Commentary Magazine


Topic: paralysis

Flotsam and Jetsam

This isn’t going to win over the critics who say she lacks political judgment. “Sarah Palin dismissed Barbara Bush’s recent criticism as a matter of class privilege. … ‘I don’t want to concede that we have to get used to this kind of thing, because i don’t think the majority of Americans want to put up with the blue-bloods — and i want to say it with all due respect because I love the Bushes — the blue bloods who want to pick and chose their winners instead of allowing competition’ … Palin also suggested that the Bushes upper-class status had contributed to ‘the economic policies that were in place that got us into these economic woeful times.’” Whatever you think of Bush 41, this isn’t what a presidential candidate should sound like.

This is going to give “strategic patience” (otherwise known as paralysis) a bad name. “North Korea’s latest round of saber rattling leaves a politically weakened President Obama with several unpalatable options for dealing with the unstable nuclear power. The North Korean shelling of a South Korean island follows the revelation of a new centrifuge plant that could eventually allow the North to add to its nuclear stockpile. Both developments suggest the Obama administration’s policy of’ ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea is having little impact on the regime, which is focused on the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.”

This isn’t going to help the White House scare the Senate into a ratification vote: Jamie Fly writes: “New START is a rather meaningless arms-control agreement notable more for what it fails to do than what it achieves. … There remains serious criticism of New START’s merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists.”

This is a sign that no one is going to bat for Joe Miller. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit.”

This verdict isn’t going to provoke much sympathy from conservatives. Tom DeLay is the type of pol the Tea Party despises, and his politics is the sort Republican lawmakers need to repudiate.

This wasn’t going to happen with Obama’s “smart diplomacy”: “When North Korea tested a nuclear device last year, China issued bland criticism and urged Pyongyang to resume diplomacy. After a South Korean navy ship was sunk, most likely by a North Korean torpedo, Beijing sent its sympathies but called the evidence inconclusive. Now that North Korea has unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people — including two civilians — and raised tensions in the heavily armed region, Beijing again appears unwilling to rein in its neighbor.”

This lame duck session isn’t going to be what the Dems had hoped. “Not so long ago, the great fear was that the Democratic Party would return from its midterm drubbing to jam all manner of odious legislation through a lame duck session of Congress. We may need to put that in the ‘wasted worry’ category.”

This isn’t going to win over the critics who say she lacks political judgment. “Sarah Palin dismissed Barbara Bush’s recent criticism as a matter of class privilege. … ‘I don’t want to concede that we have to get used to this kind of thing, because i don’t think the majority of Americans want to put up with the blue-bloods — and i want to say it with all due respect because I love the Bushes — the blue bloods who want to pick and chose their winners instead of allowing competition’ … Palin also suggested that the Bushes upper-class status had contributed to ‘the economic policies that were in place that got us into these economic woeful times.’” Whatever you think of Bush 41, this isn’t what a presidential candidate should sound like.

This is going to give “strategic patience” (otherwise known as paralysis) a bad name. “North Korea’s latest round of saber rattling leaves a politically weakened President Obama with several unpalatable options for dealing with the unstable nuclear power. The North Korean shelling of a South Korean island follows the revelation of a new centrifuge plant that could eventually allow the North to add to its nuclear stockpile. Both developments suggest the Obama administration’s policy of’ ‘strategic patience’ with North Korea is having little impact on the regime, which is focused on the transition of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un.”

This isn’t going to help the White House scare the Senate into a ratification vote: Jamie Fly writes: “New START is a rather meaningless arms-control agreement notable more for what it fails to do than what it achieves. … There remains serious criticism of New START’s merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists.”

This is a sign that no one is going to bat for Joe Miller. “Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman had some unsolicited advice for fellow Republican Joe Miller: It’s time to quit.”

This verdict isn’t going to provoke much sympathy from conservatives. Tom DeLay is the type of pol the Tea Party despises, and his politics is the sort Republican lawmakers need to repudiate.

This wasn’t going to happen with Obama’s “smart diplomacy”: “When North Korea tested a nuclear device last year, China issued bland criticism and urged Pyongyang to resume diplomacy. After a South Korean navy ship was sunk, most likely by a North Korean torpedo, Beijing sent its sympathies but called the evidence inconclusive. Now that North Korea has unleashed an artillery barrage on a South Korean island that killed four people — including two civilians — and raised tensions in the heavily armed region, Beijing again appears unwilling to rein in its neighbor.”

This lame duck session isn’t going to be what the Dems had hoped. “Not so long ago, the great fear was that the Democratic Party would return from its midterm drubbing to jam all manner of odious legislation through a lame duck session of Congress. We may need to put that in the ‘wasted worry’ category.”

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A Coalition Government Is Formed in Iraq

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

So it appears that a government is finally going to be formed in Iraq, after eight agonizing months of politicking.

As usual, Iraqi politicos waited until the 11th hour and a bit beyond to reach a deal, but that they finally managed to bridge their differences is a hopeful sign for that troubled country’s future as an emerging democracy.

It’s hard to know what took so long, since the deal that has finally been reached is not too different from what was envisioned in the beginning: Nouri al-Maliki remains as prime minister, but Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc, which won the most votes, will get the speakership of parliament along with the leadership of a new committee that will oversee national security policy. The Kurds, meanwhile, retain the symbolic presidency, which will continue to be held by Jalal Talabani. There are more details to be ironed out, of course, including the exact distribution of cabinet seats; it will be important that the Sadrists be kept out of positions of responsibility.

However the posts are distributed, this will be an unwieldy coalition government that will hardly be a model of efficiency. But that’s preferable to the alternative. The wounds of civil war in Iraq are still too raw to risk having Allawi’s bloc go into opposition, as surely would have happened in a more mature parliamentary democracy. In Iraq, that would have risked giving Sunnis a feeling of disenfranchisement, which might have led them to take up arms again.

Painful as this government-formation process was, the good news is that Iraq hasn’t gone to pieces. There have been occasional, horrific terrorist acts, but overall violence has remained low. Economic development has continued, with the Wall Street Journal reporting today on how Basra has become an oil boomtown. Expect even greater oil riches to be tapped once the new government takes office and ensures some political stability.

That Iraq has continued to inch forward despite the paralysis of its politicos is a tribute to the good sense of the Iraqi people and to the growing competency of the Iraqi security forces — supported, lest we forget, by 50,000 U.S. troops who still remain. The Obama administration also deserves some props for finally getting down to business in Baghdad with a new ambassador focused on forming a government, eschewing the more hands-off posture of his predecessor.

The first order of business now is to ensure that the gains Iraq has made don’t evaporate in the future. That means negotiating a new U.S.-Iraqi security accord that will allow U.S. troops to remain post-2011 to train the Iraqi security forces and to act implicitly as a peacekeeping force to ensure that tensions don’t boil over into renewed violence.

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Dems Flee the Scene

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that, contrary to press reports, the House isn’t bugging out this week. Now, however, the Senate Democrats are, in fact, talking about fleeing the Capitol early:

Senate Democrats are seriously weighing whether to leave town at the end of next week, instead of staying in session until Oct. 7 or Oct. 8, as had been anticipated.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Democrats might pass a stop-gap spending measure to keep government funded beyond Sept. 30 and then go back to their home states to campaign.

Democrats in Congress are getting restless to hit the campaign trail and brace for what some experts predict will be a Republican wave in the midterm election.

It’s not just that Democrats are anxious to get back to the campaign trail; they can’t wait to get out of D.C. As long as they stay, the headlines and talk show buzz about failed maneuvers (the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell and DREAM Act amendments, the class warfare vote on Obama’s stimulus plan) will continue to plague them. Even Dana Milbank is grouchy that the Democrats never managed to get much done:

They still have their largest majority in decades, but the Democrats have succumbed to paralysis in the closing days of the legislative session. Congress has yet to pass a budget or a single one of the annual spending bills. Plans to spur the economy with tax cuts await action. Senate Democrats, faced with a GOP filibuster, have now punted on immigration reform and repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military. Meanwhile, House Democrats have so little on their schedule that their first vote of the week is coming at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, when Americans are most of the way through their workweeks.

