, when the demographic situation was much worse: that the purpose of independence is precisely to enable the Jewish people to shape Israel’s fate, rather than being the helpless hostages of a hostile nation. The “demographic threat” cannot destroy Israel. But its leaders’ own folly can.

As Israel celebrates its 62nd Independence Day this evening, is the country actually independent? Judging by the remarks of some of its leading politicians, one would have to conclude that the answer is no.

Speaking at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday, for instance, Defense Minister and Labor-party chairman Ehud Barak declared that only by signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians could Israel preserve its Jewish majority. Ehud Olmert made this claim even more bluntly in 2007, when he was prime minister, declaring that if “the two-state solution collapses … the State of Israel is finished.” Olmert’s successor as head of the Kadima party, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, has made similar remarks.

In other words, Israel has no control over its own fate; its continued existence depends entirely on the goodwill of a nation that would like nothing better than to see it disappear. Moreover, all the Palestinians have to do to secure this outcome is to continue doing exactly what they have done for the past 17 years: say “no” to every peace offer Israel makes. If that is true, Israel really is finished.

In reality, of course, the Barak-Olmert-Livni conclusion is ridiculous even if one believes the demographic doomsayers (there are grounds for skepticism, but that’s another story). Should Israel someday decide the status quo is untenable, it doesn’t need a peace agreement to leave; it can always quit the West Bank unilaterally, just as it did Gaza. After decades of condemning Israel’s “illegal occupation” and demanding its end, the world could hardly object if Israel complied.

Unfortunately, “ridiculous” is not the same as “harmless.” This credo is actually deadly dangerous, on at least four levels.

First, it encourages Palestinian intransigence: if Palestinians can destroy the Jewish state just by saying no, they have no incentive to ever say yes.

Second, it could lead Israeli leaders to make concessions that truly do endanger the state’s survival.

Third, it encourages world leaders to pressure Israel into such concessions, by enabling them to claim they’re really doing it for Israel’s own good. After all, if Israel’s own leaders say the state can’t survive without a peace deal, isn’t any concession that might appease the Palestinians, however dangerous, better than the alternative of certain death?

Finally, it demoralizes Israel’s own citizens, most of whom know perfectly well that no peace agreement is attainable in the foreseeable future. If Israel’s continued existence really depends on an unachievable peace, then Israelis have no reason to remain here and no reason to continue sending their sons to fight and die in the state’s defense. And should enough Israelis reach that conclusion, the state really will collapse.

Thus if Israel is to survive another 62 years, it desperately needs its leaders to relearn the wisdom that guided its founders in 1948, when the demographic situation was much worse: that the purpose of independence is precisely to enable the Jewish people to shape Israel’s fate, rather than being the helpless hostages of a hostile nation. The “demographic threat” cannot destroy Israel. But its leaders’ own folly can.

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Obama’s Hopes for Israeli ‘Regime Change’ Will Backfire

Veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller gets it half right in today’s Los Angeles Times when he dissects the apparent desire of the Obama administration to drive Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.

Miller, a functionary who helped carry out the State Department’s failed Middle East policy during the administrations of both the first president Bush and Clinton, is correct when he points out that American attempts to treat Israel as a banana republic don’t always work out as Washington intends. While the elder George Bush may have successfully undermined Yitzhak Shamir’s re-election in 1992, Bill Clinton’s all-out effort to help Shimon Peres beat Netanyahu in 1996 was a failure that helped sour relations between the two countries. For all of the fact that the United States is Israel’s only ally, not surprisingly Israelis don’t enjoy being dictated to, especially when the issues at stake are their own rights and security. Obama’s transparent attempt to overturn the outcome of an election that was held only a few weeks after his own inauguration doesn’t sit well with the Israeli public and has increased Netanyahu’s popularity. That Jerusalem is the issue over which Obama has sought to ditch Netanyahu is as wrongheaded as it is foolish. No Israeli prime minister is likely to accept Obama’s demand that Jews not be allowed to build in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital.

Miller is also correct when he points out that if Obama were really interested in making progress toward Middle East peace, he’d be far better off cozying up to Netanyahu than attempting to somehow impose a left-wing government on Israel. Only right-wingers or former military leaders have the standing to persuade Israelis to take risks for peace. Obama’s notion that Israel’s opposition leader Tzipi Livni would be more susceptible to American pressure might be true. But there’s little chance that she could rally the country behind the disastrous peace plan that the administration is reportedly planning to try to impose on Israel at some point. Miller’s also right when he points out, albeit reluctantly, that Bibi has in fact been far from intransigent. He has signed several peace accords, including the Hebron agreement and the Wye Plantation deal during his first term in office, and in the last year he has formally agreed to a two-state solution and a building freeze in Jewish communities in the West Bank.

