Commentary Magazine


Topic: Oslo

Re: More Than Words

Ever since his Nobel Speech in Oslo, the president and his supporters have been quoting Oslo as evidence that Obama now is stepping up his human rights rhetoric. Hillary Clinton did it in her December 14 human-rights speech. (“In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary, because, in his words, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”) Obama did it again from Hawaii yesterday, observing that, “As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.”

It is an odd tic to quote oneself, but Obama tends to do that a lot — as if to say “Haven’t you been listening?” Or perhaps, and this is more troubling, he is inferring that a speech takes the place of action and is in and of itself proof of his own bona fides on human rights. Words, in his book, should silence all doubters. After all, he said it. In Oslo no less.

But there is a growing recognition that words, spoken to western audiences from a podium, mean not all that much when it comes to Iran. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics of Obama’s recent tentative remarks that cheered on (from a safe distance) the Iranian democracy protesters:

Russia and non-Western nations should be pressed to join in condemning the regime’s violence. Sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard and its extensive business and financial network should be accelerated; action must not be delayed by months of haggling at the U.N. Security Council. More should be done, now, to facilitate Iranian use of the Internet for uncensored communication. The State Department continues to drag its feet on using money appropriated by Congress to fund firewall-busting operations and to deny support to groups with a proven record of success, like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.

In short, words — especially Obama quoting himself — are insufficient. Now they only highlight the lack of any comprehensive effort to aid the protesters. As the editors put it, “It’s time for the United States to do whatever it can, in public and covertly, to help those Iranians fighting for freedom.” For the United States to do — not to say — whatever it can. But the president and his cocoon-sustaining spinners have often confused words with action. Remember how the Cairo Speech “changed everything” in the Middle East? Well, it didn’t. And neither will the president’s “Keep up the good work!” admonitions to the Iranian protesters.

Unfortunately, one suspects that this is the sum total of the president’s efforts to aid the democracy protesters. That it is an improvement over his previous muteness is really not cause for celebration, only for  reflection on just how putrid has been our entire policy of “engagement.”

Ever since his Nobel Speech in Oslo, the president and his supporters have been quoting Oslo as evidence that Obama now is stepping up his human rights rhetoric. Hillary Clinton did it in her December 14 human-rights speech. (“In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize last week, President Obama said that while war is never welcome or good, it will sometimes be right and necessary, because, in his words, “Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can be truly lasting.”) Obama did it again from Hawaii yesterday, observing that, “As I said in Oslo, it’s telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.”

It is an odd tic to quote oneself, but Obama tends to do that a lot — as if to say “Haven’t you been listening?” Or perhaps, and this is more troubling, he is inferring that a speech takes the place of action and is in and of itself proof of his own bona fides on human rights. Words, in his book, should silence all doubters. After all, he said it. In Oslo no less.

But there is a growing recognition that words, spoken to western audiences from a podium, mean not all that much when it comes to Iran. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics of Obama’s recent tentative remarks that cheered on (from a safe distance) the Iranian democracy protesters:

Russia and non-Western nations should be pressed to join in condemning the regime’s violence. Sanctions aimed at the Revolutionary Guard and its extensive business and financial network should be accelerated; action must not be delayed by months of haggling at the U.N. Security Council. More should be done, now, to facilitate Iranian use of the Internet for uncensored communication. The State Department continues to drag its feet on using money appropriated by Congress to fund firewall-busting operations and to deny support to groups with a proven record of success, like the Global Internet Freedom Consortium.

In short, words — especially Obama quoting himself — are insufficient. Now they only highlight the lack of any comprehensive effort to aid the protesters. As the editors put it, “It’s time for the United States to do whatever it can, in public and covertly, to help those Iranians fighting for freedom.” For the United States to do — not to say — whatever it can. But the president and his cocoon-sustaining spinners have often confused words with action. Remember how the Cairo Speech “changed everything” in the Middle East? Well, it didn’t. And neither will the president’s “Keep up the good work!” admonitions to the Iranian protesters.

Unfortunately, one suspects that this is the sum total of the president’s efforts to aid the democracy protesters. That it is an improvement over his previous muteness is really not cause for celebration, only for  reflection on just how putrid has been our entire policy of “engagement.”

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The Obama Administration Pipes Up — Finally

In the wake of the deaths of ten Iranian protesters, the Obama administration has pepped up its rhetoric, declaring via a spokesman:

We strongly condemn the violent and unjust suppression of civilians in Iran seeking to exercise their universal rights. Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States. Governing through fear and violence is never just, and as President Obama said in Oslo – it is telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.

Well, perhaps Sen. John Kerry can stay home now, rather than reward the latest murderers with an unofficial/official visit from the engagement-happy Obami. But one wonders whether this means anything beyond a holiday weekend statement issued by an NSC spokesman. Are we going to do anything — prevail upon Obama’s cherished “international community” to take action against the regime? (This would require a suspension of the UN’s “only Israel is condemned for human rights violations” rule.) Will Obama relent and authorize assistance to previously defunded democracy activists or lend help to their new media efforts, upon which the Obama team previously frowned? Could we hear some talk that a military option remains on the table if the regime persists in pursuing its nuclear program in violation of international agreements?

It seems that in lieu of the farcical engagement policy, a policy of regime change — a serious and concerted effort to assist the protesters when it mattered most — would have been a good idea after all. Then, the NSC’s statements would now ring less hypocritically and might reasonably portend that some action will follow our pretty statements.

In late October, Robert Kagan asked the key question: can Obama play hardball with Iran? We’ve seen no sign he can so far. We can only hope that the tyrannical Islamofascist Iranian regime has finally provoked Obama to do just that.

In the wake of the deaths of ten Iranian protesters, the Obama administration has pepped up its rhetoric, declaring via a spokesman:

We strongly condemn the violent and unjust suppression of civilians in Iran seeking to exercise their universal rights. Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States. Governing through fear and violence is never just, and as President Obama said in Oslo – it is telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation.

Well, perhaps Sen. John Kerry can stay home now, rather than reward the latest murderers with an unofficial/official visit from the engagement-happy Obami. But one wonders whether this means anything beyond a holiday weekend statement issued by an NSC spokesman. Are we going to do anything — prevail upon Obama’s cherished “international community” to take action against the regime? (This would require a suspension of the UN’s “only Israel is condemned for human rights violations” rule.) Will Obama relent and authorize assistance to previously defunded democracy activists or lend help to their new media efforts, upon which the Obama team previously frowned? Could we hear some talk that a military option remains on the table if the regime persists in pursuing its nuclear program in violation of international agreements?

It seems that in lieu of the farcical engagement policy, a policy of regime change — a serious and concerted effort to assist the protesters when it mattered most — would have been a good idea after all. Then, the NSC’s statements would now ring less hypocritically and might reasonably portend that some action will follow our pretty statements.

In late October, Robert Kagan asked the key question: can Obama play hardball with Iran? We’ve seen no sign he can so far. We can only hope that the tyrannical Islamofascist Iranian regime has finally provoked Obama to do just that.

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Obama’s Multilateral Infatuation

As aptly described by George Will, the upside of the Copenhagen “agreement” is that it is no agreement at all. It’s yet another example of the utter unworkability of “multilateralism” as an operating principle in international affairs – and the silliness that Obama displays in attempting to pretend otherwise. As Will observes:

The 1992 Rio climate summit begat Kyoto. It, like Copenhagen, which Kyoto begat, was “saved,” as Copenhagen was, by a last-minute American intervention (Vice President Al Gore’s) that midwifed an agreement that most signatories evaded for 12 years. The Clinton-Gore administration never submitted Kyoto’s accomplishment for ratification, the Senate having denounced its terms 95 to 0.

Copenhagen will beget Mexico City next November. Before then, Congress will give “the international community” other reasons to pout. Congress will refuse to burden the economy with cap-and-trade carbon-reduction requirements and will spurn calls for sending billions in “climate reparations” to China and other countries. Representatives of those nations, when they did not have their hands out in Copenhagen grasping for America’s wealth, clapped their hands in ovations for Hugo Chávez and other kleptocrats who denounced capitalism while clamoring for its fruits.

Obama’s motives for perpetuating this charade are unclear. He didn’t want to be humiliated in Copenhagen a second time, of course, so it was essential to mask the entire affair’s uselessness and Obama’s inability to bend others to his will. But that, I think, is not all that’s going on here. It was also essential for him to preserve some sense that this sort of confab is credible and important.

Obama seems actually to believe the we-are-the-world hooey, which assumes common values and goals among nations that share neither. And even the supposedly “better Obama” at Oslo evinced an ongoing aversion to unilateral action by the U.S. and a preference for acting in concert — or avoiding acting in concert — with the “international community.” (“America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace.”) So it wouldn’t do to have Copenhagen collapse spectacularly, thus demonstrating once again that getting China, India, and Zimbabwe on the same page with the U.S. is no easy feat.

But Obama clearly had another motive in Copenhagen — to use an international agreement to bludgeon Congress into doing what it had already indicated it was unwilling to do. Even Democrats spotted what he was up to and at least temporarily remembered their constitutional roles. James Webb wrote to Obama in early December:

I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming [conference]. … Although details have not been made available, recent statements by Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern indicate that negotiators may be intending to commit the United States to a nationwide emission reduction program. … you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country.

And had China, India, and all the rest been just a bit more amenable, that is what, one suspects, Obama was more than willing to do — box in the Congress with a unilateral commitment.

While we might breathe a sigh of relief that Copenhagen ended as it did, it is yet another unpleasant reminder that Obama’s reverence for the “international community” is virtually without limit. The constant failure of the “international community” to produce any agreement of consequence (whether it’s enforceable sanctions on rogue wannabe-nuclear states or anything else) and its unseemly habit of money-grubbing from developed nations have, at least so far, not cooled Obama’s ardor for multilateral confabs. But stay tuned: it’s less than a year before the next three-ring circus in Mexico City.

As aptly described by George Will, the upside of the Copenhagen “agreement” is that it is no agreement at all. It’s yet another example of the utter unworkability of “multilateralism” as an operating principle in international affairs – and the silliness that Obama displays in attempting to pretend otherwise. As Will observes:

The 1992 Rio climate summit begat Kyoto. It, like Copenhagen, which Kyoto begat, was “saved,” as Copenhagen was, by a last-minute American intervention (Vice President Al Gore’s) that midwifed an agreement that most signatories evaded for 12 years. The Clinton-Gore administration never submitted Kyoto’s accomplishment for ratification, the Senate having denounced its terms 95 to 0.

Copenhagen will beget Mexico City next November. Before then, Congress will give “the international community” other reasons to pout. Congress will refuse to burden the economy with cap-and-trade carbon-reduction requirements and will spurn calls for sending billions in “climate reparations” to China and other countries. Representatives of those nations, when they did not have their hands out in Copenhagen grasping for America’s wealth, clapped their hands in ovations for Hugo Chávez and other kleptocrats who denounced capitalism while clamoring for its fruits.