Well, they did a lot already, but none of it is all that popular. “[T]hey don’t want to talk about the achievements. The stimulus bill is unpopular; they’re not getting credit for health-care legislation, financial reforms and many other accomplishments; and the spent majority can’t limp out of town fast enough.” I guess they aren’t achievements if no one wants to talk about them.

So onto the trail they will go. If they can avoid those sticky situations when voters call them out, disassociate themselves from Obama, and convince voters that the recession is over, they’ll do just fine, right? Come to think of it, maybe it’s safer inside the Beltway.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that, contrary to press reports, the House isn’t bugging out this week. Now, however, the Senate Democrats are, in fact, talking about fleeing the Capitol early:

Senate Democrats are seriously weighing whether to leave town at the end of next week, instead of staying in session until Oct. 7 or Oct. 8, as had been anticipated.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Democrats might pass a stop-gap spending measure to keep government funded beyond Sept. 30 and then go back to their home states to campaign.

Democrats in Congress are getting restless to hit the campaign trail and brace for what some experts predict will be a Republican wave in the midterm election.

It’s not just that Democrats are anxious to get back to the campaign trail; they can’t wait to get out of D.C. As long as they stay, the headlines and talk show buzz about failed maneuvers (the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell and DREAM Act amendments, the class warfare vote on Obama’s stimulus plan) will continue to plague them. Even Dana Milbank is grouchy that the Democrats never managed to get much done:

They still have their largest majority in decades, but the Democrats have succumbed to paralysis in the closing days of the legislative session. Congress has yet to pass a budget or a single one of the annual spending bills. Plans to spur the economy with tax cuts await action. Senate Democrats, faced with a GOP filibuster, have now punted on immigration reform and repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military. Meanwhile, House Democrats have so little on their schedule that their first vote of the week is coming at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, when Americans are most of the way through their workweeks.

Well, they did a lot already, but none of it is all that popular. “[T]hey don’t want to talk about the achievements. The stimulus bill is unpopular; they’re not getting credit for health-care legislation, financial reforms and many other accomplishments; and the spent majority can’t limp out of town fast enough.” I guess they aren’t achievements if no one wants to talk about them.

So onto the trail they will go. If they can avoid those sticky situations when voters call them out, disassociate themselves from Obama, and convince voters that the recession is over, they’ll do just fine, right? Come to think of it, maybe it’s safer inside the Beltway.

Read Less

Obama Unplugged — and Unintelligible

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

Before Obama’s presser on Friday, Michael Gerson wandered down the memory lane, recalling the 2008 campaign, when Obama’s “message had something to do with unity, healing and national purpose.” No more, he explained: “Obama’s initiatives … are not only unpopular; they have made it impossible for him to maintain the pretense of being a unifying, healing, once-in-a-generation leader. It is the agenda that undermined the idiom. With that image stripped away, Americans found Obama to be a somber, thoughtful, touchy, professorial, conventionally liberal political figure.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. For starters, it is hard to be “thoughtful” when you are touchy and prone to regurgitating leftist talking points. In fact, Obama’s Friday presser was at times rather incoherent — he didn’t change Washington, it’s the GOP’s fault, the stimulus isn’t really a stimulus but it is stimulating, and so forth. He insisted that, all along, he had warned that health-care costs would bend up (What!? When had that spasm of truth telling occurred?), and lamented that he couldn’t close Gitmo because of politics (i.e., there was no public support for it and no one solved the “where do we put them” problem.) At this point, all but the die-hard Obama supporters must be chagrined to find that the only straight answer he can give is on the Ground Zero mosque. (He is fine with it.)

Earlier in the week, it was pretty much the same story. In Thursday’s interview, Obama acknowledged: “If the election is a referendum on are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we’re not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it’s been doing.” Yup. And, after all, he said he’d be judged on the economy. That’s what a referendum is, after all — an opportunity for voters to give thumbs up or down on your performance.

Now, he wasn’t exactly taking responsibility for the economic mess. This is Obama, after all. So he insisted, “Well, look. If you’re asking are there mistakes that we made during the course of the last 19 months, I’m sure I make a mistake once a day. If you’re asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.” We’re still heading in the right direction, in his book. Unfortunately, he wasn’t asked which mistakes he made.

Even liberals are fed up with the excuses. Bob Herbert writes, “The Democrats are in deep, deep trouble because they have not effectively addressed the overwhelming concern of working men and women: an economy that is too weak to provide the jobs they need to support themselves and their families.” And Arianna Huffington neatly sums up:

[H]e admitted to making unspecified “mistakes,” but insisted, “if you are asking have we made the decisions that are the right decisions to move this country forward after a very devastating recession, then the answer is absolutely.”

Can he really believe that, with unemployment at 9.6 percent, underemployment at 16.7 percent, millions of homes foreclosed, millions more heading to foreclosure, and the middle class under assault?

In any case, this appears to be the administration’s story, and they are sticking to it — come hell or a double-dip recession.

The president’s comments were a continuation of the tack taken by Robert Gibbs who, when asked if the stimulus bill had been too small, offered this jaw-dropper: “I think it makes sense to step back just for a second. … Nobody had, in January of 2009, a sufficient grasp of … what we were facing.”

In other words: who could have known? So much for changing the way Washington works. The Who Could Have Known mindset is at the very heart of the failure of our political system to address our mounting problems.

Even more telling than all that, however, was this nugget on extending the Bush tax cuts:

What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that’s the Republican agenda, then I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.

“That” money is our money. But it sounds really horrid to say “I’ve got a whole bunch of better ways to spend your money.” I’d be curious to know what better ways he has in mind. More billions on another flawed stimulus plan?

There is in his pre-election spin patrol a fundamental “cognitive dissonance,” as the Wall Street Journal editors put it. He feels compelled to toss a few limited tax breaks toward businesses but that hardly makes up for the incessant shin-kicking he delivers (“urging businesses to invest and lend more while attacking them for greed and sending jobs overseas”). The jabs are not merely rhetorical. In addition to the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the administration has thrown at U.S. employers “a looming increase in capital gains and personal income tax rates, roughly half of which will come from noncorporate business profits; a minimum wage increase to $7.25 an hour from $6.55 in July 2009 when the jobless rate was 9%; the oil drilling moratorium, which has hit hundreds of small energy companies; the new health insurance mandate on employers with more than 50 employees; the new ObamaCare 1099 tax filing requirements; an increase in the death tax rate to 55% next year from zero today; a Medicare payroll tax increase to 3.8% from 2.9% starting in 2013; and compulsory unionism for government contractors and federal construction projects.”

To sum it all up, the voters are going to throw out his fellow Democrats if Americans follow Obama’s advice (hold the Democrats accountable for the economy). Despite control of both the White House and Congress, Obama whines that our problems are traceable to the Republican minority. He won’t concede that there is any connection between the massive burdens heaped on businesses and the paralysis on hiring by shell-shocked employers. And his underlying philosophy is that he knows best how to spend your money. No wonder Democrats don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.

Read Less

Quick Reaction to the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

With all the normal caveats — we don’t know what was said in private, etc. — there are a few takeaways from the just-concluded news conference.

1. It was noteworthy that Obama explicitly affirmed in his opening remarks that Israel and the United States share “national security interests [and] our strategic interests.” One of the worst aspects of the recent drama was the inference by administration officials that Israeli and U.S. strategic interests were diverging or even in conflict. It wasn’t very long ago that President Obama was saying that the Israeli-Arab conflict is costing American “blood and treasure.” For now, at least, the administration is avoiding such rhetoric and instead emphasizing the traditional features of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

2. At least publicly, Obama appears to be trying to put the nuclear non-proliferation treaty controversy to bed. As reported a long time ago by Eli Lake, and then finally over the weekend (finally) by the New York Times, the administration has been following what could be called a policy of strategic ambiguity regarding Israeli nukes. After apparently promising the Israelis he would not do so, Obama recently endorsed the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East, raising the prospect — it’s a little mind-blowing to think about it — that Israel’s nukes, rather than the Iranian nuclear program, would become a focal point of international attention. Today, Obama said the following in an obvious attempt to repair the damage and reassure the Israelis:

I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues [of Israel and the NPT]. … We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region…the U.S. will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

The test will be what the administration does about all of this when its nuclear conference takes place.

