Commentary Magazine


Topic: Panama

More on the Gaza Missile Ship Raid

I wrote earlier about what Israel’s interdiction on the high seas of a ship bringing missiles from Iran to Gaza (under the obligatory cover of building supplies) means for international law. It turns out the operation had a far simpler legal basis than was previously evident: the ship’s flag state, Panama, consented to the operation.

Because a ship is legally an extension of the flag state’s territory, that state has an absolute right to consent to search on the high seas. Of course, nations have always been reluctant to allow interference with their civilian ships. Moreover, flags of convenience like Panama have about as much taste for allowing foreign security forces peeking into their ships as the Swiss have for peeking into their banks. So Panama’s cooperation is laudable. It is a happy example of a registry state taking actual responsibility for what happens under its flag, and yet another of many contradictions to the Jewish state’s alleged “growing isolation.”

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I wrote earlier about what Israel’s interdiction on the high seas of a ship bringing missiles from Iran to Gaza (under the obligatory cover of building supplies) means for international law. It turns out the operation had a far simpler legal basis than was previously evident: the ship’s flag state, Panama, consented to the operation.

Because a ship is legally an extension of the flag state’s territory, that state has an absolute right to consent to search on the high seas. Of course, nations have always been reluctant to allow interference with their civilian ships. Moreover, flags of convenience like Panama have about as much taste for allowing foreign security forces peeking into their ships as the Swiss have for peeking into their banks. So Panama’s cooperation is laudable. It is a happy example of a registry state taking actual responsibility for what happens under its flag, and yet another of many contradictions to the Jewish state’s alleged “growing isolation.”

Yet in contrast to the brilliant success of the naval commandoes in seizing the ship, it is a scandal that amid threats of isolation Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot personally thank Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, as an ongoing strike by Foreign Ministry workers has cancelled his Latin American visit. Regardless of the merits of the workers’ grievances, they should not feel that their mundane pay issues justify holding hostage the country’s good relations and geopolitical security.

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Not So Fast with the “1962” Allusions

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

The news that Iran is shipping Shahab and Scud missiles to Venezuela has the blogosphere going full throttle, and for good reason. The introduction of medium-range ballistic missiles in Latin America will mark a threshold of dangerous destabilization for the region. Iran’s current crop of operational missiles can’t hit U.S. territory from Venezuela, but they can hit Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Mexico, among others. With Iran successfully testing longer-range missiles, it’s only a matter of time before Iranian missiles launched from Venezuela could hit the U.S.

Of equal concern, moreover, is the mere presence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Latin America. Hezbollah is already there in growing numbers, operating freely in Brazil and Venezuela and often detected along narcotics-trafficking routes all the way to the U.S. border with Mexico. Earlier hints that Iran’s paramilitary Qods force has already deployed to Venezuela are now the harbinger of a greater and more complex threat.

American commentators are quick to point out the obvious similarities of the “Venezuelan Missile Crisis” to the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Their complaint is understandable: the Obama administration doesn’t seem to be acting vigorously — or even paying attention — as John F. Kennedy did. But the truth is that we shouldn’t long for a Kennedy-style resolution to the missile incursion of 2010. The record of Kennedy’s actions during the crisis shows that he bargained the Soviet missiles out of Cuba by agreeing to remove American missiles from Turkey.

Kennedy admirers have been at pains to minimize this aspect of the deal and depict it as a collateral, low-cost gesture. It was certainly presented in that light in the 2000 movie Thirteen Days. As summarized at the above link, however, the actual significance of the quid pro quo was sufficient to cause editors and historians to excise references to it in the early accounts of the missile crisis. Making such a deal didn’t reflect well on Kennedy’s public profile. It could not do so: the missiles removed from Turkey were a key element of the NATO defense posture in 1962, and Kennedy’s agreement to remove them was made without NATO consultation. The question about the missiles was not whether they were “obsolete” — they were liquid-fueled, and the U.S. was transitioning to a solid-fueled missile force — but whether the alliance was depending on them at the time. And the answer to that question was yes.