Obama’s motives for perpetuating this charade are unclear. He didn’t want to be humiliated in Copenhagen a second time, of course, so it was essential to mask the entire affair’s uselessness and Obama’s inability to bend others to his will. But that, I think, is not all that’s going on here. It was also essential for him to preserve some sense that this sort of confab is credible and important.

Obama seems actually to believe the we-are-the-world hooey, which assumes common values and goals among nations that share neither. And even the supposedly “better Obama” at Oslo evinced an ongoing aversion to unilateral action by the U.S. and a preference for acting in concert — or avoiding acting in concert — with the “international community.” (“America’s commitment to global security will never waver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. America alone cannot secure the peace.”) So it wouldn’t do to have Copenhagen collapse spectacularly, thus demonstrating once again that getting China, India, and Zimbabwe on the same page with the U.S. is no easy feat.

But Obama clearly had another motive in Copenhagen — to use an international agreement to bludgeon Congress into doing what it had already indicated it was unwilling to do. Even Democrats spotted what he was up to and at least temporarily remembered their constitutional roles. James Webb wrote to Obama in early December:

I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming [conference]. … Although details have not been made available, recent statements by Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern indicate that negotiators may be intending to commit the United States to a nationwide emission reduction program. … you well know from your time in the Senate, only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country.

And had China, India, and all the rest been just a bit more amenable, that is what, one suspects, Obama was more than willing to do — box in the Congress with a unilateral commitment.

While we might breathe a sigh of relief that Copenhagen ended as it did, it is yet another unpleasant reminder that Obama’s reverence for the “international community” is virtually without limit. The constant failure of the “international community” to produce any agreement of consequence (whether it’s enforceable sanctions on rogue wannabe-nuclear states or anything else) and its unseemly habit of money-grubbing from developed nations have, at least so far, not cooled Obama’s ardor for multilateral confabs. But stay tuned: it’s less than a year before the next three-ring circus in Mexico City.

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The Best Available Defense of Obama’s Foreign Policy

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

I got a call the other day from a reporter from the New York Times Magazine doing a retrospective article on the first year of Obama’s foreign policy. He wanted to know what fruit the president’s attempts at “outreach” had borne. My instinctive reaction was: Obama’s stress on diplomacy has not produced any payoff yet. If anything, it has reduced American standing in the world by alarming our friends (notably Eastern Europe and Israel) and earning the scorn of our enemies (North Korea, Iran, and others). There seems to be bipartisan agreement that some of the president’s policies — e.g., on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — have been disastrous. To the extent that he has done things right, it is largely a matter of continuing and expanding on the previous president’s policies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This was greeted with a slightly incredulous noise by my interlocutor. Clearly he was skeptical, as you would expect a writer for the Times to be. So I asked him whether anyone has a contrary viewpoint. Are there serious analysts who can point to a substantive payoff from the president’s policies? He referred me to this essay by Jessica Matthews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Having read it, I am wondering if this is the best that the president’s supporters can muster on his behalf.

Matthews writes: “From his campaign address in Berlin to the path-breaking nuclear policy speech in Prague to the high risk venture in Cairo and the Nowruz message to Iran, the President succeeded in a remarkably short time in turning from dark to light how the world sees the United States.” There is some support for this impression from the Pew poll, which did find Obama’s ascent in improving opinions of the United States in Western Europe and some other places (there was a big bump in Indonesia where Obama spent part of this childhood). But it also found a small slippage in support for the U.S. in Israel, Poland, Pakistan, and Russia, while the gains in the Palestinian territory (up to 15% percent approval from 13 percent in 2007), Turkey (14 percent, up from 12 percent in 2008), Egypt (27 percent, up from 22 percent), and Jordan (25 percent, up from 19 percent) are small and still leave the U.S. mired in deep unpopularity.

The larger question is how Obama can translate greater popularity into greater achievements in safeguarding American security. Matthews thinks he has already done it, but she has to really stretch to make her case. She claims, for instance, that Obama deserves credit for the “establishment of the G-20 as a badly needed new instrument for such cooperation, bringing to the table economic powerhouses excluded from the G-8.” And what exactly will those “economic powerhouses” accomplish, other than holding fabulous meetings? That is unclear.

She also claims that Obama has established a “working relationship” with Russia but has to admit “it remains to be seen how the U.S.-Russia relationship will evolve—especially whether Moscow will do what it must do vis-à-vis Iran to retain credibility as a responsible international actor.” In fact, so far, Russia hasn’t given much reason to think it will be willing to crack down on the Iranian nuclear program. It may agree to a new START treaty, but so what? Reducing nuclear arms is more in the Russian interest than in ours because they can’t afford to maintain their arsenal.

Matthews claims that Obama “has also gone a long way toward reversing the world’s view of whether Washington or Tehran has the better argument in its favor on the crucial nuclear issue,” but there was never much question that most other nations — especially in Europe and the Middle East — sided with Washington’s concerns. The question has always been what they are prepared to do about it. Are they prepared to sacrifice economic self-interest to impose really tough sanctions on Iran? So far there has been no real movement in this direction, while the Iranian nuclear program has been going full-speed ahead.

I am by no means suggesting that the Obama foreign policy is already a failure. It is too early to tell. But certainly it has been hard to point to any substantive achievements of his first year in office. His efforts to reach out to Iran and North Korea, while ignoring their egregious human-rights violations, have been met with humiliating rejection. His Oslo speech suggested that he may be getting a little more tough-minded, as did his decision to send reinforcements to Afghanistan. Perhaps the second year will be better than his first — but that’s a low hurdle to get over.

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“Dear Mr. Dictator. . .”

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

Obama, we’re told, has penned a letter to North Korea’s diminutive thug Kim Jong-il. This is not a good thing. You recall the dreamy letter to Vladimir Putin and the video suck-up-o-gram to the “Islamic Republic of Iran.” Both were ill-fated attempts to lure the unlurable with an open hand. At best they had no impact; at worst they conveyed a desperation and naiveté that no doubt impressed those leaders, albeit not in the way we intended. The news reports don’t say what was in the letter. The administration isn’t saying. But as the Washington Post dryly puts it:

It is relatively unusual for an American president to send the North Korean dictator a personal communication so early in his term. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush eventually sent letters to Kim, but only after extensive diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Efforts early in Bush’s term to send a letter were stymied by an intense debate over whether to use an honorific such as “his excellency” to address Kim.

Given the cringe-inducing behavior of the Obami, one can imagine that the letter might be less than the model of toughness and resolve we would hope. We’ve dispatched an envoy to engage in bilateral talks with the North Koreans and gone mute on the regime’s atrocious human-rights record. As Stephen Hayes points out, Obama in his Oslo speech omitted North Korea from his list of human-rights miscreants:

So why wasn’t North Korea mentioned? Was it merely an oversight–did Obama officials simply forget how bad things are there? Or was it a strategic omission–a signal to Kim Jong Il that the U.S. government will set aside concerns about human rights if his regime will return to the nuclear negotiating table? …

The very fact that the high-level face-to-face meetings took place is a blow to human rights in North Korea, as any such discussions necessarily lend legitimacy to the repressive regime in Pyongyang, particularly when such bilateral talks came after repeated demands for them from the North Koreans. And the fact that the Obama administration seems unwilling not only to “call attention to” human rights abuses in North Korea but even to mention them suggests that Obama’s “unwavering commitment” to human rights around the world is mere Oslo rhetoric.

And then there’s the news of a North Korean shipment of 35 tons of arms seized in Thailand en route, perhaps, to Pakistan or Middle East, to be used by those seeking to kill Americans or our allies, one supposes.

Given all this, one wonders why the president is penning missives to the North Korean despot. It seems that the Obami are still enamored of their own charms and still bent on “drawing out” the world’s thugs. Maybe a better gambit would be to fund fully our missile-defense systems. Granted, it’s more expensive than a postage stamp, but it’s a whole lot less foolish than writing “Dear Dictator” letters.

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Bromide Obama’s Greatest Speech

David Brooks asserted yesterday in “Obama’s Christian Realism” that Barack Obama’s Oslo speech was “the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life.”

Since Obama’s presidency is only 11 months old, and the Obama oeuvre is not large, this is actually faint praise. We all remember the great “Let Me Be Clear” speech at AIPAC, the emphatic “I Can No More Disown” Reverend Wright speech, the humble “Citizens of the World” address in Berlin, the stately “Greek Column” oration in Denver, the compelling “Unclench Your Fist” Inaugural, and the “Just Till July 2011” clarion call at West Point. There are really only about 10 lifetime speeches to be evaluated in terms of comparative profundity.

Brooks concludes that Obama’s Oslo speech is making his “doctrine” clear: a theological commitment to combat evil while avoiding righteousness. He quotes Obama’s 2007 remark on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s impact: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

Brooks originally reported that remark in a 2007 column entitled “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” in which he questioned whether Obama had “thought through a practical foreign policy doctrine of his own – a way to apply his Niebuhrian instincts.” Back then, Brooks was not certain he had:

When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: ”I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

In other words, he has a tendency to go big and offer himself up as Bromide Obama, filled with grand but usually evasive eloquence about bringing people together and showing respect. Then, in a blink, he can go small and concrete, and sound more like a community organizer than George F. Kennan.

It’s nice that in his Oslo speech, Obama confirmed that evil “does exist in the world” and that he “cannot be guided by [Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Gandhi’s] examples alone.” It is good that he insists that Iran and North Korea not “game the system” and that sanctions must “exact a real price.”

But the real question about Obama’s “doctrine” is whether — after Iran declines to unclench its fist and sanctions fail (they have yet to succeed with Cuba or North Korea, and Saddam Hussein turned a profit from the “crippling” ones on him) — his Niebuhrian instincts call for any other option. Iran is likely to react to diplomacy in one fashion if it thinks the answer is yes, and another if it thinks the answer is no.

So far, Iran is acting as if it has read Brooks’s 2007 column and knows the answer. It appears untroubled by the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

David Brooks asserted yesterday in “Obama’s Christian Realism” that Barack Obama’s Oslo speech was “the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life.”

Since Obama’s presidency is only 11 months old, and the Obama oeuvre is not large, this is actually faint praise. We all remember the great “Let Me Be Clear” speech at AIPAC, the emphatic “I Can No More Disown” Reverend Wright speech, the humble “Citizens of the World” address in Berlin, the stately “Greek Column” oration in Denver, the compelling “Unclench Your Fist” Inaugural, and the “Just Till July 2011” clarion call at West Point. There are really only about 10 lifetime speeches to be evaluated in terms of comparative profundity.

Brooks concludes that Obama’s Oslo speech is making his “doctrine” clear: a theological commitment to combat evil while avoiding righteousness. He quotes Obama’s 2007 remark on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s impact: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

Brooks originally reported that remark in a 2007 column entitled “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” in which he questioned whether Obama had “thought through a practical foreign policy doctrine of his own – a way to apply his Niebuhrian instincts.” Back then, Brooks was not certain he had:

When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: ”I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

In other words, he has a tendency to go big and offer himself up as Bromide Obama, filled with grand but usually evasive eloquence about bringing people together and showing respect. Then, in a blink, he can go small and concrete, and sound more like a community organizer than George F. Kennan.