But what Miller leaves out of his piece is a basic fact about Middle East peacemaking: not even the most accommodating Israeli government can make peace if the Palestinians won’t take yes for an answer. Left-wing Israeli governments in the 1990s that gave all that Bill Clinton asked them to give to the Palestinians were still unable to persuade the Arabs to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders. Nor was the Left-leaning government in which Livni served as foreign minister just two years ago able to persuade the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority leadership to accept a Palestinian state in Gaza, virtually all of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem.

Miller wisely counsels that where Obama is headed in the Middle East will lead only to more failure: “A no-win fight over settlements, the threat of pushing its own peace plan — or worse: too-clever-by-half meddling in Israeli politics. Such an approach will only waste time and energy the United States doesn’t have, and risk failure at a time when America is trying to protect its own interests in an angry, complex and turbulent region.” But what Miller leaves out of this sage lecture is that the basic premise of Obama’s policies — that Israeli intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace — is itself the great myth of current American foreign policy that needs to be debunked.

Veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller gets it half right in today’s Los Angeles Times when he dissects the apparent desire of the Obama administration to drive Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office.

Miller, a functionary who helped carry out the State Department’s failed Middle East policy during the administrations of both the first president Bush and Clinton, is correct when he points out that American attempts to treat Israel as a banana republic don’t always work out as Washington intends. While the elder George Bush may have successfully undermined Yitzhak Shamir’s re-election in 1992, Bill Clinton’s all-out effort to help Shimon Peres beat Netanyahu in 1996 was a failure that helped sour relations between the two countries. For all of the fact that the United States is Israel’s only ally, not surprisingly Israelis don’t enjoy being dictated to, especially when the issues at stake are their own rights and security. Obama’s transparent attempt to overturn the outcome of an election that was held only a few weeks after his own inauguration doesn’t sit well with the Israeli public and has increased Netanyahu’s popularity. That Jerusalem is the issue over which Obama has sought to ditch Netanyahu is as wrongheaded as it is foolish. No Israeli prime minister is likely to accept Obama’s demand that Jews not be allowed to build in existing Jewish neighborhoods in their own capital.

Miller is also correct when he points out that if Obama were really interested in making progress toward Middle East peace, he’d be far better off cozying up to Netanyahu than attempting to somehow impose a left-wing government on Israel. Only right-wingers or former military leaders have the standing to persuade Israelis to take risks for peace. Obama’s notion that Israel’s opposition leader Tzipi Livni would be more susceptible to American pressure might be true. But there’s little chance that she could rally the country behind the disastrous peace plan that the administration is reportedly planning to try to impose on Israel at some point. Miller’s also right when he points out, albeit reluctantly, that Bibi has in fact been far from intransigent. He has signed several peace accords, including the Hebron agreement and the Wye Plantation deal during his first term in office, and in the last year he has formally agreed to a two-state solution and a building freeze in Jewish communities in the West Bank.

But what Miller leaves out of his piece is a basic fact about Middle East peacemaking: not even the most accommodating Israeli government can make peace if the Palestinians won’t take yes for an answer. Left-wing Israeli governments in the 1990s that gave all that Bill Clinton asked them to give to the Palestinians were still unable to persuade the Arabs to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state within any borders. Nor was the Left-leaning government in which Livni served as foreign minister just two years ago able to persuade the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority leadership to accept a Palestinian state in Gaza, virtually all of the West Bank and half of Jerusalem.

Miller wisely counsels that where Obama is headed in the Middle East will lead only to more failure: “A no-win fight over settlements, the threat of pushing its own peace plan — or worse: too-clever-by-half meddling in Israeli politics. Such an approach will only waste time and energy the United States doesn’t have, and risk failure at a time when America is trying to protect its own interests in an angry, complex and turbulent region.” But what Miller leaves out of this sage lecture is that the basic premise of Obama’s policies — that Israeli intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace — is itself the great myth of current American foreign policy that needs to be debunked.