The Iran-Venezuela situation of today is more complex; as it unfolds, its features will increasingly diverge from the profile of the 1962 crisis. Today’s impending crisis involves much more of Latin America. We should address it on its own terms. I don’t wish for a Kennedy-esque approach from President Obama. I’m apprehensive about what he would be prepared to trade away in missile negotiations with Iran.

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Obama’s FTA Delay

A Korean concession today advanced the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA), which was originally inked under George W. Bush but that stalled under Obama’s guidance. The delay resulted from Obama’s attachment to his labor constituency, and it ran against his promises to increase U.S. exports. When faced with a quandary, Obama opted for inaction, much to the detriment of American industry.

The FTA has been protested especially aggressively by the Ford Motor Co., but protectionism does more to benefit labor leaders than skilled American workers. As Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) pointed out in his address to the Detroit Economic Club:

Despite the president’s stated objective of doubling American exports in the next five years, trade has largely been ignored by Democrats in Congress and the administration in recent years. With a new Republican majority in the House, I am hopeful that the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea can move forward. We need to get those deals done, and done right, but it should not end there. We must promote increased trade at every opportunity around the world. When the world “buys American,” Americans go to work.

Both South Korea and the United States will benefit from the FTA, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind just who has done the crucial compromising — and who has assumed the leadership to ensure that the FTA came to fruition. The answer is: not Obama. This has bearing for similar agreements with other countries, as Mary Anastasia O’Grady summarized earlier this week.

It is a pity that this agreement has been so long in coming. But it would be even more of a pity if the Obama administration were allowed to tout this as an achievement of its own. Passage of a free-trade agreement with South Korea will have happened largely despite Obama, not because of him.

A Korean concession today advanced the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (FTA), which was originally inked under George W. Bush but that stalled under Obama’s guidance. The delay resulted from Obama’s attachment to his labor constituency, and it ran against his promises to increase U.S. exports. When faced with a quandary, Obama opted for inaction, much to the detriment of American industry.

The FTA has been protested especially aggressively by the Ford Motor Co., but protectionism does more to benefit labor leaders than skilled American workers. As Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) pointed out in his address to the Detroit Economic Club:

Despite the president’s stated objective of doubling American exports in the next five years, trade has largely been ignored by Democrats in Congress and the administration in recent years. With a new Republican majority in the House, I am hopeful that the free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea can move forward. We need to get those deals done, and done right, but it should not end there. We must promote increased trade at every opportunity around the world. When the world “buys American,” Americans go to work.

Both South Korea and the United States will benefit from the FTA, but it’s worthwhile to keep in mind just who has done the crucial compromising — and who has assumed the leadership to ensure that the FTA came to fruition. The answer is: not Obama. This has bearing for similar agreements with other countries, as Mary Anastasia O’Grady summarized earlier this week.

It is a pity that this agreement has been so long in coming. But it would be even more of a pity if the Obama administration were allowed to tout this as an achievement of its own. Passage of a free-trade agreement with South Korea will have happened largely despite Obama, not because of him.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Robert Reich doesn’t like ReidCare: “If you think the federal employee benefit plan is an answer to this, think again. Its premiums increased nearly 9 percent this year. And if you think an expanded Medicare is the answer, you’re smoking medical marijuana. The Senate bill allows an independent commission to hold back Medicare costs only if Medicare spending is rising faster than total health spending. So if health spending is soaring because private insurers have no incentive to control it, we’re all out of luck. Medicare explodes as well.”

Others don’t like it either. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services actuary say it will increase health-care spending by $234B. And Sen. Bill Nelson says its a “non-starter.”

Ten senators write a letter complaining to Harry Reid about the deal, which doesn’t seem like it’s a deal at all.