It’s nice that in his Oslo speech, Obama confirmed that evil “does exist in the world” and that he “cannot be guided by [Martin Luther King Jr.'s and Gandhi’s] examples alone.” It is good that he insists that Iran and North Korea not “game the system” and that sanctions must “exact a real price.”

But the real question about Obama’s “doctrine” is whether — after Iran declines to unclench its fist and sanctions fail (they have yet to succeed with Cuba or North Korea, and Saddam Hussein turned a profit from the “crippling” ones on him) — his Niebuhrian instincts call for any other option. Iran is likely to react to diplomacy in one fashion if it thinks the answer is yes, and another if it thinks the answer is no.

So far, Iran is acting as if it has read Brooks’s 2007 column and knows the answer. It appears untroubled by the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Harry Reid seems to say, “Never mind”: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is prepared to give in to demands from centrists in order to pass the health-care legislation before Christmas, senators say.Reid indicated at the Democratic Conference meeting on Monday that he would drop a controversial Medicare buy-in provision, which was offered as a replacement to the government-run health insurance option, to win the votes of Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).” All that’s missing is what’s in the deal.

Seems like the public doesn’t want any kind of plan. The RealClearPolitics average shows that 38 percent approve of ObamaCare and 53.3 percent disapprove.

Tevi Troy pulls off a Chanukah miracle — getting the White House to cough up 150 more invites to the White House Chanukah party.

The New York Post (h/t Ben Smith) reports that “Marc Mukasey, the son of Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey, is mulling mounting a challenge to Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.” Bet we’d have some fun debates on the KSM trial.

Another inconvenient poll: “With world leaders debating how to address climate change in Copenhagen and the U.S. Senate poised to take up a climate bill in the coming months, a new CBS News/New York Times poll finds that just 37 percent of Americans believe the issue should be a priority for government leaders. That’s a significant drop from April of 2007, when 52 percent of those surveyed said the issue should be a high priority.” Apparently, these people want jobs and economic prosperity: “A clear majority – 61 percent – say stimulating the economy should come first. Only 29 percent say protecting the environment is more important.”

The Marx Brothers hold a climate-control conference.

And the scientific clown show continues: Al Gore’s prediction of an ice-free north polar cap in five years isn’t supported by any facts. “The climatologist whose work Mr Gore was relying upon dropped the former Vice-President in the water with an icy blast. ‘It’s unclear to me how this figure was arrived at,’ Dr. [Wieslav] Maslowski said. ‘I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this.’ ” Gore says it’s close enough for made-up science — er — for scaring the public  — er — for what he’s doing.

“Cramdown” mortgage legislation is also going down for the count. Almost like there isn’t a majority for extreme antibusiness regulation.

Bill McGurn thinks actions count more than words: “In wartime, people soon tire of lofty words that do not seem borne out by events. In September 2001, with the twin towers still smoldering and the Pentagon wounded, President Bush delivered a war address to a joint session of Congress (which I had no part in, so am free to praise) that ranks with the best of FDR. Whether that speech ever receives its full due depends in part on how this war ends. The same goes for President Obama. At West Point and Oslo, he spoke to the challenge of defending our freedom against hard men with no moral limit on what they are willing to do to crush it. The irony is that whether these fine speeches are remembered by history depends on a word he didn’t use in either one: victory.”

Harry Reid seems to say, “Never mind”: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is prepared to give in to demands from centrists in order to pass the health-care legislation before Christmas, senators say.Reid indicated at the Democratic Conference meeting on Monday that he would drop a controversial Medicare buy-in provision, which was offered as a replacement to the government-run health insurance option, to win the votes of Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).” All that’s missing is what’s in the deal.

Seems like the public doesn’t want any kind of plan. The RealClearPolitics average shows that 38 percent approve of ObamaCare and 53.3 percent disapprove.

Tevi Troy pulls off a Chanukah miracle — getting the White House to cough up 150 more invites to the White House Chanukah party.

The New York Post (h/t Ben Smith) reports that “Marc Mukasey, the son of Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey, is mulling mounting a challenge to Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.” Bet we’d have some fun debates on the KSM trial.

Another inconvenient poll: “With world leaders debating how to address climate change in Copenhagen and the U.S. Senate poised to take up a climate bill in the coming months, a new CBS News/New York Times poll finds that just 37 percent of Americans believe the issue should be a priority for government leaders. That’s a significant drop from April of 2007, when 52 percent of those surveyed said the issue should be a high priority.” Apparently, these people want jobs and economic prosperity: “A clear majority – 61 percent – say stimulating the economy should come first. Only 29 percent say protecting the environment is more important.”

The Marx Brothers hold a climate-control conference.

And the scientific clown show continues: Al Gore’s prediction of an ice-free north polar cap in five years isn’t supported by any facts. “The climatologist whose work Mr Gore was relying upon dropped the former Vice-President in the water with an icy blast. ‘It’s unclear to me how this figure was arrived at,’ Dr. [Wieslav] Maslowski said. ‘I would never try to estimate likelihood at anything as exact as this.’ ” Gore says it’s close enough for made-up science — er — for scaring the public  — er — for what he’s doing.

“Cramdown” mortgage legislation is also going down for the count. Almost like there isn’t a majority for extreme antibusiness regulation.

Bill McGurn thinks actions count more than words: “In wartime, people soon tire of lofty words that do not seem borne out by events. In September 2001, with the twin towers still smoldering and the Pentagon wounded, President Bush delivered a war address to a joint session of Congress (which I had no part in, so am free to praise) that ranks with the best of FDR. Whether that speech ever receives its full due depends in part on how this war ends. The same goes for President Obama. At West Point and Oslo, he spoke to the challenge of defending our freedom against hard men with no moral limit on what they are willing to do to crush it. The irony is that whether these fine speeches are remembered by history depends on a word he didn’t use in either one: victory.”

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60 Minutes and One Giant Step Back

For those celebrating the West Point and Oslo speeches – and reassured by Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates that the 18-month “deadline” wasn’t a deadline, Obama’s 60 Minutes interview should come as a rude awakening. The lefty netroot rhetoric, contemptuous of the idea that victory is America’s goal and that of the commander in chief, was back in full force. And typically for Obama, it came in an apparent fit of pique after Steve Kroft criticized his West Point speech as too detached and unemotional:

You know, that was actually probably the most emotional speech that I’ve made, in terms of how I felt about it. Because I was looking out over a group of cadets, some of whom were gonna be deployed in Afghanistan. And potentially some might not come back.

There is not a speech that I’ve made that hit me in the gut as much as that speech. But I do think that it was important in that speech to recognize that there are costs to war. That this is a burden we don’t welcome. It’s one that was foisted on us as a consequence of 19 men deciding to kill thousands of Americans back in 2001. That there’s unfinished business. And, you know, I think that one of the mistakes that was made over the last eight years is for us to have a triumphant sense about war. This is a tough business. And there are tough costs to it. And I think because it was detached from our day to day lives in so many ways — unless you were a military family; unless you were one of those who were being deployed. Because we didn’t even get asked to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a tendency to say, “We can go in. We can kick some tail. You know this is some glorious exercise.”

For starters, there’s something odd indeed about this president if he considers his West Point offering an emotional speech. (Perhaps next time he could tap his foot or the podium to signal his heightened emotional state.) But the remainder of his comments on this point are simply jaw-dropping. We learn that he’s above all that “We win, they lose” sort of stuff. We have troops in the field, and this president disparages the notion that we should commit ourselves to victory — triumph – and declare our motives “glorious.” Are they not? Isn’t this about fighting “evil”? One can hardly imagine any other president turning up his nose at the idea that we should unashamedly declare ourselves devoted to triumph in battle or that our cause in defending ourselves (and Western civilization) is anything other than glorious. Can one imagine if he had said that in front of the West Point cadets? I suspect he wouldn’t have dared. Read More

For those celebrating the West Point and Oslo speeches – and reassured by Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates that the 18-month “deadline” wasn’t a deadline, Obama’s 60 Minutes interview should come as a rude awakening. The lefty netroot rhetoric, contemptuous of the idea that victory is America’s goal and that of the commander in chief, was back in full force. And typically for Obama, it came in an apparent fit of pique after Steve Kroft criticized his West Point speech as too detached and unemotional:

You know, that was actually probably the most emotional speech that I’ve made, in terms of how I felt about it. Because I was looking out over a group of cadets, some of whom were gonna be deployed in Afghanistan. And potentially some might not come back.

There is not a speech that I’ve made that hit me in the gut as much as that speech. But I do think that it was important in that speech to recognize that there are costs to war. That this is a burden we don’t welcome. It’s one that was foisted on us as a consequence of 19 men deciding to kill thousands of Americans back in 2001. That there’s unfinished business. And, you know, I think that one of the mistakes that was made over the last eight years is for us to have a triumphant sense about war. This is a tough business. And there are tough costs to it. And I think because it was detached from our day to day lives in so many ways — unless you were a military family; unless you were one of those who were being deployed. Because we didn’t even get asked to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a tendency to say, “We can go in. We can kick some tail. You know this is some glorious exercise.”

For starters, there’s something odd indeed about this president if he considers his West Point offering an emotional speech. (Perhaps next time he could tap his foot or the podium to signal his heightened emotional state.) But the remainder of his comments on this point are simply jaw-dropping. We learn that he’s above all that “We win, they lose” sort of stuff. We have troops in the field, and this president disparages the notion that we should commit ourselves to victory — triumph – and declare our motives “glorious.” Are they not? Isn’t this about fighting “evil”? One can hardly imagine any other president turning up his nose at the idea that we should unashamedly declare ourselves devoted to triumph in battle or that our cause in defending ourselves (and Western civilization) is anything other than glorious. Can one imagine if he had said that in front of the West Point cadets? I suspect he wouldn’t have dared.

And then there’s the deadline. It seems that despite the best efforts of Clinton and Gates, Obama really is all about limits. He explains that “it was a mistake for us to engage in open-ended commitment in Afghanistan. That was not necessary in order for us to meet our national interests as properly defined. It was in our interest to make sure that we had this boost of troops that could train Afghan forces, stabilize the country, sustain a platform for us going after Al Qaeda aggressively. And that is exactly the order that I gave.” But he really doesn’t mean to signal to the enemy that we aren’t in this to win, does he? Hmm. After repeatedly objecting to the notion that his war address was contradictory or confusing, he had this to say:

Well, as I’ve said, we’ve got a mission that is time-definite in order to accomplish a particular goal, which is to stand up Afghan security forces. And as I said, we did this in Iraq just two years ago. And General [David] Petraeus, who was involved in my consultations in designing this strategy, I think is the first to acknowledge that had it not been for those additional troops combined with effective political work inside of Iraq, we might have seen a much worse outcome in Iraq than the one that we’re gonna see.

(Yes, Obama was one who denied that the additional troops were going to work in Iraq, but this is as close as we’re getting to a confession from him.) We then get a mishmash, at best. On one hand, he says of the drawdown:

The pace of that drawdown, how many U.S. troops are coming out, how quickly, what the slope is of that drawdown will be determined by conditions on the ground. And we are gonna be making consistent assessments to make sure that as we are standing up Afghan troops, that we are replacing U.S. troops or ally troops, and we’re not gonna do it in a precipitous way that in any way endangers our troops or endangers the progress that we’ve made.