3. Regarding the peace process: for starters, Obama endorsed Netanyahu as a partner for peace (yes, the president has set a very low standard): “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace, I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. … I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.” More important, he endorsed the commencement of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks before the settlement freeze expires in September. This is not a small issue. The Israelis want to move beyond proximity talks for several reasons, primarily because proximity talks prevent the Palestinians’ bluff from being called. So long as the administration plays the role of mediator, the peace process remains focused on settlements and Israel rather than Palestinian intransigence, incitement, etc.

There is no expectation that the Palestinians are prepared to make the big moves that would allow something like a two-state solution to happen; in fact, the Palestinians aren’t even prepared to make the small ones. Over the weekend, it was leaked to an Israeli paper that Mahmoud Abbas had agreed that Israel should maintain control over the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The next day, Saeb Erekat announced that nothing of the sort had been offered. To anyone who follows the “peace process,” this is a familiar Palestinian dance.

And it is a dance that the proximity talks keep hidden. Move to direct talks, and the Palestinian position — rejectionism, inflexibility, political fractiousness, and paralysis — will come into stark relief. The fact that Obama endorsed moving to direct talks this summer should make Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad very nervous.

4. There was no mention of the Turkish demand that Obama ask Israel to apologize over the flotilla ambush. Presumably, Obama was wise enough to realize that this is something he should just stay out of.

5. All of this is smart politics for Obama. His hostility toward Israel over the past year and a half earned him nothing and alienated many of his Jewish and pro-Israel supporters. Obviously Obama would like this entire issue to move to the back burner in the run-up to the midterms.

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Israel’s Right Discovers Political Sanity

Anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows that the Israeli right’s worst enemy is itself. Small right-of-center factions toppled both Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led government in 1992 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government in 1999; those decisions led, respectively, to Yitzhak Rabin’s election and the Oslo Accords, and to Ehud Barak’s election and the second intifada.

Moreover, it was rightist voters who ensured Rabin’s victory by wasting thousands of votes on splinter parties that failed to enter the Knesset. Had all those votes gone to the main center-right party, Likud, Shamir would have formed the next government and not Rabin. Yet instead of learning the lesson, rightists continued wasting thousands of votes on unelectable splinter parties in subsequent elections.

So it was encouraging to read the following notice in a local newsletter (Hebrew only) published by the West Bank settlement of Eli: “After much thought, it has been decided by the [Givat Hayovel neighborhood] committee, the town council and rabbis, with backing from senior officials involved in the matter, to register people for Likud. Likud is the ruling party, and that is where we need to have an influence. … Joining Likud is the most effective way of influencing ministers and Knesset members to work with us on both the court case and other matters of importance to the town.”

Granted, Eli is only one settlement, and its decision stems from a very specific problem: the aforementioned court case, in which Peace Now is seeking a court order to raze Givat Hayovel on the grounds that it was built illegally. Eli contends that the neighborhood, built with massive government support, was always slated for legalization and needs only the final government permits — hence its quest for lobbying clout.

Nevertheless, this is a revolution. During Likud’s last membership drive, in 2008, a party activist who canvassed Eli and other settlements using this very same argument told me despairingly that most people didn’t get it. Now it is being promoted by the town’s entire political and religious leadership.

Moreover, many other settlements face similar problems with permits. So if Eli has reached this conclusion, it’s likely that other settlements are or will be doing the same.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of splinter voting, since joining Likud doesn’t oblige one to vote for it. Yet large-scale party membership carries its own dynamic: if those rightists who previously shunned Likud instead start working from within it, the party will presumably become more responsive to their needs, thus encouraging more of them to vote for it.

That in turn could promote more effective government. Israel’s current governing coalition comprises six different parties, with Likud commanding barely a third of its seats, and these parties’ disagreements have led to paralysis on many issues. A government composed of a larger Likud with fewer coalition partners would presumably find it easier to push through vital domestic initiatives.

That still remains a distant dream. But the first step is for rightists to understand that they need to work from within Likud rather than outside it. And it seems that is finally starting to happen.

Anyone familiar with Israeli politics knows that the Israeli right’s worst enemy is itself. Small right-of-center factions toppled both Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud-led government in 1992 and Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government in 1999; those decisions led, respectively, to Yitzhak Rabin’s election and the Oslo Accords, and to Ehud Barak’s election and the second intifada.

Moreover, it was rightist voters who ensured Rabin’s victory by wasting thousands of votes on splinter parties that failed to enter the Knesset. Had all those votes gone to the main center-right party, Likud, Shamir would have formed the next government and not Rabin. Yet instead of learning the lesson, rightists continued wasting thousands of votes on unelectable splinter parties in subsequent elections.

So it was encouraging to read the following notice in a local newsletter (Hebrew only) published by the West Bank settlement of Eli: “After much thought, it has been decided by the [Givat Hayovel neighborhood] committee, the town council and rabbis, with backing from senior officials involved in the matter, to register people for Likud. Likud is the ruling party, and that is where we need to have an influence. … Joining Likud is the most effective way of influencing ministers and Knesset members to work with us on both the court case and other matters of importance to the town.”

Granted, Eli is only one settlement, and its decision stems from a very specific problem: the aforementioned court case, in which Peace Now is seeking a court order to raze Givat Hayovel on the grounds that it was built illegally. Eli contends that the neighborhood, built with massive government support, was always slated for legalization and needs only the final government permits — hence its quest for lobbying clout.

Nevertheless, this is a revolution. During Likud’s last membership drive, in 2008, a party activist who canvassed Eli and other settlements using this very same argument told me despairingly that most people didn’t get it. Now it is being promoted by the town’s entire political and religious leadership.

Moreover, many other settlements face similar problems with permits. So if Eli has reached this conclusion, it’s likely that other settlements are or will be doing the same.

This still doesn’t solve the problem of splinter voting, since joining Likud doesn’t oblige one to vote for it. Yet large-scale party membership carries its own dynamic: if those rightists who previously shunned Likud instead start working from within it, the party will presumably become more responsive to their needs, thus encouraging more of them to vote for it.

That in turn could promote more effective government. Israel’s current governing coalition comprises six different parties, with Likud commanding barely a third of its seats, and these parties’ disagreements have led to paralysis on many issues. A government composed of a larger Likud with fewer coalition partners would presumably find it easier to push through vital domestic initiatives.

That still remains a distant dream. But the first step is for rightists to understand that they need to work from within Likud rather than outside it. And it seems that is finally starting to happen.

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Mia Farrow: Done Wrong Again

Poor Mia Farrow. No, I’m not referring to her atrocious romantic choices. She is alas learning too late that Obama cares not one wit about human rights in Darfur. She explains that a sham election is currently underway:

Intimidation, vote rigging, manipulation of the census, and bribing of tribal leaders are rampant. Most of the 2.7 million displaced Darfuris are living in refugee camps. They are unable or unwilling to be counted at all. All of this, plus the ongoing violence in Darfur, have caused key opposition candidates including Yassir Arman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to withdraw from the election.

Now, hopes were high that with Obama in the White House such behavior wouldn’t be countenanced and we’d get serious about the genocidal behavior. She recalls fondly:

Hope is rare in Darfur, but when Barack Obama became president the refugees had reason to be hopeful. As a junior senator in 2006, Mr. Obama made his feelings about the evils in Darfur quite clear. “Today we know what is right, and today we know what is wrong. The slaughter of innocents is wrong. Two million people driven from their homes is wrong. Women gang raped while gathering firewood is wrong. And silence, acquiescence and paralysis in the face of genocide is wrong.”

A year later, then-candidate Barack Obama said: “When you see a genocide, whether it’s in Rwanda or Bosnia or in Darfur, that’s a stain on all of us. That’s a stain on our souls.”

What’s our government doing about it? Passing out cookies. Yup:

And how is his appointed envoy dealing with the perpetrators of those atrocities that have stained our souls? “We’ve got to think about giving out cookies,” Mr. Gration told the Washington Post last fall. “Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces . . .”

Cookies for a regime that is as savvy as it is cruel? Smiley faces for a thug who seized power by coup in 1989 and has retained it only through iron-fisted brutality? Gold stars for an indicted war criminal responsible for the murder, rape and displacement of millions?

This spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement—has further terrified Darfur’s refugees, who feel increasingly abandoned by the U.S. and marginalized within their country.

Well, Mia, you can get in line with the other disappointed human-rights activists and the Israel supporters who were snookered by the hope-and-change routine. They assumed he was on their side. Silly them.

Poor Mia Farrow. No, I’m not referring to her atrocious romantic choices. She is alas learning too late that Obama cares not one wit about human rights in Darfur. She explains that a sham election is currently underway:

Intimidation, vote rigging, manipulation of the census, and bribing of tribal leaders are rampant. Most of the 2.7 million displaced Darfuris are living in refugee camps. They are unable or unwilling to be counted at all. All of this, plus the ongoing violence in Darfur, have caused key opposition candidates including Yassir Arman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to withdraw from the election.

Now, hopes were high that with Obama in the White House such behavior wouldn’t be countenanced and we’d get serious about the genocidal behavior. She recalls fondly:

Hope is rare in Darfur, but when Barack Obama became president the refugees had reason to be hopeful. As a junior senator in 2006, Mr. Obama made his feelings about the evils in Darfur quite clear. “Today we know what is right, and today we know what is wrong. The slaughter of innocents is wrong. Two million people driven from their homes is wrong. Women gang raped while gathering firewood is wrong. And silence, acquiescence and paralysis in the face of genocide is wrong.”

A year later, then-candidate Barack Obama said: “When you see a genocide, whether it’s in Rwanda or Bosnia or in Darfur, that’s a stain on all of us. That’s a stain on our souls.”

What’s our government doing about it? Passing out cookies. Yup:

And how is his appointed envoy dealing with the perpetrators of those atrocities that have stained our souls? “We’ve got to think about giving out cookies,” Mr. Gration told the Washington Post last fall. “Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces . . .”

Cookies for a regime that is as savvy as it is cruel? Smiley faces for a thug who seized power by coup in 1989 and has retained it only through iron-fisted brutality? Gold stars for an indicted war criminal responsible for the murder, rape and displacement of millions?

This spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement—has further terrified Darfur’s refugees, who feel increasingly abandoned by the U.S. and marginalized within their country.

Well, Mia, you can get in line with the other disappointed human-rights activists and the Israel supporters who were snookered by the hope-and-change routine. They assumed he was on their side. Silly them.

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The Green Movement: A Work in Progress

The Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a timely program in Washington, D.C., this morning entitled Iran: Prospects for Regime Change. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is inching toward itty-bitty sanctions and has apparently rejected a serious policy of advancing the Green Movement’s efforts at regime change. Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Mohsen Sazegara of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran had a thoughtful discussion moderated by Bill Kristol.

Several key points emerged from the panel. First, the Green Movement is a work in progress. While we may look toward the end goal of regime change — toppling of the supreme leader — it has, as do most revolutionary movements, intermediary goals, the first of which Khalaji describes as the delegitimatization of the regime — which he contends has been largely successful within Iran, especially among the middle and upper classes in the first year of the Green Movement. He cautions  that “the Movement is young,” but it has already expanded geographically beyond Tehran to new social groups and to labor organizations. Those who contend the Movement has failed because the regime is still in place miss the ongoing process of revolutionary movements — delegitimazation to paralysis to regime change.

Second, the greatest hope for the movement is the loss of legitimacy and the isolation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Sazegara explained, loyalty to Khamenei has replaced ideology or constitutional authority as the essence of the regime, casting as “soldiers of the cultural invasion every influential human being” who is not entirely loyal to the supreme leader. As a result, Khamenei is increasingly isolated. Sazegara notes that “every move was wrong” since the June 12 election — fueling opposition and solidarity against a regime increasingly viewed as corrupt and brutal.

Third, the Green Movement is  making efforts to reach out to the under class, which remains Ahmadinejad’s  base of support. The message will need to tie economic opportunity to political freedom to complete the process of undercutting the regime’s final base of popular support.

Fourth, the Revolutionary Guard, which was previously comprised of those who were ideologically motivated and dedicated to defense of the regime, is increasingly corrupt and needs to be “subsidized.” As the Guard has expanded, the opportunity for factions, rivalries, and divisions has also multiplied.

Finally, the U.S. can play a role. As Sazegara noted, “Every move, even indifference, affects the internal situation in Iran.” Silence in the face of brutality emboldens the regime and demoralizes those seeking to exploit its weaknesses. Efforts to aid the Green Movement’s essential communication tools — internet and satellite TV — can have a meaningful impact.  Gerecht summed up that in the 1980s,  it was apparent that “the regime was losing legitimacy. That process has only accelerated.” The Green Movement, he explains, “owns the middle and upper classes. The regime can’t replicate itself.” He urged those hoping for regime change to “be more patient. The regime has lost the best and the brightest. It eats its own.”

That the Obama administration has so obviously turned its back on the Green Movement and instead has gone out of its way to confer legitimacy on the brutal regime is a great moral and geopolitical failing. What the panel made clear is that the Obama adminstration is also missing a critical opportunity to assist and accelerate a movement that is steadily undermining the Islamic dictatorship.

The Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a timely program in Washington, D.C., this morning entitled Iran: Prospects for Regime Change. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is inching toward itty-bitty sanctions and has apparently rejected a serious policy of advancing the Green Movement’s efforts at regime change. Reuel Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mehdi Khalaji of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Mohsen Sazegara of the Research Institute for Contemporary Iran had a thoughtful discussion moderated by Bill Kristol.

Several key points emerged from the panel. First, the Green Movement is a work in progress. While we may look toward the end goal of regime change — toppling of the supreme leader — it has, as do most revolutionary movements, intermediary goals, the first of which Khalaji describes as the delegitimatization of the regime — which he contends has been largely successful within Iran, especially among the middle and upper classes in the first year of the Green Movement. He cautions  that “the Movement is young,” but it has already expanded geographically beyond Tehran to new social groups and to labor organizations. Those who contend the Movement has failed because the regime is still in place miss the ongoing process of revolutionary movements — delegitimazation to paralysis to regime change.

Second, the greatest hope for the movement is the loss of legitimacy and the isolation of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Sazegara explained, loyalty to Khamenei has replaced ideology or constitutional authority as the essence of the regime, casting as “soldiers of the cultural invasion every influential human being” who is not entirely loyal to the supreme leader. As a result, Khamenei is increasingly isolated. Sazegara notes that “every move was wrong” since the June 12 election — fueling opposition and solidarity against a regime increasingly viewed as corrupt and brutal.

Third, the Green Movement is  making efforts to reach out to the under class, which remains Ahmadinejad’s  base of support. The message will need to tie economic opportunity to political freedom to complete the process of undercutting the regime’s final base of popular support.

Fourth, the Revolutionary Guard, which was previously comprised of those who were ideologically motivated and dedicated to defense of the regime, is increasingly corrupt and needs to be “subsidized.” As the Guard has expanded, the opportunity for factions, rivalries, and divisions has also multiplied.

Finally, the U.S. can play a role. As Sazegara noted, “Every move, even indifference, affects the internal situation in Iran.” Silence in the face of brutality emboldens the regime and demoralizes those seeking to exploit its weaknesses. Efforts to aid the Green Movement’s essential communication tools — internet and satellite TV — can have a meaningful impact.  Gerecht summed up that in the 1980s,  it was apparent that “the regime was losing legitimacy. That process has only accelerated.” The Green Movement, he explains, “owns the middle and upper classes. The regime can’t replicate itself.” He urged those hoping for regime change to “be more patient. The regime has lost the best and the brightest. It eats its own.”

That the Obama administration has so obviously turned its back on the Green Movement and instead has gone out of its way to confer legitimacy on the brutal regime is a great moral and geopolitical failing. What the panel made clear is that the Obama adminstration is also missing a critical opportunity to assist and accelerate a movement that is steadily undermining the Islamic dictatorship.

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Deterring Ourselves

Two news reports from the last day highlight poignantly the paralysis of the West in the face of a nuclearizing Iran. One is a Washington Times piece by Eli Lake outlining recent and prospective developments with the financial “pressure track” against Iran.  The other is Der Spiegel Online’s account of the sanctions package being prepared by the EU nations.