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The Engagement That Never Ends

You knew this was coming:

A long-dormant proposal to remove the bulk of Iran’s enriched uranium from the Islamic republic appeared to be revived Tuesday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran had “no problem” with a deal initially brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The deal, which Iran formally rejected weeks ago, would swap low-enriched uranium for fuel for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes. “If we allow them to take it, there is no problem,” Ahmadinejad said on state TV. “We sign a contract to give 3.5 percent enriched uranium and receive 20 percent enriched one after four or five months.”

The mullahs have long since figured out that they have willing partners on the other side of the table ready, desperate in fact, to continue the charade of engagement. And quite predictably, the Obami revealed once again that they are eager to hold off the building domestic pressure for sanctions and stem the rising tide of disgust with their year-long quest to talk the mullahs out of their nukes. We are told the administration reacted “cautiously”:

“There is a still a deal on the table. The question is: Is he prepared to say yes,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He noted that when Iranian diplomats met with U.S. officials in Geneva in October, “they said yes, and then they said no.”

Crowley said he was “unaware of a formal response” by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency, changing its stance. “If Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments reflect an updated Iranian position, we look forward to Iran informing the IAEA,” said White House spokesman Mike Hammer.

Surprised that the Obami are willing to be trifled with some more? You shouldn’t be. Recall that the crippling sanctions they promised us in the event that engagement didn’t work were being unilaterally negotiated downward as Hillary Clinton and others dutifully explained that their aim was to “leave the door open.” Open for what? More flimflammery by the Iranian regime, of course. Read More

You knew this was coming:

A long-dormant proposal to remove the bulk of Iran’s enriched uranium from the Islamic republic appeared to be revived Tuesday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran had “no problem” with a deal initially brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The deal, which Iran formally rejected weeks ago, would swap low-enriched uranium for fuel for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes. “If we allow them to take it, there is no problem,” Ahmadinejad said on state TV. “We sign a contract to give 3.5 percent enriched uranium and receive 20 percent enriched one after four or five months.”

The mullahs have long since figured out that they have willing partners on the other side of the table ready, desperate in fact, to continue the charade of engagement. And quite predictably, the Obami revealed once again that they are eager to hold off the building domestic pressure for sanctions and stem the rising tide of disgust with their year-long quest to talk the mullahs out of their nukes. We are told the administration reacted “cautiously”:

“There is a still a deal on the table. The question is: Is he prepared to say yes,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He noted that when Iranian diplomats met with U.S. officials in Geneva in October, “they said yes, and then they said no.”

Crowley said he was “unaware of a formal response” by Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency, changing its stance. “If Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments reflect an updated Iranian position, we look forward to Iran informing the IAEA,” said White House spokesman Mike Hammer.

Surprised that the Obami are willing to be trifled with some more? You shouldn’t be. Recall that the crippling sanctions they promised us in the event that engagement didn’t work were being unilaterally negotiated downward as Hillary Clinton and others dutifully explained that their aim was to “leave the door open.” Open for what? More flimflammery by the Iranian regime, of course.

Meanwhile, the regime continues its murderous rule. On the same day they were luring the Obama team back to the table, we got a reminder of just who it is we are dealing with:

The [Iranian] president spoke about nuclear plans on the same day Iran said it would soon hang nine more rioters over unrest that erupted after a disputed presidential vote in June last year. Opposition protesters said the poll was rigged.

“Nine others will be hanged soon. The nine, and the two who were hanged on Thursday, were surely arrested in the recent riots and had links to anti-revolutionary groups,” said senior judiciary official Ebrahim Raisi, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

The two men hanged last week were among 11 people sentenced to death on charges including “waging war against God.”

The June election gave Ahmadinejad a second term, but sparked the worst internal crisis in the Islamic Republic’s history. The government denied any fraud in the voting.

Opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, a former prime minister, said the repression showed the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed Shah “had not achieved its goals.”

“Filling the prisons and brutally killing protesters show that the root of … dictatorship remain from the monarchist era,” he said on his Kalemeh website.

Well, that might suggest to practioners of “realism” that the mullahs are not the sort to give up their nukes and that the latest offer is just the sort of distraction one might use to keep the West at bay. But wouldn’t regime change make more sense? Joe Biden on MSNBC had this to say on the subject: “The people of Iran are thinking about, the very people marching, they’re thinking about regime change.” Translation: they are on their own.