Rasmussen tells us that Harry Reid trails all GOP challengers: “For now at least, his championing of the president’s health care plan appears to raise further red flags for the Democratic incumbent. Fifty-four percent (54%) of Nevada voters oppose the plan, while 44% favor it.”

Maybe that is Obama’s problem too: “Excluding the Rasmussen and Gallup overnight tracking polls, there have been seven major national surveys released this week. President Obama has recorded an all-time low job approval rating in six of the seven.”

Not good: “The last person to know that Sen. Max Baucus wanted a divorce may have been his wife of 25 years. It appears that Wanda Baucus was in the dark even as a member of Baucus’s staff — Melodee Hanes, the woman who is now his live-in girlfriend — was plotting out the senator’s life without a wife.” And it turns out Hanes got a political appointment at the Justice Department. Maybe it is time for him to go. “Say what you want about Republicans, but they have a much better sense than their opponents of when it’s time to grab one of their own and throw him off the sled to the wolves running behind.”

Makes you wonder what Chris Dodd was thinking when he asked for his help: “Vice President Joe Biden said Friday that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is ‘getting the living hell beat out of him, the living bejesus beat out of him.'”

An inconvenient poll: In the latest Ipos Public Affairs poll, 52 percent of adults think global warming isn’t happening or is happening mostly because of natural patterns while only 43 percent think it is due to human activity.

A very smart move Republicans should support: “U.S. President Barack Obama told lawmakers in private talks this week that he supported moving forward on stalled free trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.”

If you loved Orin Hatch’s Chanukah tune, just wait until we get to Purim. No, really, he’s thinking about it.

Robert Reich doesn’t like ReidCare: “If you think the federal employee benefit plan is an answer to this, think again. Its premiums increased nearly 9 percent this year. And if you think an expanded Medicare is the answer, you’re smoking medical marijuana. The Senate bill allows an independent commission to hold back Medicare costs only if Medicare spending is rising faster than total health spending. So if health spending is soaring because private insurers have no incentive to control it, we’re all out of luck. Medicare explodes as well.”

Others don’t like it either. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services actuary say it will increase health-care spending by $234B. And Sen. Bill Nelson says its a “non-starter.”

Ten senators write a letter complaining to Harry Reid about the deal, which doesn’t seem like it’s a deal at all.

Rasmussen tells us that Harry Reid trails all GOP challengers: “For now at least, his championing of the president’s health care plan appears to raise further red flags for the Democratic incumbent. Fifty-four percent (54%) of Nevada voters oppose the plan, while 44% favor it.”

Maybe that is Obama’s problem too: “Excluding the Rasmussen and Gallup overnight tracking polls, there have been seven major national surveys released this week. President Obama has recorded an all-time low job approval rating in six of the seven.”

Not good: “The last person to know that Sen. Max Baucus wanted a divorce may have been his wife of 25 years. It appears that Wanda Baucus was in the dark even as a member of Baucus’s staff — Melodee Hanes, the woman who is now his live-in girlfriend — was plotting out the senator’s life without a wife.” And it turns out Hanes got a political appointment at the Justice Department. Maybe it is time for him to go. “Say what you want about Republicans, but they have a much better sense than their opponents of when it’s time to grab one of their own and throw him off the sled to the wolves running behind.”

Makes you wonder what Chris Dodd was thinking when he asked for his help: “Vice President Joe Biden said Friday that Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is ‘getting the living hell beat out of him, the living bejesus beat out of him.'”

An inconvenient poll: In the latest Ipos Public Affairs poll, 52 percent of adults think global warming isn’t happening or is happening mostly because of natural patterns while only 43 percent think it is due to human activity.

A very smart move Republicans should support: “U.S. President Barack Obama told lawmakers in private talks this week that he supported moving forward on stalled free trade deals with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.”

If you loved Orin Hatch’s Chanukah tune, just wait until we get to Purim. No, really, he’s thinking about it.