The Lake piece is less remarkable: one of many that clarify how heavily dependent any sanctions regime will be on the honest participation of China. The piece makes a telling foil to the Der Spiegel report, however, in part because the two articles share a particular rhetorical characteristic. They lead with language that evokes strength and energy in the approach of the West to Iran. Momentum-sapping caveats are sequestered at the end of each article, receiving little treatment of any kind and certainly not consideration commensurate with their significance.

Der Spiegel’s report has quite a promising tone overall: “massive sanctions,” “choke off imports,” “banish the Iranian central bank.” But read to the end and you find that the emerging European proposal is hostage to two self-imposed constraints listed briefly in the final paragraph: a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution as a legal foundation, and the backing of nations like Turkey, Brazil, and the Persian Gulf states.

Getting a UNSC resolution is, of course, dependent on Russia and China, which can exercise vetoes. That challenge has proved insuperable for years. But the stated reason for the second constraint — obtaining the backing of non-Western nations — is a window on the soul of the modern West. The purpose is not the practical one we might expect: to strengthen the effectiveness of sanctions, which Turkey and the Gulf states in particular could easily undermine. The concern is rather that Iran could complain of being targeted by a Western conspiracy, or the “vassals of Israel.”

To give the Europeans the benefit of the doubt, we may assume that they’re thinking of the backlash from Islamists in their own capitals if Iran claims such victimhood. But this point is only superficially persuasive. For one thing, the mullahs accuse everyone who opposes Iran of conspiracy and vassalage to Israel. It’s reflexive, not contingent on the exact nature of what anyone else does. Moreover, any backlash would probably create worse domestic problems for Turkey and the Gulf nations than it would for Europe, so attempts to gain their overt political support are unlikely to meet with success.

But the more profound concern is that if no action is taken, and taken soon, the outcome will be a nuclear-armed theocratic pariah state, one whose leaders have an apocalyptic vision of their nation’s role on earth. This nation already sponsors terrorism and insurgencies abroad. Having nuclear arms will give Iran’s disruptive activism a new strategic cover. Europe will be in range of Iranian nuclear missiles before North America is. Yet the West clearly doesn’t take this threat seriously enough to lift the self-imposed constraints — even the patently absurd ones — that are the main obstacles to action.

If Iran’s revolutionary regime does acquire nuclear weapons, the reported EU concern about a pre-nuclear Iran playing the victim card for effect will go down as one of the most foolish in history. Surely, future generations might say, the men and women of the 2010s didn’t stay their hand against Iran because of that.

Two news reports from the last day highlight poignantly the paralysis of the West in the face of a nuclearizing Iran. One is a Washington Times piece by Eli Lake outlining recent and prospective developments with the financial “pressure track” against Iran.  The other is Der Spiegel Online’s account of the sanctions package being prepared by the EU nations.

The Lake piece is less remarkable: one of many that clarify how heavily dependent any sanctions regime will be on the honest participation of China. The piece makes a telling foil to the Der Spiegel report, however, in part because the two articles share a particular rhetorical characteristic. They lead with language that evokes strength and energy in the approach of the West to Iran. Momentum-sapping caveats are sequestered at the end of each article, receiving little treatment of any kind and certainly not consideration commensurate with their significance.

Der Spiegel’s report has quite a promising tone overall: “massive sanctions,” “choke off imports,” “banish the Iranian central bank.” But read to the end and you find that the emerging European proposal is hostage to two self-imposed constraints listed briefly in the final paragraph: a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution as a legal foundation, and the backing of nations like Turkey, Brazil, and the Persian Gulf states.

Getting a UNSC resolution is, of course, dependent on Russia and China, which can exercise vetoes. That challenge has proved insuperable for years. But the stated reason for the second constraint — obtaining the backing of non-Western nations — is a window on the soul of the modern West. The purpose is not the practical one we might expect: to strengthen the effectiveness of sanctions, which Turkey and the Gulf states in particular could easily undermine. The concern is rather that Iran could complain of being targeted by a Western conspiracy, or the “vassals of Israel.”

To give the Europeans the benefit of the doubt, we may assume that they’re thinking of the backlash from Islamists in their own capitals if Iran claims such victimhood. But this point is only superficially persuasive. For one thing, the mullahs accuse everyone who opposes Iran of conspiracy and vassalage to Israel. It’s reflexive, not contingent on the exact nature of what anyone else does. Moreover, any backlash would probably create worse domestic problems for Turkey and the Gulf nations than it would for Europe, so attempts to gain their overt political support are unlikely to meet with success.

But the more profound concern is that if no action is taken, and taken soon, the outcome will be a nuclear-armed theocratic pariah state, one whose leaders have an apocalyptic vision of their nation’s role on earth. This nation already sponsors terrorism and insurgencies abroad. Having nuclear arms will give Iran’s disruptive activism a new strategic cover. Europe will be in range of Iranian nuclear missiles before North America is. Yet the West clearly doesn’t take this threat seriously enough to lift the self-imposed constraints — even the patently absurd ones — that are the main obstacles to action.

If Iran’s revolutionary regime does acquire nuclear weapons, the reported EU concern about a pre-nuclear Iran playing the victim card for effect will go down as one of the most foolish in history. Surely, future generations might say, the men and women of the 2010s didn’t stay their hand against Iran because of that.

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Congress and Obama in Trouble

The New York Times poll paints a bleak picture for Obama and an even bleaker one for incumbents in Congress. Obama’s approval is down to 46 percent, while only 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy. His ratings on health care and the deficit are in George W. Bush territory (i.e., the mid-30s). A sizable plurality think he has spent too much time on health care, and a majority think he’s not spent enough time on the economy. Noteworthy is the 56 percent (only topped by 61 percent in 1996) who prefer a smaller government with fewer services. The Obama revolution, at least so far, has been a bust.

But Obama’s ratings are glowing compared to what Congress receives. Only 15 percent approve of Congress’s performance. (That seems high, come to think of it. But perhaps those cheering for paralysis are among the 15 percent.) And a stunning 81 percent think most lawmakers don’t deserve to keep their jobs.

This and other polls reinforce the conclusion that Obama’s gambit — keep plugging away at health-care reform, avoid serious spending restraint, and offer no bones to moderates within his party — is a dangerous one. The public wants precisely the opposite of what he persists in offering. It likewise suggests that Nancy Pelosi’s pole-vaulting commitment to ObamaCare and her aversion to a spending freeze are perfectly at odds with public opinion. She and her members, if they keep this up, risk further infuriating the electorate. (Granted, it is hard to do worse than 15 percent approval.)

Imagine if Obama and the Democrats listened to the public. They would toss ObamaCare aside. They would propose meaningful cuts in government spending. They’d work on jobs and economic growth. In short, they’d do what Republicans are suggesting. Do the Democrats suspect the Republicans are concocting a devilish plot to sink them? That is as good an explanation as any for the Reid-Pelosi-Obama triumvirate’s refusal to consider seriously their opponents’ suggestions. The Democrats refuse to be rescued from their own folly, it seems.

It is a long way until the November elections. Public opinion can shift dramatically. But it will have to shift very dramatically for many Democrats to avoid getting wiped out. And that is quite unlikely, as long as they keep doing what the voters hate.

The New York Times poll paints a bleak picture for Obama and an even bleaker one for incumbents in Congress. Obama’s approval is down to 46 percent, while only 42 percent approve of his handling of the economy. His ratings on health care and the deficit are in George W. Bush territory (i.e., the mid-30s). A sizable plurality think he has spent too much time on health care, and a majority think he’s not spent enough time on the economy. Noteworthy is the 56 percent (only topped by 61 percent in 1996) who prefer a smaller government with fewer services. The Obama revolution, at least so far, has been a bust.

But Obama’s ratings are glowing compared to what Congress receives. Only 15 percent approve of Congress’s performance. (That seems high, come to think of it. But perhaps those cheering for paralysis are among the 15 percent.) And a stunning 81 percent think most lawmakers don’t deserve to keep their jobs.