The Obami, you see, have a new lease on engagement, another excuse (as if they needed more) to refrain from taking action that might imperil the Iranian regime and deny it the international breathing room it craves. Oh, and are we going to be “bearing witness” to the nine upcoming hangings? No word yet. We eagerly await the next heartfelt statement of sympathy from Foggy Bottom on the deaths of those who can no longer count on the U.S. to aid in the fight for democracy.

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The Iranian Regime’s Battle of Karbala

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

The Iranian citizens’ uprising against their government has been sustained for six months now, and it took an interesting turn over the weekend. Security forces reportedly opened fire against demonstrators and even killed the nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi – and they did it during Ashura. There are few things “supreme guide” Ali Khamenei could have done to enrage religious conservatives and harden them against his regime more than this. As one demonstrator put it, “killing Muslims on Ashura is like crucifying Christians on Christmas.”

“The clock began to tick for Ayatollah Khamenei’s fall from today,” said one of Iran’s few former female members of parliament Fatemeh Haghighatjou. “Killing people on Ashura shows how far Mr. Khamenei is willing to go to suppress the protests. People are comparing him more with Yazid because they consider him responsible for the order to use violence against people.”

Ashura is a Shia religious holiday, and it is not joyous. It is a day of lamentation that marks the date when the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid killed Hussein, son of Ali and grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, during the Battle of Karbala in the year 680. It’s one of the most infamous episodes in the struggle for power that permanently ruptured the house of Islam into its warring Sunni and Shia halves. The Shia – the partisans of Ali and his lineage – have been at war with the Sunnis – those who took the side of Yazid – for thirteen centuries. That Khamenei’s security people would murder unarmed demonstrators on this day of all days, and that his opponents now denounce him as the Yazid of Iran, may very well set most of the religious conservatives against him for as long as he and his government live.

Haghighatjou isn’t the only one using this kind of language. You’ll find regular citizens comparing Khamenei to Yazid and Tehran to Karbala with even a cursory scan of Iranian Internet commentary during the last couple of days.

The Iranian government knows very well what a devastating accusation this is. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini compared the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi to Yazid during the revolution he led in 1979, and his successor Khamenei tries to pass himself off as a modern Ali even now. More recently, the regime’s Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders used this charge against Israel in 1982 to ignite a decades-long insurgency in South Lebanon.

When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 to demolish the Palestinian state-within-a-state that Yasser Arafat had built there, the Shia of the south hailed the Israeli soldiers as liberators. Hezbollah may wish this inconvenient fact was forgotten, but it’s true. That’s what happened. That’s how the Shia of Lebanon felt. Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization was a foreign Sunni militia that pushed the Shia around at gunpoint and turned their previously quiet part of the world into a war zone.

Iran’s Khomeinist regime redeployed Revolutionary Guard Corps units from battlefields in the Iran-Iraq war to Lebanon to foment a Shia insurgency there against the Israelis, but most people weren’t interested. Not at first, anyway. Everything changed the following year, in 1983, when IDF patrol trucks made a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of an Ashura procession in Nabatieh. The drivers tried to barge their way through a crowd. Some of the mourners threw rocks, and Israeli soldiers shot them.

Israel unwittingly cast itself in the role of a modern Yazid 26 years ago, and most of the Shia of Lebanon have been in a state of war with their former allies ever since. The Israeli soldiers in that fateful incident didn’t realize what they were doing, but Khamenei of all people should have known to back off during Ashura. The pious Shia who live in Iran won’t easily forget that he didn’t.

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Australians: Climate Change vs. Economics

Today the Australian Parliament blocked a cap-and-trade bill, which has been one of the pet legislative projects of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. This is a good example of the choice lawmakers across the world are facing — whether to favor strong economic policy or strong climate-change policy. And at least in Australia, the majority of policymakers have sided with business. Leaders across the world would do well to take note of Australia’s domestic climate-change debate as they pack their bags for Copenhagen.

“The right time for an emissions trading scheme is when the rest of the world is signed up for one and that way all the economies will labor under the same emissions constraints,” said Tony Abbott, whose skepticism on climate change helped him displace opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull. He also said, “I am very happy to see the Australian Prime Minister cut a big figure on the world stage, but we aren’t going to damage the Australian economy to serve Kevin Rudd’s ego.”