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Grudgingly on the Side of Democracy

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of — the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

Mary Anatasia O’Grady writes on the elections in Honduras:

Unless something monumental happens in the Western Hemisphere in the next 31 days, the big regional story for 2009 will be how tiny Honduras managed to beat back the colonial aspirations of its most powerful neighbors and preserve its constitution. Yesterday’s elections for president and Congress, held as scheduled and without incident, were the crowning achievement of that struggle. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo was the favorite to win in pre-election polls. Yet the name of the victor is almost beside the point. The completion of these elections is a national triumph in itself and a win for all people who yearn for liberty.

Sadly, this triumph (and the resulting bloody nose for Hugo Chavez and his lackey Manuel Zelaya) comes despite — not because of — the Obami. They, of course, jumped to the conclusion that the effort to stave off Chavez’s influence and prevent an unconstitutional power grab was a “coup.” They proceeded to bully and bluster, to try to strong-arm the small democracy. It didn’t work. Slowly it dawned on the “smart” diplomats that they had backed a lunatic who had no domestic support within Honduras and that, just as their critics claimed, the only way out of this stand-off was to conduct and accept the results of a free and fair election.

O’Grady, however, is hopeful: “President Obama came to office intent on a foreign policy of multilateralism. Perhaps this experience will teach him that freedom does indeed have enemies.” Well, we can hope.

But in this case, the Obami, who had resisted the wishes of the Honduran people and its democratic institutions, wound up with egg on their faces. Apparently they hadn’t even read the multilateral tea leaves very well:

Almost 400 foreign observers from Japan, Europe, Latin America and the U.S. traveled to Honduras for yesterday’s elections. Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, the German parliament and Japan will also recognize the vote. The outpouring of international support demonstrates that Hondurans were never as alone these past five months as they thought. A good part of the world backs their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.

What is disturbing is that Obama did not count himself among those desiring to back “their desire to save their democracy from chavismo and to live in liberty.” It’s hard to fathom what motivates the president and his team, and why they seem so reluctant to oppose our allies’ enemies. Perhaps they have so internalized the criticism leveled by America’s foes that they can no longer discern when the gang in Foggy Bottom is being “played” and what is in our own national interests. We do have them — national interests, that is — and it would be nice if the Obami recognized, articulated, and vigorously defended them, regardless of how loudly Brazil, Venezuela, and much of the rest of the “international community” squawks.

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The Panama Precedent

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made several welcome changes to his ministry’s priority list, with perhaps the most noteworthy being the section on bilateral relationships. Strengthening ties with Arab states, which was at the top of that section under his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, is now at the bottom. Instead, Lieberman assigned priority to strengthening ties with the hitherto neglected regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is a smart move. No Arab state is going to be anything but hostile in the foreseeable future. And while it is obviously preferable for states like Saudi Arabia to remain at their present hostility level rather than to escalate to Iran’s level, any investment beyond the minimum needed to ensure this much is just wasted time and effort.

In contrast, few non-Muslim states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are inherently hostile to Israel; hence an investment of time and effort might well improve relations. And while most of these countries have little clout, they could nevertheless do much to boost Israel’s global image.

To understand why, consider this month’s UN General Assembly vote endorsing the Goldstone Report. The resolution passed 118-18-44, with another 16 countries not voting. That is a lopsided condemnation of Israel.

But of the 16 countries that skipped the vote, all were from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Of the 44 abstainers, 18 were from these regions (most were European). And of the 118 who voted in favor, almost half belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference; most of the rest were non-Muslim states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (plus five European states). Thus the vote could clearly have been made much less lopsided by flipping some of these states from “yes” to “abstention” and others from “abstention” or “not voting” to “no.”

Why does this matter? Because the fact that resolutions condemning Israel consistently pass by such lopsided margins contributes greatly to Israel’s pariah image, portraying it as a country with scarcely a friend in the world. If, instead, such condemnations passed only narrowly, this would portray it as a country that, despite many enemies, also has many friends. And countries with many friends are by definition not pariahs.