Yet he’s also signaling that the limit itself is necessary because he and his constituents have other things to do: “In the absence of a deadline, the message we are sending to the Afghans is, ‘It’s business as usual. This is an open-ended commitment.’ ” Later on, he emphasizes:

I think what is true is that if we have an open-ended commitment in a place like Afghanistan with no clear benchmarks for what success means, that the American people who have just gone through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, who’ve already endured eight years of war, at some point are gonna say: enough. And rightly so. And my job is to come up with a strategy that is time-constrained, that matches the resources that we’re expended to the nature of our national interest.

Actually, his job is to win a critical war. But he’s not into triumphalism.

Frankly the interview is a mess — a mass of contradictory signals and a leap back into netroot-land. According to the 60 Minutes Obama, we shouldn’t announce that we intend to triumph. Our cause shouldn’t be characterized as glorious. We’ve got limited time and resources for this sort of war. I think the Obama’s spinners who promoted the appearance of a tougher, more realistic, and frankly more pro-American Obama will have their work cut out for them explaining away the 60 Minutes Obama.

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Not There Yet

Conservatives and those Democrats who had grown nervous about Obama’s foreign-policy bent have become ever so hopeful that Obama has shifted away from his leftist vision in that regard. Many of these optimistic observers have chosen to skip over or simply roll their eyes at Obama’s comments at West Point, and again at Oslo, concerning our anti-terror policies. But Liz Cheney was having none of that. On Fox News Sunday she declared:

I think the key will be whether the policies now follow that, and I certainly hope that they do. But we still had in this speech — you know, it’s almost like it’s become reflexive, this notion that America abandoned our ideals after 9/11, and I think that it is — you know, as we see this president repeatedly go onto foreign soil and accuse America of having tortured people, talk about Guantanamo Bay as an abandonment of our ideals, you know, I — that part of the speech to me really is nothing short of shameful.

And it’s not just an attack on political opponents. You know, it really is casting aspersions and, I would say, slandering the men and women in the CIA who carried out key programs that kept us safe and the people, frankly, right now at Guantanamo Bay who are guarding some of the world’s worst terrorists.

Well, yes, it’s a bit hard to square the president’s two major addresses with the notion that he has woken up to reality, seen the nature of the enemy, grown in office, and assumed a more realistic attitude toward his obligations as commander in chief. Why is he still spouting netroot-approved rhetoric on Guantanamo, the CIA, and enhanced interrogation, and planning to move detainees to Illinois and hold a civilian trial for KSM if he now “gets it”?

If the president has in fact decided that it’s time to put away childish leftist rhetoric and embrace the responsibilities of a commander in chief who is fighting a war on terror in a world where “evil” exists — he told us so, remember — then it’s incumbent upon him to stop spouting silliness and to adopt a mature policy on the war on terror. But he has done neither.

Obama didn’t ban “torture”; it was illegal before he divined that slapping a terrorist or making him sleepy offended our deepest values. Obama has banned enhanced interrogation — prohibiting our intelligence agents from using methods we know were successful in extracting life-saving information in the past. He chose to release notes that detailed interrogation memos and to reinvestigate CIA operatives, sending a message to the intelligence community to do as little as possible and take no action for which they might subsequently be prosecuted. He is affording KSM and his cohorts a legal forum to propagate their jihadist message. He is willing to relocate terrorists to American soil or to terrorist training grounds like Yemen, increasing security risks for Americans and again making it more likely that they’ll spread their message to others.

Those rooting for Obama are understandably excited at the prospect of his breaking out of his netroot cocoon. But those squinting to make out the outlines of an Obama epiphany should be candid: we’re a long way from a mature, robust position on the war on terror.

Conservatives and those Democrats who had grown nervous about Obama’s foreign-policy bent have become ever so hopeful that Obama has shifted away from his leftist vision in that regard. Many of these optimistic observers have chosen to skip over or simply roll their eyes at Obama’s comments at West Point, and again at Oslo, concerning our anti-terror policies. But Liz Cheney was having none of that. On Fox News Sunday she declared:

I think the key will be whether the policies now follow that, and I certainly hope that they do. But we still had in this speech — you know, it’s almost like it’s become reflexive, this notion that America abandoned our ideals after 9/11, and I think that it is — you know, as we see this president repeatedly go onto foreign soil and accuse America of having tortured people, talk about Guantanamo Bay as an abandonment of our ideals, you know, I — that part of the speech to me really is nothing short of shameful.

And it’s not just an attack on political opponents. You know, it really is casting aspersions and, I would say, slandering the men and women in the CIA who carried out key programs that kept us safe and the people, frankly, right now at Guantanamo Bay who are guarding some of the world’s worst terrorists.

Well, yes, it’s a bit hard to square the president’s two major addresses with the notion that he has woken up to reality, seen the nature of the enemy, grown in office, and assumed a more realistic attitude toward his obligations as commander in chief. Why is he still spouting netroot-approved rhetoric on Guantanamo, the CIA, and enhanced interrogation, and planning to move detainees to Illinois and hold a civilian trial for KSM if he now “gets it”?

If the president has in fact decided that it’s time to put away childish leftist rhetoric and embrace the responsibilities of a commander in chief who is fighting a war on terror in a world where “evil” exists — he told us so, remember — then it’s incumbent upon him to stop spouting silliness and to adopt a mature policy on the war on terror. But he has done neither.

Obama didn’t ban “torture”; it was illegal before he divined that slapping a terrorist or making him sleepy offended our deepest values. Obama has banned enhanced interrogation — prohibiting our intelligence agents from using methods we know were successful in extracting life-saving information in the past. He chose to release notes that detailed interrogation memos and to reinvestigate CIA operatives, sending a message to the intelligence community to do as little as possible and take no action for which they might subsequently be prosecuted. He is affording KSM and his cohorts a legal forum to propagate their jihadist message. He is willing to relocate terrorists to American soil or to terrorist training grounds like Yemen, increasing security risks for Americans and again making it more likely that they’ll spread their message to others.

Those rooting for Obama are understandably excited at the prospect of his breaking out of his netroot cocoon. But those squinting to make out the outlines of an Obama epiphany should be candid: we’re a long way from a mature, robust position on the war on terror.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

ReidCare doesn’t have 60 votes: “Two key senators criticized the most recent healthcare compromise Sunday, saying the policies replacing the public option are still unacceptable. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) both said a Medicare ‘buy-in’ option for those aged 55-64 was a deal breaker.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill signals she’s a “no” vote if ReidCare is going to increase costs or the deficit.

A smart take on and helpful survey of the Obami’s human-rights record from Joshua Kurlantzick: “The irony of Obama’s Nobel Prize is not that he accepted it while waging two wars. After all, as Obama said in Oslo: “One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek.” The stranger thing is that, from China to Sudan, from Burma to Iran, a president lauded for his commitment to peace has dialed down a U.S. commitment to human rights, one that persisted through both Republican and Democratic administrations dating back at least to Jimmy Carter. And so far, Obama has little to show for it.

A reminder of the Obama team’s awkward start last December — which was ignored by an utterly smitten press corps: “Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers want the FBI to give up details of interviews conducted last year of President Obama, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and others as part of the investigation into the former governor.”

Oh, that Nancy Pelosi: “Rasmussen Reports recently asked voters their opinion of ‘Nancy Pelosi’ and the responses were mixed. Forty-six percent (46%) offered a favorable opinion and 50% an unfavorable view. Just half the nation’s voters voiced a strong opinion about Pelosi—14% Very Favorable and 36% Very Unfavorable. However, in a separate survey conducted the same night, Rasmussen Reports asked voters their opinion of ‘House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’ … just 38% voiced a positive opinion while 58% had a negative view.”

Byron York reminds us that “‘Conservatives and Republicans report fewer experiences than liberals or Democrats communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts and consulting fortunetellers or psychics,’ the Pew study says.” Or belief in the hysterical global-warming hype. Maybe they favor science or traditional religion, or both.

Sunday was another new low for Obama: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 23% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-two percent (42%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -19. Today is the second straight day that Obama’s Approval Index rating has fallen to a new low.” He’s apparently bleeding support from his base: “Just 41% of Democrats Strongly Approve while 69% of Republicans Strongly Disapprove.”

More media outlets pick up on the New Black Panther Party scandal. From the Pittsburg Tribune-Review: “Every American who treasures the right to vote should thank the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights — and scorn the Democrat-controlled Congress and an Obama Justice Department unworthy of its own name. The commission has subpoenaed records related to Justice dismissing, despite compelling video evidence, a Philadelphia voter-intimidation case against three New Black Panther Party members. In doing so, it admirably is pursuing the proper course — which seemingly is the only course likely to get to the bottom of that outrageous decision.”

And the Washington Times is on the case as well: “The dispute between the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Justice Department is starting to look like the legal equivalent of World War II’s Anzio campaign, which represented a major escalation late in the war. The battleground is the controversy about the department’s decision to drop voter-intimidation cases against members of the New Black Panther Party. The commission is mounting a massive legal assault; Justice is refusing to be budged; and the casualties could be high.”

ReidCare doesn’t have 60 votes: “Two key senators criticized the most recent healthcare compromise Sunday, saying the policies replacing the public option are still unacceptable. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) both said a Medicare ‘buy-in’ option for those aged 55-64 was a deal breaker.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill signals she’s a “no” vote if ReidCare is going to increase costs or the deficit.

A smart take on and helpful survey of the Obami’s human-rights record from Joshua Kurlantzick: “The irony of Obama’s Nobel Prize is not that he accepted it while waging two wars. After all, as Obama said in Oslo: “One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek.” The stranger thing is that, from China to Sudan, from Burma to Iran, a president lauded for his commitment to peace has dialed down a U.S. commitment to human rights, one that persisted through both Republican and Democratic administrations dating back at least to Jimmy Carter. And so far, Obama has little to show for it.

A reminder of the Obama team’s awkward start last December — which was ignored by an utterly smitten press corps: “Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers want the FBI to give up details of interviews conducted last year of President Obama, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and others as part of the investigation into the former governor.”

Oh, that Nancy Pelosi: “Rasmussen Reports recently asked voters their opinion of ‘Nancy Pelosi’ and the responses were mixed. Forty-six percent (46%) offered a favorable opinion and 50% an unfavorable view. Just half the nation’s voters voiced a strong opinion about Pelosi—14% Very Favorable and 36% Very Unfavorable. However, in a separate survey conducted the same night, Rasmussen Reports asked voters their opinion of ‘House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’ … just 38% voiced a positive opinion while 58% had a negative view.”

Byron York reminds us that “‘Conservatives and Republicans report fewer experiences than liberals or Democrats communicating with the dead, seeing ghosts and consulting fortunetellers or psychics,’ the Pew study says.” Or belief in the hysterical global-warming hype. Maybe they favor science or traditional religion, or both.