Abbott is right, and the climate-change-policy advocates face one key impediment: while economic realities are undeniable, climate-change concerns remain nebulous (especially given this week’s Climategate). Nations can hardly be expected to charitably submit to a big economic disadvantage. So countries and politicians can’t be blamed for addressing their more certain interests first. Read More

Today the Australian Parliament blocked a cap-and-trade bill, which has been one of the pet legislative projects of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. This is a good example of the choice lawmakers across the world are facing — whether to favor strong economic policy or strong climate-change policy. And at least in Australia, the majority of policymakers have sided with business. Leaders across the world would do well to take note of Australia’s domestic climate-change debate as they pack their bags for Copenhagen.

“The right time for an emissions trading scheme is when the rest of the world is signed up for one and that way all the economies will labor under the same emissions constraints,” said Tony Abbott, whose skepticism on climate change helped him displace opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull. He also said, “I am very happy to see the Australian Prime Minister cut a big figure on the world stage, but we aren’t going to damage the Australian economy to serve Kevin Rudd’s ego.”

Abbott is right, and the climate-change-policy advocates face one key impediment: while economic realities are undeniable, climate-change concerns remain nebulous (especially given this week’s Climategate). Nations can hardly be expected to charitably submit to a big economic disadvantage. So countries and politicians can’t be blamed for addressing their more certain interests first.

Since last year, Australian business has called the cap-and-trade bill “a company killer.” The Business Council of Australia examined 14 companies and determined that at least three would close altogether if the cap-and-trade bill passed, and two more might soon follow. It also cited research claiming that companies’ pre-tax earnings would suffer by 22 percent on average. The Australian populace seems to be listening; according to a recent Lowy Institute poll, climate change has fallen to their seventh foreign-policy priority.

But the climate-change lobbyists have done an especially laughable job of addressing economic concerns, especially after the defeat of the cap-and-trade bill in Australia.

Tim Hanlin, chief executive of Australian Climate Exchange, frets that businesses are “now back in the dark” and will struggle to make investment decisions “with no certainty about the carbon price.” But Mr. Hanlin misses the point that the very policy he endorses is the problem, not the solution. Australian businesses aren’t timid about investment itself; they’re justifiably hesitant to invest when they face crippling taxes and restrictive government policy.

Likewise, John Connor, CEO of the Climate Institute, said: “The defeat of [the Australian cap-and-trade bill] is a not only a stumble for Australia doing its bit on climate change, it is an economic stumble, and a competitiveness stumble for Australia. The low-carbon train is leaving the station around the world and Australia is haemorrhaging investments in clean energy industries and technology to competitors in developed and developing countries.” Connor should consider: if low-carbon industry is really as significant an economic boon as he believes, if it really is so surprisingly efficient, if it will really save money and create jobs — shouldn’t it be able to compete even if government doesn’t cripple its rivals?

The climate-change lobby will have to do a better job of defending their position than they’ve done today. At least in Australia, those most ardent about climate change are not enough of a majority to ram bills through the Parliament. They need the support of the moderates and the conservatives — the very groups Rudd and his followers have alienated with their polarizing language. So these same climate-change-policy advocates must now turn to persuasion and honest debate. That promises to be difficult. The urgency of the climate-change message has, thus far, been more easily paired with emotion than rationality.

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Mbeki’s Mania

Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column last week contained a major scoop that hasn’t received nearly enough press attention. In a piece about South Africa’s woeful support for despots around the world, Gerson revealed:

In late April, about the time this e-mail was written, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa — Zimbabwe’s influential neighbor — addressed a four-page letter to President Bush. Rather than coordinating strategy to end Zimbabwe’s nightmare, Mbeki criticized the United States, in a text packed with exclamation points, for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe’s government and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people. “He said it was not our business,” recalls one American official, and “to butt out, that Africa belongs to him.” Adds another official, “Mbeki lost it; it was outrageous.”

South Africa’s Sunday Times reports that while Mbeki’s office does not acknowledge the letter, the American embassy in Pretoria confirmed that President Bush did receive a letter from Mbeki.

That Mbeki would write a rambling, 4-page screed “packed with exclamation points” to the President of the States is yet further confirmation of his paranoid, conspiratorial world view, and complete unfitness for executive office. It is of a piece with his belief that HIV does not cause AIDS and that those who complain about South Africa’s rampant crime problem are all closet racists. Moreover, as Gerson notes, Mbeki is but symptomatic of the African National Congress’s broader attempt to position South Africa in an anti-Western, Third-Worldist posture on the international stage. Allowing Robert Mugabe to ruin his country is simply the price to be paid when the alternative is the election of a political party favored by the West.