Could an investment of diplomatic effort flip some of these countries? It’s hard to know, given that Israel has never tried; for decades, its diplomacy has focused almost exclusively on the West and the Middle East. Nevertheless, another datum from the Goldstone vote is suggestive: the only Latin American country that did vote “no” on Goldstone — Panama — did so two weeks after its president met personally with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

And that’s the point: Most of these countries know little about Israel, and therefore care little. But if Israel made an effort to fill the knowledge gap, the caring gap might shrink, too. At the very least, it’s worth a try — especially when the alternative is for Israeli diplomats to waste their time battering their heads against a hostile Arab wall.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made several welcome changes to his ministry’s priority list, with perhaps the most noteworthy being the section on bilateral relationships. Strengthening ties with Arab states, which was at the top of that section under his predecessor, Tzipi Livni, is now at the bottom. Instead, Lieberman assigned priority to strengthening ties with the hitherto neglected regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is a smart move. No Arab state is going to be anything but hostile in the foreseeable future. And while it is obviously preferable for states like Saudi Arabia to remain at their present hostility level rather than to escalate to Iran’s level, any investment beyond the minimum needed to ensure this much is just wasted time and effort.

In contrast, few non-Muslim states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are inherently hostile to Israel; hence an investment of time and effort might well improve relations. And while most of these countries have little clout, they could nevertheless do much to boost Israel’s global image.

To understand why, consider this month’s UN General Assembly vote endorsing the Goldstone Report. The resolution passed 118-18-44, with another 16 countries not voting. That is a lopsided condemnation of Israel.

But of the 16 countries that skipped the vote, all were from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Of the 44 abstainers, 18 were from these regions (most were European). And of the 118 who voted in favor, almost half belong to the Organization of the Islamic Conference; most of the rest were non-Muslim states from Africa, Asia, and Latin America (plus five European states). Thus the vote could clearly have been made much less lopsided by flipping some of these states from “yes” to “abstention” and others from “abstention” or “not voting” to “no.”

Why does this matter? Because the fact that resolutions condemning Israel consistently pass by such lopsided margins contributes greatly to Israel’s pariah image, portraying it as a country with scarcely a friend in the world. If, instead, such condemnations passed only narrowly, this would portray it as a country that, despite many enemies, also has many friends. And countries with many friends are by definition not pariahs.

Could an investment of diplomatic effort flip some of these countries? It’s hard to know, given that Israel has never tried; for decades, its diplomacy has focused almost exclusively on the West and the Middle East. Nevertheless, another datum from the Goldstone vote is suggestive: the only Latin American country that did vote “no” on Goldstone — Panama — did so two weeks after its president met personally with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

And that’s the point: Most of these countries know little about Israel, and therefore care little. But if Israel made an effort to fill the knowledge gap, the caring gap might shrink, too. At the very least, it’s worth a try — especially when the alternative is for Israeli diplomats to waste their time battering their heads against a hostile Arab wall.

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Rice Signals Iran

In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

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In her year-end press conference last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touched on many subjects: Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet despite this wide variety of issues, media coverage of Rice’s address focused on one sentence buried deeply in the Q/A session: “Look, we don’t have permanent enemies; the United States doesn’t,” she said, referencing North Korea and Iran. “What we have is a policy that is open to ending conflict and confrontation with any country that is willing to meet us on those terms.”

Of course, that the U.S. doesn’t have “permanent enemies” is self-evident—in foreign affairs, an enemy is largely defined by what it does, rather than what it is. When it comes to post-revolutionary Iran, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly concerned with the taking of hostages, financing of terrorist organizations, and pursuit of nuclear power; its theocratic regime and human rights abuses are, realistically, secondary concerns, with similarly repressive features hardly encumbering relations with Saudi Arabia, among other states.