Sunday was another new low for Obama: “The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 23% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-two percent (42%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -19. Today is the second straight day that Obama’s Approval Index rating has fallen to a new low.” He’s apparently bleeding support from his base: “Just 41% of Democrats Strongly Approve while 69% of Republicans Strongly Disapprove.”

More media outlets pick up on the New Black Panther Party scandal. From the Pittsburg Tribune-Review: “Every American who treasures the right to vote should thank the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights — and scorn the Democrat-controlled Congress and an Obama Justice Department unworthy of its own name. The commission has subpoenaed records related to Justice dismissing, despite compelling video evidence, a Philadelphia voter-intimidation case against three New Black Panther Party members. In doing so, it admirably is pursuing the proper course — which seemingly is the only course likely to get to the bottom of that outrageous decision.”

And the Washington Times is on the case as well: “The dispute between the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Justice Department is starting to look like the legal equivalent of World War II’s Anzio campaign, which represented a major escalation late in the war. The battleground is the controversy about the department’s decision to drop voter-intimidation cases against members of the New Black Panther Party. The commission is mounting a massive legal assault; Justice is refusing to be budged; and the casualties could be high.”

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Calling a Crime a Crime

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

It’s a measure of how badly the “peace process” has warped Israel’s language of values that the most intelligent response to Friday’s torching of a mosque near Nablus, allegedly by extremist settlers, came from the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Its secretary general, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, correctly identified the crime as “blatant aggression against the sanctity of sacred places.”

That’s more than Israeli politicians seemed capable of doing. Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, for instance, sounded as if the real crime were the potential damage to the peace process. “This is an extremist act geared toward harming the government’s efforts to advance the political process,” he declared. Similarly, opposition leader and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni condemned it as a “despicable act of provocation” — as if the crime were the response it might provoke.

If the perpetrators were settlers, they probably did intend to undermine the peace process by provoking a violent Palestinian response. But that’s not what made their act criminal. The crime isn’t the impact on the peace process; it’s the wanton destruction of a house of worship.

This perversion of language began when Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres deemed the suicide bombings that followed the 1993 Oslo Accord “crimes against the peace process” and the victims, “sacrifices for peace.” For them, this was a political necessity: If Oslo were seen as producing more anti-Israel terror rather than less, Israelis would turn against Oslo — and its sponsors. Hence they had to paint the attacks not as the same old anti-Israel terror, but as a new form of terror, aimed equally at Israel and its Palestinian partner — i.e., at the peace process itself.

This recasting of the crime led inevitably to the next perversion: the frequent labeling of settlers by leftist politicians and journalists as Israel’s equivalent of Hamas. If Hamas’s crime is mass murder, this comparison is clearly false: Blowing up buses and cafes is not a standard practice of settlers. But if the real crime is opposition to the “peace process,” the comparison becomes plausible: Settlers were trying to stop Oslo. The only difference was their choice of tactics: demonstrations and lobbying rather than violence.

And that is precisely what makes this new language, and the value system it embodies, so warped. If the crime is what you oppose rather than how you choose to oppose it, there is no difference between a peaceful protest and blowing up a bus. So why shouldn’t settler extremists torch a mosque, if they deem that a more effective means of “harming … the political process”? Their very opposition to the process makes them criminals regardless of what tactics they use.

Clearly, most Israelis think no such thing. But language does shape thought. So if they don’t want to raise a generation that indeed sees no difference between peaceful and violent tactics, Israelis need to realign their language with their values. That starts with saying clearly that the crime is torching the mosque — not its impact on the peace process.

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A Tale of Three Obama Speeches

After listening to President Obama’s last two major speeches—his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance in Oslo and his announcement at West Point of a renewed commitment to fighting the war in Afghanistan—many of his leftist supporters are a bit confused. Perhaps the most understandable was the response from Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt, who suggested that everyone just ignore the Oslo speech and hope that its admirable defense of American power will have no influence on the president’s future decisions. While there was much to quibble about in both of these speeches—his foolish announcement of an exit date before buildup in Afghanistan and his blind faith in the value of diplomacy with North Korea and Iran—there can be no denying that after nearly a year in office, Obama seems to be waking up to the fact that his duties as commander in chief require him to face up to the facts of life in a dangerous world. And that has to be something that people like Walt and the members of the Nobel Peace Prize committee can’t be happy about.

In analyzing Obama’s Oslo oration, it is most useful to contrast it with the speech he gave to the Arab and Islamic world in Cairo in June. That paean to moral equivalence seemed to win him his Nobel in that it appeared to promise that his administration would be unwilling to see a world where “evil” existed and must be fought. In Oslo, he spoke out about the need for a foreign policy in which human rights and democracy—heretofore supposedly only the obsession of dread neoconservatives—was integral to our national goals. In Cairo, such talk was conspicuously absent.

One can also well imagine how disappointed Obama’s Norwegian hosts were when they heard him speak of the necessity of using American military power in just wars like the one the United States is fighting in Afghanistan. Nor could they have been prepared for his frank avowal that American military power not only conquered fascism in World War II but also largely kept the peace since then. This was, as others have noted, exactly the sort of thing George W. Bush often said during his presidency and often earned him the jeers of the European Left, which cheered Obama’s Cairo speech and its promise of a “post-American” foreign policy.

We ought not to ignore the flaws in Obama’s recent pronouncements, nor his propensity to curry favor among those who hate the country that elected him. But it may well be that the story of his time in office will be determined by the outcome of the ongoing battle between those in his administration who see the world from the point of the view of the Cairo speech and those who see it as enunciated in West Point and Oslo. If so, then hope is possible that as events lead us inevitably toward further confrontations with Iran, Obama will come to realize that engagement must be replaced with action. As his dithering on Iran illustrates, there is still plenty of reason to doubt Obama’s ability to come to the right conclusions about the hard choices facing America. But slowly and perhaps against his will, Barack Obama may have come to realize that as president, he must face up to America’s foreign-policy challenges with the same responses that earned his predecessor the hatred of the leftist elites.

After listening to President Obama’s last two major speeches—his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance in Oslo and his announcement at West Point of a renewed commitment to fighting the war in Afghanistan—many of his leftist supporters are a bit confused. Perhaps the most understandable was the response from Israel Lobby author Stephen Walt, who suggested that everyone just ignore the Oslo speech and hope that its admirable defense of American power will have no influence on the president’s future decisions. While there was much to quibble about in both of these speeches—his foolish announcement of an exit date before buildup in Afghanistan and his blind faith in the value of diplomacy with North Korea and Iran—there can be no denying that after nearly a year in office, Obama seems to be waking up to the fact that his duties as commander in chief require him to face up to the facts of life in a dangerous world. And that has to be something that people like Walt and the members of the Nobel Peace Prize committee can’t be happy about.

In analyzing Obama’s Oslo oration, it is most useful to contrast it with the speech he gave to the Arab and Islamic world in Cairo in June. That paean to moral equivalence seemed to win him his Nobel in that it appeared to promise that his administration would be unwilling to see a world where “evil” existed and must be fought. In Oslo, he spoke out about the need for a foreign policy in which human rights and democracy—heretofore supposedly only the obsession of dread neoconservatives—was integral to our national goals. In Cairo, such talk was conspicuously absent.

One can also well imagine how disappointed Obama’s Norwegian hosts were when they heard him speak of the necessity of using American military power in just wars like the one the United States is fighting in Afghanistan. Nor could they have been prepared for his frank avowal that American military power not only conquered fascism in World War II but also largely kept the peace since then. This was, as others have noted, exactly the sort of thing George W. Bush often said during his presidency and often earned him the jeers of the European Left, which cheered Obama’s Cairo speech and its promise of a “post-American” foreign policy.

We ought not to ignore the flaws in Obama’s recent pronouncements, nor his propensity to curry favor among those who hate the country that elected him. But it may well be that the story of his time in office will be determined by the outcome of the ongoing battle between those in his administration who see the world from the point of the view of the Cairo speech and those who see it as enunciated in West Point and Oslo. If so, then hope is possible that as events lead us inevitably toward further confrontations with Iran, Obama will come to realize that engagement must be replaced with action. As his dithering on Iran illustrates, there is still plenty of reason to doubt Obama’s ability to come to the right conclusions about the hard choices facing America. But slowly and perhaps against his will, Barack Obama may have come to realize that as president, he must face up to America’s foreign-policy challenges with the same responses that earned his predecessor the hatred of the leftist elites.

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It’s the Coherence

Listening to the West Point and Copenhagen speeches, many conservatives have been pleased or surprised, to varying degrees, by what they hope is a turn by the president away from a leftist, academic bent in foreign policy and toward a more muscular and mature assertion of American power. His decision to deploy 30,000 troops was enthusiastically received. As one conservative on Capitol Hill described his Nobel Peace Prize speech, “Grading on a curve, it was his best yet.” Others were even more enthusiastic.

But there is now, I would suggest, a problem of credibility and coherence that Obama must overcome. On the credibility front, the non-deadline deadline of his West Point speech raised questions about whether the president signaled a less than fulsome commitment to the difficult counterinsurgency. Will this war of necessity gain his full attention and elicit from him the robust leadership that is essential to maintaining public support and convincing friends and foes that we mean to stick it out even when casualties increase and antiwar voices scream for retreat? Obama will need to make it explicit that the transition out of Afghanistan, as his secretary of defense put it, “will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition, province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq … [and] will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.”

There is also a problem of coherence. In his two major speeches, Obama has talked about human rights. However, his record in this regard has been appalling. Obama, as Jackson Diehl noted, couldn’t bring himself to mention Neda Agha-Soltan at Oslo, a fact which Jackson believes reflects “a continuing failure of nerve or judgment.” So will the president now come out forcefully for the funding of Iranian advocates of democracy? And will he rethink his engagement of Burma and Sudan, as well as his reticence regarding human rights in China?

Likewise, Obama’s moral preening on the war on terror — no enhanced interrogations, shuttling detainees off to terrorist laboratories like Yemen, a public trial for KSM, a war against the CIA — is badly out of sync with the nature of the enemy we face. Obama has conceded that we’re dealing with evil. Do we give an evil man free cable-news time in the “trial of the century,” as the president described in Oslo, “to justify the murder of innocents”? Can we not even slap evil men’s faces to save innocents?

And then there are the rogue states bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. At Oslo, Obama declared that “it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.” But we’ve been doing a lot of standing by idly and, by keeping mum about the secret Qom site and refusing to hear “no” for an answer in Geneva, we have assisted Iran in gaming the system. We did nothing to enforce international agreements that the mullahs violated with the construction of the Qom plant. As for North Korea, we’re engaging them once again, giving them the prestige and refuge from sanctions that go with endless talks. (Even the New York Times concedes that “American and South Korean officials remain unconvinced that the North would give up its nuclear weapons, fearing that it wants to use a new round of talks to escape sanctions and obtain aid.”) With regard to Obama’s Oslo rhetoric, we’re left wondering: what is he talking about?