This and other polls reinforce the conclusion that Obama’s gambit — keep plugging away at health-care reform, avoid serious spending restraint, and offer no bones to moderates within his party — is a dangerous one. The public wants precisely the opposite of what he persists in offering. It likewise suggests that Nancy Pelosi’s pole-vaulting commitment to ObamaCare and her aversion to a spending freeze are perfectly at odds with public opinion. She and her members, if they keep this up, risk further infuriating the electorate. (Granted, it is hard to do worse than 15 percent approval.)

Imagine if Obama and the Democrats listened to the public. They would toss ObamaCare aside. They would propose meaningful cuts in government spending. They’d work on jobs and economic growth. In short, they’d do what Republicans are suggesting. Do the Democrats suspect the Republicans are concocting a devilish plot to sink them? That is as good an explanation as any for the Reid-Pelosi-Obama triumvirate’s refusal to consider seriously their opponents’ suggestions. The Democrats refuse to be rescued from their own folly, it seems.

It is a long way until the November elections. Public opinion can shift dramatically. But it will have to shift very dramatically for many Democrats to avoid getting wiped out. And that is quite unlikely, as long as they keep doing what the voters hate.

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The Myth of Inevitability

The subheading of the Economist’s new “Facing up to China” article reads, “Making room for a new superpower should not be confused with giving way to it.” Darn right! About time someone said … wait, what?

Making room? A new superpower? If you’re taking those for granted, then you can hardly remove “giving way” from the discussion. In recent years, Westerners have adopted a habit of labeling potential challenges “inevitable” and then shading their self-imposed impotence as partnership or diplomacy or, heaven help us, smart power.

The rise of China is certainly the most glaring example, but think of the other distasteful “inevitabilities” we invoked as causes for recent paralysis. In 2007, Time magazine coronated Vladimir Putin, making him Man of the Year for turning Russia into a “critical linchpin of the 21st century.” Meanwhile, Russia was and is in a demographic death spiral and its fragile economy was not rocked, but decimated, by the global recession. No matter, a year after the Time honor, the Man of the Year invaded sovereign Georgia. A year after that, he’s still there. The U.S. has been sitting on its hands the whole time.  Now Putin is playing games with us on the Iran nuclear question. This isn’t to say that Time gave us our Russia problem. It’s just that in the age of post-everything interconnectedness, America should remember it’s still allowed to push back against an ugly world. We need not help the bad guys ascend.

Speaking of which, consider how Barack Obama’s unstoppable Iran engagement came to the tragic rescue of the regime in Tehran. He famously “bore witness” to Ahmadinejad’s crimes because regime change seemed unthinkable. Now, however, even the realists are on board to topple the mullahs.

There are more examples, of course. Iraq was “inevitably” lost, a conviction that has locked the U.S. into a dangerously defeatist stance even as we achieve near-silent victory there.

In these we see a striking failure of imagination. One hesitates to throw the “hope and change” noise back in the faces of the Obama administration and its fans yet again, but the truth is that those two words have come to stand as markers for bottomless chasms in the Left’s disposition. Chinese superpower is as inevitable as we allow it to be. Google certainly seems less than resigned to it. After all, what seems more likely: that the U.S. can happily make room for a China that will, in the Economist’s words, “take up its share of the burden of global governance” or that the U.S. and its traditional allies can knock China significantly off course? The latter is certainly made more difficult by an unfounded faith in the former.

The subheading of the Economist’s new “Facing up to China” article reads, “Making room for a new superpower should not be confused with giving way to it.” Darn right! About time someone said … wait, what?

Making room? A new superpower? If you’re taking those for granted, then you can hardly remove “giving way” from the discussion. In recent years, Westerners have adopted a habit of labeling potential challenges “inevitable” and then shading their self-imposed impotence as partnership or diplomacy or, heaven help us, smart power.

The rise of China is certainly the most glaring example, but think of the other distasteful “inevitabilities” we invoked as causes for recent paralysis. In 2007, Time magazine coronated Vladimir Putin, making him Man of the Year for turning Russia into a “critical linchpin of the 21st century.” Meanwhile, Russia was and is in a demographic death spiral and its fragile economy was not rocked, but decimated, by the global recession. No matter, a year after the Time honor, the Man of the Year invaded sovereign Georgia. A year after that, he’s still there. The U.S. has been sitting on its hands the whole time.  Now Putin is playing games with us on the Iran nuclear question. This isn’t to say that Time gave us our Russia problem. It’s just that in the age of post-everything interconnectedness, America should remember it’s still allowed to push back against an ugly world. We need not help the bad guys ascend.

Speaking of which, consider how Barack Obama’s unstoppable Iran engagement came to the tragic rescue of the regime in Tehran. He famously “bore witness” to Ahmadinejad’s crimes because regime change seemed unthinkable. Now, however, even the realists are on board to topple the mullahs.

There are more examples, of course. Iraq was “inevitably” lost, a conviction that has locked the U.S. into a dangerously defeatist stance even as we achieve near-silent victory there.

In these we see a striking failure of imagination. One hesitates to throw the “hope and change” noise back in the faces of the Obama administration and its fans yet again, but the truth is that those two words have come to stand as markers for bottomless chasms in the Left’s disposition. Chinese superpower is as inevitable as we allow it to be. Google certainly seems less than resigned to it. After all, what seems more likely: that the U.S. can happily make room for a China that will, in the Economist’s words, “take up its share of the burden of global governance” or that the U.S. and its traditional allies can knock China significantly off course? The latter is certainly made more difficult by an unfounded faith in the former.

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Why Isn’t He Better at Being President?

Obama was the subject of many a pundit’s admiration. So smart! So worldly! Harvard Law Review. And so eloquent. That his speeches upon further reflection were practically unintelligible or self-parodies (are we the ones we have been waiting for? are the oceans really going to recede?) didn’t much matter. He was so smart.

So why isn’t his presidency going better than it is? Seriously, if he’s so smart and well-educated, shouldn’t he have come up with something better than the stimulus boondoggle? Shouldn’t he have gotten sanctions passed on Iran or figured out how not to offend both sides in the Middle East non-peace process? As Bret Stephens points out, we have gotten “bloated government, deficits and health-care bills; paralysis over Afghanistan and Iran; the convulsions over Gitmo and the CIA torture memos.” And then the mind-numbingly idiotic decision to put KSM in a Manhattan courtroom to preach the wonders of jihad and go after his captors. None of this seems very smart.

Well, there are several answers to my headline question. First, the punditocracy confused credentials with knowledge or smarts. A Harvard Law degree does not necessarily confer on one the insight that even if we can try KSM in courtroom, we shouldn’t. Obama seems not at all familiar with the operation of free markets. He has only a dim grasp of how we won the Cold War. And it’s quite apparent that whatever credentials the president possesses, they didn’t enable him to perceive the motives of the mullahs.

Second, even intelligent and well-schooled people can be poor managers, bad decision makers, and indecisive leaders. They can be narcissistic and passive-aggressive. They can be impervious to constructive criticism. Indeed, these are the very qualities that have tripped up the president. And very smart people, come to think of it, may be susceptible to many of these faults because they believe they’re so darn smart.

And finally, as Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our liberal friends isn’t that they are ignorant; it is that they know so much that isn’t so.” In other words, they have a set of views at odds with the way the world operates (meekness will endear us to our enemies, terrorists will be impressed with American legal procedures), the American political scene (the public wanted a lurch to the Left), and basic economic realities (you can load mandates and taxes on employers without impacting employment). These views are a great impediment to a successful presidency.

This isn’t an argument against smart or well-educated people being president. But it is a reminder that being so darn smart isn’t everything, and in Obama’s case, it seems not to have gotten him very far. But he has time. Maybe with experience, he’ll wise up.

Obama was the subject of many a pundit’s admiration. So smart! So worldly! Harvard Law Review. And so eloquent. That his speeches upon further reflection were practically unintelligible or self-parodies (are we the ones we have been waiting for? are the oceans really going to recede?) didn’t much matter. He was so smart.