Meanwhile, not long after Mbeki fired off his strange missive to President Bush, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sent his thoughts to the dictator-abetting South African president, who had been tasked by both Bush and regional leaders with mediating Zimbabwe’s ongoing political crisis. He does not mince words, informing Mbeki that if his style of “diplomacy” persists, “there will be no country left.” While Mbeki tells President Bush to “butt out” of African affairs (a strange request, considering the fact that the United States has been relatively passive about the chaos in Zimbabwe), Zimbabwe’s democrats wish the reverse: that the United States take a more proactive role while Mbeki exit the stage.

Michael Gerson’s Washington Post column last week contained a major scoop that hasn’t received nearly enough press attention. In a piece about South Africa’s woeful support for despots around the world, Gerson revealed:

In late April, about the time this e-mail was written, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa — Zimbabwe’s influential neighbor — addressed a four-page letter to President Bush. Rather than coordinating strategy to end Zimbabwe’s nightmare, Mbeki criticized the United States, in a text packed with exclamation points, for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe’s government and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people. “He said it was not our business,” recalls one American official, and “to butt out, that Africa belongs to him.” Adds another official, “Mbeki lost it; it was outrageous.”

South Africa’s Sunday Times reports that while Mbeki’s office does not acknowledge the letter, the American embassy in Pretoria confirmed that President Bush did receive a letter from Mbeki.

That Mbeki would write a rambling, 4-page screed “packed with exclamation points” to the President of the States is yet further confirmation of his paranoid, conspiratorial world view, and complete unfitness for executive office. It is of a piece with his belief that HIV does not cause AIDS and that those who complain about South Africa’s rampant crime problem are all closet racists. Moreover, as Gerson notes, Mbeki is but symptomatic of the African National Congress’s broader attempt to position South Africa in an anti-Western, Third-Worldist posture on the international stage. Allowing Robert Mugabe to ruin his country is simply the price to be paid when the alternative is the election of a political party favored by the West.

Meanwhile, not long after Mbeki fired off his strange missive to President Bush, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sent his thoughts to the dictator-abetting South African president, who had been tasked by both Bush and regional leaders with mediating Zimbabwe’s ongoing political crisis. He does not mince words, informing Mbeki that if his style of “diplomacy” persists, “there will be no country left.” While Mbeki tells President Bush to “butt out” of African affairs (a strange request, considering the fact that the United States has been relatively passive about the chaos in Zimbabwe), Zimbabwe’s democrats wish the reverse: that the United States take a more proactive role while Mbeki exit the stage.

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Who Killed Bhutto?

Today, the Pakistani government identified the killer of Benazir Bhutto, a day after her assassination at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The Interior Ministry has fingered Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group linked to al Qaeda.

That was fast police work, but President Bush was even faster. He blamed “murderous extremists” in his statement issued from Crawford just a few hours after the horrible event. Rudy Giuliani, for his part, connected the assassination to “the terrorists’ war against us.” Barack Obama referred to “this terrorist atrocity” that killed Bhutto.

The senator from Illinois is undoubtedly correct. It was a terrorist act—a suicide bombing—that killed Bhutto. Yet that does not necessarily mean that “terrorists” were the ones behind this hideous deed.

It’s clear that al Qaeda wanted Bhutto dead, but we do not know if that organization or its offshoots had a hand in killing her. There are, after all, many others who wanted to get the popular opposition leader out of the way. There are, for instance, elements in the Pakistani intelligence services who feared what she might do if she came to power. And then there is the ruthless individual who had the most to gain from her death. His name is Pervez Musharraf.

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Today, the Pakistani government identified the killer of Benazir Bhutto, a day after her assassination at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The Interior Ministry has fingered Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group linked to al Qaeda.

That was fast police work, but President Bush was even faster. He blamed “murderous extremists” in his statement issued from Crawford just a few hours after the horrible event. Rudy Giuliani, for his part, connected the assassination to “the terrorists’ war against us.” Barack Obama referred to “this terrorist atrocity” that killed Bhutto.

The senator from Illinois is undoubtedly correct. It was a terrorist act—a suicide bombing—that killed Bhutto. Yet that does not necessarily mean that “terrorists” were the ones behind this hideous deed.