So the rhetoric, to the delight of many conservatives, has improved. Yet it’s also wildly at odds with the administration’s conduct. Cynics will call it hypocrisy. Optimists will call it a leading indicator of a shift in policy. We simply don’t know at this stage. What we do know is that the Left’s favored approach – incessant apologizing, bullying and betraying of friends, and vision of American un-exceptionalism — has proved to be a colossal failure. Observers as diverse as Leslie Gelb and Dick Cheney agree that we have nothing to show for all the bowing and scraping. So it may be that the Obami are preparing to pivot and leave their hippy-dippy, we-are-the-worldism behind. We’ll know when Obama’s actions better match his more mature rhetoric. And not before.

Listening to the West Point and Copenhagen speeches, many conservatives have been pleased or surprised, to varying degrees, by what they hope is a turn by the president away from a leftist, academic bent in foreign policy and toward a more muscular and mature assertion of American power. His decision to deploy 30,000 troops was enthusiastically received. As one conservative on Capitol Hill described his Nobel Peace Prize speech, “Grading on a curve, it was his best yet.” Others were even more enthusiastic.

But there is now, I would suggest, a problem of credibility and coherence that Obama must overcome. On the credibility front, the non-deadline deadline of his West Point speech raised questions about whether the president signaled a less than fulsome commitment to the difficult counterinsurgency. Will this war of necessity gain his full attention and elicit from him the robust leadership that is essential to maintaining public support and convincing friends and foes that we mean to stick it out even when casualties increase and antiwar voices scream for retreat? Obama will need to make it explicit that the transition out of Afghanistan, as his secretary of defense put it, “will be the same kind of gradual conditions-based transition, province by province, district by district, that we saw in Iraq … [and] will be made by our commanders on the ground, not here in Washington.”

There is also a problem of coherence. In his two major speeches, Obama has talked about human rights. However, his record in this regard has been appalling. Obama, as Jackson Diehl noted, couldn’t bring himself to mention Neda Agha-Soltan at Oslo, a fact which Jackson believes reflects “a continuing failure of nerve or judgment.” So will the president now come out forcefully for the funding of Iranian advocates of democracy? And will he rethink his engagement of Burma and Sudan, as well as his reticence regarding human rights in China?

Likewise, Obama’s moral preening on the war on terror — no enhanced interrogations, shuttling detainees off to terrorist laboratories like Yemen, a public trial for KSM, a war against the CIA — is badly out of sync with the nature of the enemy we face. Obama has conceded that we’re dealing with evil. Do we give an evil man free cable-news time in the “trial of the century,” as the president described in Oslo, “to justify the murder of innocents”? Can we not even slap evil men’s faces to save innocents?

And then there are the rogue states bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. At Oslo, Obama declared that “it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.” But we’ve been doing a lot of standing by idly and, by keeping mum about the secret Qom site and refusing to hear “no” for an answer in Geneva, we have assisted Iran in gaming the system. We did nothing to enforce international agreements that the mullahs violated with the construction of the Qom plant. As for North Korea, we’re engaging them once again, giving them the prestige and refuge from sanctions that go with endless talks. (Even the New York Times concedes that “American and South Korean officials remain unconvinced that the North would give up its nuclear weapons, fearing that it wants to use a new round of talks to escape sanctions and obtain aid.”) With regard to Obama’s Oslo rhetoric, we’re left wondering: what is he talking about?

So the rhetoric, to the delight of many conservatives, has improved. Yet it’s also wildly at odds with the administration’s conduct. Cynics will call it hypocrisy. Optimists will call it a leading indicator of a shift in policy. We simply don’t know at this stage. What we do know is that the Left’s favored approach – incessant apologizing, bullying and betraying of friends, and vision of American un-exceptionalism — has proved to be a colossal failure. Observers as diverse as Leslie Gelb and Dick Cheney agree that we have nothing to show for all the bowing and scraping. So it may be that the Obami are preparing to pivot and leave their hippy-dippy, we-are-the-worldism behind. We’ll know when Obama’s actions better match his more mature rhetoric. And not before.

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A Bill to Foster True Peace

Israel took a step this week toward improving its long-term prospects for peace and security, when the Knesset voted by a large majority (68-22) to advance a bill creating a ratification procedure for ceding sovereign Israeli territory.

Incredibly, Israeli law currently requires no ratification process — even a Knesset vote — for most territorial concessions. In practice, governments have always sought Knesset approval, but legally, cabinet approval is enough. And because no law requires otherwise, even the slimmest Knesset majority is deemed sufficient: the Oslo 2 agreement, for instance, passed 61-59.

The current bill would require approval by either a two-thirds Knesset majority (80 MKs) or a simple majority in a national referendum. It has therefore sparked howls of outrage from the Left, which charges that this requirement would preclude any agreement with either the Palestinians or Syria.

That is obvious nonsense: more than 80 MKs supported the peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, so the hurdle clearly isn’t insurmountable.

Nevertheless, several withdrawals have failed to muster that level of Knesset support, including the first and second Oslo accords (1993 and 1995) and the 2005 disengagement from Gaza (whether they would have passed a referendum is unknowable). And that is precisely the point: because only agreements with clear benefits and demonstrable chances of success would be able to pass, a stringent ratification procedure could save Israel from disastrous deals.

The Egyptian and Jordanian treaties, which did pass the proposed hurdle, have in fact proved beneficial. Both countries maintain a cold peace and often work against Israel in international forums, but nevertheless, both have given Israelis what they most wanted: no more war, and no more cross-border terror.

The Oslo accords and the disengagement, in contrast, were security disasters. In the first 30 months after Oslo 1, Palestinians killed more Israelis than in the entire preceding decade. In the second intifada, Palestinian terror claimed more Israeli victims than it had in the preceding 53 years. And since the disengagement, southern Israel has endured almost 6,000 rocket and mortar strikes.

Nor are these results coincidental. The Egyptian and Jordanian accords received such widespread support precisely because there was strong evidence that they would succeed: Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem demonstrated a real desire for peace; Jordan had proved the same via a decades-long cease-fire. In contrast, there was very little evidence of a true Palestinian desire for peace. And while the plea to “give peace a chance” evidently suffices to muster a simple Knesset majority for just about anything, a two-thirds majority is hard to secure without evidence that peace is, in fact, likely to result.

Regrettably, the current bill would have prevented neither Oslo nor the disengagement: it applies only to territory that Israel has formally annexed (the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem), whereas it ought to cover all territorial concessions. But even in its current form, it would help prevent similarly disastrous final-status deals with either the Palestinians or Syria. Its enactment would therefore be an important step toward achieving real peace and security for Israel.

Israel took a step this week toward improving its long-term prospects for peace and security, when the Knesset voted by a large majority (68-22) to advance a bill creating a ratification procedure for ceding sovereign Israeli territory.

Incredibly, Israeli law currently requires no ratification process — even a Knesset vote — for most territorial concessions. In practice, governments have always sought Knesset approval, but legally, cabinet approval is enough. And because no law requires otherwise, even the slimmest Knesset majority is deemed sufficient: the Oslo 2 agreement, for instance, passed 61-59.

The current bill would require approval by either a two-thirds Knesset majority (80 MKs) or a simple majority in a national referendum. It has therefore sparked howls of outrage from the Left, which charges that this requirement would preclude any agreement with either the Palestinians or Syria.

That is obvious nonsense: more than 80 MKs supported the peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, so the hurdle clearly isn’t insurmountable.

Nevertheless, several withdrawals have failed to muster that level of Knesset support, including the first and second Oslo accords (1993 and 1995) and the 2005 disengagement from Gaza (whether they would have passed a referendum is unknowable). And that is precisely the point: because only agreements with clear benefits and demonstrable chances of success would be able to pass, a stringent ratification procedure could save Israel from disastrous deals.

The Egyptian and Jordanian treaties, which did pass the proposed hurdle, have in fact proved beneficial. Both countries maintain a cold peace and often work against Israel in international forums, but nevertheless, both have given Israelis what they most wanted: no more war, and no more cross-border terror.

The Oslo accords and the disengagement, in contrast, were security disasters. In the first 30 months after Oslo 1, Palestinians killed more Israelis than in the entire preceding decade. In the second intifada, Palestinian terror claimed more Israeli victims than it had in the preceding 53 years. And since the disengagement, southern Israel has endured almost 6,000 rocket and mortar strikes.

Nor are these results coincidental. The Egyptian and Jordanian accords received such widespread support precisely because there was strong evidence that they would succeed: Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem demonstrated a real desire for peace; Jordan had proved the same via a decades-long cease-fire. In contrast, there was very little evidence of a true Palestinian desire for peace. And while the plea to “give peace a chance” evidently suffices to muster a simple Knesset majority for just about anything, a two-thirds majority is hard to secure without evidence that peace is, in fact, likely to result.

Regrettably, the current bill would have prevented neither Oslo nor the disengagement: it applies only to territory that Israel has formally annexed (the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem), whereas it ought to cover all territorial concessions. But even in its current form, it would help prevent similarly disastrous final-status deals with either the Palestinians or Syria. Its enactment would therefore be an important step toward achieving real peace and security for Israel.

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Obama’s Finest Hour

I agree with Jackson Diehl that there was something missing from Obama’s Noble Peace Prize address:

Obama could have used the speech to make clear to Iranians that the United States supports the cause of change in their country. Instead he settled, as he has before, for a passive construction: “We will bear witness,” he said, “to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran.” But will the Obama administration support them? Iranians are not sure. During student demonstrations in Tehran this week, one instance of graffiti read: “Obama — are you with them or with us?” The president’s speech could have clearly answered that question; too bad it didn’t.

Still, that reservation aside, all I can say is: Wow. What a boffo address. I was not as disappointed as many on the Right with some of Obama’s previous speeches abroad, such as his famous attempt in Cairo to reach out to the Arab world, but he has never said anything as stirring or hard-headed as he did in Oslo. The tribute to brave dissidents … the defense of “just war”… the reflection on the limits of pacifism, nonviolent protest, and international resolutions as a weapon against the “evil” that “does exist in the world”… the appreciation for America’s role in underwriting “global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms”… the warning to North Korea and Iran not to “game the system”… the exhortation to promote human rights … the condemnation of Muslim extremists (“no Holy War can ever be a just war”) …

The speech had just about everything I or any other American would want to hear from our president. And mercifully it was not full of apologies for America’s past sins or knocks against the previous president — as so many previous Obama speeches have been.

Obama is an eloquent guy, but this is the first speech he’s given that I would class a masterpiece that deserves inclusion in compendia of the finest presidential speeches. The question now is whether he will live up to his rhetoric. That remains to be seen, but his speech is a significant step in the right direction. Coming so soon after his decision to “escalate” the war in Afghanistan (as his more liberal supporters put it), it suggests that he may be “growing” in office — and not in a liberal direction.

I agree with Jackson Diehl that there was something missing from Obama’s Noble Peace Prize address:

Obama could have used the speech to make clear to Iranians that the United States supports the cause of change in their country. Instead he settled, as he has before, for a passive construction: “We will bear witness,” he said, “to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran.” But will the Obama administration support them? Iranians are not sure. During student demonstrations in Tehran this week, one instance of graffiti read: “Obama — are you with them or with us?” The president’s speech could have clearly answered that question; too bad it didn’t.