But in the game of international relations, even the most obvious remarks—particularly when they are plastered in international headlines—hold tremendous value. Indeed, Rice’s statement that the U.S. has no “permanent enemies” is consistent with a clear shift in approach towards Iran that she has been signaling since the release of the National Intelligence Estimate earlier this month. According to this shift, Rice is prepared to negotiate with Iranian leaders if they agree to suspend uranium enrichment; as Rice told Jonathan Beale of BBC News last Thursday:

. . . I’ve said we would reverse 28 years of American policy. I would sit down with my counterpart, anyplace, anytime, anywhere to talk about anything. They only have to do what two Security Council resolutions told them to do.

Rice similarly promised to meet with her counterparts in a December 10 address at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group’s annual luncheon, and made similar remarks in a December 18 interview with al-Arabiya. For its part, Iran has acknowledged Rice’s signal, with state-run Iranian television reporting that she might visit Tehran in the coming year if certain preconditions are satisfied.

Rice’s shift is both pragmatic and disappointing. Insofar as Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power represents its greatest threat to the international community, Rice is correct in offering considerable carrots for the cessation of Iran’s nuclear program. But Iranian support for terrorism is also a major concern, and Rice’s offer to “talk about anything” with her Iranian counterparts opens the possibility that Iranian support for Hizballah and Hamas will become legitimate bargaining chips in forthcoming U.S.-Iranian negotiations.

For this reason, Rice should be reminded of her December 11 interview with the USA Today editorial board, in which she argued that the NIE indicated that Iran “is apparently responsive to international pressure and scrutiny.” As the Bush administration pursues Israeli-Palestinian peace and urges anti-Syrian lawmakers to choose a President in Lebanon, the cessation of Iran’s sponsorship of Hamas and Hizballah must remain a precondition for top-level U.S.-Iranian talks.

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Iran in Latin America

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

On Sunday, Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua’s President, met with Ezzatollah Zarghami, director of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Zarghami’s visit is just one of a series from lower-level Iranian officials, who have fanned out across Latin America in search of friends. In recent years, Tehran has worked hard to strengthen contacts in the region—and it has accomplished much while Washington has neglected the countries south of its border. The world is full of threats, and Washington is paradoxically ignoring the ones closest to the American homeland. Says Riordan Roett of Johns Hopkins, “Since there has been no coherent United States policy toward Latin America, there’s a window of opportunity for the Iranians to come fill the vacuum.”

Tehran has missed no opportunities to do so. In addition to building relations with Ortega’s Sandinistas, Iran has nurtured ties with new leftist governments in Bolivia and Ecuador. And of course there is the combination of Iran and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, what Tehran calls the “axis of unity.” Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also reaching out to moderate Latin American governments, most notably Brazil’s. “Iran is trying to create a geopolitical balance with the United States,” according to Bill Samii of the Center for Naval Analyses in Virginia.

Yesterday, the San Antonio Express-News reported how the mullahs in Tehran intend to achieve this “balance.” Friendly Latin American governments are giving the Iranians bases of operation in their countries to carry out covert activities. Iran-supported Hizballah, through front organizations, already operates in the region, and the presence of even more Iranians will undoubtedly enhance its capabilities. Americans, unfortunately, can expect Tehran-supported terrorism: Argentina, contending that Iran was behind bombings in Buenos Aires of Israeli and Jewish community targets, last month obtained Interpol approval for arrest warrants against five Iranians.

There is nothing left to the Monroe Doctrine. If the Bush administration is not going to abandon Latin America to Iran and that country’s terrorist allies, then it will have to tie the region to America in some fashion. At this moment, the fastest way to do so is to erect a network of free trade deals. Yet these agreements are controversial in Washington. Although President Bush signed the FTA with Peru on Friday, similar ones with Colombia and Panama are languishing in Congress. There are many problems with Washington’s free trade agreements with less developed economies, but Ortega’s meetings with junior Iranians like Zarghami suggest that this might be the time to consider dropping technical quibbles and to start looking at the bigger picture.

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Loss of Will

In his most recent column George Will writes:

Many of those who insist that the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991 when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and in 2003 when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society riven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds. America’s military leaders, who are professional realists, do not make this mistake.