It’s clear that al Qaeda wanted Bhutto dead, but we do not know if that organization or its offshoots had a hand in killing her. There are, after all, many others who wanted to get the popular opposition leader out of the way. There are, for instance, elements in the Pakistani intelligence services who feared what she might do if she came to power. And then there is the ruthless individual who had the most to gain from her death. His name is Pervez Musharraf.

Mrs. Bhutto, in fact, blamed the Pakistani president. CNN reports it had received an October 26 message from her, through spokesman Mark Siegel, saying that if anything happened to her, it was because Musharraf had refused to provide adequate security. This sounds like campaign rhetoric from Bhutto, but it’s time that we look at the man who has so far refused to cede power.

We know that the former general is capable of almost anything. A German diplomat serving in Asia at the time told me that his country’s intelligence officials were convinced that Musharraf had staged two bombings of his own convoys in December 2003—one of them a deadly suicide attack—to scare the West into supporting him as a bulwark against terrorism. A terrorist attack on Mrs. Bhutto would serve two crucial purposes for the Pakistani president—get his only serious rival out of the way and again buttress his support from concerned Western governments. Musharraf had motive and opportunity to kill Bhutto, and the crime fits a suspected M.O. At the very least, the United States should consider him a prime suspect.

In any event, he has let terrorists run free in his country and is primarily responsible for triggering the long-running constitutional and political crises that ultimately led to Mrs. Bhutto’s death. In a larger sense, therefore, he is responsible for yesterday’s tragedy. He is either a murderer or a failing autocrat. In either case, the United States should stop supporting him in his ongoing struggle against the Pakistani people.

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A Step Back in Pakistan

Today, Pakistani police placed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest and surrounded her Islamabad residence with barbed wire. The former prime minister had planned to defy a government ban and speak to a rally in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, but security forces twice refused to let her leave her home. Police sealed off both Islamabad and Rawalpindi as the week-long political crisis, triggered by strongman Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency, deepened.

Bhutto’s confinement followed on the heels of yesterday’s promise by the Pakistani leader to hold parliamentary elections before February 15. The White House quickly praised the announcement: “We think it is a good thing that President Musharraf has clarified the election date for the Pakistani people.”

Pakistan, of course, needs elections. Yet Musharraf’s allies can win any contest he stages, especially if Bhutto is cooling her heels inside her home and her allies remain jailed. What democracy requires, in addition to Bhutto’s release, is the release of jurists from jail, a restoration of the Supreme Court, and a decision as to whether Musharraf, constitutionally speaking, could have run for President in the October election. Observers argue that he could not have run, because he retained his post as army chief. In fact, some believe the general locked down the country last Saturday because he heard the Supreme Court was about to rule against him regarding his election this fall.

The Bush administration repeatedly has asked Musharraf to “take off his uniform.” That would be a step forward. But the most important thing would be for him to take a step back and allow judicial and electoral processes to work as they should.

Today, Pakistani police placed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest and surrounded her Islamabad residence with barbed wire. The former prime minister had planned to defy a government ban and speak to a rally in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, but security forces twice refused to let her leave her home. Police sealed off both Islamabad and Rawalpindi as the week-long political crisis, triggered by strongman Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency, deepened.

Bhutto’s confinement followed on the heels of yesterday’s promise by the Pakistani leader to hold parliamentary elections before February 15. The White House quickly praised the announcement: “We think it is a good thing that President Musharraf has clarified the election date for the Pakistani people.”

Pakistan, of course, needs elections. Yet Musharraf’s allies can win any contest he stages, especially if Bhutto is cooling her heels inside her home and her allies remain jailed. What democracy requires, in addition to Bhutto’s release, is the release of jurists from jail, a restoration of the Supreme Court, and a decision as to whether Musharraf, constitutionally speaking, could have run for President in the October election. Observers argue that he could not have run, because he retained his post as army chief. In fact, some believe the general locked down the country last Saturday because he heard the Supreme Court was about to rule against him regarding his election this fall.

The Bush administration repeatedly has asked Musharraf to “take off his uniform.” That would be a step forward. But the most important thing would be for him to take a step back and allow judicial and electoral processes to work as they should.

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The Future of Afghanistan

Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

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Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

So far attempts to seal the borders between Afghanistan and Iran and Pakistan have not borne much fruit. This is to be expected because of the difficult terrain involved, and because the same tribesmen are to be found on both sides of the frontier, which has always been more of a theoretical construct than an on-the-ground reality. It doesn’t help that both Iran and Pakistan appear to be involved actively in aiding the Taliban.