Still, that reservation aside, all I can say is: Wow. What a boffo address. I was not as disappointed as many on the Right with some of Obama’s previous speeches abroad, such as his famous attempt in Cairo to reach out to the Arab world, but he has never said anything as stirring or hard-headed as he did in Oslo. The tribute to brave dissidents … the defense of “just war”… the reflection on the limits of pacifism, nonviolent protest, and international resolutions as a weapon against the “evil” that “does exist in the world”… the appreciation for America’s role in underwriting “global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms”… the warning to North Korea and Iran not to “game the system”… the exhortation to promote human rights … the condemnation of Muslim extremists (“no Holy War can ever be a just war”) …

The speech had just about everything I or any other American would want to hear from our president. And mercifully it was not full of apologies for America’s past sins or knocks against the previous president — as so many previous Obama speeches have been.

Obama is an eloquent guy, but this is the first speech he’s given that I would class a masterpiece that deserves inclusion in compendia of the finest presidential speeches. The question now is whether he will live up to his rhetoric. That remains to be seen, but his speech is a significant step in the right direction. Coming so soon after his decision to “escalate” the war in Afghanistan (as his more liberal supporters put it), it suggests that he may be “growing” in office — and not in a liberal direction.

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What the Peace-Partner Palestinians Really Want

In Haaretz yesterday, Ari Shavit detailed the results of Netanyahu’s serial efforts to commence negotiations with the Palestinians:

He accepts the principle of two states, and receives no response. He suspends construction in the settlements, and is rejected. He courts Mahmoud Abbas, and is disparaged. The son of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s personal secretary wants a historic reconciliation with the Palestinians, and the Palestinians are slamming the door. He is offering the Palestinian national movement negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian nation-state, and has found that there’s no one to talk to and nothing to talk about. Zilch. A brick wall.

Sometimes you get the impression that the Palestinian Arabs do not really want a Palestinian state. They could have had one in 1919 (the Weizmann-Feisel Agreement), 1937 (the Peel Commission), 1947 (UN Resolution 181), 2000 (the Camp David proposal), 2001 (the Clinton Parameters), or 2008 (the Annapolis Process offer). Six formal offers — each accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs.

The peace-partner Palestinians do not really have a negotiating position — only a set of demands to reverse history. They demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 lines to reverse the Six-Day War (a war the Arabs caused). They demand a “right of return” to reverse the 1948 war (a war the Arabs started). They demand all of East Jerusalem — not simply the Arab neighborhoods and Muslim religious sites — to control the historic portion of the city; they concede no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.

Evelyn argued persuasively today that the goal of Hamas in its negotiations for the release of nearly a thousand Palestinian prisoners — in exchange for one Israeli soldier — is not really the release of the prisoners. A similar insight explains the absence of a Palestinian state despite 90 years of two-state offers, increasing Israeli concessions throughout the Oslo and Annapolis “peace processes,” and Netanyahu’s unsuccessful efforts to commence negotiations once again. A second state is not really what the Palestinians want — not if the cost is recognition of a Jewish one in defensible borders. What they really want is something else.

In Haaretz yesterday, Ari Shavit detailed the results of Netanyahu’s serial efforts to commence negotiations with the Palestinians:

He accepts the principle of two states, and receives no response. He suspends construction in the settlements, and is rejected. He courts Mahmoud Abbas, and is disparaged. The son of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s personal secretary wants a historic reconciliation with the Palestinians, and the Palestinians are slamming the door. He is offering the Palestinian national movement negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian nation-state, and has found that there’s no one to talk to and nothing to talk about. Zilch. A brick wall.

Sometimes you get the impression that the Palestinian Arabs do not really want a Palestinian state. They could have had one in 1919 (the Weizmann-Feisel Agreement), 1937 (the Peel Commission), 1947 (UN Resolution 181), 2000 (the Camp David proposal), 2001 (the Clinton Parameters), or 2008 (the Annapolis Process offer). Six formal offers — each accepted by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs.

The peace-partner Palestinians do not really have a negotiating position — only a set of demands to reverse history. They demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 lines to reverse the Six-Day War (a war the Arabs caused). They demand a “right of return” to reverse the 1948 war (a war the Arabs started). They demand all of East Jerusalem — not simply the Arab neighborhoods and Muslim religious sites — to control the historic portion of the city; they concede no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount or the Western Wall.

Evelyn argued persuasively today that the goal of Hamas in its negotiations for the release of nearly a thousand Palestinian prisoners — in exchange for one Israeli soldier — is not really the release of the prisoners. A similar insight explains the absence of a Palestinian state despite 90 years of two-state offers, increasing Israeli concessions throughout the Oslo and Annapolis “peace processes,” and Netanyahu’s unsuccessful efforts to commence negotiations once again. A second state is not really what the Palestinians want — not if the cost is recognition of a Jewish one in defensible borders. What they really want is something else.

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Carrots, Sticks, and Trips

President Obama’s trip to Asia has drawn unfavorable reviews from people as diverse as Leslie Gelb (“disturbing amateurishness” on top of the “inexcusably clumsy” Afghan review) and John Bolton (“one of the most disappointing trips by any U.S. president to the region in decades”) — but none as devastating as that of Christopher Badeaux in the New Ledger (a foreign policy “premised on the idea that the Carter Administration was not inherently wrong on anything, just well ahead of its time”).

Badeaux notes that the critical feature of the relatively successful China polices of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush was their recognition that “the carrot and the stick are closely joined”:

American Presidents praise a free, prosperous China. They speak of strategic partnerships while directing carrier battle groups in the Pacific. They talk about One China while approving arms shipments to Taiwan and hugging the Dalai Lama. They let China know that it faces no threat from the United States, but that it could.

Obama’s trip seemed simply another stop on a world tour to introduce (in Victor Davis Hanson’s phrase) the exceptional president of an unexceptional nation, complete with an even more exaggerated bow. The only good thing one can say is that at least he showed up (rather than simply send a video) and did not mention that Richard Nixon — one of our pre-Pacific chief executives — could not have imagined when he went to China in 1972 that Obama would one day be president.

The real consequences of this foreign-policy embarrassment, however, may not be in Asia but in Iran. As Iran watches the president on his self-absorbed travels (he is scheduled to pick up an unearned prize in Oslo on December 10 and again address his fellow citizens of the world) and observes him as he redoubles his efforts to talk every time they stiff him, it can be excused for thinking that the chances of its ever facing a stick rather than a carrot are slim.

President Obama’s trip to Asia has drawn unfavorable reviews from people as diverse as Leslie Gelb (“disturbing amateurishness” on top of the “inexcusably clumsy” Afghan review) and John Bolton (“one of the most disappointing trips by any U.S. president to the region in decades”) — but none as devastating as that of Christopher Badeaux in the New Ledger (a foreign policy “premised on the idea that the Carter Administration was not inherently wrong on anything, just well ahead of its time”).

Badeaux notes that the critical feature of the relatively successful China polices of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush was their recognition that “the carrot and the stick are closely joined”:

American Presidents praise a free, prosperous China. They speak of strategic partnerships while directing carrier battle groups in the Pacific. They talk about One China while approving arms shipments to Taiwan and hugging the Dalai Lama. They let China know that it faces no threat from the United States, but that it could.

Obama’s trip seemed simply another stop on a world tour to introduce (in Victor Davis Hanson’s phrase) the exceptional president of an unexceptional nation, complete with an even more exaggerated bow. The only good thing one can say is that at least he showed up (rather than simply send a video) and did not mention that Richard Nixon — one of our pre-Pacific chief executives — could not have imagined when he went to China in 1972 that Obama would one day be president.

The real consequences of this foreign-policy embarrassment, however, may not be in Asia but in Iran. As Iran watches the president on his self-absorbed travels (he is scheduled to pick up an unearned prize in Oslo on December 10 and again address his fellow citizens of the world) and observes him as he redoubles his efforts to talk every time they stiff him, it can be excused for thinking that the chances of its ever facing a stick rather than a carrot are slim.

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Don’t Confuse Him with the Facts

Bernard Kouchner is “hurt” and “shocked” by Israelis’ “vanished” desire for peace. Israelis of all political stripes would undoubtedly be equally shocked at the French foreign minister’s ignorance — and at his willingness to hurl false accusations without even a minimal effort to check his facts.

“What really hurts me, and this shocks us, is that before there used to be a great peace movement in Israel,” Kouchner told France Inter radio yesterday. “There was a left that made itself heard and a real desire for peace. It seems to me, and I hope that I am completely wrong, that this desire has completely vanished, as though people no longer believe in it.”

Kouchner is, of course, half right: even most Israeli leftists have stopped believing peace is possible in the foreseeable future, which is precisely why the peace movement and the political Left have largely collapsed. But that is a far cry from saying that Israelis have stopped wanting peace. The desire remains as strong as ever; it’s just that most Israelis currently see no way of fulfilling it.

Nor is it really hard to see why Israelis have stopped believing. First, every territorial concession since the 1993 Oslo Accord has produced only more terror. Palestinians killed more Israelis in the first two and a half years after Oslo than in the entire preceding decade, and in 2000-04 (the height of the second intifada), Israel’s terror-related casualties exceeded those of the entire preceding 53 years. The withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 led to the Second Lebanon War, and the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 produced daily rocket barrages on southern Israel. To most Israelis, bombs and rockets exploding in their cities don’t look much like peace.

This has been compounded by the complete lack of movement in Palestinian positions since 1993, even as Israeli leaders offered ever-increasing concessions. Israeli leaders routinely tell their people that peace will require “painful concessions.” Palestinian leaders are still telling their people that peace will enable 4.7 million descendants of Palestinian refugees to resettle in pre-1967 Israel, thus destroying the Jewish state demographically. And Israelis find it hard to believe in a peace whose price, according to their supposed “peace partner,” is Israel’s eradication.

None of this is news; a simple Web search would produce thousands of articles by Israelis explaining why they have despaired. Or if Kouchner doesn’t like the Web, he could have picked up a phone: most Israelis would probably have been happy to enlighten him.

But Kouchner couldn’t be bothered with the facts; he preferred to simply accuse Israelis of not wanting peace. Perhaps it’s his background as a human-rights activist showing: hurling accusations at Israel without checking the facts is practically de rigueur among human-rights organizations these days.

Nevertheless, one would expect better of a foreign minister. After all, he has actual responsibility for setting policy. And policy works better when it’s based on fact rather than fantasy.

Bernard Kouchner is “hurt” and “shocked” by Israelis’ “vanished” desire for peace. Israelis of all political stripes would undoubtedly be equally shocked at the French foreign minister’s ignorance — and at his willingness to hurl false accusations without even a minimal effort to check his facts.

“What really hurts me, and this shocks us, is that before there used to be a great peace movement in Israel,” Kouchner told France Inter radio yesterday. “There was a left that made itself heard and a real desire for peace. It seems to me, and I hope that I am completely wrong, that this desire has completely vanished, as though people no longer believe in it.”