This is in keeping with what Will has written in recent years. He may be the most visible conservative critic of President Bush’s Freedom agenda—that is, the effort to bring liberty to the Iraq and the Arab world. For example, in his May 4, 2004 column, Will wrote:

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how “all people yearn to live in freedom” (McClellan). And about how it is “cultural condescension” to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a “myth” that “our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture” because “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit” (Tony Blair).

Read More

In his most recent column George Will writes:

Many of those who insist that the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991 when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and in 2003 when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society riven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds. America’s military leaders, who are professional realists, do not make this mistake.

This is in keeping with what Will has written in recent years. He may be the most visible conservative critic of President Bush’s Freedom agenda—that is, the effort to bring liberty to the Iraq and the Arab world. For example, in his May 4, 2004 column, Will wrote:

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how “all people yearn to live in freedom” (McClellan). And about how it is “cultural condescension” to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a “myth” that “our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture” because “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit” (Tony Blair).

It was not always thus. In an October 8, 2002 interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, Will said:

I think the answer is that we believe, with reason, that democracy’s infectious. We’ve seen it. We saw it happen in Eastern Europe. It’s just—people reached a critical mass of mendacity under those regimes of the East block, and it exploded. And I do believe that you will see [in the Middle East] a ripple effect, a happy domino effect, if you will, of democracy knocking over these medieval tyrannies . . . Condoleezza Rice is quite right. She says there is an enormous condescension in saying that somehow the Arab world is just not up to democracy. And there’s an enormous ahistorical error when people say, “Well, we can’t go into war with Iraq until we know what postwar Iraq’s going to look like.” In 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor, did we have a clear idea what we were going to do with postwar Germany? With postwar Japan? Of course not. We made it up as we went along, and we did a very good job . . .

And more. Mr. Will spoke in favor of bringing “instability” to the Middle East and even to Egypt (“What is so wonderful about the stability of Egypt?”). His argument, which he made impressively, was that it is in America’s interest to bring about modernity to the Arab world—a prospect about which he was sanguine.

When asked, “Do you think [Iraq] will be a quick and easy conflict, if it comes to that,” Mr. Will answered, “Fairly quick, yes.” And Will said this about Afghanistan and nation-building:

[Afghanistan is], to put it mildly, a work in progress. The president, I think, admits this. This was part of his education as president, to say that his hostility to nation-building was radically revised when he saw what a failed nation, Afghanistan, a vacuum, gets filled with. Political nature abhors a vacuum, and when it fills up with the Taliban and the leakage of violence to these private groups, essentially, like al Qaeda, then you have to say, “Well, I’ve revised that. We’re going to have to get into the nation-building business.”

Will also distinguished between Afghanistan and Iraq when it comes to nation-building:

It’s different in Iraq because Iraq is a big, rich country with a middle class, with universities…

He added:

But you know, regime change didn’t just arise as a subject recently. We did it in Grenada, Panama, Serbia. Would the world be better off if Milosevic were back in Serbia? Noriega in Panama? I don’t think so.

Prior to the war to liberate Iraq, then, George Will thought Iraq and the Arab world were quite ready for democracy. He was a strong advocate for regime change and nation building. And he thought Iraq would be an easier undertaking than Afghanistan.
It’s fine—it can even be admirable—for an individual to change his mind in the face of new facts and circumstances. But some appreciation for one’s previous views should also be taken into account.

George Will ranks among the finest columnists ever to pick up a pen (quill or otherwise). Over the years his arguments and words have shaped a generation of conservatives, including me. And I wish the best thing I have ever written were half as good as the worst thing George Will has ever written. But it’s fair to ask that he not write as if he always knew better, as if any conservative worth his Burkean salt should have known that the effort to spread democracy to Iraq was Wilsonian foolishness that was fated to fail.

It wasn’t (and isn’t)—and once upon a time George Will thought so, too.

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