So why isn’t his presidency going better than it is? Seriously, if he’s so smart and well-educated, shouldn’t he have come up with something better than the stimulus boondoggle? Shouldn’t he have gotten sanctions passed on Iran or figured out how not to offend both sides in the Middle East non-peace process? As Bret Stephens points out, we have gotten “bloated government, deficits and health-care bills; paralysis over Afghanistan and Iran; the convulsions over Gitmo and the CIA torture memos.” And then the mind-numbingly idiotic decision to put KSM in a Manhattan courtroom to preach the wonders of jihad and go after his captors. None of this seems very smart.

Well, there are several answers to my headline question. First, the punditocracy confused credentials with knowledge or smarts. A Harvard Law degree does not necessarily confer on one the insight that even if we can try KSM in courtroom, we shouldn’t. Obama seems not at all familiar with the operation of free markets. He has only a dim grasp of how we won the Cold War. And it’s quite apparent that whatever credentials the president possesses, they didn’t enable him to perceive the motives of the mullahs.

Second, even intelligent and well-schooled people can be poor managers, bad decision makers, and indecisive leaders. They can be narcissistic and passive-aggressive. They can be impervious to constructive criticism. Indeed, these are the very qualities that have tripped up the president. And very smart people, come to think of it, may be susceptible to many of these faults because they believe they’re so darn smart.

And finally, as Ronald Reagan said, “The trouble with our liberal friends isn’t that they are ignorant; it is that they know so much that isn’t so.” In other words, they have a set of views at odds with the way the world operates (meekness will endear us to our enemies, terrorists will be impressed with American legal procedures), the American political scene (the public wanted a lurch to the Left), and basic economic realities (you can load mandates and taxes on employers without impacting employment). These views are a great impediment to a successful presidency.

This isn’t an argument against smart or well-educated people being president. But it is a reminder that being so darn smart isn’t everything, and in Obama’s case, it seems not to have gotten him very far. But he has time. Maybe with experience, he’ll wise up.

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What Happened to That Deadline?

Weeks have passed since the “deadline” for the Iranian regime to accept the deal that offered to enrich their uranium for them. In public, the Iranians keep telling us “no” and that they aren’t giving up the promise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday reiterated that his country’s rights on “the nuclear issue” are non-negotiable and its nuclear activities and cooperation happen within the framework of IAEA regulations, according to at report on the Iranian student news agency ISNA.

“Iran is ready for constructive and honest cooperation with western countries in the field of nuclear technology,” he was quoted by ISNA as saying, while warning that the West’s confrontation with Iran only makes the country “more powerful and more developed.”

And oh, by the way, Ahmadinejad tells us that the media are “the lever of international Zionism to dominate the entire world.” So are we done yet? The Obami have gotten their answer and have done nothing. Where are the sanctions, the other options, and the “international community”? It seems nowhere. The Obami, we were told, had a Plan B if engagement failed. Yet it has, though they are loath to tell anyone. But the Iranians gleefully observe our paralysis and move apace with their nuclear program.

Do you feel safer yet?

Weeks have passed since the “deadline” for the Iranian regime to accept the deal that offered to enrich their uranium for them. In public, the Iranians keep telling us “no” and that they aren’t giving up the promise of a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday reiterated that his country’s rights on “the nuclear issue” are non-negotiable and its nuclear activities and cooperation happen within the framework of IAEA regulations, according to at report on the Iranian student news agency ISNA.

“Iran is ready for constructive and honest cooperation with western countries in the field of nuclear technology,” he was quoted by ISNA as saying, while warning that the West’s confrontation with Iran only makes the country “more powerful and more developed.”

And oh, by the way, Ahmadinejad tells us that the media are “the lever of international Zionism to dominate the entire world.” So are we done yet? The Obami have gotten their answer and have done nothing. Where are the sanctions, the other options, and the “international community”? It seems nowhere. The Obami, we were told, had a Plan B if engagement failed. Yet it has, though they are loath to tell anyone. But the Iranians gleefully observe our paralysis and move apace with their nuclear program.

Do you feel safer yet?

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The Silence Is Deafening

We heard plenty today from the punditssome of whom think Reverend Wright’s display may be the beginning of the end for the post-racial, post-partisan Barack Obama. (Hillary Clinton is being tight-lipped. Rule #1 of politics: never cause a distraction while your opponent has a major controversy.) But we have heard nothing from Barack Obama on his mentor’s tirade, not even on gems like this:

MODERATOR: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan? Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

WRIGHT: As I said on the Bill Moyers’ show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion.

And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for, and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we’re going to build a future for our children, whether those people are — just as Michelle and Barack don’t agree on everything, Raymond and I don’t agree on everything, Louis and I don’t agree on everything, most of you all don’t agree — you get two people in the same room, you’ve got three opinions.

[...]

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan anymore than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro. Do you remember that Ted Koppel show, where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, “You don’t tell me who my enemies are. You don’t tell me who my friends are.”

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn’t make me this color.

If Obama was going to have his Uncle Souljah moment, it would have had to happen immediately after Wright’s remarks. Every passing hour makes any rebuttal that much more difficult. If he only manages some comment after a day or two, it will scream political calculation (or worse, paralysis). If he wanted to get away from Wright, the time to do it was today.

As we end the news day it appears he plans to hunker down and hope that voters will shrug. Electability? That’s the new buzzword. Wonder what those polls will look like in a few days. But by then the moment for action will have passed.

We heard plenty today from the punditssome of whom think Reverend Wright’s display may be the beginning of the end for the post-racial, post-partisan Barack Obama. (Hillary Clinton is being tight-lipped. Rule #1 of politics: never cause a distraction while your opponent has a major controversy.) But we have heard nothing from Barack Obama on his mentor’s tirade, not even on gems like this:

MODERATOR: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan? Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

WRIGHT: As I said on the Bill Moyers’ show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion.

And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for, and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we’re going to build a future for our children, whether those people are — just as Michelle and Barack don’t agree on everything, Raymond and I don’t agree on everything, Louis and I don’t agree on everything, most of you all don’t agree — you get two people in the same room, you’ve got three opinions.

[...]

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan anymore than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro. Do you remember that Ted Koppel show, where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, “You don’t tell me who my enemies are. You don’t tell me who my friends are.”

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn’t make me this color.

If Obama was going to have his Uncle Souljah moment, it would have had to happen immediately after Wright’s remarks. Every passing hour makes any rebuttal that much more difficult. If he only manages some comment after a day or two, it will scream political calculation (or worse, paralysis). If he wanted to get away from Wright, the time to do it was today.

As we end the news day it appears he plans to hunker down and hope that voters will shrug. Electability? That’s the new buzzword. Wonder what those polls will look like in a few days. But by then the moment for action will have passed.

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An Encouraging Picture of Iraq

In his most recent report, The Situation From Iraq: A Briefing from the Battlefield, Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), writes this:

No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. A combination of the surge, improved win and hold tactics, the tribal uprising in Anbar and other provinces, the Sadr ceasefire, and major advances in the use of IS&R have transformed the battle against Al Qaida in Iraq. If the US provides sustained support to the Iraqi government — in security, governance, and development — there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state.

This is an important development. Dr. Cordesman, a respected voice on international affairs, has been highly critical of the lack of adequate post-war (Phase IV) planning in Iraq. He has long warned about the dangers of exiting Iraq prematurely and was a critic of those who argued we should divide Iraq into three ethno-religious entities. At the same time, Cordesman has been skeptical about the possibility of achieving stability in Iraq. Certainly no one could accuse Cordesman of wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to Iraq.

On May 2, 2006, Cordesman wrote:

No one can argue that the prospects for stability in Iraq are good. At best, the formation of a government will be the prelude to four months of debate over the constitution and every other divisive issue. There will follow two months of political struggle over a referendum to approve the result and Iraqis must then decide whether they can live with implementing the result. The “best case” is probably political turmoil well into 2007 and probably 2008… Even if victory is realistically defined as “muddling through” over half a decade more – the “2010 solution” – the odds are, at best, even.

On January 29, 2007, Cordesman (accurately) assessed things this way:

The insurgency in Iraq has become a “war after the war” that threatens to divide the country and create a full-scale civil conflict. It has triggered sectarian and ethnic violence that dominates the struggle to reshape Iraq as a modern state… Since its inception in the spring of 2003, the nature of the fighting in Iraq has evolved from a struggle between Coalition forces and former regime loyalists to a much more diffuse conflict, involving a number of Sunni groups, Shi’ite militias, and foreign jihadists, and which has spread to become a widespread civil conflict . . .