Kouchner is, of course, half right: even most Israeli leftists have stopped believing peace is possible in the foreseeable future, which is precisely why the peace movement and the political Left have largely collapsed. But that is a far cry from saying that Israelis have stopped wanting peace. The desire remains as strong as ever; it’s just that most Israelis currently see no way of fulfilling it.

Nor is it really hard to see why Israelis have stopped believing. First, every territorial concession since the 1993 Oslo Accord has produced only more terror. Palestinians killed more Israelis in the first two and a half years after Oslo than in the entire preceding decade, and in 2000-04 (the height of the second intifada), Israel’s terror-related casualties exceeded those of the entire preceding 53 years. The withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 led to the Second Lebanon War, and the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 produced daily rocket barrages on southern Israel. To most Israelis, bombs and rockets exploding in their cities don’t look much like peace.

This has been compounded by the complete lack of movement in Palestinian positions since 1993, even as Israeli leaders offered ever-increasing concessions. Israeli leaders routinely tell their people that peace will require “painful concessions.” Palestinian leaders are still telling their people that peace will enable 4.7 million descendants of Palestinian refugees to resettle in pre-1967 Israel, thus destroying the Jewish state demographically. And Israelis find it hard to believe in a peace whose price, according to their supposed “peace partner,” is Israel’s eradication.

None of this is news; a simple Web search would produce thousands of articles by Israelis explaining why they have despaired. Or if Kouchner doesn’t like the Web, he could have picked up a phone: most Israelis would probably have been happy to enlighten him.

But Kouchner couldn’t be bothered with the facts; he preferred to simply accuse Israelis of not wanting peace. Perhaps it’s his background as a human-rights activist showing: hurling accusations at Israel without checking the facts is practically de rigueur among human-rights organizations these days.

Nevertheless, one would expect better of a foreign minister. After all, he has actual responsibility for setting policy. And policy works better when it’s based on fact rather than fantasy.

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A Tale of Two Elections

Last night, after the New York Post‘s investigative journalism had rendered a stringent gag order on the media ineffective, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally spoke out regarding the scandal that has shrouded his office for the past week. In a gloomy tone, Olmert denied taking bribes from an American businessman, and vowed that he would resign from office if indicted. At the moment, it remains unclear what the fallout will be, and two options remain if Olmert is forced from office: either a new government will form under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or new elections will be held.

In the event that new elections are held, this would mark the first time in two decades that the U.S. presidential and Israeli Knesset campaigns coincided. But unlike in 1988, when the pro-Israel positions of both major U.S. candidates satisfied the Israeli public, the 2008 presidential elections will most likely feature a Democratic nominee that many American Jews–and, in turn, many Israelis–don’t sufficiently trust on Israel.

Here’s my prediction: Israeli front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu will use this mistrust of Obama to decry negotiations with the Palestinians as forcefully as ever on the campaign trail, thus validating his staunch rejectionism if elected. Expect the argument to sound something like this: Israel not only lacks a negotiating partner in the Palestinians, but will lack a credible mediator in Obama if he’s elected, which appears likely. Indeed, this process is already starting, with Netanyahu’s aides leaking that American Jewish community leaders recently approached the Likud opposition leader to share their concerns regarding Obama–a stunning break from the taboo against Israeli politicos weighing in on American presidential candidates.

Insofar as Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a key U.S. strategic interest in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s election under these terms would be a disaster for U.S.-Israel relations. Granted, Netanyahu was hardly an eager participant in the U.S.-sponsored Oslo process during his first term as prime minister; however, at the time, he was still diplomatically bound to an agreement that his predecessors had signed, and therefore compelled to go through the motions. But with Oslo long dead and Obama the general election front-runner, Netanyahu is no longer constrained, and his very rationale for opposing the Annapolis meeting–“They are giving away everything and getting nothing”–indicates that outright rejection of the land-for-peace principle might soon make its return to Prime Minister’s office.

Last night, after the New York Post‘s investigative journalism had rendered a stringent gag order on the media ineffective, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally spoke out regarding the scandal that has shrouded his office for the past week. In a gloomy tone, Olmert denied taking bribes from an American businessman, and vowed that he would resign from office if indicted. At the moment, it remains unclear what the fallout will be, and two options remain if Olmert is forced from office: either a new government will form under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, or new elections will be held.

In the event that new elections are held, this would mark the first time in two decades that the U.S. presidential and Israeli Knesset campaigns coincided. But unlike in 1988, when the pro-Israel positions of both major U.S. candidates satisfied the Israeli public, the 2008 presidential elections will most likely feature a Democratic nominee that many American Jews–and, in turn, many Israelis–don’t sufficiently trust on Israel.

Here’s my prediction: Israeli front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu will use this mistrust of Obama to decry negotiations with the Palestinians as forcefully as ever on the campaign trail, thus validating his staunch rejectionism if elected. Expect the argument to sound something like this: Israel not only lacks a negotiating partner in the Palestinians, but will lack a credible mediator in Obama if he’s elected, which appears likely. Indeed, this process is already starting, with Netanyahu’s aides leaking that American Jewish community leaders recently approached the Likud opposition leader to share their concerns regarding Obama–a stunning break from the taboo against Israeli politicos weighing in on American presidential candidates.

Insofar as Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a key U.S. strategic interest in the Middle East, Netanyahu’s election under these terms would be a disaster for U.S.-Israel relations. Granted, Netanyahu was hardly an eager participant in the U.S.-sponsored Oslo process during his first term as prime minister; however, at the time, he was still diplomatically bound to an agreement that his predecessors had signed, and therefore compelled to go through the motions. But with Oslo long dead and Obama the general election front-runner, Netanyahu is no longer constrained, and his very rationale for opposing the Annapolis meeting–“They are giving away everything and getting nothing”–indicates that outright rejection of the land-for-peace principle might soon make its return to Prime Minister’s office.

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Carter’s Historic Relationship with Hamas

In defending his meetings with high-ranking members of Hamas, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has argued that Hamas’s participation is essential to any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

For Carter, this is a useful argument. After all, in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and subsequent coup in Gaza last June, many in the policy world have reached the same conclusion. For example, in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference in November, prominent foreign policy figures from both Republican and Democratic administrations–including Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Lee Hamilton–similarly wrote that “a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation.”

But Carter’s current round of meetings with Hamas officials is not the result of pragmatism. Rather, it represents the most recent–and most public–chapter in Carter’s longtime relationship with the organization. According to the Jerusalem Post‘s archives, Carter has advocated for Hamas’ legitimization since at least 1990, when he called on Yasser Arafat to include Hamas in the PLO. And according to a Voice of Palestine transcript retrieved on Lexis-Nexis, Carter met with top-ranking Hamas officials–including the organization’s co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar–six years later, exacting a promise that the group wouldn’t disrupt the first-ever Palestinian Authority elections.

Interestingly, these early interactions with Hamas left a bad taste in Carter’s mouth. As Carter wrote in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, Hamas ultimately rejected his efforts to have them accept Arafat’s leadership, instead undertaking a campaign of suicide bombings that derailed the Oslo peace process. As a consequence, Carter declined to meet with Hamas officials for nearly a decade, lifting his boycott in the weeks prior to the 2006 elections.

Yet, by this time, Carter was ripe for Hamas’s courtship. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter gives a typically uncritical account of his meeting with Hamas official Mahmoud Ramahi:

When I questioned him about the necessity for Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel, he responded that they had not committed an act of violence since a ceasefire was declared in August 2004 and were willing and able to extend and enforce their cease-fire (hudna) for “two, ten, or fifty years” if Israel would reciprocate by refraining from attacks on the Palestinians. He added that there had been no allegations of terrorism or corruption among their serving local leaders, and that Israel had so far refused to recognize the Palestinian National Authority (only the PLO) and had rejected the key provisions of the Oslo Agreement. Hamas’s first priorities would be to form a government, to maintain order, and to deal with the financial crisis.

Of course, contrary to Ramahi’s promises to Carter, Hamas’s priorities hardly changed following the elections. Indeed, Hamas has strengthened its relationship with Iran, dedicated substantial resources to building its arsenal and smuggling weapons, and intensified its rocket attacks against Israel.

In short, Carter’s own dealings with Hamas have twice proven that engaging terrorists is detrimental to peace prospects. This should silence the growing chorus that views dialogue with Hamas as a pragmatic necessity. After all, aside from winning elections, how has Hamas–or its openness to peaceful compromise–changed?

In defending his meetings with high-ranking members of Hamas, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has argued that Hamas’s participation is essential to any future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

For Carter, this is a useful argument. After all, in the aftermath of Hamas’s victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections and subsequent coup in Gaza last June, many in the policy world have reached the same conclusion. For example, in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference in November, prominent foreign policy figures from both Republican and Democratic administrations–including Thomas Pickering, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, and Lee Hamilton–similarly wrote that “a comprehensive cease-fire or prisoner exchange is not possible without Hamas’s cooperation.”

But Carter’s current round of meetings with Hamas officials is not the result of pragmatism. Rather, it represents the most recent–and most public–chapter in Carter’s longtime relationship with the organization. According to the Jerusalem Post‘s archives, Carter has advocated for Hamas’ legitimization since at least 1990, when he called on Yasser Arafat to include Hamas in the PLO. And according to a Voice of Palestine transcript retrieved on Lexis-Nexis, Carter met with top-ranking Hamas officials–including the organization’s co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar–six years later, exacting a promise that the group wouldn’t disrupt the first-ever Palestinian Authority elections.

Interestingly, these early interactions with Hamas left a bad taste in Carter’s mouth. As Carter wrote in a 2004 New York Times op-ed, Hamas ultimately rejected his efforts to have them accept Arafat’s leadership, instead undertaking a campaign of suicide bombings that derailed the Oslo peace process. As a consequence, Carter declined to meet with Hamas officials for nearly a decade, lifting his boycott in the weeks prior to the 2006 elections.

Yet, by this time, Carter was ripe for Hamas’s courtship. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter gives a typically uncritical account of his meeting with Hamas official Mahmoud Ramahi:

When I questioned him about the necessity for Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel, he responded that they had not committed an act of violence since a ceasefire was declared in August 2004 and were willing and able to extend and enforce their cease-fire (hudna) for “two, ten, or fifty years” if Israel would reciprocate by refraining from attacks on the Palestinians. He added that there had been no allegations of terrorism or corruption among their serving local leaders, and that Israel had so far refused to recognize the Palestinian National Authority (only the PLO) and had rejected the key provisions of the Oslo Agreement. Hamas’s first priorities would be to form a government, to maintain order, and to deal with the financial crisis.

Of course, contrary to Ramahi’s promises to Carter, Hamas’s priorities hardly changed following the elections. Indeed, Hamas has strengthened its relationship with Iran, dedicated substantial resources to building its arsenal and smuggling weapons, and intensified its rocket attacks against Israel.

In short, Carter’s own dealings with Hamas have twice proven that engaging terrorists is detrimental to peace prospects. This should silence the growing chorus that views dialogue with Hamas as a pragmatic necessity. After all, aside from winning elections, how has Hamas–or its openness to peaceful compromise–changed?

Read Less




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