The case of Pakistan is particularly vexing because, unlike Iran, it is nominally an American ally, yet its armed forces have been either unwilling or unable to take strong action against the Taliban and their supporters, who have come to dominate the border areas.

This article raises questions about whether the Pakistani military is making good use of some $11 billion in assistance received from the United States since 2001. Much of the assistance has gone for high-ticket items like F-16’s that aren’t very useful for fighting shadowy insurgents; Pakistan wants them primarily for reasons of prestige and for saber-rattling with India. But the primary problem is summed up by a scholar:

“U.S. equipment is not being used ‘in a sustained way,'” said Seth Jones, a Rand Corp. researcher who recently visited the region. “The army is not very effective, and there have been elements of the government that have worked with the Taliban in the tribal areas in the past,” making them ambivalent about the current fight against those forces, he said.

This really comes down to an issue of Pakistani politics. Pervez Musharraf, the military chief and dictator, repeatedly has promised to crack down on the Taliban and other extremist Islamic groups, but he has not delivered enough results. Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned recently from exile, is talking a tougher game. As this New York Times article notes:

Using the news media unabashedly, Ms. Bhutto has been outspoken in particular against terrorism, saying things that few local politicians dare to against the religious and jihadi groups. She is the only politician in Pakistan saying loudly and clearly that suicide bombing is against the teaching of Islam. She has also attacked conservatives in the government, including officials close to the President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, accusing them of aiding and abetting extremists, and supporting the bombers who attacked her.

This kind of talk is brave and encouraging. The question is whether Bhutto (assuming she gets that far) would be able effectively to carry out an anti-terrorist agenda in office, given that she would be reliant on the very same armed forces that have so often collaborated with the Taliban in the past and that have repeatedly undermined civilian leaders, including Bhutto herself. American leverage is limited here; we’ll have to let the Pakistanis sort out their own problems.

But we should continue to make clear our commitment to a restoration of democracy and our willingness, à la Barack Obama, to act unilaterally, if necessary, to hit terrorist targets in Pakistan. If we can’t do a better job of stopping the terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s future will not be terribly promising.

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Why Musharraf?

The alleged terrorist plot uncovered in Germany has an interesting connection to another country: two of the suspects, both German converts to Islam, were said to have gone to Pakistan for training. This merely confirms what we already know—that, as the National Intelligence Estimate released in July put it, al Qaeda has found “a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas.”

And that raises an interesting question: Why is the Bush administration so attached to Pervez Musharraf, the dictator of Pakistan who is supposed to be fighting terrorism, but is in fact allowing his country to become one of the top terrorist havens in the world?

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The alleged terrorist plot uncovered in Germany has an interesting connection to another country: two of the suspects, both German converts to Islam, were said to have gone to Pakistan for training. This merely confirms what we already know—that, as the National Intelligence Estimate released in July put it, al Qaeda has found “a safe haven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas.”

And that raises an interesting question: Why is the Bush administration so attached to Pervez Musharraf, the dictator of Pakistan who is supposed to be fighting terrorism, but is in fact allowing his country to become one of the top terrorist havens in the world?

Rajan Menon, a smart political scientist, has an interesting article on this topic in the Los Angeles Times. He writes:

The Bush administration’s problem in Pakistan is that it has had a Musharraf policy but not one that engages the interests and aspirations of Pakistan’s citizenry. Pakistanis may have welcomed Musharraf in 1999 when, as army chief, he overthrew the inept and corrupt government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but that enthusiasm has evaporated.

Menon goes on to suggest that it is a mistake for the Bush administration to try to keep Musharraf in power by helping to broker a power-sharing deal with opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. No government will be seen as legitimate, Menon argues, if it is viewed as having been installed at American instigation. “The administration’s best course of action in Pakistan is inaction,” Menon counsels. “Let Pakistanis find a solution to their crisis. Any made-in-America remedy will not only fail to make matters better, it will make them worse.”

There’s a lot to be said for that argument, though the U.S. can’t be totally hands-off about a country that has turned into a major terrorist refuge. But certainly we should take Menon’s advice to stop propping up Musharraf and to start supporting free and fair elections. Though most Pakistanis are suspicious of the United States, they are also hostile to Islamic extremists. As Menon rightly notes, “The vast majority do not support the agenda of al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their local acolytes, and have never voted for the Islamist political parties in overwhelming numbers.”

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