On February 5, 2007, in the aftermath of the President’s speech announcing the “surge,” Cordesman wrote this:

President Bush has presented a new strategy for the war in Iraq that may be able to defeat the insurgency and reverse Iraq’s drift towards large-scale civil war. His speech has, however, raised many questions as to both the risks it will create over the coming months and the real-world ability to actually implement his plans.

It turns out that the real-world ability to implement Bush’s plan was better than many thought. The risks were actually opportunities. And now, a year and a month after the surge was announced, we have seen progress far beyond what virtually anyone, even advocates of the surge, could have imagined.

We are still some distance away from Iraq emerging as a secure and stable state. “Serious threats can still bring defeat or paralysis over the coming years,” according to Cordesman, “although this seems significantly less likely than during the fall of 2007.” Yet, as Tony Cordesman now says, there is a very real chance that a secure and stable Iraq – one that is an ally instead of an adversary in the war against militant Islam – may yet come to pass. If it does, it will be an achievement of enormous, and perhaps even historic, consequence.

In his most recent report, The Situation From Iraq: A Briefing from the Battlefield, Anthony Cordesman, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), writes this:

No one can spend some 10 days visiting the battlefields in Iraq without seeing major progress in every area. A combination of the surge, improved win and hold tactics, the tribal uprising in Anbar and other provinces, the Sadr ceasefire, and major advances in the use of IS&R have transformed the battle against Al Qaida in Iraq. If the US provides sustained support to the Iraqi government — in security, governance, and development — there is now a very real chance that Iraq will emerge as a secure and stable state.

This is an important development. Dr. Cordesman, a respected voice on international affairs, has been highly critical of the lack of adequate post-war (Phase IV) planning in Iraq. He has long warned about the dangers of exiting Iraq prematurely and was a critic of those who argued we should divide Iraq into three ethno-religious entities. At the same time, Cordesman has been skeptical about the possibility of achieving stability in Iraq. Certainly no one could accuse Cordesman of wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to Iraq.

On May 2, 2006, Cordesman wrote:

No one can argue that the prospects for stability in Iraq are good. At best, the formation of a government will be the prelude to four months of debate over the constitution and every other divisive issue. There will follow two months of political struggle over a referendum to approve the result and Iraqis must then decide whether they can live with implementing the result. The “best case” is probably political turmoil well into 2007 and probably 2008… Even if victory is realistically defined as “muddling through” over half a decade more – the “2010 solution” – the odds are, at best, even.

On January 29, 2007, Cordesman (accurately) assessed things this way:

The insurgency in Iraq has become a “war after the war” that threatens to divide the country and create a full-scale civil conflict. It has triggered sectarian and ethnic violence that dominates the struggle to reshape Iraq as a modern state… Since its inception in the spring of 2003, the nature of the fighting in Iraq has evolved from a struggle between Coalition forces and former regime loyalists to a much more diffuse conflict, involving a number of Sunni groups, Shi’ite militias, and foreign jihadists, and which has spread to become a widespread civil conflict . . .

On February 5, 2007, in the aftermath of the President’s speech announcing the “surge,” Cordesman wrote this:

President Bush has presented a new strategy for the war in Iraq that may be able to defeat the insurgency and reverse Iraq’s drift towards large-scale civil war. His speech has, however, raised many questions as to both the risks it will create over the coming months and the real-world ability to actually implement his plans.

It turns out that the real-world ability to implement Bush’s plan was better than many thought. The risks were actually opportunities. And now, a year and a month after the surge was announced, we have seen progress far beyond what virtually anyone, even advocates of the surge, could have imagined.

We are still some distance away from Iraq emerging as a secure and stable state. “Serious threats can still bring defeat or paralysis over the coming years,” according to Cordesman, “although this seems significantly less likely than during the fall of 2007.” Yet, as Tony Cordesman now says, there is a very real chance that a secure and stable Iraq – one that is an ally instead of an adversary in the war against militant Islam – may yet come to pass. If it does, it will be an achievement of enormous, and perhaps even historic, consequence.

Read Less

Kasparov and Putin

In this country we’re not used to thinking of our politicians as heroes. And they seldom are—with some notable exceptions, such as Reagan, who cracked jokes after getting shot, or FDR, who grinned and bore his paralysis, or Lincoln, who directed the war effort with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Our politicians don’t have to be heroes; the Founders created a system in which average men and women could govern themselves.

But in other countries, especially in emerging democracies or in countries still oppressed by a dictator’s whims, being a politician can be a very heroic act. One thinks of Ayman Nour in Egypt, imprisoned for daring to run against Hosni Mubarak. Or Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned in her homeland, separated from her husband as he was dying, because she dared challenge the junta that rules Burma.

The latest to join the ranks of heroic politicians is Garry Kasparov, who has announced that he will take on the thankless task of challenging Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor in Russia’s presidential elections. Kasparov—the subject of a long New Yorker profile by David Remnick last week—is widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. He is a rich man who could easily live a life of leisure in New York, London, or Tel Aviv. He has instead chosen to seek political office in Russia even though he knows the odds of victory are nonexistent. The odds of getting killed by the Kremlin’s thugs are considerably higher.

Yet he is running nevertheless simply because he believes in democracy and wants to preserve some sparks of freedom in a country increasingly falling under dictatorial control.That doesn’t mean that he is a political sage or that he is right about every decision he makes. I’ve had discussions with Kasparov (whom I know slightly) in the past where I disagreed with his arguments. And it is certainly possible to question the wisdom of his current alliance with Edward Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party, the closest thing Russia has to a fascist party. Kasparov wants to unite all the opposition groups under one banner, but there are some opposition elements which are too odious to be tolerated by civilized people.

But that’s a matter of tactics on Kasparov’s part. No one could possibly imagine that he is sympathetic to fascism himself or has any but the highest motives for his actions. It is easy to be cynical about the motives of most politicians. But it is hard, if not impossible, to think of any self-interest that Kasparov has in doing what he is doing. He is truly a hero. I only hope he does not become a martyr.

In this country we’re not used to thinking of our politicians as heroes. And they seldom are—with some notable exceptions, such as Reagan, who cracked jokes after getting shot, or FDR, who grinned and bore his paralysis, or Lincoln, who directed the war effort with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Our politicians don’t have to be heroes; the Founders created a system in which average men and women could govern themselves.

But in other countries, especially in emerging democracies or in countries still oppressed by a dictator’s whims, being a politician can be a very heroic act. One thinks of Ayman Nour in Egypt, imprisoned for daring to run against Hosni Mubarak. Or Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, imprisoned in her homeland, separated from her husband as he was dying, because she dared challenge the junta that rules Burma.

The latest to join the ranks of heroic politicians is Garry Kasparov, who has announced that he will take on the thankless task of challenging Vladimir Putin’s handpicked successor in Russia’s presidential elections. Kasparov—the subject of a long New Yorker profile by David Remnick last week—is widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. He is a rich man who could easily live a life of leisure in New York, London, or Tel Aviv. He has instead chosen to seek political office in Russia even though he knows the odds of victory are nonexistent. The odds of getting killed by the Kremlin’s thugs are considerably higher.

Yet he is running nevertheless simply because he believes in democracy and wants to preserve some sparks of freedom in a country increasingly falling under dictatorial control.That doesn’t mean that he is a political sage or that he is right about every decision he makes. I’ve had discussions with Kasparov (whom I know slightly) in the past where I disagreed with his arguments. And it is certainly possible to question the wisdom of his current alliance with Edward Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party, the closest thing Russia has to a fascist party. Kasparov wants to unite all the opposition groups under one banner, but there are some opposition elements which are too odious to be tolerated by civilized people.

But that’s a matter of tactics on Kasparov’s part. No one could possibly imagine that he is sympathetic to fascism himself or has any but the highest motives for his actions. It is easy to be cynical about the motives of most politicians. But it is hard, if not impossible, to think of any self-interest that Kasparov has in doing what he is doing. He is truly a hero. I only hope he does not become a martyr.

Read Less




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